In his 1986 book, Was Einstein Right? Prof. Clifford Will, physics, Washington University in St. Louis, declared anyone who questioned Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity to be a crank or crackpot. Prof. Randy Wayne, plant biology, a self-professed ‘nutty professor’ nevertheless insists he is not a crank or a crackpot to offer photons, or light itself, as the reason why an electron cannot exceed the speed of light.
Wayne begins by describing a hypothetical situation: there is an electron in an enclosure with a positively-charged plate on one end and a negatively-charged plate on the other. Naturally, the electron moves toward the positively-charged plate with some speed. If Wayne were to attach a battery to the two plates, he can accelerate the electron, increasing the rate at which the electron moves. The electron’s speed, however, would not increase infinitely.
“When things go faster, close to the speed of light, they behave differently than we expect. They behave differently than Newton tells us they do. Newton said, if we hit [an electron] with a force, it will accelerate a certain amount; if we hit it with twice the force, it will accelerate twice as fast,” Wayne said.
According to Einstein’s special theory of relativity, electrons cannot move faster than the speed of light due to the relativity of time, that is “the faster the electron goes, [Einstein] believes, the shorter it experiences time,” Wayne said. Wayne rejects that time is relative and instead proposes light itself is the brake, the barrier to speed of light.
To go back to the electron in the enclosure, Wayne contends that Einstein did not consider the environment of the enclosure, specifically light in the environment. Visible light is one important part of the electromagnetic spectrum, the range of wavelengths over which electromagnetic radiation extends. Because the wavelength at which a black body emits the peak of its radiation depends solely on its temperature, “the hotter any body is, the more photons [of electromagnetic radiation] it emits in space and the shorter the wavelength,” Wayne said.
To Wayne, the electron is not merely moving through space, it is moving through “photon soup,” much as an organelle, like a chloroplast, moves through cytoplasm soup. Since light also exhibits wave behavior, Wayne then employs the Doppler effect to say that, as the electron moves, it increases the frequency (thereby decreasing the wavelength) of the light in front of its trajectory. A shorter wavelength corresponds to higher emissions of electromagnetic radiation, which means that the photons in front of the moving electron are compressed or “blue-shifted” and the photons behind it are rarefied or “red-shifted,” following the visible light spectrum.
The blue-shifted photons of light act as a counterforce against the electron, just as the cytoplasm is a counterforce to the chloroplast, so that “the faster an electron goes, the more it will be pushed back by the light in front of it than it will be pushed ahead by the light behind it,” Wayne said.
Wayne’s calculations based on this model arrive at the same conclusion — an electron is not able to travel faster than the speed of light — leading him to assert that the relativity of time is not necessary for explaining this phenomenon. Consequently, his theory suggests that “time is absolute.”
Needless to say, such propositions on Einstein’s seminal work, especially from a plant biologist, were not welcomed by the physics community. When Wayne first submitted a paper to Annalen der Physik, which published Einstein’s paper on the theory of special relativity in 1905, “an editor wrote back: we can find nothing wrong with your derivations, but we prefer not to publish,” he recounted.
His first accepted paper on his theoretical work, with the subtitle “A Biophysical Cell Biologist’s Contribution to Physics,” appears in the most recent issue of Acta Physica Polonica B, published by Jagiellonian University in Poland, and a related paper on the relativity of simultaneity will be published in a forthcoming volume of the African Physical Review; both journals are peer-reviewed.
Surprisingly, the skeptical Wayne venerates Einstein because “Einstein had the audacity in 1905 to say, Newton is wrong. At that point, Newton was just right. It was King Newton,” and Wayne argues that “now, it’s King Einstein.” If anything, the biologist sees himself as carrying on Einstein’s legacy.
Einstein once said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle,” which Wayne echoes in saying, “There’s two ways to go through life: questioning or accepting.”
Members of the University physics department did not comment on Wayne's alternative theory.