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Surprising Science

Albert Einstein’s Car Battery

What no one knew until now is that most cars would not work without the intervention of one of Einstein's most famous discoveries: the special theory of relativity.

Special relativity deals with physical extremes. It governs the behaviour of subatomic particles zipping around powerful accelerators at close to the speed of light and its equations foresaw the conversion of mass into energy in nuclear bombs. A paper in Physical Review Letters, however, reports a more prosaic application. According to the calculations of Pekka Pyykko of the University of Helsinki and his colleagues, the familiar lead-acid battery that sits under a car’s hood and provides the oomph to get the engine turning owes its ability to do so to special relativity.


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