WIT researchers discover ‘lost’ Einstein model of universe

Scientists uncovered misfiled papers while searching Jerusalem university’s online archive

Irish researchers have discovered a previously unknown model of the universe written by physicist Albert Einstein.

Dating back to 1931, it had been misfiled and effectively “lost” until its discovery last August.

Cormac O'Raifeartaigh and Brendan McCann of Waterford Institute of Technology had been searching through a collection of Einstein's papers put online by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Dr O'Raifeartaigh said. They were looking through drafts of a particular paper but then found something quite unexpected.

"I was looking through drafts, but then slowly realised it was a draft of something very different," Dr O'Raifeartaigh said. "I nearly fell off my chair. It was hidden in perfect plain sight. This particular manuscript was misfiled as a draft of something else."


He contacted the university and they confirmed it had been misfiled. Dr McCann was already working on the project, but they drafted in reinforcements including Prof Werner Nahm of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and Prof Simon Mitton of Cambridge.

They translated the paper and analysed its contents, submitting their report to the European Physical Journal (H) . They now have a preprint on the online physics archive ArXiv.

In the paper, Einstein speculated the expanding universe could remain unchanged and in a “ steady state” because new matter was being continuously created from space. This is radically different from his previously known models of the universe.

“It is what Einstein is attempting to do that would surprise most historians, because nobody had known this idea. It was later proposed by Fred Hoyle in 1948 and became controversial in the 1950s, the steady state model of the cosmos,” Dr O’Raifeartaigh said.

The paper attracted no attention because Einstein abandoned it. “Einstein went through it and spotted a mistake and went through again and knew it was wrong. He then didn’t publish it.”

Even so, the paper is noteworthy and was “very important for the history and philosophy of science,” he said.

It also shows the value and importance of allowing free public access to manuscript archives held in libraries and institutions, given the potential for discoveries.

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom, a contributor to The Irish Times, is the newspaper's former Science Editor.