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Studying Einstein

Studying Einstein
By France Griggs Sloat

One day toward the end of the semester, students in Heidrun Schmitzer’s Forensic Science Studies course arrive in the physics building lobby and discover the body of Albert Einstein draped over the brass rail of the Foucault pendulum. Dead. Murdered.

 

If they’ve learned anything, they immediately begin surveying the scene, noting the location of the body, the pooling blood by the side of the head, the broken glass window and the lone witness standing nearby. They then analyze hair, fingerprints, blood spatters and glass fragments. They take pictures and interview all potential suspects, including their fellow students. They speak with the medical examiner played by lab technician Dennis Tierney, Einstein’s ex-wife played by Schmitzer and fellow scientists with whom he sparred, including Boris Podolsky, a former Xavier physics professor who worked with Einstein and is played by retired chair Terry Toepker.

The staged crime is the climax of the forensics course, now entering its sixth year. Schmitzer created the course for non-science majors, and her unusual teaching methods—such as creating a murder scene using the Einstein doll—is so popular that the class always fills up on the first day of registration.

The mock murder allows students to practice what they learn about crime scene investigations. But they also learn about Einstein, father of the theory of relativity, who challenged traditional notions of gravity by proposing a space-time dimension. And they learn that he married young, fathered an illegitimate child, divorced his wife and paid her no alimony except for his Nobel Prize winnings. He also later married a cousin during the time he was advancing his blockbuster theory.

“Most students are really surprised he had a wife and kids and treated her so badly,” Schmitzer says.

In every case so far, poor Einstein is beaten to death. A big clue is a piece of blood-red paper attached to the side of his head. And everyone is a suspect—professors and students. It usually takes two days for the students to determine the murderer. So far, says Schmitzer, they’ve all been correct.

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