The only thing that might have saved a sequel like "Ace Ventura, Pet Detective, Jr."(1) was putting it in space. If you put ":In Space" at the end of anything, it gains instant credibility it might otherwise not have. (see The Muppets)(2)

But some people, like Abraham Lincoln, don't need more credibility, they are already heroic.  So making Lincoln a Vampire Hunter is just showing off. And Albert Einstein doesn't need to go into space - but maybe his iconic formula, E=mc^2, does.

In Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity, E stands for energy, m stands for mass and c stands for the speed of light (which gets squared - how can you square the speed of light when nothing can go faster than the speed of light? Read on)  Energy and mass have symmetry and are fundamentally the same thing and can even be converted into each other.  This was important in 1945 when it was time to blow up some cities in Japan.

First, if you are new to physics, that c^2 may seem a little confusing, since you have been taught that stuff cannot exceed the speed of light, not even if the cables are installed by Italian government union laborers.  The c^2 number is instead to show a relationship, not that anyone expects you to go almost 450,000,000,000,000,000 MPH to make fission happen. Kinetic energy is proportional to mass and that is important to understand when energy and mass convert into each other.  Sticking with that Miles Per Hour concept, your car's kinetic energy is proportional to mass, velocity^2, and that determines how long you will skid before you come to a halt if you slam on the brakes. If you double your MPH, the skid distance is not twice as long, it is 4X as long because of that velocity^2. Science media is always agonizing over the perfect metaphor, the One Example To Rule Them All, that makes sense to everyone, so if mine is no good, tell us what makes it clearer.(3)

Yet maybe Einstein needs to go into space to get the respect of everyone.

Einstein is the Abraham Lincoln of physics; the only way to make him bigger than he is in the public consciousness would be to have him out there killing vampires. For that reason, everyone in physics would love to debunk him. E=mc^2 came from Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity and it has been validated too many times and in too many ways to count. It is evident in everything from smoke detectors in your house to the sun. We also owe him for making scientists cool.

Lord Kelvin
Airplanes can't fly
Tall people age faster
Nothing new to learn
Funnier than J.C. Maxwell

He also made theoretical physics cool. He somewhat upended the traditional scientific method where you examine nature and figure out the math; he saw the math and then figured out how to validate it experimentally.  And, credit to his brilliance, physicists did just that. The entire High Energy Physics industry is due to Einstein.

The problem is that now everyone in theoretical physics thinks they are Einstein and the public thinks that, because Einstein was a theoretical physicist, those must be better and smarter than experimental physicists: they get to think about stuff and get paid for it. I offer, as evidence, that character Sheldon on "The Big Bang Theory" TV show. He has never once worn a Science 2.0 shirt and if you want something done, you are better off making friends with the engineer, but people think he is the smart one regardless.

Theoretical physicists think so too. Theoretical physics has, in many ways, provided an open season for biannual "Theory of Everything" proponents who know some math and then declare that it is up to the experimental world to prove them right. It's more like Hypothetical or even Speculative Physics than what Einstein did.

But Einstein takes on all challengers and recently he had an interesting one. University of Arizona physics professor Andrei Lebed made waves hypothetically determining that E=mc2 may not hold up in certain circumstances. He says we might be thinking about mass the wrong way.

Mass is mass. Going back to the car example again, the mass of the car determines that its inertia, like what would happen to another car if you hit it at some velocity, is the same as its gravitational mass, the weight an object has due to gravity acting on its mass. Right?  Right.

Introduce modern mathematics which, because it is not science grounded in natural laws but is instead a language, can be used to propose worm holes, time travel and universes where dinosaurs are our galactic overlords. Theoretical physicists come up with new physics math every month, with the disclaimer that 'it has yet to be proved experimentally' but Lebed has something interesting in his claim. Because sometimes the weight of a quantum object has a slightly different reading, if it is because inertial mass and gravitational mass are different - mass is not consistent - then E=mc^2 doesn't work after all.

Gravity is the result of a curvature in space - the greater the mass of an object, the bigger the dent it makes in that fabric we consider space to make space seem less crazy as a concept. More mass means more gravitational pull and so the curvature of space is what makes gravitational mass different from inertial mass. And then it becomes an arXiv paper and gets mainstream media attention because a theoretical physicist says he can debunk Einstein.

What do other physicists think?  Like in every other field of science, physics is made up of different personalities so when he presented his maths at  the 13th Marcel Grossmann Meeting on General Relativity a few months ago, some people were open to it and some were derisive. 

Here is his idea: A hydrogen atom consists of a nucleus, a single proton and a lonely electron orbiting the nucleus. In rare instances, the electron orbiting the nucleus will jump to a higher energy level. Then it settles back down. According to E=mc2, the hydrogen atom's mass will change along with the change in energy level. Lebed says he thinks something different will happen when that atom is moved far away from other objects, like Earth.

Perhaps, he contends, E=mc^2 does not work the same where Earth is not curving space. The  electron could not jump to higher energy levels where space is flat, because there is no curvature of gravitation.  Closer to Earth, the change in energy levels might happen, due to that curvature of gravitation and we could detect differences in mass.

"Instead of measuring weight directly, we would detect these energy switching events, which would make themselves known as emitted photons – essentially, light," he said in his statement. You clearly would need a lot of hydrogen atoms to get meaningful results. He proposes sending a mission containing a tank of hydrogen and a sensitive photo detector into space.

Will it work?  Hey, I have no idea, I am not even a theoretical journalist much less a theoretical physicist. I don't believe anything at all until an experimentalist tells me I should.

"But my calculations show that beyond a certain probability, there is a very small but real chance the equation breaks down for a gravitational mass," Lebed said.

Will it mean the end for Einstein?  I am not going to invest in that new warp drive start-up company just yet.

Citation: Andrei G. Lebed, 'Breakdown of the Equivalence between Passive Gravitational Mass and Energy for a Quantum Body', arXiv:1208.5756


(1) That's a real movie. Like "Smokey and the Bandit 4" ("Bandit: Bandit Goes Country") I would never have even known it existed, except I needed to find some really stupid sequel ideas. 

(2) Not the recent Muppets movie, with Jason Segel, that was terrific. The original sequels were pretty bad, though.

(3) Even Nova can't come up with the perfect metaphor and they get a bajillion dollars in taxpayer money to write stuff.