Relay of Lights Honors Physics, Einstein

Physicists and Albert Einstein (search) buffs began flipping light switches and dialing phones in an attempt at a worldwide relay of lights to commemorate the World Year of Physics and the 50th anniversary of Einstein's death.

The relay got under way at 8:45 p.m. Monday (0045 GMT Tuesday) with the illumination of the football stadium and two towers on the Princeton University (search) campus. From there, about 140 groups planned to illuminate everything from campus structures to private homes, one right after another, in a relay across the United States.

Organizers were then expected to take the relay around the world, using the telephone on some legs, said Claire Gmachl (search), an associate professor of electrical engineering at Princeton who was organizing the start of the relay. She said phone calls travel over fiber-optic cables, which makes them lights, in a sense.

"For a scientist or engineer like myself," Gmachl said, "light is light."

The event, organized by Dr. Max Lippitsch (search), a physicist at the University of Graz (search) in Austria, has drawn some criticism from astronomers concerned about light pollution.

Einstein, who lived and worked in Princeton from 1933 until his death on April 18, 1955, published three groundbreaking papers on physics in 1905. One of them laid out what is now known as the Theory of Relativity, which deals with the nature of light.

The 100th anniversary of the papers is also being celebrated by the World Year of Physics.