Space-Time Continuum

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October 8, 2015 – Who says that coins are destined to be round and flat? For Cook Islands Coin Invest Trust has created a coin with an extraordinary shape that makes science materialize, virtually linking space to time.

Cook Islands / 2 Dollars / 1/2 oz / 35 x 35 mm / Silver .999 / Mintage: 1.500.

The reverse depicts the Minkowski diagram, a geometric illustration of the formula of special relativity, which is engraved in one of the diagram’s columns together with the inscription SPACE–TIME CONTINUUM. The centre of the high relief coin is marked with a magnetic sphere, which can be removed with the help of a paper clip, for instance.

The obverse, whose shape is an inversion of the reverse, displays the Ian Rank-Broadley portrait of Queen Elizabeth II in the lower left corner. Further engraved are the issuing nation, the Queen’s name and the nominal value.

What makes this coin remarkable is its outstanding, unique shape, the removable sphere and an exceptionally high relief that manages to preserve every detail.

Albert Einstein, photography taken by Ferdinand Schmutzer in 1921.

In 1905, Albert Einstein published his article “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies”. Einstein addressed the issue of accelerated reference frames, and the relativity of distance and duration of time, which is why the theory formulated in the article became known as the “special theory of relativity”.

Hermann Minkowski, illustration in “Raum und Zeit”, Jahresberichte der Deutschen Mathematiker-Vereinigung, Leipzig 1909.

For contemporary mathematicians, this article was a spark that ignited many fires. Many of them developed Einstein’s ideas further. Among them Hermann Minkowski, one of the most talented mathematicians and physicians at the turn of the century.

Minkowski received his PhD already at age 21. Only one year later he handed in the best submission in a competition run by the French Academy of Sciences. Minkowski taught at the most prestigious universities of his time, including the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, where Albert Einstein was studying at the same time. On this student and his special theory of relativity Minkowski is said to have commented later: “Really, this Einstein? Isn’t he always skipping lectures? I would not have believed him capable of this.”

The Minkowski diagram. Source: Wikicommons / Maschen.

Still, Hermann Minkowski continued to work on his student’s ideas and developed them further. He suspected the existence of a fourth dimension, in which space and time are connected also geometrically. To illustrate this relation between space and time graphically, he designed the Minkowski diagram, which transformed a highly complex body of thoughts into almost artistic form, in 1908. Under the title “Space and time” he presented his model at the 80th Congress of Natural Philosophers in Cologne on 21 September 1908. Based on this model, Coin Invest Trust has now created a coin that translates a highly complex mathematical theory into outstanding beauty.

Artist concept of Gravity Probe B orbiting the Earth to measure space-time, a four-dimensional description of the universe including height, width, length, and time. Source: Wikicommons / NASA.

Albert Einstein was so impressed by Minkowski’s ideas on a fourth dimension that he included them in his general theory of relativity in 1915. Minkowski, however, died well before then in January 1909, only months after his address “Space and time”, from a ruptured appendix. Allegedly he still tried to complete his manuscripts even in his last hours. Had Minkowski lived longer, it might be his name that we would associate with the general theory of relativity today.

The coin created by Coin Invest Trust for Cook Islands is minted by B. H. Mayer‘s Kunstprägeanstalt GmbH. Collectors can purchase the issue though specialty dealers.

Further information about this coin is available here.

The extraordinary shape of the coin becomes fully recognizable in this short movie

This is the website of Coin Invest Trust.

And if you would like to learn more about the scientific background, please click here.