 The mathematical equation that ushered
in the atomic age was discovered by an unknown Italian dilettante two
years before Albert Einstein used it in developing the theory of
relativity, it was claimed yesterday.

 Olinto De Pretto, an industrialist
from Vicenza, published the equation E=mc2 in a scientific magazine,
Atte, in 1903, said Umberto Bartocci, a mathematical historian.

 Einstein allegedly used De Pretto's
insight in a major paper published in 1905, but De Pretto was never
acclaimed, said Professor Bartocci of the University of
Perugia.

 De Pretto had stumbled on the
equation, but not the theory of relativity, while speculating about
ether in the life of the universe, said Prof Bartocci. It was
republished in 1904 by Veneto's Royal Science Institute, but the
equation's significance was not understood.

 A Swiss Italian named Michele Besso
alerted Einstein to the research and in 1905 Einstein published his
own work, said Prof Bartocci. It took years for his breakthrough to be
grasped. When the penny finally dropped, De Pretto's contribution was
overlooked while Einstein went on to become the century's most famous
scientist. De Pretto died in 1921.

 "De Pretto did not discover relativity
but there is no doubt that he was the first to use the equation. That
is hugely significant. I also believe, though it's impossible to
prove, that Einstein used De Pretto's research," said Prof Bartocci,
who has written a book on the subject.

 Einstein's theory held that time and
motion are relative to the observer if the speed of light is constant
and if all natural laws are the same. A footnote established the
equivalence of mass and energy, according to which the energy (E) of a
quantity of matter (m) is equal to the product of the mass and the
square of the velocity of light (c). Now known as: E=mc2 .

 The influence of work by other
physicists on Einstein's theory is also controversial. A German, David
Hilbert, is thought by some to have been decisive.

 Edmund Robertson, professor of
mathematics at St Andrew's University, said: "An awful lot of
mathematics was done by people who have never been credited  Arabs in
the middle ages, for example. Einstein may have got the idea from
someone else, but ideas come from all sorts of places.

 "De Pretto deserves credit if his
contribution can be proven. Even so, it should not detract from
Einstein."


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