# Can we motivate undergraduates by saying they will be able to read famous papers?

I have a differential equations student who said the following (I'm paraphrasing of course):

A long time ago, my math teacher told me that when I finished differential equations, I would be able to read Einstein's paper on relativity. I'm really excited for that.

I went and looked at a paper of Einstein's, but the one I found didn't seem like a good idea. I'd like to provide a suitable substitute, and I really like this form of motivation: just finish this series of classes, and you will understand [famous paper or idea].

Have you ever taken an undergraduate through a famous text in this way? Can differential equations students really look forward to anything like this? I'm not really asking specifically about Einstein.

• How about changing the title to "can we motivate undergraduates by saying they will be able to read certain famous papers?" – Mark Fantini Sep 4 '14 at 18:08
• @MarkFantini A good point; fixed. – Chris Cunningham Sep 4 '14 at 21:01
• I have definitely motivated myself in this way. In fact, my knowledge of differential geometry would not be half as good as it is today if I didn't learn about the Riemann Curvature tensor just so I could understand general relativity. It is quite far from my research interests, but I was motivated just by the need to increase my general awareness of how our universe operates. – Steven Gubkin Sep 4 '14 at 21:24
• Spivak's sequence of books on differential geometry does exactly this as one of the books (book II, I think) contains papers by Gauss (and Riemann?). – Andrew Stacey Sep 4 '14 at 21:30

1) What they expect in the paper may not be in the paper. Your student probably wants to see $E=mc^2$ from the time Einstein understood this. They may be disappointed to learn that Einstein's closest paper from 1905 said only "Gibt ein Korper die Energie L in Form von Strahlung ab, so verkleinert such seine Masse um $L\,/\,V^2$", or "if a body gives off the energy $L$ in the form of radiation, its mass diminishes by $L\,/\,V^2$."