Albert Einstein is one of the twentieth century’s most famous scientists. His work was truly ground breaking and ended up revolutionizing the field of physics. Almost everyone in the world knows of his most famous equation: E=mc2
Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879 in Ulm, Wurttemberg, Germany. His father, Hermann Einstein, was an engineer and founded a manufacturing company with his brother. His mother stayed home and looked after the family. He also had one sister, Maja. Maja was born two years after Einstein and the two had a very close relationship.
There was some concern in the family about Einstein’s intelligence (they thought he had some problems). The family was concerned about his pointy head when he was born and the fact that he didn’t start talking until he was three years old.
His family moved to Munich shortly after Einstein was born (in 1880) so his father could start up his manufacturing business.
When Einstein was five years old, he became fascinated by his father’s compass. Einstein recognized that there was an invisible force moving the needle and later stated that this incident had a lasting impact on him.
Another major influence on a young Einstein was Max Talmud, a family friend. Talmud was a medical student and often had dinner with the family. Talmud gave Einstein a number of books, including Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and Euclid’s Elements—Einstein was ten years old at the time.
The books helped Einstein gain an understanding of deductive reasoning and when he was twelve years old, he used a school booklet to teach himself Euclidean geometry.
Einstein also began to learn the violin at his mother’s insistence.
Einstein was enrolled in the Luitpold Gymnasium to begin his elementary education. His father hoped that he would become an electrical engineer but Einstein had some trouble in school even though he received good grades. He did not like the rigid style of learning or the memorization that was the main method of education at the time.
In 1894, Einstein’s father’s business went bankrupt and the family moved to Italy. It was while his family was in Italy that Einstein wrote his first paper, “The Investigation of the State of Aether in Magnetic Fields.” Einstein stayed behind to finish his education but he left school without graduating to join his family. Einstein used a doctor’s note to convince the school that he was suffering from exhaustion and needed to drop out.
He did not want to continue with high school and after joining his family in Italy, he applied to enter the ETH Zürich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland.He was sixteen years old at the time. Since he had not graduated from high school, Einstein had to write an entrance exam which he failed.
Einstein was sent to Switzerland to finish his high school education. While in Switzerland he lived with Professor JostWinteler and his family. He graduated from high school in 1896 (at the age of seventeen). After graduation, Einstein gave up his German citizenship in order to get out of the required military service.
Once Einstein graduated, he reapplied to the ETH and this time he was accepted into the mathematics program. It was while in ETH that Einstein met the woman who was to become his wife. MilevaMaric enrolled in ETH in 1896 and was the only women in the mathematics program. Einstein’s mother did not approve of Maric but the relationship continued. Einstein and Maric (who were not married at the time) had a child named Lieserl in 1902 but there is little information regarding what happened to the child. The last time Lieserl was mentioned was in a letter written by Einstein in 1903. It is unclear whether the child died or was given up for adoption.
Einstein graduated from ETH in 1900 and in 1901, he became a Swiss citizen.
Working in the Patent Office
Einstein had hoped to find a teaching position after he graduated but he was unable to find one after almost two years of looking. As a result, a friend helped him get a job in the patent office in Bern. His job was to evaluate the applications for patents on electromagnetic machines.
While working in the patent office, Einstein married MilevaMaric in early 1903. Their first son, Hans Albert Einstein, was born in 1904. There is some debate as to whether Maric influenced Einstein’s work but even though Einstein describes Maric as his intellectual equal, most scholars do not believe that she had any major influence on his work.
It was also during his time in the patent office that Einstein published four papers which have become known as the Annus Mirabilis Papers. He published the four papers in 1905 and the papers were so significant that 1905 has been called Einstein’s Wonderful Year.
The first paper looked at the nature of light. Einstein stated that light interacts with matter as packets of energy. This went against the theory most people held that light was a wave. Einstein stated that this was the only work he ever did that was truly revolutionary.
The second paper of 1905 looked at the movement of tiny objects in fluid. Einstein explained this movement of these objects as a result of the objects being hit by molecules. This finding supported atomic theory.
The third paper was the paper in which Einstein proposed his theory on special relativity. This paper looked at time, space, and motion in an effort to determine what is relative and what is absolute. Relative means that an observation can change depending on the observer and absolute means that observation stays the same regardless of the observer.
The fourth paper built on the third paper. In this paper, Einstein developed the famous equation E=mc2. This equation means that a small amount of mass can be changed into a large amount of energy.
Even though these papers are viewed as being extremely significant today, when they were first published, few physicists noticed them. Most of the ones that did read the papers did not agree with the conclusion.
Becoming a Teacher
Einstein received his PhD on January 15, 1906 at the age of twenty-six. He continued to work in the patent office but in 1908, he worked at the University of Bern as a privatdozent. A privatdozent is a person who works at a university but is not paid by the university. The privatdozent gets paid by the students. Einstein continued to publish papers on a variety of topics, including one paper explaining why the sky is blue.Einstein also continued his work on the nature of light and showed that light had to act like independent particles (photons)at times.
The University of Zurich hired Einstein as an associate professor in 1911 but he left shortly after being offered the position to take a full professorship at the Charles University of Prague. While in Prague, he published a paper on gravity’s effect on light. In the paper, Einstein issued a challenge to astronomers to develop ways to measure light being bent by gravity during a solar eclipse (this was actually done in 1919 by Arthur Eddington).
Einstein returned to Switzerland a year later (in 1912) to become a full professor at ETH (his old school). It was here that he began to work with Marcel Grossman on his general theory of relativity.
In June, 1914, Einstein separated from his wife, MilevaMaric. Maric moved to Zurich with their children and Einstein took a new position in Berlin. He was a member of the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences as well as a professor at the University of Berlin. Even though he was a professor, Einstein had made a deal with the university so that he did not have to teach very much. He also became the director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for physics; a post he was to hold until 1932.
Einstein was in Germany during World War I and the work of German scientists were only available to scientists from Germany’s allies; although, some of Einstein’s work still made it to the West. In 1917, Einstein published a paper that looked at the concept of stimulated emissions, which is necessary for lasers.
In 1917, two groups of astronomers, one at the Mount Wilson Observatory in California and one at the Lick Observatory in California, claimed that they had findings which disproved Einstein’s theory of gravity’s effect on light. But in 1919, Arthur Eddington claimed to have photographs taken during a solar eclipse in northern Brazil which proved Einstein’s theory of relativity. The British papers picked up the story and proclaimed the discovery to its readers, making Einstein famous around the world.
Shortly after this, in February 1919, Einstein and Maric divorced and a few months later, Einstein married his cousin Elsa, whom he had been sharing an apartment with since 1917.
The Nobel Prize
At the age of forty-two, in 1921, Einstein received the Nobel Prize in Physics. He received the prize for his work in theoretical physics and particularly for the discovery of the photoelectric effect. Even though he won a cash prize for the award, he gave all of the money to Maric because she was having trouble financially supporting the children and her parents.
Unified Field Theory
Einstein continued to make contributions to the field of physics after the publication of his general theory of relativity but most of his work was focused on coming up with a theory that combined all the fundamental laws of physics. He became more isolated in his work and ignored a lot of other work being done in the physics field. Einstein was never able to come up with a unifying theory and this is still being sought for by physicists.
Einstein viewed himself as a very religious person although he wrote that he did not believe in a personal god. He believed that God was evident in the way the world worked but he did not believe that God cared what happened to the human race.
Einstein also felt that morality arose as a result of biology and psychology, not from religion or sociology.
Einstein’s fame continued to grow and he was often asked about issues that had nothing to do with his area of expertise, namely mathematics and physics. Einstein was more than willing to give his opinion on a variety of political subjects.
Einstein supported Jewish culture and history, but he did have concerns with the British plans to divide Palestine into two independent countries. When the United Nations did divide Palestine, war immediately broke out. Einstein helped write a letter criticizing the massacre at Deir Yassin, a small Palestinian Arab village. When Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann died, Einstein was asked to become the country’s second president. He refused the honor and wrote that he was sad and ashamed that he could not accept.
Einstein also spoke out against the rise of the Nazis in Germany. Einstein recognized the growing threat from the Nazis and moved to the United States with Elsa (his new wife) and his personal secretary. While in the States, Einstein raised money for Zionist organizations and helped form the International Rescue Committee. He also wrote a number of letters recommending U.S. visas for Jews trying to escape persecution.
Einstein also wrote a letter to Franklin Delano Roosevelt warning him that the Nazis may be working on an atomic bomb. This letter helped convince Roosevelt to develop its own bomb which was then used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Later, it has been stated that Einstein regretted writingthe letter.
After the war, Einstein joined Albert Schweitzer and Bertrand Russell in calling for a halt to nuclear testing and the further development of atomic weapons. Einstein famously stated that “I do not know how the third World War will be fought, but I can tell you what they will use in the Fourth—rocks!” He also viewed capitalism as an evil to be overcome and advocated a socialist government.
Einstein was also a member of the NAACP and was a character witness for W.E.B. DuBois, a famous civil rights activist, when it was claimed he was a communist spy.
Einstein died on April 18, 1955 after suffering an aortic aneurysm. He died in Princeton Hospital at the age of seventy-six. He was cremated but the hospital pathologist removed Einstein’s brain before the cremation. The pathologist hoped that Einstein’s brain would give clues as to why Einstein was so intelligent.