Born in 1879, Ulm Germany, Albert Einstein was to become the most celebrated scientist of the Twentieth Century. His theories were to lay the framework for new branches of physics. He also become well known as a humanitarian, speaking out against nuclear weapons – weapons he had indirectly contributed towards creating.
Einstein is one of the undisputed genius’ of the Twentieth Century, but, his early academic reports suggested anything but a glittering career in academia. His early teachers found him dim and slow to learn. Part of the problem was that Albert expressed no interest in learning languages and learning by rote that was popular at the time.
School failed me, and I failed the school. It bored me. The teachers behaved like Feldwebel (sergeants). I wanted to learn what I wanted to know, but they wanted me to learn for the exam. Einstein and the Poet (1983)
However, at the age of 12, he picked up a book on geometry and read it cover to cover. – He would later refer to it as his ‘holy booklet’. He became fascinated by maths and taught himself – becoming acquainted with the great scientific discoveries of the age.
Around this time, his father’s family business failed and so the family moved to Milan, Italy. Despite Albert’s fascination with maths, he still languished at school. Eventually he was asked to leave by the school because his indifference was setting a bad example to other students.
On leaving school he decided to become a maths teacher to help support him in his studies of maths and physics.
He applied for admission to the Federal institute of Technology in Zurich. His first attempt was a failure because he failed exams in botany, zoology and languages. However, he passed the next year and in 1900 became a Swiss citizen. He later married Mileva Marec; they had two sons before divorcing several years later.
Albert Einstein’s Scientific Contributions
Einstein suggested that light doesn’t just travel as waves but as electric currents. This photoelectric effect could force metals to release tiny stream of particles known as ‘quanta’. From this Quantum Theory, other inventors were able to develop devices such as television and movies. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921
Special Theory of Relativity
This theory was written in a simple style with no footnotes or academic references. The core of his theory of relativity is that:
“Movement can only be detected and measured as relative movement; the change of position of one body in respect to another.”
Thus there is no fixed absolute standard of comparison for judging the motion of the earth or plants. It was revolutionary because previously people had thought time and distance are absolutes. But, Einstein proved this not to be true.
He also said that if electrons travelled at close to the speed of light, there weight would increase
This lead to Einstein’s famous equation:
Where E = energy . m = mass and c = speed of light.
General Theory of Relativity 1916
Working from basis of special relativity. Einstein sought to express all physical laws using equations based on mathematical equations.
He devoted the last period of his life trying to formulate a final unified field theory which included a rational explanation for electromagnetism. However, he was to be frustrated in searching for this final break through theory.
As a German Jew, Einstein was threatened by the rise of the Nazi party. In 1933, when the Nazi’s seized power, they confiscated Einstein’s property and Einstein (then in England) took an offer to go to Princeton university in the US. He later wrote, he never had strong opinions about race and nationality. He saw himself as a citizen of the world.
“I do not believe in race as such. Race is a fraud. All modern people are the conglomeration of so many ethnic mixtures that no pure race remains.”
Once in the US, Einstein dedicated himself to a strict discipline of academic study. He would spend no time on maintaining his dress and image. He considered these things ‘inessential’ and meant less time for his study. Although a bit of a loner, and happy in his own company, he had a good sense of humour. “Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love.”
Einstein professed belief in a God “Who reveals himself in the harmony of all being”. But, he followed no established religion. His view of God, sought to establish a harmony between science and religion.
Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.
– Einstein Science and Religion (1941)
Politics of Einstein
Einstein described himself as a Zionist Socialist. He did support the state of Israel, but, became concerned about the narrow nationalism of the new state. In 1952, he was offered the position as President of Israel, but, he declined saying he had:
“neither the natural ability nor the experience to deal with human beings.” … “I am deeply moved by the offer from our State of Israel, and at once saddened and ashamed that I cannot accept it. “
Albert Einstein was involved in many civil rights movements such as the American campaign to end lynching
On the outbreak of war in 1939, Einstein wrote to President Roosevelt about the prospect of atomic bomb. He warned Roosevelt that the Germans were working on it. Roosevelt headed his advice and started the Manhattan project. But, after the war ended, Einstein reverted to his pacifist views. Einstein said after the war.
“Had I known that the Germans would not succeed in producing an atomic bomb, I would not have lifted a finger.” (Newsweek, (10 March 1947)
He was scrutinised closely in the McCarthyite era for potential Communist links. He wrote article in favour of Socialism, criticised Capitalism and criticised the arms race. Einstein remarked:
“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!”
Einstein died in 1955, at his request his brain and vital organs were removed for scientific study.