Of all the scientists to emerge from the nineteenthand twentieth centuries there is one whose name isknown by almost all living people. While most ofthese do not understand this man’s work,everyone knows that its impact on the world ofscience is astonishing. Yes, many have heard ofAlbert Einstein’s General Theory of relativity, butfew know about the intriguing life that led thisscientist to discover what some have called, “Thegreatest single achievement of human thought.”Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany on March 14,1874.
Before his first birthday, his family hadmoved to Munich where young Albert’s father,Hermann Einstein, and uncle set up a smallelectro-chemical business. He was fortunate tohave an excellent family with which he held astrong relationship. Albert’s mother, PaulineEinstein, had an intense passion for music andliterature, and it was she that first introduced herson to the violin in which he found much joy andrelaxation. Also, he was very close with hisyounger sister, Maja, and they could often befound in the lakes that were scattered about thecountryside near Munich. As a child, Einstein’ssense of curiosity had already begun to stir. Afavorite toy of his was his father’s compass, and heoften marvelled at his uncle’s explanations ofalgebra.
Although young Albert was intrigued bycertain mysteries of science, he was considered aslow learner. His failure to become fluent inGerman until the age of nine even led someteachers to believe he was disabled. Einstein’spost-basic education began at the LuitpoldGymnasium when he was ten. It was here that hefirst encountered the German spirit through theschool’s strict disciplinary policy. His disapprovalof this method of teaching led to his reputation as arebel. It was probably these differences thatcaused Einstein to search for knowledge at home.
He began not with science, but with religion. Heavidly studied the Bible seeking truth, but thisreligious fervor soon died down when hediscovered the intrigue of science and math. Tohim, these seemed much more realistic thanancient stories. With this new knowledge hedisliked class even more, and was eventuallyexpelled from Luitpold Gymnasium beingconsidered a disruptive influence. Feeling that hecould no longer deal with the German mentality,Einstein moved to Switzerland where he continuedhis education. At sixteen he attempted to enroll atthe Federal Institute of Technology but failed theentrance exam.
This forced him to study locally forone year until he finally passed the school’sevaluation. The Institute allowed Einstein to meetmany other students that shared his curiosity, andIt was here that his studies turned mainly toPhysics. He quickly learned that while physicistshad generally agreed on major principals in thepast, there were modern scientists who wereattempting to disprove outdated theories. Sincemost of Einstein’s teachers ignored these newideas, he was again forced to explore on his own.In 1900 he graduated from the Institute and thenachieved citizenship to Switzerland. Einsteinbecame a clerk at the Swiss Patent Office in1902.
This job had little to do with physics, but hewas able to satiate his curiosity by figuring out hownew inventions worked. The most important partof Einstein’s occupation was that it allowed himenough time to pursue his own line of research. Ashis ideas began to develop, he published them inspecialist journals. Though he was still unknown tothe scientific world, he began to attract a largecircle of friends and admirers.
A group of studentsthat he tutored quickly transformed into a socialclub that shared a love of nature, music, and ofcourse, science. In 1903 he married MilevaMeric, a mathematician friend. In 1905, Einsteinpublished five separate papers in a journal, theAnnals of Physics. The first was immediatelyacknowledged, and the University of Zurichawarded Einstein an additional degree.
The otherpapers helped to develop modern physics andearned him the reputation of an artist. Manyscientists have said that Einstein’s work containedan imaginative spirit that was seen in most poetry.His work at this time dealt with molecules, andhow their motion affected temperature, but he ismost well known for his Special Theory ofRelativity which tackled motion and the speed oflight. Perhaps the most important part of hisdiscoveries was the equation: E= mc2. Afterpublishing these theories Einstein was promoted athis office. He remained at the Patents Office foranother two years, but his name was becomingtoo big among the scientific community.
In 1908,Einstein began teaching party time at the Universityof Berne, and the following year, at the age ofthirty, he became employed full time by ZurichUniversity. Einstein was now able to move toPrague with his wife and two sons, Hans Albertand Eduard. Finally, after being promoted to aprofessor, Einstein and his family were able toenjoy a good standard of living, but the job’s mainadvantage was that it allowed Einstein to accessan enormous library. It was here that he extendedhis theory and discussed it with the leadingscientists of Europe. In 1912 he chose to accept ajob placing him in high authority at the FederalInstitute of Technology, where he had originallystudied. It was not until 1914 that Einstein wastempted to return to Germany to become researchdirector of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute forPhysics.
World War I had a strong effect onEinstein. While the rest of Germany supported thearmy, he felt the war was unnecessary, anddisgusting. The new weapons of war whichattempted to mass slaughter people caused him todevote much of his life toward creating peace.
Toward the end of the war Einstein joined apolitical party that worked to end the war, andreturn peace to Europe. In 1916 this party wasoutlawed by the government, and Einstein wasseen as a traitor. In that same year, Einsteinpublished his General Theory of relativity, Thisresult of ten years work revolutionized physics. Itbasically stated that the universe had to be thoughtof as curved, and told how light was affected bythis. The next year, Einstein published anotherpaper that added that the universe had noboundary, but actually twisted back on its self.After the war, many aspects of Einstein’s lifechanged.
He divorced his wife, who had beenliving in Zurich with the children throughout thewar, and married his cousin Elsa Lowenthal. Thisled to a renewed interest in his Jewish roots, andhe became an active supporter of Zionism. Sinceanti-Semitism was growing in Germany, he quicklybecame the target of prejudice. There were manyrumors about groups who were trying to killEinstein, and he began to travel extensively. Thebiggest change, though, was in 1919 whenscientist who studied an eclipse confirmed that histheories were correct. In 1921, he traveledthrough Britain and the United States raising fundsfor Zionism and lecturing about his theories.
Healso visited the battle sites of the war, and urgedthat Europe renew scientific and cultural links. Hepromoted non-patriotic, non-competitiveeducation, believing that it would prevent war fromhappening in the future. He also believed thatsocialism would help the world achieve peace.Einstein received the Nobel Prize for Physics in1922. He gave all the money to his ex-wife andchildren to help with their lives and education.
After another lecture tour, he visited Palestine forthe opening the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.He also talked about the possibilities that Palestineheld for the Jewish people. Upon his return hebegan to enjoy a calmer life in which he returnedto his original curiosity, religion. While Einsteinwas visiting America in 1933 the Nazi party cameto power in Germany. Again he was subject toanti-Semitic attacks, but this time his house wasbroken into, and he was publicly considered anenemy of the nation. It was obvious that he couldnot return to Germany, and for the second time herenounced his German citizenship.
During theseearly years in America he did some research atPrinceton, but did not accomplish much ofsignificance. In 1939 the second World Warbegan to take form. There was heated argumentduring this time over whether the United Statesshould explore the idea of an atomic bomb.
Einstein wrote to President Roosevelt warning himof the disaster that could occur if the Nazi’sdeveloped it first. Einstein did not participate in thedevelopment of the bomb, but the idea did stemfrom his equation E=mc2. Just as he knew that thebomb was under development, he also knewwhen it was going to be used. Just before thebomb was dropped on Japan Einstein wrote aletter to the President begging him not to use thisterrible weapon. The rest of Einstein’s life wasdedicated to promoting peace. After the warended, he declared, “The war is won, but thepeace is not.” He wrote many articles and mademany speeches calling for a world government.
His fame, at this point, was legendary. Peoplefrom all over would write to him for advice, and hewould often answer them. He also continued hisscientific research until the day he died. This wason April 18, 1955. There is no doubt that he wasdissatisfied that he never was able to find the truemeaning of existence that he strove for all his life.Bibliography Clark, Ronald W., Einstein – TheLife and Times, New York: World Publishing,1971.
Dank, Milton, Albert Einstein, New York:An Impact Biography, 1920. Dukas, Helen andBanesh Hoffman, eds., Albert Einstein: TheHuman Side, Princeton: University Press, 1979.
Einstein, Albert, Carl Seelig, ed., Ideas andOpinions, New York: Bonanza Books, 1954.“Einstein, Albert.” Random House Encyclopedia,Random House Press, 1990 edition.
Hunter,Nigel, Einstein, New York: Bookwright Press,1987. Nourse, Dr. Alan E., Universe, Earth, andAtom: The Story of Physics, New York andEvanston: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1969.