Albert Einstein BiographyOur afflictions are designed not to break us but to bend us toward the eternal and the holy. - Barbara Johnson
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Albert Einstein Biography

"Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one." - Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein picture around 1905
Albert Einstein Biography

Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955) was a German-born theoretical physicist regarded as the greatest sciene genius of the 20th century. He made significant contributions to the theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics and cosmology. He was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize for Physics for his explanation of the photoelectric effect and "for his services to Theoretical Physics."

Born March 14, 1879 to a featherbed salesman, Hermann Einstein and Pauline née Koch in Ulm in Baden-Württemberg Germany. As a boy, Einstein attended a Catholic elementary school and studied the violin. He was a slow learner, a fact which he attributes to his success because he pondered space and time later than most children and was, therefore, able to bring more intellect to the task.

Einstein received a progressive, for its day, education from the Luitpold Gymnasium, learning mathematics around age twelve. In 1891, he taught himself Euclidean plane geometry from a school booklet and began to study calculus. In 1894, after his father's electrochemical business failed, his parents moved to Pavia, Italy near Milan while Einstein stayed in Munich to finish his schooling. He left in the spring of 1895 to rejoin his family after getting a medical note from a local doctor.

It was around this time that Einstein's true abilities came to the fore. Although he had written a paper on the State of Aether in Magnetic Fields, his first revolutionary thought experiment was performed while he was only 16. Called "Albert Einstein's Mirror," it involved contemplating what would happen to his image in a mirror if he were traveling at the speed of light? He concluded that the speed of light is independent of the speed of the observer, a theory that would later become a leg of the special theory of relativity.

Einstein obtained a teaching diploma from the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH Zurich) in 1900 and then wrote his first published paper on the capillary forces of water in a straw entitled Folgerungen aus den Capillaritätserscheinungen which translates to "Consequences of the Observations of Capillarity Phenomena" in Annalen der Physik Volume 4, page 513.

The Miracle Year, 1905

As young Einstein was quite brash, he was unable to obtain a position as a teacher but instead was gainfully employed as a technical assistant examiner at the Swiss Patent Office.

In January of 1902, he had a daughter, Lieserl, with Mileva Marić. On January 6, 1903 Einstein married Marić, a mathematician Einstein considered his equal and reportedly as strong and independent as he was. The relationship apparently was not particularly close, as Ronald W. Clark, a biographer claimed that Einstein required a great deal of time and space in order to work. On May 14, 1904, they had a son, Hans Albert Einstein.

In 1905 Einstein obtained his doctorate after submitting his thesis Eine neue Bestimmung der Moleküldimensionen or "A New Determination of Molecular Dimensions." He also wrote four other articles that have had a profound effect on modern Physics and explained the unexpected experimental results of other scientists. Together the papers have become known as the Annus Mirabilis Papers which means the "year of wonders."

The first paper, Über einen die Erzeugung und Verwandlung des Lichtes betreffenden heuristischen Gesichtspunkt or "On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light," proposed that photons, or light in the photo electric effect, indeed do operate at discrete levels of energy, energy quanta if your will. Max Planck had proposed this in his paper about black-body radiation in 1901, but he considered it simply a mathematical adjustment instead of a fact of nature. This paper was later be named in his 1921 Nobel prize.

The second paper, Über die von der molekularkinetischen Theorie der Wärme geforderte Bewegung von in ruhenden Flüssigkeiten suspendierten Teilchen or "On the Motion Required by the Molecular Kinetic Theory of Heat of Small Particles Suspended in a Stationary Liquid" discusses the Brownian motion of particles which provided evidence for the existence of atoms, ending a period of hot debate among other scientists.

A third paper, Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper or "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies" was published in September and introduces the topic of special relativity which states that the speed of light remains constant regardless of how fast one is traveling even though time, distance and mass vary. The theory and, in fact, many of the equations, had already been published by a famous Frenchman, Henri Poincaré and Lorentz. It is generally believed that Einstein and his wife had reached these results independently.

The last paper of the year, "Ist die Trägheit eines Körpers von seinem Energieinhalt abhängig?" or "Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content?" postulates his famous E = mc² equation which he derived from the equations and theories of relativity. His original interpretation and publication that mass is a measure of energy was an astounding conclusion to the year of wonders and all with a new baby in the house.

The Years that Followed

In the years that followed, Einstein had a second son, Eduard Einstein, on July 28, 1910.He continued working at the Swiss patent office until 1911 when he became a first associate professor at the University of Zurich, a full professor at the University of Prague in Germany and in 1912 a full professor at the ETH Zurich.

While giving a series of lectures at the Prussian Academy of Sciences discussing his theory of gravity which is now known as the general theory of relativity, Einstein concluded with an equation that expanded on Newton's law of gravity taking into account the situation where the observers are not all traveling at a uniform speed. This equation, now known as the Field Equation, redefined gravity suggesting that it was a consequence of the curvature of space-time.

In 1917, Einstein published Zur Quantenmechanik der Strahlung or "On the Quantum Mechanics of Radiation" where he introduced the concept of stimulated emission, the results of which became the laser and a paper discussing general relativity that attempted to unify the physical behavior of the universe. It was in this work that he created his "worst blunder" by introducing a cosmological constant which took 10 years to disprove. J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904 - 1967) later stated "Any man whose errors take ten years to correct is quite a man." In 1919, Einstein divorced Mileva and married his first cousin on his mother's side, Elsa Löwenthal.

His Theory is Confirmed

Later that same year on May 29, 1919, Einstein's theory that light waves would be bent by the large gravitational force of the sun was put to the test by Authur Eddington's solar eclipse expedition. The observations were made at two separate locations, one in Sobral, Ceará, Brazil, and the other on the island of Principe off the west coast of Africa. Einstein's theories of general and specific relativity have become a major foundation for the study of cosmology and understanding our universe.

The fame he received from the solar expedition, as well as a general reluctance of scientists to accept his theories that light can be described both as a wave with no kinetic energy and as a mass-less photons simultaneously and debates about the development of quantum physics continued to absorb Einstein's energy over the years to come.

Albert Einstein in 1947
Albert Einstein may will be the most famous scientist of all time.
Einstein goes to Princeton

By 1932, Albert Einstein had taken a post at Princeton University as a guest professor. When in 1933, the Nazis passed "The Law of the Restoration of the Civil Service" that removed all Jewish university professors from their positions he renounced his German citizenship and stayed in the United States where he was given permanent residency. He accepted a position at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and became more active in numerous humanitarian efforts and world affairs, even requesting the formation of The International Rescue Committee to assist opponents of Adolf Hitler.

His Final Years

Although Einstein used his influence to alert the President of the United States to the possibility that Germany might make an atomic bomb in 1939, he himself did not work on the resulting Manhattan Project. Instead, Einstein continued to work at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton on a unified field theory that would combine the laws of physics into a single model, and effort that would consume the rest of his life. He obtained American citizenship in 1940 and died at 1:15 AM in Princeton, New Jersey, on April 18, 1955 at the age of 76 from internal bleeding. Albert Einstein may well be the most famous scientist of all time.

Read more about Albert Einstein.



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