Einstein, Albert

The German-American physicist, educator and author was born on 14 March 1879 in Ulm, Wurttemberg, Germany. Einstein unquestionably was one of the world’s greatest scientific intellects who formulated theories of relativity. He won the Nobel Prize in 1921. At the age of five, his father Hermann, gave him a compass thereby starting Einstein’s quest to investigate the natural world.

A year later he began his school career in Munchen. For the first seven years of his education he received violin lessons, and also had religious home-education where he was educated in Judaism. Two years later he was enrolled at the Luitpold Gymnasium, and now his religious education was given at school. He studied mathematics, and in particular the calculus.

At the age of 10, Einstein began a program of self-education and read as much about science as possible. In 1894 his family moved to Milan but he remained in Munchen to complete the academic year. In the following year (1895) he failed the examination that would have allowed him to study for a diploma as an electrical engineer. He then followed his family to Italy. The next year Einstein tried to skip high school by taking an entrance examination to the Swiss Polytechnic (a top technical university), but failed, and he was sent to the Swiss town of Aarau to complete his high school education.

Einstein graduated from high school at the age of 17 in 1896 and enrolled at the Federal Polytechnic in Zurich. He renounced German citizenship in 1896 and was stateless for a number of years. He did not even apply for Swiss citizenship until 1899, and it was granted in 1901. While studying here he fell in love with Mileva Maric, a Hungarian classmate. He graduated from the ETH in 1900.

Einstein, now a Swiss citizen, found himself unemployed. Mileva fell pregnant and moved to Hungary to give birth to their baby at her parent’s home. In the fall Einstein found work in Schaffhausen as a teacher, teaching mathematics at the Technical High School in Winterthur. He then moved on to Berne. In 1902 Mileva gave birth to their daughter, Lieserl, whom they eventually put up for adoption.

Starting from 1902, Einstein found a temporary post the patent office in Berne, but within two years the appointment became permanent. In 1906 he was promoted to technical expert second class and stayed on till 1909. While in this patent office he completed an astounding variety of theoretical physics publications, written in his spare time.

In January of 1903 Einstein married Mileva, and in 1904 she gave birth to their first son, Hans Albert. Einstein earned a doctorate from the University of Zurich in 1905 for a thesis “On a new determination of molecular dimensions”. 1905 was his year of excellence – his Special Theory of Relativity was born. His second paper in 1905 (“On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies”) proposed what is today called the special theory of relativity. He based his new theory on a reinterpretation of the classical principle of relativity, namely that the laws of physics had to have the same form in any frame of reference. As a second fundamental hypothesis, he assumed that the speed of light remained constant in all frames of reference, as required by Maxwell’s theory. By 1907 Einstein began applying the laws of gravity to his Special Theory of Relativity. Following the doctorate, Einstein continued working on the areas already described. He sought to extend the special theory of relativity to phenomena involving acceleration. The solution came in 1907 with the principle of equivalence, in which gravitational acceleration was held to be the same as acceleration caused by mechanical forces. Gravitational mass was, as a result, identical with inertial mass.

Einstein’s son Eduard was born in 1910. As he was now recognised as a leading scientific intellectual, he resigned from the patent office in Berne in 1911 to accept an appointment a full professor at the Karl-Ferdinand University in Prague. In the same year he was able to make preliminary predictions about how a ray of light from a distant star, passing near the Sun, would appear to be bent slightly, in the direction of the Sun. This principle became decidedly significant, as it would lead to the first experimental evidence in favour of his theory. During 1912 he was the youngest invitee to attend the invitation-only Solvay Conference in Brussels, the first world physics conference.

Einstein moved to Zurich in 1912 where he took up a position as professor of Theoretical Physics at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule in Zurich. He began a new phase of his gravitational research, with the help of a mathematician friend. He called this new work the general theory of relativity. Two years later, in 1914, he returned to Germany but did not reapply for German citizenship. This was a very interesting opportunity as it was a research position in the Prussian Academy of Sciences together with a chair (no teaching duties) at the University of Berlin. Also during 1914 the family split up, and the divorce proceedings began. World War I began in August.

In 1915 Einstein completed the General Theory of Relativity. Two years later he collapsed and fell seriously ill. He was nursed back to health by his cousin Elsa (whom he married in 1919), and he published his first paper on cosmology. The solar eclipse of 29 May 1919 proved that Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity works.

He undertook his first visit to the United States during 1921. The purpose of the visit was to raise funds for the planned Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In the USA he received the Barnard Medal, and lectured on relativity at several occasions. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in the same year for his 1905 work on the photoelectric effect.

In 1927 Einstein attended the fifth Solvay Conference, and began with the development of the foundation of quantum mechanics with Bohr. In 1928 he started pursuing his idea of a unified field theory. By 1930 he undertook a second visit to the United States followed by a third in 1932. The latter was followed by the offer of a post at Princeton. The idea was that he would spend seven months a year in Berlin and the rest at Princeton. He accepted and left Germany for the USA in December 1932. The following month the Nazis came to power in Germany and Einstein never went back. He was 53 years old, and at the height of his fame. Identified as a Jew, he felt the heat of Nazi Germany.

In 1933 Einstein travelled to Oxford, Glasgow, Brussels and Zurich. Now offers of academic posts streamed in – from Jerusalem, Leiden, Oxford, Madrid and Paris. He and Elsa settled in Princeton, New Jersey where he took up a post at the Institute for Advanced Study, and sadly Elsa died after a short illness in 1936.

When World War II started in 1939 Einstein wrote a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt warning him of the possibility that Germany is building an atomic bomb and urged for nuclear research. Einstein became an American citizen in 1940, but retained his Swiss citizenship as well. His former wife Mileva died in 1949.

Another outstanding incident was to take place in his life. Following the death of the first president of Israel in 1952, the Israeli government decided to offer to Einstein the post of second Israeli president. He did not accept but found it awkward since it was hard for him to refuse the offer without causing offence.

He died of heart failure on 18 April 1955 in Princeton, New Jersey. He was cremated at Trenton, New Jersey on the day of his death, and his ashes was scattered at an undisclosed location.