Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein was born at Ulm in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany, on March 14, 1879, into a non-observant Jewish family. At age five, his father showed him a pocket compass, and Einstein realized that something in "empty" space acted upon the needle; he would later describe the experience as one of the most revelatory of his life.

Although considered a slow learner, possibly due to dyslexia, simply shyness or the significantly rare and unusual structure his brain (examined after his death), Einstein built models and mechanical devices for fun. Another, more recent, theory about his mental development is that he had Asperger's syndrome, a condition related to autism.

Einstein began to learn mathematics around age 12. In 1894, his family moved from Munich to Pavia, Italy (near Milan), and this same year Einstein wrote his first scientific work, The Investigation of the State of Aether in Magnetic Fields.) He continued his education at Aarau, Switzerland, and in 1896, he entered the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School in Zurich to be trained as a teacher in physics and mathematics. In 1901, he gained his diploma and acquired Swiss citizenship. Unable to find a teaching post, he accepted a position as technical assistant in the Swiss Patent Office, obtaining his doctor's degree in 1905.

In 1908, Einstein was appointed Privadozent in Berne. The next year, he became Professor Extraordinary in Zurich, and in 1911 Professor of Theoretical Physics at Prague, returning to Zurich in 1912 to fill a similar post. In 1914, he was appointed Director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Physical Institute and Professor in the University of Berlin. He became a German citizen in 1914 and remained in Berlin until 1933, when he renounced his citizenship for political reasons and emigrated to America to take the position of Professor of Theoretical Physics at Princeton. He became a U.S. citizen in 1940 and retired from his post in 1945.

In his early days in Berlin, Einstein postulated that they correct interpretation of the special theory of relativity must also furnish a theory of gravitation, and in 1916 he published his paper on the general theory of relativity. During this time, he also contributed to the problems of the theory of radiation and statistical mechanics. In the 1920s, he embarked on the construction of unified field theories, continuing to work on the probabilistic interpretation of quantum theory, and he persevered with this work in America. He won a Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921 "for his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect." He contributed to statistical mechanics by his development of the quantum theory of a monatomic gas, and he has also accomplished valuable work in connection with atomic transition probabilities and relativistic cosmology.

Einstein initially favored construction of the atomic bomb, in order to ensure that Hitler did not do so first, and even sent a letter, dated August 2, 1939, to President Roosevelt encouraging him to initiate a program to create a nuclear weapon. Roosevelt responded to this by setting up a committee for the investigation of using uranium as a weapon, which in a few years was superseded by the Manhattan Project.

After the war, however, Einstein lobbied for nuclear disarmament and a world government. Along with Albert Schweitzer and Bertrand Russell, he fought against nuclear tests and bombs. As his last public act, and just days before his death, he signed the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, which led to the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs.

Einstein's latter years were also spent searching for a unified field theory, for a universal force that would link gravitation with electromagnetic and subatomic forces, a problem on which no one to date has been entirely successful.

Einstein received honorary doctorate degrees in science, medicine and philosophy from many European and American universities. During the 1920s, he lectured in Europe, America and the Far East and was awarded Fellowships or Memberships to all of the leading scientific academies throughout the world. He gained numerous awards in recognition of his work, including the Copley Medal of the Royal Society of London in 1925, and the Franklin Medal of the Franklin Institute in 1935.

Einstein married Mileva Maric in 1903, and they had a daughter and two sons; the marriage was dissolved in 1919, and that same year he married his cousin Elsa Lowenthal, who died in 1936. Einstein died on April 18, 1955, in Princeton, New Jersey. Element 99 was named einsteinium (Es) in his honor.