Of all the scientists to emerge from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries there is one whose name is known by almost every person in the world. While most of these people do not understand his work, everyone knows that his impact on the world of science is amazing. Many people have heard of Albert Einstein’s General Theory of relativity, but not many people know of his life that led him to discover what scientists have called, “The greatest single achievement of human thought.”
Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany on March 14, 1874. Before he was a year old his family had moved to Munich where young Albert’s father, Hermann Einstein, and uncle set up a small electro-chemical business. He was fortunate to have a family with which he held strong relationships. Albert’s mother, Pauline Einstein, had an intense passion for music and literature, she introduced her son to the violin in which he found much joy and relaxation. Also, he was very close with his younger sister, Maja, they could often be found in the lakes that were scattered about the countryside near Munich. A favorite toy of his was his father’s compass, and he often marveled at his uncle’s explanations of algebra. Although young Albert was intrigued by certain mysteries of science, he was considered a slow learner. His failure to become fluent in German until the age of nine even led some teachers to believe he was disabled.
Einstein’s elementary education began at the Luitpold Gymnasium when he was ten. Here he first encountered the “German spirit” through the school’s strict disciplinary policy. His disapproval of this method of teaching led to his reputation as a bad student and a rebel. It was probably this kind of education that caused Einstein to search for knowledge on his own. Surprisingly he did not begin looking for science, but for religion. He avidly studied the Bible seeking truth, but he stopped studying the bible when he learned more about science and math. To him, these subjects seemed much more realistic than ancient stories. Finding this knowledge on his own he began to dislike school even more, and was eventually expelled from Luitpold Gymnasium being considered a “disruptive influence.”
When he was 15 years old the family business failed and they moved to Milan, Italy. He stayed there only another year with his parents until he moved to Switzerland where he continued his education. When he was sixteen he attempted to enroll at the Federal Institute of Technology but failed the entrance exam. He took the exam again a year later and was accepted. The Institute let Einstein meet with many other students that shared his curiosity, and it was here that his studies turned mainly to Physics. He quickly learned that while physicists had generally agreed on major principals in the past, there were modern scientists who were attempting to disprove outdated theories every day. Since most of Einstein’s teachers ignored these new ideas, he was again forced to learn on his own. In 1900 he graduated from the Institute and got citizenship to Switzerland.
He became a clerk at the Swiss Patent Office in 1902. The job did not have anything to do with physics but he did get to see the new inventions of the day. The most important part of Einstein’s job was that it gave him enough time to pursue his own research. As his ideas began to develop, he published them in journals. Though he was still unknown to the scientific world, he began to attract a large circle of friends and admirers. A group of students that he tutored quickly transformed into a social club that shared a love of nature, music, and of course, science. In 1903 he married Mileva Meric, a mathematician friend. They had two sons before getting divorced. Einstein remarried later.
In 1905, Einstein published five separate papers in a journal, the Annals of Physics. The first paper was immediately acknowledged, and the University of Zurich awarded Einstein a doctorate. The other papers helped to develop modern physics and earned him the reputation of an artist. Many scientists say that Einstein’s work “contained an imaginative spirit that was seen in most poetry.” His work at this time had to do with molecules, and how their motion affected temperature, but he is most well known for his Special Theory of Relativity, which dealt with motion and the speed of light. The most important part of his discoveries was the equation: E= mc^2, which helped lead to the discoveries of the atom bomb and nuclear warfare.
In 1909 Einstein was recognized as a leading scientific thinker. In 1911 he was hired as a professor at the Karl Ferdinand University in Prague. During that 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 would lead to the first experimental evidence in favor of Einstein’s theory. He began his gravitational research in 1912, calling it the General Theory of Relativity. In 1916 he had completed his studies on relativity and published his full general theory. “This theory stated that the interactions of bodies, which heretofore had been ascribed to gravitational forces, are explained as the influence of bodies on the geometry of space-time (four-dimensional space, a mathematical abstraction, having the three dimensions from Euclidean space and time as the fourth dimension).” – Encarta Ver. ’99.
During 1921 Einstein made his first visit to the United States. His main reason was to raise funds for the planned Hebrew University of Jerusalem but while he was there he received the Barnard Medal and lectured several times on relativity. He also received the Nobel Prize that year for his 1905 work on the photoelectric effect. He traveled much during the following years until 1933 when the Nazi party came into power in Germany. At that time he went back to the United States and became a professor at Princeton University. When World War II ended he spent most of the rest of his life promoting peace. In 1952 the Israeli government asked him to be president of their country but he refused due to his failing health and it was speculated that he just didn’t want to.
Albert Einstein bought many new ideas into the scientific world and had many great achievements in his lifetime. He was not only a genius, but also a humble and humorous man. In a way he discovered how to create nuclear power and yet was a strong pacifist. The last letter that he signed was to Bertrand Russell in which Einstein agreed to have his name put on a manifesto urging every nation to give up nuclear weapons. His last act was to argue, as he had done all his life, for international peace.