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Albert Einstein

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Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein

Titles Professor of Physics
Born March 14, 1879
Status Alive
Status Alive
Allegiance Germany

Albert Einstein (born on March, 14 1879 in Ulm, Germany) is a German-born Swiss theoretical physicist. He is best known for his theory of relativity and specifically mass energy equivalence, E = mc 2. Einstein received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics "for his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect". He is also the director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics and an outspoken activist for pacifism and democracy.


Early life

Born to Hermann Einstein, a salesman and engineer and Pauline Koch. In 1880, the family moved to Munich, where his father and his uncle founded a company, Elektrotechnische Fabrik J. Einstein & Cie, that manufactured electrical equipment Although Einstein had early speech difficulties, he was a top student in elementary school. As he grew, Einstein built models and mechanical devices for fun, expressed interest for violin and began to show a talent for mathematics.

In 1889, family friend Max Talmud, a medical student, introduced the ten-year-old Einstein to key science, mathematics, and philosophy texts, including Kant's Critique of Pure Reason and Euclid's Elements (Einstein called it the "holy little geometry book"). From Euclid, Einstein began to understand deductive reasoning, and by the age of twelve, he had learned Euclidean geometry. Soon thereafter he began to investigate calculus. In his early teens, Einstein attended the progressive Luitpold Gymnasium. His father intended for him to pursue electrical engineering, but Einstein clashed with authorities and resented the school regimen. He later wrote that the spirit of learning and creative thought were lost in strict rote learning.

In 1894, when Einstein was fifteen, his father's business failed, and the Einstein family moved to Italy, first to Milan and then, after a few months, to Pavia. During this time, Einstein wrote his first scientific work, "The Investigation of the State of Æther in Magnetic Fields". Einstein had been left behind in Munich to finish high school, but in the spring of 1895, he withdrew to join his family in Pavia, convincing the school to let him go by using a doctor's note.

Rather than completing high school, Einstein decided to apply directly to the ETH Zurich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. Lacking a school certificate, he was required to take an entrance examination, which he did not pass, although he got exceptional marks in mathematics and physics. The Einsteins sent Albert to Aarau, Switzerland to finish secondary school. While lodging with the family of Professor Jost Winteler, he fell in love with the family's daughter, Marie. In Aarau, Einstein studied Maxwell's electromagnetic theory. At age 17 he graduated, renounced his German citizenship to avoid military service (with his father's approval), and finally enrolled in the mathematics program at ETH. Marie moved to Olsberg, Switzerland for a teaching post.

In 1896, Einstein's future wife, Mileva Maric, also enrolled at ETH, as the only woman studying mathematics. During the next few years, Einstein and Maric's friendship developed into romance. Einstein graduated in 1900 from ETH with a degree in physics. That same year, Einstein's friend Michele Besso introduced him to the work of Ernst Mach. The next year, Einstein published a paper in the prestigious Annalen der Physik on the capillary forces of a straw. On February 21, 1901, he gained Swiss citizenship, which he never revoked.

Patent office

Following graduation, Einstein could not find a teaching post. After almost two years of searching, a former classmate's father helped him get a job in Berne, at the Federal Office for Intellectual Property, the patent office, as an assistant examiner. His responsibility was evaluating patent applications for electromagnetic devices. In 1903, Einstein's position at the Swiss Patent Office was made permanent, although he was passed over for promotion until he "fully mastered machine technology".

With friends he met in Berne, Einstein formed a weekly discussion club on science and philosophy, jokingly named "The Olympia Academy". Their readings included Poincaré, Mach, and Hume, who influenced Einstein's scientific and philosophical outlook.

During this period Einstein had almost no personal contact with the physics community. Much of his work at the patent office related to questions about transmission of electric signals and electrical-mechanical synchronization of time: two technical problems that show up conspicuously in the thought experiments that eventually led Einstein to his radical conclusions about the nature of light and the fundamental connection between space and time.

Four papers in the Annalen der Physik

In 1905, while he was working in the patent office, Einstein had four papers published in the Annalen der Physik, the leading German physics journal.

  • His paper on the particulate nature of light put forward the idea that certain experimental results, notably the photoelectric effect, could be simply understood from the postulate that light interacts with matter as discrete "packets" (quanta) of energy, an idea that had been introduced by Max Planck in 1900 as a purely mathematical manipulation, and which seemed to contradict contemporary wave theories of light. This was the only work of Einstein's that he himself called "revolutionary."
  • His paper on Brownian motion explained the random movement of very small objects as direct evidence of molecular action, thus supporting the atomic theory.
  • His paper on the electrodynamics of moving bodies introduced the radical theory of special relativity, which showed that the observed independence of the speed of light on the observer's state of motion required fundamental changes to the notion of simultaneity. Consequences of this include the time-space frame of a moving body slowing down and contracting (in the direction of motion) relative to the frame of the observer. This paper also argued that the idea of a luminiferous aether, one of the leading theoretical entities in physics at the time, was superfluous.
  • In his paper on mass energy equivalence (previously considered to be distinct concepts), Einstein deduced from his equations of special relativity what later became the well-known expression: E = mc2, suggesting that tiny amounts of mass could be converted into huge amounts of energy.

All four papers are today recognized as tremendous achievements, and hence 1905 is known as Einstein's "Wonderful Year". At the time, however, they were not noticed by most physicists as being important, and many of those who did notice them rejected them outright. Some of this work, such as the theory of light quanta, remained controversial for years.

At the age of 26, having studied under Alfred Kleiner, Professor of Experimental Physics, Einstein was awarded a PhD by the University of Zurich. His dissertation was entitled A New Determination of Molecular Dimensions.

In 1906, the patent office promoted Einstein to Technical Examiner Second Class, but he had not given up on academia. In 1908, he became a privatdozent at the University of Bern. In 1910, he wrote a paper on critical opalescence that described the cumulative effect of light scattered by individual molecules in the atmosphere, i.e. why the sky is blue.

During 1909, Einstein published "Über die Entwicklung unserer Anschauungen über das Wesen und die Konstitution der Strahlung" ("The Development of Our Views on the Composition and Essence of Radiation"), on the quantization of light. In this and in an earlier 1909 paper, Einstein showed that Max Planck's energy quanta must have well-defined momenta and act in some respects as independent, point-like particles. This paper introduced the photon concept (although the term itself was introduced by Gilbert N. Lewis in 1926) and inspired the notion of wave-particle duality in quantum mechanics.

In 1911, Einstein became an associate professor at the University of Zurich. However, shortly afterward, he accepted a full professorship at the Charles University of Prague. While in Prague, Einstein published a paper about the effects of gravity on light, specifically the gravitational redshift and the gravitational deflection of light. The paper appealed to astronomers to find ways of detecting the deflection during a solar eclipse. German astronomer Erwin Finlay-Freundlich publicized Einstein's challenge to scientists around the world.

In 1912, Einstein returned to Switzerland to accept a professorship at his alma mater, the ETH. There he met mathematician Marcel Grossmann who introduced him to Riemannian geometry, and at the recommendation of Italian mathematician Tullio Levi-Civita, Einstein began exploring the usefulness of general covariance (essentially the use of tensors) for his gravitational theory. Although for a while Einstein thought that there were problems with that approach, he later returned to it and by late 1915 had published his general theory of relativity in the form that is still used today (Einstein 1915). This theory explains gravitation as distortion of the structure of spacetime by matter, affecting the inertial motion of other matter.

After many relocations, Mileva established a permanent home with the children in Zurich in 1914, just before the start of the Weltkrieg. Einstein continued on alone to Berlin, where he became a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences. As part of the arrangements for his new position, he also became a professor at the Humboldt University of Berlin, although with a special clause freeing him from most teaching obligations. Since 1912 he was also director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics.

In 1917, Einstein published an article in Physikalische Zeitschrift that proposed the possibility of stimulated emission. He also published a paper introducing a new notion, the cosmological constant, into the general theory of relativity in an attempt to model the behavior of the entire universe.

1917 was the year astronomers began taking Einstein up on his 1911 challenge from Prague. The Mount Wilson Observatory in California, U.S., published a solar spectroscopic analysis that showed no gravitational redshift. In 1918, the Lick Observatory, also in California, announced that they too had disproven Einstein's prediction, although their findings were not published. However, in May 1919, a team led by British astronomer Arthur Stanley Eddington claimed to have confirmed Einstein's prediction of gravitational deflection of starlight by the Sun while photographing a solar eclipse in Sobral, northern Brazil, and Príncipe. On November 7, 1919, leading British newspaper The Times printed a banner headline that read: "Revolution in Science : New Theory of the Universe : Newtonian Ideas Overthrown". In an interview Nobel laureate Max Born praised general relativity as the "greatest feat of human thinking about nature"; fellow laureate Paul Dirac was quoted saying it was "probably the greatest scientific discovery ever made".

From this point on, the international media guaranteed Einstein's global renown. There was some resentment toward the newcomer Einstein's fame in the scientific community, notably among German physicists, who later started the Deutsche Physik movement. He was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics, the first since the Weltkrieg, "for his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect". This refers to his 1905 paper on the photoelectric effect: "On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light", which was well supported by the experimental evidence by that time. The presentation speech began by mentioning "his theory of relativity [which had] been the subject of lively debate in philosophical circles [and] also has astrophysical implications which are being rigorously examined at the present time." As stipulated in their 1919 divorce settlement, Einstein gave the Nobel prize money to his first wife, Mileva Maric.

Political views

An adherant of the Fortschrittliche Volkspartei, Einstein advocated for democracy within the German Empire, and has often expressed some rallying to the Zionist cause. The German political class has mixed reactions towards him: while Kaiser Wilhelm II and many politicians spoke of "a man who was giving some pride to the German Reich", many nationalists and Pan-Germanists have blamed "a Jewish liar" and "a defeatist deserter". As such, Einstein animated many conferences about pacifism and disarmament, and has warned the public about the lack of democracy in the modern world. German and Swiss police claimed that he was the target of many anti-Semitic assassination plots throughout Europe, all of them being stopped before execution.

Family life

Einstein was married to Serbian Mileva Maric from January, 6 1903 to February, 19 1919, having two sons together, Hans Albert (born 1904) and Eduard (born 1910). He married a second time with his cousin, Elsa Löwenthal, on June, 2 of the same year.

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