Life and Work of Albert Einstein
Length: 1456 words (4.2 double-spaced pages)
"There are only two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as if everything is."
- Albert Einstein -
Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany on Mar, 14, 1879. Einstein's
parents, who were non practicing Jews, moved from Ulm to Munich when
Einstein was a baby. When the family's business, the manufacture of
electrical parts, failed in 1894, the family moved to Milan, Italy. At
this time Einstein decided legitimately to relinquish his German
citizenship. Within a year, still without having completed secondary
school, Einstein sat an examination that would have allowed him to
pursue a course of study leading to a diploma as an electrical
engineer at the Swiss Polytechnic, a top technical university, but he
failed the arts component of the examination. His family sent him to
the Swiss town of Aarau to finish high school. It was at this school
that Einstein first started to develop a love for physics. In 1896,
Einstein returned to the Swiss Polytechnic, where he graduated in 1900
as a secondary school teacher of mathematics and physics.
After two years of teaching, Einstein obtained a post at the Swiss
patent office in Bern. While he was employed at the office
(1902-1909), Einstein completed an astonishing range of publications
in theoretical physics.
The year 1905 was known as "Annus Mirabilis" - Einstein's "Miracle
Year". Einstein's first of three seminal scientific papers,
"Generation and Transformation of Light" was submitted to the
University of Zurich to obtain a PhD degree. In this paper, Einstein
examined the phenomenon discovered by Maxwell Planck, according to
which electromagnetic energy seemed to be emitted from radiating
objects in quantities that were ultimately discrete. The energy of
these emitted quantities, "light-quanta", was directly proportional to
the frequency of the radiation. This circumstance was confounding
because the classical electromagnetic theory had assumed that
electromagnetic energy consisted of waves propagating in a
hypothetical, all-pervasive medium called the luminiferous ether, and
that the waves could contain any amount of energy no matter how small
they were. Einstein used the quantum hypothesis to describe visible
electromagnetic radiation, or light.
According to Einstein's viewpoint, light could be imagined to consist
of discrete bundles of radiation. Einstein used this interpretation to
explain the photoelectric effect, by which certain metals emit
electrons when illuminated by light with a given frequency. Einstein's
theory, and his subsequent elaboration of it, formed the basis for
much of quantum mechanics.
Three years after he started work at the patent-office, he sent his
second paper, "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies" to the
University of Bern, where he soon became a lecturer. This is when the
Theory of Relativity was born.
"When you sit with a nice girl for two hours, it seems like two
minutes. When you sit on a hot stove for two minutes, it seems like
two hours that's relativity." - Albert Einstein.
At the time Einstein knew that, according to Hendrik Antoon Lorentz's
theory of electrons, the mass of an electron increased as the velocity
of the electron approached the velocity of light. Einstein also knew
that the electron theory, based on Maxwell's equations, carried along
with it the assumption of a luminiferous ether, but that attempts to
detect the physical properties of the ether had not succeeded.
Einstein realised that the equations describing the motion of an
electron in fact could describe the nonaccelerated motion of any
particle or any suitably defined rigid body. He based his new
kinematics on a reinterpretation of the classical principle of
relativity, that the laws of physics had to have the same form in any
frame of reference. As a second fundamental hypothesis, Einstein
assumed that the speed of light remained constant in all frames of
reference, as required by the classical Maxwellian theory. Einstein
abandoned the hypothesis of the ether, for it played no role in his
kinematics or in his reinterpretation of Lorentz's theory of
electrons. As a consequence of his theory Einstein recovered the
phenomenon of time dilatation, wherein time, analogous to length and
mass, is a function of the velocity of a frame of reference. Later in
1905, Einstein applied his theory and elaborated how mass and energy
were the same, and therefore formulated the equation e=mc2. The next
year, Einstein received a regular appointment as associate professor
of physics at the University of Zurich.
Albert Einstein as a patent clerk in Bern, Switzerland, in 1905.
The third of Einstein's seminal papers, "Motion of Suspended Particles
in the Kinetic Theory" of 1905 concerned statistical mechanics, a
field of study that had been elaborated by, among others, Ludwig
Boltzmann and Josiah Willard Gibbs. Unaware of Gibbs' contributions,
Einstein extended Boltzmann's work and calculated the average
trajectory of a microscopic particle buffeted by random collisions
with molecules in a fluid or in a gas. Einstein observed that his
calculations could account for brownian motion, the apparently erratic
movement of pollen in fluids, which had been noted by the British
botanist Robert Brown. Einstein's paper provided convincing evidence
for the physical existence of atom-sized molecules, which had already
received much theoretical discussion. His results were independently
discovered by the Polish physicist Marian von Smoluchowski and later
elaborated by the French physicist Jean Perrin. The next year,
Einstein received a regular appointment as associate professor of
physics at the University of Zurich.
In 1909, Einstein was recognized throughout German-speaking Europe as
a leading scientific thinker. In 1911, Einstein moved to the
German-speaking university at Prague, and in 1912 he returned to the
Swiss National Polytechnic in Zürich. Finally, by 1914 he advanced to
the most prestigious and best-paying post that a theoretical physicist
could hold in central Europe, professor at the Kaiser-Wilhelm
Gesellschaft Institute for physics in Berlin.
Einstein's family moved to Berlin with Einstein in April. Mileva had a
child by him. They later married. Mileva helped Albert refine many of
the ideas for which he became famous. Mileva was devoted to Albert,
and would do anything to please her husband. Mileva did Albert's
university homework, gave up her own physics career for his. However,
Einstein's wife, Mileva, and their son returned to Zurich after three
months. This is when the divorce proceedings began. She took care of
their schizophrenic son though even after Albert divorced her, and was
his scientific partner.
In 1915, Einstein completed his General Theory of Relativity. Soon
after completing it, Einstein collapsed and, near death, fell
seriously ill. He was nursed back to health by his cousin, Elsa. This
is when he published his first paper on paper on cosmology. Four years
later, Einstein married his cousin Elsa, and a solar eclipse proved
Einstein's General Theory of Relativity to work.
In 1920 Einstein's lectures in Berlin were disrupted by demonstrations
which, although officially denied, were almost certainly anti-Jewish.
Certainly there were strong feelings expressed against his works
during this period. 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 another reason however, was that
Hitler had come into power in Germany. He received the Barnard Medal
during his visit and lectured several times on relativity. He took a
position at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, New Jersey.
Einstein upon his arrival to New York in 1921
Einstein renounced his former pacifist stand in the face of the
awesome threat to humankind posed by the Nazi regime in Germany. Among
many honours which Einstein received were the "Copley Medal of the
Royal Society "in 1925 and the "Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical
Society" in 1926.
By 1930, Einstein was making international visits again, back to the
United States. A third visit to the United States in 1932 was followed
by the offer of a post at Princeton. The idea was that Einstein would
spend seven months a year in Berlin, five months at Princeton.
Einstein accepted and left Germany in December 1932 for the United
States. At this point in time, Einstein was 53 years old, and he was
at the height of his fame. The following month however, the Nazis came
into power in Germany, and Einstein, Identified as a Jew, began to
feel the weight of Nazi Germany on his shoulders, causing him to never
return there again.
In 1939, World War II began and Einstein collaborated with several
other physicists in writing a letter to President Franklin D.
Roosevelt warning of the possibility of Germanybuilding an atomic bomb
and urging nuclear research. The letter bore only Einstein's
In 1940 Einstein became a citizen of the United States, but chose to
retain his Swiss citizenship. He made many contributions to peace. In
1944 he made a contribution to the war effort by hand writing his 1905
paper on special relativity and putting it up for auction. It raised
six million dollars, the manuscript today being in the Library of
By 1949 Einstein was unwell. A spell in hospital helped him recover
but he began to prepare for death by drawing up his will in 1950. He
left his scientific papers to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, a
university which he had raised funds for on his first visit to the
USA, served as a governor of the university from 1925 to 1928 but he
had turned down the offer of a post in 1933 as he was very critical of
its administration. Also, in the early 1950s he spoke out on the need
for the nation's intellectuals to make any sacrifice necessary to
preserve political freedom. One more major event was to take place in
his life. After the death of the first president of Israel in 1952,
the Israeli government decided to offer the post of second president
to Einstein. He refused but found the offer an embarrassment since it
was hard for him to refuse without causing offense.
One week before his death, Einstein signed his last letter. It was a
letter to Bertrand Russell in which he agreed that his name should go
on a manifesto urging all nations to give up nuclear weapons. It is
fitting that one of his last acts was to argue, as he had done all his
life, for international peace.
Einstein died on April 16th, 1955 due to heart failure.