A Brief Biography of Albert Einstein
Rick Archer, April
Albert Einstein was one of the greatest minds in world history. Einstein is known as a brilliant physicist who contributed more to the scientific world than any other person. His theories on relativity paved the way for how science currently views time, space, energy, and gravity.
Einstein was so advanced in his thinking that his studies and work set the standards for the control of scientific energy and space explorations currently being studied in the field of astrophysics.
Einstein, like most brilliant minds, was also an eccentric who set himself apart from people and family to research in solitude while being a public figure supporting issues that he believed in. As history would be written, his humanitarian work would also provide the basis to one of the most destructive forces ever known to man, the atomic bomb. Albert Einstein is also famous for his many quotes. One quote is, "One cannot help but be in awe [one] contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structures of reality." Another quote is "The most important human endeavor is the striving for morality in our action, Our inner balances and even our very existence depend on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life." Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879 in Ulm, Germany. His parents were Pauline and Hermann Einstein. It is interesting to note that neither of his parents had any knowledge in the areas of math or science. Even Albert, in his early years, was a very shy but curious kid that showed very little aptitude for anything. In elementary school, Albert was such an under achiever in all subjects other than math and science that his parents suspected that he might be retarded. As it turned out, Albert preferred to learn on his own and had taught himself advanced mathematics and science by the time he was a teenager.
Another interesting fact is that between the ages of six to thirteen, he studied the violin. After a failed attempt to skip high school and attend the Swiss Polytechnic University in 1895, Albert went to Aarau, Switzerland to finish high school. He graduated from high school at the age of 17 and enrolled at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School in Zurich. Albert graduated in 1900 with a degree in physics.
Albert Einstein's most noted contribution to the world is his theory of relativity. By 1902, Einstein was working on combining time and space, matter and energy. In 1905 when he was only 26 years old, he published a paper on relativity. This paper showed mathematically that the speed of light is constant and not relative to its source or to the viewer. Einstein had actually written an essay when he was only 16 years old on relativity, which became the basis for his published paper. The greatest result of relativistic physics was Einstein's famous relation, E=mc2 . In this, he was able to prove that any increase in the energy, E, of a body must lead to a corresponding increase in its mass, m, these increases being related by a factor c2 , where c represents the velocity of light squared. Albert Einstein published several other papers this same year. They were quantum law and the emission and absorption of light, Brownian motion, the inertia of energy, and the electrodynamics of moving bodies. The research on quantum law and the emission and absorption of light won him the Nobel Prize in physics in 1921. Incidentally, he was not present at the award ceremony due to his trip to Japan.
At the time of the publication on the theory of relativity, the people that read the papers met them with skepticism and ridicule. As the other papers were published, they were viewed the same way. Since these papers were so advanced, only a few physicists even understood them, and they slowly started to realize what a true genius Einstein actually was. In 1914, Einstein found himself in demand all over Europe. He went to Berlin as a professor and latter accepted a prestigious appointment as the head of Kaiser Wilhelm Physical Institute, special professor at the University of Berlin. There he was a member of the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences and had all the research time he wanted.
In 1933 Albert Einstein came to the United States. He had accepted a position with the Advanced study in Princeton, New Jersey. At the University, he was again allowed to follow his own ideas and do research as he sought. At the University, he also aided Jewish scientists and students who were forced to leave Germany.
Possibly, Albert Einstein's most famous writing was a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt on August 2, 1939. In his letter, he warned of the possibility of Germany building an atomic bomb and urged the President to do nuclear research and complete the bomb before the Germans did. Albert wrote the letter as a result of a request from a friend, Leo Szilard. Szilard had become alarmed after the discovery of uranium fission. Szilard also asked Einstein to warn the Belgian Queen Mother. At the time of this request in 1939, most American physicists doubted that atomic energy or atomic bombs were a possibility. Although not a well-known fact, there was two letters written and signed by Einstein to send to President Roosevelt . There was a short version and a long version. Einstein preferred the long version and so that was the one that was finally delivered to the President. The letter did not have much impact and World War II began on September 1, 1939. It was not until December 6, 1941, that the United States would start a large-scale atomic project. This project would be known as the "Manhatten" Project. Speaking of war, Albert was able to avoid being inducted into the war due to the fact that he had flat feet and bulging veins. A little known third letter was written by Albert to President Rossevelt stating that atomic research should not be used against people. As a further note, Albert was appalled when the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Japan. Albert Einstein's character shows up where, like the famous relation, E=mc2, his imaginative daring came into play. Besides his equation, E=mc2, he immediately went further. Albert was so sure that his equation could not be refuted, he presumed without any further proof that his theory was correct and that mass was a form of energy. It would be many years before this would actually prove to be true. Another side of Albert Einstein shows up with the letter he sent to President Roosevelt. He opposed the use of force and the building weapons, but he could not stand silently by while another country had sole possession of destructive powers.
Albert Einstein, like so many, had a dark side to him also. His first daughter was born a year before he and Mileva were married, and they gave up their baby daughter for adoption shortly after her birth. Albert and Mileva also had two sons that they kept. In 1919, his first marriage to Mileva Maric ended in divorce. The same year, Albert married his cousin Elsa Einstein.
The death of Albert Einstein came on April 18, 1955 in Princeton, New Jersey. After a long illness, he died peacefully in his sleep. The listed cause of death is a ruptured artery in his heart. Upon his request in his will, there was no funeral, no grave, and no marker. His brain was donated to science and his body was cremated and his ashes were spread over a near-by river.
In conclusion, Albert Einstein ranks as one of the greatest people for his contributions towards physics and his part as a philosopher of science and as a humanitarian. And like so many other great people in history, he was criticized and even threatened with death for his beliefs and convictions. Even up to his final days, the genius continued his search for laws that would explain more of the universe. To this day, his ideas and theories are still being followed through on.
As a final insight to the personality and humor this genius possessed, he had been lecturing for over an hour on his theory time. Suddenly he stopped and with a pained look on his face, said, "I fear it is getting late. Does anyone know the time?" This great person was more at home in old clothes which included a sweater and his slippers and his long white hair than in any other way. It was also in the above attire that he often greeted his guests in and served them tea despite their reputation. So normal yet so brilliant!
Time Line of
1879 - In Ulm, Germany, Albert Einstein is born to Hermann and Pauline Einstein.
1884 - Beginning his quest to investigate the world, Albert receives his first compass from his father which he is fascinated with.
1889 - At age 10, Albert begins teaching himself about math and science. He was able to learn more on his own than in school.
1894 - At age 15, Albert stays in Munich to finish the school year as the Einsteins move from Munich to Pavia, Italy. After lasting only a term on his own, Albert then follows his family to Pavia.
1895 - Albert wanted to skip high school by going to a technical university but failed the arts portion of the entrance exam to the Swiss Polytechnic University. His family then sent him to Aarau, Switzerland to finish high school.
1896 - After graduating from high school when he was 17, Albert enrolls at the ETH (the Federal Polytechnic) in Zurich.
1898 - Mileva Maric, a Hungarian classmate at the ETH, captured Albert's eye and he falls in love with her.
1899 - By age 20, Albert had completed the most significant portion of his research for the basis of his theories.
1900 - Albert receives his diploma from ETH.
1901 - Albert is granted Swiss citizenship. Unemployed, he searches for work. Mileva becomes pregnant shortly after she and Albert meet in northern Italy for a tryst. In the fall, Albert finds work as a tutor in Schaffhausen,
Switzerland. Mileva, pregnant with their first child, moves three miles up the river to Stein Am Rhein. She then moves to Hungary to give birth to their baby at her parent's home. Albert moves to Bern.
1902 - Mileva gives birth to a baby girl in January, Lieserl, whom they eventually put up for adoption. She reportedly becomes ill and then all record of her disappears. Shortly after Albert takes a job at the Swiss Patent Office, Alberts father Hermann Einstein becomes ill and dies.
1903 - In January, Albert and Mileva were married.
1904 - Mileva gives birth to their first son, Hans Albert.
1905 - "Annus Mirabilis"-Einstein's "Miracle Year": his Special Theory of
Relativity is born. Einstein, submits his Paper on June 30th, "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies" to the leading German physics journal. At age 26, Albert formulates the equation E=mc2, as he applies his theory to mass and energy. The basis for this Paper was written when he was only 16 years old. Albert also wrote two other papers this same year. The second was the theory of relativity and the third, concerned statistical mechanics.
1906 - As Albert continues to live in Bern, he becomes an Examiner at the
Swiss Patent Office.
1907 - Einstein starts applying the laws of gravity to his Special Theory of
1908 - Einstein became a lecture at the University of Bern.
1909 - Einstein quits his job at the patent office where he worked.
1910 - Albert and Mileva's second son Eduard is born.
1911 - Albert is given a full professorship at the German University when he and his family move to Prague. Albert discovers that he is the youngest to attend the invitation-only Solvay Conference in Brussels, the first world physics conference.
1912 - When the Einsteins move to Zurich, Albert is given a position as a professor of Theoretical Physics at the ETH. Albert is allowed to do all of the research that he wants while at the University.
1913 - Einstein begins works on his new Theory of Gravity.
1914 - At the Kaiser Wilhelm Institutein Berlin, Einstein becomes director and professor of theoretical physics at the University of Berlin. The family moves there in April, but Mileva and the sons return to Zurich after 3 months. Proceedings for their divorce begin. In August, World War I begins.
1915 - The General Theory of Relativity research is completed by Einstein.
1916 - Einstein published the theory of Relativity.
1917 - Einstein collapses and, near death, falls seriously ill. Luckily,
Elsa, his cousin nurses him back to health. His first paper on cosmology is published.
1919 - Albert divorced his first wife Mileva and marries his cousan Elsa. On
May 29, Einstein's General Theory of Relativity is proved to be correct by a solar eclipse.
1921 - The Nobel Prize in Physics for the photoelectric efect is awarded to
1927 - Albert attends his fifth Solvay Conference and with Bohr, begins developing the Foundation of Quantum Mechanics.
1928 - Einstein starts pursuing his idea of a unified field theory.
1932 - While at age 53, Einstein is at the height of his fame. However, he begins to feel the heat of Nazi Germany because he is identified as a Jew. This is part of the reasond that Albert wrote the letter to President Roosevelt in 1939. He was concerned that Nazi Germany would have a sole power of distruction.
1933 - Together, Albert and Elsa set sail for the United States. They find settlement in Princeton, New Jersey, where he assumes a post at the Institute for Advanced Study.
1936 - Due to a brief illness, Elsa dies.
1939 - World War II begins. Albert, warning of the possibility of Germany's building an atomic bomb and urges nuclear research, writes a famous letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It would not be for two more years before the United States started large-scale atimic reasearch.
1940 - Albert finally receives his title as an American citizen but he is allowed to retain his citizenship as a Swiss.
1941 - As a result of Alberts letter to President Roosevelt, the automic research project, "Manhatten", is started.
1945 - Albert becomes chairman of the Emergency Committe of Automic Scientists as a result of the United States using the atomic bomb against the Japanese.
1948 - Albert begins to suffer from health problems attributed to a heart aneurysm.
1949 - Mileva dies.
1953 - Albert announced his Unified Field Theory and renounced The Quantum Theory.
1955 - Due in part to failing health over the last couple of years, and his refusal to have surgery on his weakened heart artery, Albert Einstein dies from a heart attack on April 18. At his request, his brain is donated to science and his body is cremated and the ashes spread over a near by river.
A Lengthier Biography of Albert Einstein
by: J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
Around 1886 Albert Einstein began his school career in Munich. As well as
his violin lessons, which he had from age six to age thirteen, he also had
religious education at home where he was taught Judaism. Two years later
he entered the Luitpold Gymnasium and after this his religious education
was given at school. He studied mathematics, in particular the calculus,
beginning around 1891.
In 1894 Einstein's family moved to Milan but Einstein remained in Munich.
In 1895 Einstein failed an examination that would have allowed him to
study for a diploma as an electrical engineer at the Eidgenössische
Technische Hochschule in Zurich. Einstein renounced German citizenship in
1896 and was to be stateless for a number of years. He did not even apply
for Swiss citizenship until 1899, citizenship being granted in 1901.
Following the failing of the entrance exam to the ETH, Einstein attended
secondary school at Aarau planning to use this route to enter the ETH in
Zurich. While at Aarau he wrote an essay (for which was only given a
little above half marks!) in which he wrote of his plans for the future:
If I were to have the good fortune to
pass my examinations, I would go to Zurich. I would stay there for four
years in order to study mathematics and physics. I imagine myself
becoming a teacher in those branches of the natural sciences, choosing
the theoretical part of them. Here are the reasons which lead me to this
plan. Above all, it is my disposition for abstract and mathematical
thought, and my lack of imagination and practical ability.
Indeed Einstein succeeded with his plan
graduating in 1900 as a teacher of mathematics and physics. One of his
friends at ETH was Marcel Grossmann who was in the same class as Einstein.
Einstein tried to obtain a post, writing to Hurwitz who held out some hope
of a position but nothing came of it. Three of Einstein's fellow students,
including Grossmann, were appointed assistants at ETH in Zurich but
clearly Einstein had not impressed enough and still in 1901 he was writing
round universities in the hope of obtaining a job, but without success.
He did manage to avoid Swiss military service on the grounds that he had
flat feet and varicose veins. By mid 1901 he had a temporary job as a
teacher, teaching mathematics at the Technical High School in Winterthur.
Around this time he wrote:-
I have given up the ambition to get to
a university ...
Another temporary position teaching in a
private school in Schaffhausen followed. Then Grossmann's father tried to
help Einstein get a job by recommending him to the director of the patent
office in Bern. Einstein was appointed as a technical expert third class.
Einstein worked in this patent office from 1902 to 1909, holding a
temporary post when he was first appointed, but by 1904 the position was
made permanent and in 1906 he was promoted to technical expert second
class. While in the Bern patent office he completed an astonishing range
of theoretical physics publications, written in his spare time without the
benefit of close contact with scientific literature or colleagues.
Einstein earned a doctorate from the University of Zurich in 1905 for a
thesis On a new determination of molecular dimensions. He dedicated the
thesis to Grossmann.
In the first of three papers, all written in 1905, Einstein examined the
phenomenon discovered by Max Planck, according to which electromagnetic
energy seemed to be emitted from radiating objects in discrete quantities.
The energy of these quanta was directly proportional to the frequency of
the radiation. This seemed to contradict classical electromagnetic theory,
based on Maxwell's equations and the laws of thermodynamics which assumed
that electromagnetic energy consisted of waves which could contain any
small amount of energy. Einstein used Planck's quantum hypothesis to
describe the electromagnetic radiation of light.
Einstein's second 1905 paper 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, Einstein assumed that the speed of light remained constant in
all frames of reference, as required by Maxwell's theory.
Later in 1905 Einstein showed how mass and energy were equivalent.
Einstein was not the first to propose all the components of special theory
of relativity. His contribution is unifying important parts of classical
mechanics and Maxwell's electrodynamics.
The third of Einstein's papers of 1905 concerned statistical mechanics, a
field of that had been studied by Ludwig Boltzmann and Josiah Gibbs.
After 1905 Einstein continued working in the areas described above. He
made important contributions to quantum theory, but he sought to extend
the special theory of relativity to phenomena involving acceleration. The
key appeared in 1907 with the principle of equivalence, in which
gravitational acceleration was held to be indistinguishable from
acceleration caused by mechanical forces. Gravitational mass was therefore
identical with inertial mass.
In 1908 Einstein became a lecturer at the University of Bern after
submitting his Habilitation thesis Consequences for the constitution
of radiation following from the energy distribution law of black bodies.
The following year he become professor of physics at the University of
Zurich, having resigned his lectureship at Bern and his job in the patent
office in Bern.
By 1909 Einstein was recognized as a leading scientific thinker and in
that year he resigned from the patent office. He was appointed a full
professor at the Karl-Ferdinand University in Prague in 1911. In fact 1911
was a very significant year for Einstein since 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 be highly significant as it would lead to the first
experimental evidence in favor of Einstein's theory.
About 1912, Einstein began a new phase of his gravitational research, with
the help of his mathematician friend Marcel Grossmann, by expressing his
work in terms of the tensor calculus of Tullio Levi-Civita and Gregorio
Ricci-Curbastro. Einstein called his new work the general theory of
relativity. He moved from Prague to Zurich in 1912 to take up a chair at
the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule in Zurich.
Einstein returned to Germany in 1914 but did not reapply for German
citizenship. What he accepted was an impressive offer. It was a research
position in the Prussian Academy of Sciences together with a chair (but no
teaching duties) at the University of Berlin. He was also offered the
directorship of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Physics in Berlin which
was about to be established.
After a number of false starts Einstein published, late in 1915, the
definitive version of general theory. Just before publishing this work he
lectured on general relativity at Göttingen and he wrote:-
To my great joy, I completely
succeeded in convincing Hilbert and Klein.
In fact Hilbert submitted for publication,
a week before Einstein completed his work, a paper which contains the
correct field equations of general relativity.
When British eclipse expeditions in 1919 confirmed his predictions,
Einstein was idolised by the popular press. The London Times ran the
headline on 7 November 1919:-
Revolution in science - New theory of the Universe - Newtonian ideas
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 which Einstein replied to in the press quoting Lorentz, Planck
and Eddington as supporting his theories and stating that certain Germans
would have attacked them if he had been:-
... a German national with or without
swastika instead of a Jew with liberal international convictions...
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. However he received the Barnard Medal
during his visit and lectured several times on relativity. He is reported
to have commented to the chairman at the lecture he gave in a large hall
at Princeton which was overflowing with people:-
I never realised that so many
Americans were interested in tensor analysis.
Einstein received the Nobel Prize in 1921
but not for relativity rather for his 1905 work on the photoelectric
effect. In fact he was not present in December 1922 to receive the prize
being on a voyage to Japan. Around this time he made many international
visits. He had visited Paris earlier in 1922 and during 1923 he visited
Palestine. After making his last major scientific discovery on the
association of waves with matter in 1924 he made further visits in 1925,
this time to South America.
Among further honours which Einstein received were the Copley Medal of the
Royal Society in 1925 and the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society
Niels Bohr and Einstein were to carry on a debate on quantum theory which
began at the Solvay Conference in 1927. Planck, Niels Bohr, de Broglie,
Heisenberg, Schrödinger and Dirac were at this conference, in addition to
Einstein. Einstein had declined to give a paper at the conference and:-
... said hardly anything beyond
presenting a very simple objection to the probability interpretation ....
Then he fell back into silence ...
Indeed Einstein's life had been hectic and
he was to pay the price in 1928 with a physical collapse brought on
through overwork. However he made a full recovery despite having to take
things easy throughout 1928.
By 1930 he 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. The following month
the Nazis came to power in Germany and Einstein was never to return there.
During 1933 Einstein travelled in Europe visiting Oxford, Glasgow,
Brussels and Zurich. Offers of academic posts which he had found it so
hard to get in 1901, were plentiful. He received offers from Jerusalem,
Leiden, Oxford, Madrid and Paris.
What was intended only as a visit became a permanent arrangement by 1935
when he applied and was granted permanent residency in the United States.
At Princeton his work attempted to unify the laws of physics. However he
was attempting problems of great depth and he wrote:-
I have locked myself into quite
hopeless scientific problems - the more so since, as an elderly man, I
have remained estranged from the society here...
In 1940 Einstein became a citizen of the
United States, but chose to retain his Swiss citizenship. He made many
contributions to peace during his life. 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 Congress.
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.
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
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
Einstein was cremated at Trenton, New Jersey at 4 pm on 18 April 1955 (the
day of his death). His ashes were scattered at an undisclosed place.
Article written by: J J O'Connor and E F