By Robert M. Hazen, Ph.D., George Mason University
Albert Einstein, one of the greatest physicists in the history of mankind, stood apart from the rest of the people in his times, it seems. It’s really hard to know who this man really was, this isolated genius. Read on to know more about his early life, his role as a public figure, and some of his remarkable achievements.
Growing Years of Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein was born in 1879 in southern German town of Ulm. As a young student, he developed an intense dislike for the ridged public education system. He showed little enthusiasm for learning until his uncle began to teach him mathematics on the side.
The teenage Einstein excelled in science and in math, and he was admitted to the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School in Zurich to train as a teacher. In college, he was inclined to avoid classes. He thought they were dull and pedantic; he didn’t like the lecturers. And he studied primarily on his own.
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Einstein’s First Job
Einstein wanted to become a teacher. He graduated with a degree, and also gained Swiss citizenship in 1900. He then continued on to get his doctorate from the University of Zurich in 1905. Upon graduating, Einstein was unable to find a teaching position.
Nonetheless, Einstein was quite disappointed with his teaching position. In fact, it turns out it may have been one of the great lucky breaks in the history of science because instead of teaching, he took up a job as a technical patent examiner in Bern. That was a position that left him plenty of time to think and to write; to do the sort of thing that Isaac Newton did when he was a young man.
1905: Einstein’s Year of Miracles
Einstein published four transforming papers in the year 1905. These papers include the ‘Special Theory of Relativity’, ‘Understanding of the Equivalence of Mass and Energy’, ‘Theory of Brownian Motion’, which provided compelling evidence for the existence of atoms and finally described the ‘Photoelectric Phenomenon’ in terms of the Quantum Theory of Light.
Einstein had an amazing year, just like Newton did back in 1665 and 1666. These discoveries seemed to be in esoteric aspects of theoretical physics, but they brought Einstein a huge amount of fame and succession of professorships at Zurich, Prague, and Berlin.
This is a transcript from the video series The Joy of Science. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
Remarkable Achievements of Einstein
Einstein used the idea to get the special relativity theory in its great central paradox that time and space are relative to an observer’s reference frame. He also stated that the speed of light was a constant. Among the amazing paradoxes of his work are that length and the length contraction of objects, the fact that mass increases as you approach the speed of light, also the equivalence of mass and energy.
The year 1916 saw the publication of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. In 1921, he won the Nobel Prize for Physics for his photoelectric law and also for work in the ‘domain of theoretical physics’. They weren’t quite ready to acknowledge the theory of relativity as his great discovery so they gave it to him for something else that was certainly profoundly important, but not what he’s best remembered for.
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Albert Einstein’s Role as a Public Figure
From 1921 until his death in 1953, Albert Einstein became an increasingly public figure. He happened to be lecturing in California when Hitler came to power and stayed on in the U.S. accepting a position at the Advanced Studies Institute in Princeton, New Jersey.
Einstein became an American citizen in 1941. He was a passionate supporter of the Jewish state, and was even offered the presidency of Israel in 1952, although he turned it down.
Role in History of the Atom Bomb
Einstein’s public role was quite important. He played a significant role in the history of the atom bomb. For example, in 1939 Einstein wrote a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt warning that the Germans might actually be constructing or attempting to construct an atomic bomb.
Hence, the U.S. might want to consider doing a similar sort of program. The Germans, it turned out, did not have a major nuclear weapons program, but Einstein’s letter turned out to be a prime impetus for the Manhattan Project.
Einstein will always remain a mythic figure in the minds of most people, somehow outside of the realm of the normal sort of people that we meet. His friends spoke of Einstein as a person with warm humor. He loved to sail and had passion for music.
Much has been written about Albert Einstein, but it’s hard to get a real grip on the person. He was a brilliant and reclusive thinker, a reluctant public figure, a passionate advocate for social justice. He was a failed husband and a disappointed father. It’s really hard to know who this man really was, this isolated genius. He stood apart from the rest of the people in his time, it seems.
Common Questions about Albert Einstein
In 1921, Albert Einstein won the Nobel Prize for Physics for his photoelectric law and work in the ‘domain of theoretical physics’. This discovery was profoundly important but not what he is best remembered for.
Einstein published four remarkable papers in the year 1905 that transformed the way the concepts of space, time, mass, and energy was understood. These papers were on the topics of ‘Special Theory of Relativity’, ‘Understanding of the Equivalence of Mass and Energy’, ‘Theory of Brownian Motion’, and ‘Photoelectric Phenomenon’.
Albert Einstein was a passionate supporter of the Jewish state, and was offered the presidency of Israel in 1952, although he turned down that position.
Einstein played a significant role in the history of the atom bomb. In 1939, Einstein wrote a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt warning that the Germans might actually be constructing or attempting to construct an atomic bomb. This letter turned out to be a prime impetus for the Manhattan Project.