On March 14, 1879, Albert Einstein was born at at Ulm, in Württemberg, Germany. Einstein is a theoretical physicist best known for developing the general theory of relativity which is known as one of the two pillars of modern physics.
Einstein was born into a non-practicing Jewish family. His father was a salesman and engineer who founded a company which manufactured electrical equipment and his mother was a housewife. The future physicist attended elementary school in Munich, where he excelled in his studies. He took up violin, and although he was very bright, he had a hard time dealing with the incredibly strict Prussian education he received at school. He also struggled with speech problems. His slow cadence caused him to pause often while speaking to think about what he was going to say next. When he was older, Einstein made note of two events in his childhood that were of significant importance. The first was at age five when he was shown a compass for the first time and was intrigued by the invisible forces that moved the needle. The second was at age 12 when he found a geometry booked and studied it thoroughly.
In the following years, Einstein fell under the tutelage of a family friend and Polish medical student, Max Talmud. Talmud introduced Einstein to more advanced philosophy and mathematics, and Einstein based his first scientific paper, “The Investigation of the State of Aether in Magnetic Fields,” on his findings in a book about light beams and electricity given to him by Talmud.
When his family’s business began to fail in Munich, they moved to Italy, but Einstein was left behind to finish school. Because of his age he was likely to be drafted soon, so he used a doctor’s note to excuse himself from school and followed his family to Italy. His parents became deeply concerned that he would have no employable skills without a formal education, and would possibly face problems for also dodging the draft. Luckily, he was able to enroll in the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School in Zürich, Switzerland as long as he finished his high school education in Switzerland, which he did at age 17.
Einstein liked to study alone while he was in school, and this preference caused him to skip classes and gain unfavorable recognition from some of his professors. One professor he asked for a letter of recommendation wrote such terrible things about Einstein that he was turned down from every academic job he applied for. Because of this and because of his parent’s disapproval of her, Einstein was not able to marry the woman he was in love with, Mileva Maric, for fear that he would not be able to take care of their family life. Luckily, he was able to find a job as a clerk in a patent office, and his father gave Einstein his approval to marry Maric before he died. The two married in 1903, and they had two children together.
While working in the patent office, he had a revelation. One of his jobs was to evaluate patent applications for electromagnetic devices. He began to think deeply on the transmission of electrical signals and electrical-mechanical synchronization. Einstein had studied physicist James Maxwell’s electromagnetic theories on the nature of light, and discovered something even Maxwell hadn’t – that the speed of light remained constant. This thought violated Isaac Newton’s laws of motion and led to Einstein to form the principle of relativity.
1905 is known as Einstein’s “miracle year.” This is the year when he submitted his doctorate paper and had four papers published in a well-known physics journal. These papers’ subjects were the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, special relativity, and the equivalence of matter and energy. These papers dramatically shaped the course of modern physics and brought Einstein into light in the academic world. “The world’s most famous equation” was first brought up in Einstein’s paper on matter and energy. It foreshadowed the development of nuclear power by suggesting that tiny particles of matter could be converted into huge amounts of energy.
His papers were mostly ignored until he was commended by influential physicist of his generation and founder of quantum theory, Max Planck. He then began receiving invitations to give lectures and was offered positions at many prestigious schools. He accepted a position as the director of the Institute for Physics at the University of Berlin, a position which he held from 1913-1933. His busy schedule took a toll on his marriage and he began having an affair with his cousin, Elsa Löwenthal, who he eventually married. He promised Maric the money he would receive from winning the Nobel Prize, if he ever achieved that honor.
In 1915, Einstein completed his masterpiece – the general theory of relativity. In 1921, he received word that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize, but because relativity was still a controversial topic, he received the award for his explanation of the photoelectric effect.
His world travels became even more extensive and he traveled to countries like Sri Lanka and Japan. Everywhere he lectured, he was greeted like a rock star, with massive crowds gathering to hear him speak. As World War II began and Nazism was prevalent, he moved to the United States to spread pacifism, but also to urge President Roosevelt to begin nuclear bomb construction to beat the Germans to the task. This decision was something he later regretted because of nuclear weapons’ great capacity for destruction.
Einstein became a United States citizen in 1940 and began teaching at Princeton University. He was known during the time for his staunch criticism of racism, stating that it was America’s “worst disease.”
His legacy was so great that even after his death in 1955 at the age of 76, Einstein’s brain was removed by the pathologist to try to understand what made him so intelligent.