Albert Einstein

The German-born Physicist

Early Life

Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879 in the Kingdom of Württemberg, Germany. Albert Einstein was his real full name that he received at birth and he never had it changed. Einstein shared his last name with his parents, Hermann and Pauline Einstein. The surname Einstein was common among German Jews at the time. Albert also had a sister named Maja that was 2 years younger. His engineer father gave him a compass at the age of five, and he puzzled over the nature of a magnetic field for the rest of his life. Einstein also tended to think in pictures rather than words.

At the age of fifteen Albert quit high school disgusted by routine learning and disciplinarian teachers, and followed his family to Italy where they had moved their failing engineering business. After half a year of wandering, he attended a Swiss school.

Einstein was slow in learning how to speak and his parents even consulted a doctor. He also was a rebel toward authority, which led to his expulsion. One headmaster even said that he would never amount to much. These traits, in the long run, helped make him a genius. His contempt for authority led him to question conventional wisdom and his slow verbal development made him curious about ordinary things.

College life and mathematical training

In 1896, Einstein entered the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. After working hard in the laboratory but skipping lectures because he thought they were dull, Einstein graduated with an unexceptional record. For nearly two years he could find only odd jobs, but he finally got a job as a patent examiner. As a patent examiner, he was responsible for examining the blueprints of other people's inventions and then determining whether or not they were reasonable. If they were, Einstein had to ensure no one else had already been given a patent for the same idea. Somehow, between his very busy work and family life, Einstein not only found time to earn a doctorate from the University of Zurich, but found time to think. Further, while working at the patent office, Einstein made his most shocking and amazing discoveries.
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In 1905, Einstein's "miracle year," he submitted a paper for his doctorate and had four papers published in the Annalen der Physik, one of the best known physics journals. The four papers—the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, special relativity, and the equivalence of matter and energy—would change the world of modern physics. In his paper on matter and energy Einstein came up with the well-known equation E=mc2, suggesting that tiny particles of matter could be converted into huge amounts of energy, predicting the development of nuclear power.

In November, 1915, Einstein completed the general theory of relativity, which he considered his masterpiece. He was convinced that general relativity was correct because it accurately predicted the perihelion of Mercury's orbit around the sun, which fell short in Newton’s theory. In 1921, Albert Einstein received word that he had received the Nobel Prize for Physics. Because relativity was still considered controversial, Einstein received the award for his explanation of the photoelectric effect.

In the summer of 1939, Einstein, along with another scientist, Leo Szilard, was persuaded to write a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt to alert him of the possibility of a Nazi bomb. President Roosevelt could not risk the possibility that Germany might develop an atomic bomb first. The letter is believed to be the key factor that motivated the United States to investigate the development of nuclear weapons.

Einstein’s work gave us much more than television, remote controls, and digital cameras. His work paved the way for math and science today and helped mathematicians and scientists understand more about the world around them. Einstein was a true genius and one of the greatest mathematicians to ever live.

Later Years

In 1935, Einstein became a resident of the United States and was granted citizenship in 1940. Enjoying the freedom of speech in America, he spoke out about many social and political issues:
  • He joined civil rights organizations and spoke in favor of one world government.
  • He supported the new nation of Israel but was a critic of the excessive violence.
  • He served on the First Board of Governors of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem but turned down the post of Israeli President, which was largely ceremonial. He had no desire to be a politician.

On his 75th birthday, a parrot was given to him and he enjoyed telling it jokes. His health was failing by then, so he mostly kept to himself. He enjoyed sailing and music, and often pretended to be ill so he would not have to pose for photographs.

He was still working on his theories and a speech for the seventh anniversary of the State of Israel the day before going into the hospital. He died of an abdominal aortic aneurysm on April 18, 1955. His ashes were spread on the grounds of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton.

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