(March 14, 1879 – April 18, 1955) was a German-born theoretical physicist.
He is best known for his theory of relativity and specifically mass-energy
equivalence, E = mc2.
Einstein received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics "for his services to
Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the
Einstein's many contributions to physics include his special theory of
relativity, which reconciled mechanics with electromagnetism, and his general
theory of relativity which extended the principle of relativity to non-uniform
motion, creating a new theory of gravitation. His other contributions include
relativistic cosmology, capillary action, critical opalescence, classical
problems of statistical mechanics and their application to quantum theory, an
explanation of the Brownian movement of molecules, atomic transition
probabilities, the quantum theory of a monatomic gas, thermal properties of
light with low radiation density (which laid the foundation for the photon
theory), a theory of radiation including stimulated emission, the conception of
a unified field theory, and the geometrization of physics.
Works by Albert Einstein include more than fifty scientific papers and also
In 1999 Einstein was named Time magazine's "Person of the Century", and a
poll of prominent physicists named him the greatest physicist of all time.
In popular culture the name "Einstein" has become synonymous with genius.
Youth and schooling
Albert Einstein was born into a Jewish family in Ulm, Württemberg, Germany.
His father was Hermann Einstein, a salesman and engineer. His mother was Pauline
Einstein (née Koch). Although Albert had early speech difficulties, he was a top
student in elementary school (Rosenkranz 2005, p. 29).
In 1880, the family moved to Munich, where his father and his uncle founded a
company, Elektrotechnische Fabrik J. Einstein & Cie that manufactured electrical
equipment, providing the first lighting for the Oktoberfest and cabling for the
Munich suburb of Schwabing. The Einsteins were not observant of Jewish religious
practices, and Albert attended a Catholic elementary school. At his mother's
insistence, he took violin lessons, and although he disliked them and eventually
quit, he would later take great pleasure in Mozart's violin sonatas.
When Albert was five, his father showed him a pocket compass. Albert realized
that something in empty space was moving the needle and later stated that this
experience made "a deep and lasting impression".
As he grew, Albert built models and mechanical devices for fun, and began to
show a talent for mathematics.
In 1889, family friend Max Talmud (later: Talmey), a medical student,
introduced the ten-year-old Albert to key science and philosophy texts,
including Kant's Critique of Pure Reason and Euclid's Elements
(Einstein called it the "holy little geometry book").
From Euclid, Albert began to understand deductive reasoning (integral to
theoretical physics), and by the age of twelve, he learned Euclidean geometry
from a school booklet. Soon thereafter he began to investigate calculus.
In his early teens, Albert attended the new and progressive Luitpold
Gymnasium. His father intended for him to pursue electrical engineering, but
Albert clashed with authorities and resented the school regimen. He later wrote
that the spirit of learning and creative thought were lost in strict rote
In 1894, when Einstein was fifteen, his father's business failed, and the
Einstein family moved to Italy, first to Milan and then, after a few months, to
Pavia. During this time, Albert wrote his first scientific work, "The
Investigation of the State of Aether in Magnetic Fields".
Albert had been left behind in Munich to finish high school, but in the spring
of 1895, he withdrew to join his family in Pavia, convincing the school to let
him go by using a doctor's note.
Rather than completing high school, Albert decided to apply directly to the
ETH Zürich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland.
Without a school certificate, he was required to take an entrance examination.
He did not pass. Einstein wrote that it was in that same year, at age 16, that
he first performed his famous thought experiment, visualizing traveling
alongside a beam of light (Einstein 1979).
The Einsteins sent Albert to Aarau, Switzerland to finish secondary school.
While lodging with the family of Professor Jost Winteler, he fell in love with
the family's daughter, Sofia Marie-Jeanne Amanda Winteler, called "Marie".
(Albert's sister, Maja, his confidant, later married Paul Winteler.)
In Aarau, Albert studied Maxwell's electromagnetic theory. In 1896, he graduated
at age 17, renounced his German citizenship to avoid military service (with his
father's approval), and finally enrolled in the mathematics program at ETH. On
February 21, 1901, he gained Swiss citizenship, which he never revoked.
Marie moved to Olsberg, Switzerland for a teaching post.
In 1896, Einstein's future wife, Mileva Marić, also enrolled at ETH, as the
only woman studying mathematics. During the next few years, Einstein and Marić's
friendship developed into romance. Einstein's mother objected because she
thought Marić "too old", not Jewish, and "physically defective".
Einstein and Marić had a daughter, Lieserl Einstein, born in early 1902.
Her fate is unknown.
In 1900, Einstein's friend Michele Besso introduced him to the work of Ernst
Mach. The next year, Einstein published a paper in the prestigious Annalen
der Physik on the capillary forces of a straw (Einstein
1901). He graduated from ETH with a teaching diploma.
The patent office
Following graduation, Einstein could not find a teaching post. After almost
two years of searching, a former classmate's father helped him get a job in
Bern, at the Federal Office for Intellectual Property,
the patent office, as an assistant examiner. His responsibility was evaluating
patent applications for electromagnetic devices. Einstein occasionally corrected
design errors while evaluating patent applications.
In 1903, Einstein's position at the Swiss Patent Office was made permanent,
although he was passed over for promotion until he "fully mastered machine
Einstein's college friend, Michele Besso, also worked at the patent office.
With friends they met in Bern, they formed a weekly discussion club on science
and philosophy, jokingly named "The Olympia Academy". Their readings included
Poincaré, Mach and Hume, who influenced Einstein's scientific and philosophical
While this period at the patent office has often been cited as a waste of
Einstein's talents, or as a
temporary job with no connection to his interests in physics,
the historian of science Peter Galison has argued that Einstein's work there was
connected to his later interests. Much of that work related to questions about
transmission of electric signals and electrical-mechanical synchronization of
time: two technical problems of the day that show up conspicuously in the
thought experiments that led Einstein to his radical conclusions about the
nature of light and the fundamental connection between space and time.
Einstein married Mileva Marić on January 6, 1903, and their relationship was,
for a time, a personal and intellectual partnership. In a letter to her,
Einstein wrote of Mileva as "a creature who is my equal and who is as strong and
independent as I am." There has
been debate about whether Marić influenced Einstein's work; most historians do
not think she made major contributions, however.
On May 14, 1904, Albert and Mileva's first son, Hans Albert Einstein, was born.
Their second son, Eduard Einstein, was born on July 28, 1910.
The Annus Mirabilis
In 1905, while working in the patent office, Einstein published four times in
the Annalen der Physik, the leading German physics journal. These are the
papers that history has come to call the Annus Mirabilis Papers:
- His paper on the particulate nature of light put forward the idea that
certain experimental results, notably the photoelectric effect, could be simply
understood from the postulate that light interacts with matter as discrete
"packets" (quanta) of energy, an idea that had been introduced by Max Planck in
1900 as a purely mathematical manipulation, and which seemed to contradict
contemporary wave theories of light. This was the only work of Einstein's that
he himself pronounced as "revolutionary". (Einstein 1905a)
- His paper on Brownian motion explained the random movement of very small
objects as direct evidence of molecular action, thus supporting the atomic
theory. (Einstein 1905c)
- His paper on the electrodynamics of moving bodies proposed the radical
theory of special relativity, which showed that the independence of an
observer's state of motion on the observed speed of light requires fundamental
changes to the notion of simultaneity. The consequences of this include the
time-space frame of a moving body slowing down and contracting (in the direction
of motion) relative to the frame of the observer. This paper also argued that
the idea of a luminiferous aether—one of the leading theoretical entities in
physics at the time—was superfluous. (Einstein 1905d)
- In his paper on the equivalence of matter and energy (previously considered
to be distinct concepts), Einstein deduced from his equations of special
relativity what would later become the most famous expression in all of science:
E = mc2, suggesting that
tiny amounts of mass could be converted into huge amounts of energy.
All four papers are today recognized as tremendous achievements—and hence
1905 is known as Einstein's "Wonderful Year". At the time, however, they were
not noticed by most physicists as being important, and many of those who did
notice them rejected them outright. Some of this work—such as the theory of
light quanta—would remain controversial for years.
(Pais 1982, pp. 382–386)
At the age of 26, having studied under Alfred Kleiner, Professor of
Experimental Physics, Einstein was awarded a PhD by the University of Zurich.
His dissertation was entitled "A new determination of molecular dimensions."
Light and general relativity
In 1906, the patent office promoted Einstein to Technical Examiner Second
Class, but he was not giving up on academia. In 1908, he became a privatdozent
at the University of Bern (Pais 1982, p. 522). In
1910, he wrote a paper on critical opalescence that described the cumulative
effect of light scattered by individual molecules in the atmosphere, i.e. why
the sky is blue (Levenson 2005).
During 1909, Einstein published "Über die Entwicklung unserer Anschauungen
über das Wesen und die Konstitution der Strahlung" ("The Development of Our
Views on the Composition and Essence of Radiation"), on the quantization of
light. In this and in an earlier 1909 paper, Einstein showed that Max Planck's
energy quanta must have well-defined momenta and act in some respects as
independent, point-like particles. This paper introduced the photon
concept (although the term itself was introduced by Gilbert N. Lewis in 1926)
and inspired the notion of wave–particle duality in quantum mechanics.
In 1911, Einstein became an associate professor at the University of Zurich.
However, shortly afterward, he accepted a full professorship at the Charles
University of Prague. While in Prague, Einstein published a paper about the
effects of gravity on light, specifically the gravitational redshift and the
gravitational deflection of light. The paper appealed to astronomers to find
ways of detecting the deflection during a solar eclipse.
German astronomer Erwin Freundlich publicized Einstein's challenge to scientists
around the world (Crelinsten 2006).
In 1912, Einstein returned to Switzerland to accept a professorship at his
alma mater, the ETH. There he met mathematician Marcel Grossmann who introduced
him to Riemannian geometry, and at the recommendation of Italian mathematician
Tullio Levi-Civita, Einstein began exploring the usefulness of general
covariance (essentially the use of tensors) for his gravitational theory.
Although for a while Einstein thought that there were problems with that
approach, he later returned to it and by late 1915 had published his general
theory of relativity in the form that is still used today
(Einstein 1915). This theory explains gravitation as distortion of the
structure of spacetime by matter, affecting the inertial motion of other matter.
After many relocations, Mileva established a permanent home with the children
in Zurich in 1914, just before the start of World War I. Einstein continued on
alone to Germany, more precisely to Berlin, where he became a member of the
Preußische Akademie der Wissenschaften. As part of the arrangements for his new
position, he also became a professor at the University of Berlin, although with
a special clause freeing him from most teaching obligations. From 1914 to 1932
he was also director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for physics
During World War I, the speeches and writings of Central Powers scientists
were only available to Central Powers academics for national security reasons.
Some of Einstein's work did reach the United Kingdom and the USA through the
efforts of the Austrian Paul Ehrenfest and physicists in the Netherlands,
especially 1902 Nobel Prize-winner Hendrik Lorentz and Willem de Sitter of the
Leiden University. After the war ended, Einstein maintained his relationship
with the Leiden University, accepting a contract as a buitengewoon hoogleraar;
he travelled to Holland regularly to lecture there between 1920 and 1930.
In 1917, Einstein published an article in Physikalische Zeitschrift
that proposed the possibility of stimulated emission, the physical technique
that makes possible the laser (Einstein 1917b). He
also published a paper introducing a new notion, a cosmological constant, into
the general theory of relativity in an attempt to model the behavior of the
entire universe (Einstein 1917a).
1917 was the year astronomers began taking Einstein up on his 1911 challenge
from Prague. The Mount Wilson Observatory in California, USA, published a solar
spectroscopic analysis that showed no gravitational redshift
(Crelinsten 2006, pp. 103–108). In 1918, the Lick
Observatory, also in California, announced that they too had disproven
Einstein's prediction, although their findings were not published
(Crelinsten 2006, pp. 114–119, 126–140).
However, in May 1919, a team led by British astronomer Arthur Eddington
claimed to have confirmed Einstein's prediction of gravitational deflection of
starlight by the Sun while photographing a solar eclipse in Sobral northern
Brazil and Principe (Crelinsten 2006). On November
7, 1919, leading British newspaper The Times printed a banner headline
that read: "Revolution in Science – New Theory of the Universe – Newtonian Ideas
Overthrown". In an
interview Nobel laureate Max Born praised general relativity as the "greatest
feat of human thinking about nature";
fellow laureate Paul Dirac was quoted saying it was "probably the greatest
scientific discovery ever made" (Schmidhuber 2006).
In their excitement, the world media made Albert Einstein world-famous.
Ironically, later examination of the photographs taken on the Eddington
expedition showed that the experimental uncertainty was of about the same
magnitude as the effect Eddington claimed to have demonstrated, and in 1962 a
British expedition concluded that the method used was inherently unreliable.
The deflection of light during an eclipse has, however, been more accurately
measured (and confirmed) by later observations.
There was some resentment toward the newcomer Einstein's fame in the
scientific community, notably among German physicists, who would later start the
Deutsche Physik (German Physics) movement (Hentschel
& Hentschel 1996, p. xxi).
Having lived apart for five years, Einstein and Mileva divorced on February
14, 1919. On June 2 of that year, Einstein married Elsa Löwenthal, who had
nursed him through an illness. Elsa was Albert's first cousin (maternally) and
his second cousin (paternally). Together the Einsteins raised Margot and Ilse,
Elsa's daughters from her first marriage.
Albert Einstein bust at his home in
The Nobel Prize
In 1921 Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, "for his services to
Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the
photoelectric effect". This refers to his 1905 paper on the photoelectric
effect: "On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Production and Transformation
of Light", which was well supported by the experimental evidence by that time.
The presentation speech began by mentioning "his theory of relativity [which
had] been the subject of lively debate in philosophical circles [and] also has
astrophysical implications which are being rigorously examined at the present
time." (Einstein 1923)
Einstein travelled to New York City in the United States for the first time
on April 2, 1921. When asked where he got his scientific ideas, Einstein
explained that he believed scientific work best proceeds from an examination of
physical reality and a search for underlying axioms, with consistent
explanations that apply in all instances and avoid contradicting each other. He
also recommended theories with visualizable results
Unified field theory
Einstein's research after general relativity consisted primarily of a long
series of attempts to generalize his theory of gravitation in order to unify and
simplify the fundamental laws of physics, particularly gravitation and
electromagnetism. In 1950, he described this "Unified Field Theory" in a
Scientific American article entitled "On the Generalized Theory of
Gravitation" (Einstein 1950).
Although he continued to be lauded for his work in theoretical physics,
Einstein became increasingly isolated in his research, and his attempts were
ultimately unsuccessful. In his pursuit of a unification of the fundamental
forces, he ignored mainstream developments in physics (and vice versa), most
notably the strong and weak nuclear forces, which were not well understood until
many years after Einstein's death. Einstein's goal of unifying the laws of
physics under a single model survives in the current drive for the grand
Collaboration and conflict
In 1924, Einstein received a statistical model from Indian physicist
Satyendra Nath Bose which showed that light could be understood as a gas. Bose's
statistics applied to some atoms as well as to the proposed light particles, and
Einstein submitted his translation of Bose's paper to the Zeitschrift für
Physik. Einstein also published his own articles describing the model and
its implications, among them the Bose–Einstein condensate phenomenon that should
appear at very low temperatures (Einstein 1924). It
was not until 1995 that the first such condensate was produced experimentally by
Eric Cornell and Carl Wieman using ultra-cooling equipment built at the
NIST-JILA laboratory at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Bose–Einstein statistics are now used to describe the behaviors of any assembly
of "bosons". Einstein's sketches for this project may be seen in the Einstein
Archive in the library of the Leiden University (Instituut-Lorentz
Schrödinger gas model
Einstein suggested to Erwin Schrödinger an application of Max Planck's idea
of treating energy levels for a gas as a whole rather than for individual
molecules, and Schrödinger applied this in a paper using the Boltzmann
distribution to derive the thermodynamic properties of a semiclassical ideal
gas. Schrödinger urged Einstein to add his name as co-author, although Einstein
declined the invitation.
The Einstein refrigerator
In 1926, Einstein and his former student Leó Szilárd, a Hungarian physicist
who later worked on the Manhattan Project and is credited with the discovery of
the chain reaction, co-invented (and in 1930, patented) the Einstein
refrigerator, revolutionary for having no moving parts and using only heat, not
ice, as an input (Goettling 1998).
Bohr versus Einstein
In the 1920s, quantum mechanics developed into a more complete theory.
Einstein was unhappy with the "Copenhagen interpretation" of quantum theory
developed by Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, wherein quantum phenomena are
inherently probabilistic, with definite states resulting only upon interaction
with classical systems. A public debate between Einstein and Bohr followed,
lasting for many years (including during the Solvay Conferences). Einstein
formulated gedanken experiments against the Copenhagen interpretation, which
were all rebutted by Bohr. In a 1926 letter to Max Born, Einstein wrote: "I, at
any rate, am convinced that He does not throw dice."
Einstein was never satisfied by what he perceived to be quantum theory's
intrinsically incomplete description of nature, and in 1935 he further explored
the issue in collaboration with Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen, noting that the
theory seems to require non-local interactions; this is known as the EPR paradox
(Einstein 1935). The EPR gedanken experiment has
since been performed, with results confirming quantum theory's predictions.
Einstein's disagreement with Bohr revolved around the idea of scientific
determinism. For this reason the repercussions of the Einstein-Bohr debate have
found their way into philosophical discourse as well.
The question of scientific determinism gave rise to questions about
Einstein's position on theological determinism, and even whether or not he
believed in God. In 1929, Einstein told Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein "I believe in
Spinoza's God, who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a
God Who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind."
(Brian 1996, p. 127) In 1950, in a letter to M.
Berkowitz, Einstein stated that "My position concerning God is that of an
agnostic. I am convinced that a vivid consciousness of the primary importance of
moral principles for the betterment and ennoblement of life does not need the
idea of a law-giver, especially a law-giver who works on the basis of reward and
Einstein, 1921. Age 42.
Einstein defined his religious views in a letter he wrote in response to
those who claimed that he worshipped a Judeo-Christian god: "It was, of course,
a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being
systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never
denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be
called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the
world so far as our science can reveal it."
By his own definition, Einstein was a deeply religious person
(Pais 1982, p. 319).
He published a paper in Nature in 1940 entitled Science and Religion
which gave his views on the subject.
In this he says that: "a person who is religiously enlightened appears to me to
be one who has, to the best of his ability, liberated himself from the fetters
of his selfish desires and is preoccupied with thoughts, feelings and
aspirations to which he clings because of their super-personal value ...
regardless of whether any attempt is made to unite this content with a Divine
Being, for otherwise it would not be possible to count Buddha and Spinoza as
religious personalities. Accordingly a religious person is devout in the sense
that he has no doubt of the significance of those super-personal objects and
goals which neither require nor are capable of rational foundation ... In this
sense religion is the age-old endeavour of mankind to become clearly and
completely conscious of these values and goals, and constantly to strengthen
their effects." He argues that conflicts between science and religion "have all
sprung from fatal errors." However "even though the realms of religion and
science in themselves are clearly marked off from each other" there are "strong
reciprocal relationships and dependencies" ... "science without religion is
lame, religion without science is blind ... a legitimate conflict between
science and religion cannot exist." However he makes it clear that he does not
believe in a personal God, and suggests that "neither the rule of human nor
Divine Will exists as an independent cause of natural events. To be sure, the
doctrine of a personal God interfering with natural events could never be
refuted ... by science, for [it] can always take refuge in those domains in
which scientific knowledge has not yet been able to set foot."
(Einstein 1940, pp. 605–607)
Einstein championed the work of psychologist Paul Diel,
which posited a biological and psychological, rather than theological or
sociological, basis for morality.
The most thorough exploration of Einstein's views on religion was made by his
friend Max Jammer in the 1999 book Einstein and Religion
Einstein was an Honorary Associate of the Rationalist Press Association
beginning in 1934, and was an admirer of Ethical Culture
(Ericson 2006). He served on the advisory board of the First Humanist
Society of New York (See Stringer-Hye 1999 and Wilson 1995).
With increasing public demands, his involvement in political, humanitarian
and academic projects in various countries and his new acquaintances with
scholars and political figures from around the world, Einstein was less able to
get the productive isolation that, according to biographer Ronald W. Clark, he
needed in order to work (Clark 1971). Due to his
fame and genius, Einstein found himself called on to give conclusive judgments
on matters that had nothing to do with theoretical physics or mathematics. He
was not timid, and he was aware of the world around him, with no illusion that
ignoring politics would make world events fade away. His very visible position
allowed him to speak and write frankly, even provocatively, at a time when many
people of conscience could only flee to the underground or keep doubts about
developments within their own movements to themselves for fear of internecine
fighting. Einstein flouted the ascendant Nazi movement, tried to be a voice of
moderation in the tumultuous formation of the State of Israel and braved
anti-communist politics and resistance to the civil rights movement in the
United States. He became honorary president of the League against Imperialism
created in Brussels in 1927.
Einstein was a cultural Zionist. In 1931, The Macmillan Company published
About Zionism: Speeches and Lectures by Professor Albert Einstein.
Querido, an Amsterdam publishing house, collected eleven of Einstein's essays
into a 1933 book entitled Mein Weltbild, translated to English as The
World as I See It; Einstein's foreword dedicates the collection "to the Jews
of Germany". In the face of
Germany's rising militarism Einstein wrote and spoke for peace
(American Museum of Natural History 2002).
Despite his years as a proponent of Jewish history and culture, Einstein
publicly stated reservations about the proposal to partition the
British-supervised British Mandate of Palestine into independent Arab and Jewish
countries. In a 1938 speech, "Our Debt to Zionism", he said: "I am afraid of the
inner damage Judaism will sustain - especially from the development of a narrow
nationalism within our own ranks, against which we have already had to fight
strongly, even without a Jewish state." (Rowe & Schulmann
2007) The United Nations did divide the mandate, demarcating the borders
of several new countries including the State of Israel, and war broke out
immediately. Einstein was one of the authors of a 1948 letter to the New York
Times criticizing Menachem Begin's Revisionist Herut (Freedom) Party for the
Deir Yassin massacre (Einstein et al. 1948).
Einstein served on the Board of Governors of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
In his Will of 1950, Einstein bequeathed literary rights to his writings to The
Hebrew University, where many of his original documents are held in the Albert
Einstein Archives (Albert Einstein Archives 2007).
When President Chaim Weizmann died in 1952, Einstein was asked to be Israel's
second president but he declined. He wrote: "I am deeply moved by the offer from
our State of Israel, and at once saddened and ashamed that I cannot accept it."
(Princeton Online 1995)
In January 1933, Adolf Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany. One of the
first actions of Hitler's administration was the "Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung
des Berufsbeamtentums" (the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil
Service) which removed Jews and politically suspect government employees
(including university professors) from their jobs, unless they had demonstrated
their loyalty to Germany by serving in World War I. In December 1932, in
response to this growing threat, Einstein had prudently traveled to the USA. For
several years he had been wintering at the California Institute of Technology in
Pasadena, California, and also was
a guest lecturer at Abraham Flexner's newly founded Institute for Advanced Study
in Princeton, New Jersey.
The Einstein family bought a house in Princeton (where Elsa died in 1936),
and Einstein remained an integral contributor to the Institute for Advanced
Study until his death in 1955. During the 1930s and into World War II, Einstein
wrote affidavits recommending United States visas for a huge number of Jews from
Europe trying to flee persecution, raised money for Zionist organizations and
was in part responsible for the formation, in 1933, of the International Rescue
Committee (Princeton Online 1995).
Meanwhile in Germany, a campaign to eliminate Einstein's work from the German
lexicon as unacceptable "Jewish physics" (Jüdische physik) was led by
Nobel laureates Philipp Lenard and Johannes Stark. Deutsche Physik
activists published pamphlets and even textbooks denigrating Einstein, and
instructors who taught his theories were blacklisted, including Nobel laureate
Werner Heisenberg who had debated quantum probability with Bohr and Einstein.
Philipp Lenard claimed that the mass–energy equivalence formula needed to be
credited to Friedrich Hasenöhrl to make it an Aryan creation.
Einstein became a citizen of the United States in 1940, although he retained
his Swiss citizenship.
The atomic bomb
Concerned scientists, many of them refugees from European anti-Semitism in
the U.S., recognized the possibility that German scientists were working toward
developing an atomic bomb. They knew that Einstein's fame might make their fears
more believable. In 1939, Leo Szilárd and Einstein wrote a letter to U.S.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt warning that the Third Reich might be
developing nuclear weapons based on their own research.
The United States took stock of this warning, and within five years, the U.S.
created its own nuclear weapons, and used them on the Japanese cities of
Nagasaki and Hiroshima. According to chemist and author Linus Pauling, Einstein
later expressed regret about the Szilárd-Einstein letter.
Along with other prominent individuals such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Henry
Morgenthau, Jr., Einstein in 1947 participated in a "National Conference on the
German Problem," which produced a declaration stating that "any plans to
resurrect the economic and political power of Germany… [were] dangerous to the
security of the world."
Albert Einstein receiving his
certificate of American citizenship
Cold War era
When he was a visible figure working against the rise of Nazism, Einstein had
sought help and developed working relationships in both the West and what was to
become the Soviet bloc. After World War II, enmity between the former allies
became a very serious issue for people with international resumes. To make
things worse, during the first days of McCarthyism Einstein was writing about a
single world government; it was at this time that he wrote, "I do not know how
the third World War will be fought, but I can tell you what they will use in the
Fourth — rocks!" (Calaprice 2005, p. 173)
In a 1949 Monthly Review article entitled "Why Socialism?"
Albert Einstein described a chaotic capitalist society, a source of evil to be
overcome, as the "predatory phase of human development"
(Einstein 1949). With Albert Schweitzer and Bertrand Russell, Einstein
lobbied to stop nuclear testing and future bombs. Days before his death,
Einstein signed the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, which led to the Pugwash
Conferences on Science and World Affairs.
Einstein was a member of several civil rights groups, including the Princeton
chapter of the NAACP. He served as co-chair with Paul Robeson of the American
Crusade to End Lynching. When the aged W.E.B. DuBois was accused of being a
communist spy, Einstein volunteered as a character witness and the case was
dismissed shortly afterward. Einstein's friendship with activist Paul Robeson
lasted 20 years.
In 1946, Einstein collaborated with Rabbi Israel Goldstein, Middlesex heir C.
Ruggles Smith, and activist attorney George Alpert on the Albert Einstein
Foundation for Higher Learning, Inc., which was formed to create a
Jewish-sponsored secular university, open to all students, on the grounds of the
former Middlesex College in Waltham, Massachusetts. Middlesex was chosen in part
because it was accessible from both Boston and New York City, Jewish cultural
centres of the USA. Their vision was a university "deeply conscious both of the
Hebraic tradition of Torah looking upon culture as a birthright, and of the
American ideal of an educated democracy." (Reis 1998)
The collaboration was stormy, however. Finally, when Einstein wanted to appoint
British economist Harold J. Laski as the university's president, Alpert wrote
that Laski was "a man utterly alien to American principles of democracy, tarred
with the Communist brush." (Reis 1998) Einstein
withdrew his support and barred the use of his name (New
York Times 1947). The university opened in 1948 as Brandeis University.
In 1953, Brandeis offered Einstein an honorary degree, but he declined
Given Einstein's links to Germany and Zionism, his socialistic ideals, and
his perceived links to Communist figures, the U.S. Federal Bureau of
Investigation kept a file on Einstein that grew to 1,427 pages. Many of the
documents in the file were sent to the FBI by concerned citizens, some objecting
to his immigration while others asked the FBI to protect him
(Federal Bureau of Investigation 2005).
Although Einstein had long been sympathetic to the notion of vegetarianism,
it was only near the start of 1954 that he adopted a strict vegetarian diet.
On April 17, 1955, Albert Einstein experienced internal bleeding caused by
the rupture of an aortic aneurism.
He took a draft of a speech he was preparing for a television appearance
commemorating the State of Israel's seventh anniversary with him to the
hospital, but he did not live long enough to complete it.
(Albert Einstein Archives 1955) He died in Princeton Hospital early the
next morning at the age of 76. Einstein's remains were cremated and his ashes
were scattered (O'Connor & Robertson 1997).
Before the cremation, Princeton Hospital pathologist Thomas Stoltz Harvey
removed Einstein's brain for preservation, in hope that the neuroscience of the
future would be able to discover what made Einstein so intelligent.
While travelling, Einstein had written daily to his wife Elsa and adopted
stepdaughters, Margot and Ilse, and the letters were included in the papers
bequeathed to The Hebrew University. Margot Einstein permitted the personal
letters to be made available to the public, but requested that it not be done
until twenty years after her death (she died in 1986).
Barbara Wolff, of The Hebrew University's Albert Einstein Archives, told the BBC
that there are about 3,500 pages of private correspondence written between 1912
and 1955 (BBC 2006).
The United States' National Academy of Sciences commissioned the Albert
Einstein Memorial, a monumental bronze and marble sculpture by Robert Berks,
dedicated in 1979 at its Washington, D.C. campus adjacent to the National Mall.
Einstein bequeathed the royalties from use of his image to The Hebrew
University of Jerusalem. The Roger Richman Agency licences the use of his name
and associated imagery, as agent for the Hebrew University
(Roger Richman Agency 2007).
Max Planck presents Einstein
with the inaugural Max Planck medal, Berlin June 28, 1929
In 1999, Albert Einstein was named "Person of the Century" by Time
magazine (Golden 2000), the Gallup Poll recorded him
as the fourth most admired person of the 20th century
and according to The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in
History, Einstein is "the greatest scientist of the twentieth century and
one of the supreme intellects of all time" (Hart 1978).
A partial list of his memorials:
- The International Union of Pure and Applied Physics named 2005 the "World
Year of Physics" in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the publication of
the Annus Mirabilis Papers.
- The Albert Einstein Memorial by Robert Berks
- A unit used in photochemistry, the einstein
- The chemical element 99, einsteinium
- The asteroid 2001 Einstein
- The Albert Einstein Award
- The Albert Einstein Peace Prize
In 1990, his name was added to the Walhalla temple.
Einstein in popular culture
In the period before World War II, Albert Einstein was so well known in
America that he would be stopped on the street by people wanting him to explain
"that theory". He finally figured out a way to handle the incessant inquiries.
He told his inquirers "Pardon me, so sorry! Always I am mistaken for Professor
Albert Einstein has been the subject of or inspiration for many novels,
films, and plays, such as Yahoo Serious's intentionally inaccurate biography of
Einstein as a Tasmanian in the film Young Einstein, Jean-Claude Carrier's
2005 French novel, Einstein S'il Vous Plait ("Please, Mr Einstein"),
Nicolas Roeg's film Insignificance, Fred Schepisi's film I.Q.
(where he was portrayed by Walter Matthau), Alan Lightman's collection of short
stories Einstein's Dreams, and Steve Martin's comedic play Picasso at
the Lapin Agile. He was the subject of Philip Glass's groundbreaking 1976
opera Einstein on the Beach and his humorous side is the subject of Ed
Metzger's one-man play Albert Einstein: The Practical Bohemian. He was
also portrayed in the Real Time Strategy game Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2.
Einstein is a favourite model for depictions of mad scientists and
absent-minded professors; his expressive face and distinctive hairstyle have
been widely copied and exaggerated. Time magazine's Frederic Golden wrote
that Einstein was "a cartoonist's dream come true." (Golden
albert is the best scientist i ever heard of.
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