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Happy Birthday, Mr. Einstein!

Albert Einstein with sister Maja

Albert Einstein, the first child of the Jewish couple Hermann and Pauline Einstein, was born on March 14, 1879 in Ulm, Germany. Einstein learned to speak at a late age, he was considered a slow learner as a child, and he showed no particular aptitude for formal schooling. In June 1880, his family moved to Munich where Hermann Einstein and his brother Jakob founded an electrical engineering company. After the failure of his father's business in 1894 the Einsteins moved to Pavia, Italy. Young Albert remained in Munich to finish school, but moved to Pavia to join his family after completing only one term. Upon reaching Italy, he renounced his German citizenship, possibly to avoid obligatory military service, and became stateless. At about the same time, Einstein “renounced his legal adherence to the Jewish religious community."

In 1895, Einstein took an exam for the Federal Swiss Polytechnic University, but failed the liberal arts portion of the test. Einstein wrote his first scientific paper in 1895 on electro-magnetism and the propagation of light and heat. He was sent by his family to Aarau, Switzerland to finish secondary school and in 1896, received his diploma. Though he did not have enough credit to enroll in a traditional university, Einstein did qualify for the Federal Swiss Polytechnic University, in Zurich. Einstein was pleasantly surprised at the liberal education at the Polytechnic and began to discuss his scientific interests with a group of close friends. In 1900, Einstein was granted a teaching diploma by the Polytechnic and was accepted as a Swiss citizen in 1901. Upon graduation, Einstein wrote to many prominent European scientists to ask whether they needed an assistant, he received no replies. He finally accepted a position as technical assistant in the Swiss Patent Office, which he held for seven years.

In 1898, Albert met Mileva Maric, a Serbian classmate, and fell in love with her. He and Mileva had

Einstein and Mileva Maric

an illegitimate daughter, Liserl, in January 1902 and they married on January 6, 1903. Einstein's marriage to Mileva, who was a mathematician, was both a personal and intellectual partnership; Einstein referred lovingly to Mileva as "a creature who is my equal and who is as strong and independent as I am". Abram Joffe, in his biography of Einstein, argues that Einstein was assisted by Mileva. This contradicts Ronald W. Clark who, in his biography, claims that Einstein depended on the distance that existed in his and Mileva's marriage in order to have the solitude necessary to accomplish his work. On May 14, 1904, Einstein's first son Hans Albert Einstein was born. Einstein's second son, Eduard, was born on July 28, 1910, however he divorced Mileva on February 14, 1919. Einstein married his cousin Elsa Loewenthal on June 2, 1919. Elsa was Albert's first cousin (maternally) and his second cousin (paternally) and she was 3 years older than Albert. There were no children from this marriage.

Young Albert Einstein

In 1905 while still employed as a patents officer, Einstein earned a doctorate degree from the University of Zurich after submitting his thesis “On a new determination of molecular dimensions”. That same year 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. The first of the papers was on the quantum theory of light including an explanation of the photoelectric effect for which he was awarded the Nobel prize for 1921. The second paper was on a statistical paper on Brownian motion, a proof for the existence of atoms. Other papers documented his reasoning on special relativity, which led to the famous equation E = mc2. Further work on generalizing the special relativity theory led to the general relativity paper published in 1916. In this work on general relativity, Einstein concluded that gravity was not a physical force acting through space, but a characteristic of the geometry of space. The theory of general relativity revolutionized modern thinking on gravity, and Einstein himself once wrote "Newton, forgive me."

Einstein, Elsa Loewenthal and stepdaughter Margot

During World War I, Einstein lived in Germany and publicly expressed dissatisfaction with German militarism. He suggested that warfare be abolished and an international organization be set up to mediate between nations. From 1914 to 1933 he served as director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics in Berlin. After Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, Einstein was accused by the National Socialist regime of creating "Jewish physics". Nazi physicists attempted to discredit his theories and Einstein fled to the United States. In 1935, Einstein was given permanent residency in the United States, he accepted a position at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey and became an American citizen in 1940.

After World War II, Einstein was a leading figure in the World Government Movement. He was offered the Presidency of the State of Israel, which he declined, and he collaborated with Dr. Chaim Weizmann in establishing the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His work at Princeton focused on the unification of the laws of physics. Einstein undertook the quest for the unification of the fundamental forces and spent his time at Princeton investigating a grand unifying theory. He attempted to construct a model, under the appropriate conditions, which described all fundamental forces as different manifestations of a single force. His attempt was in a way doomed to failure because the strong and weak nuclear forces were not understood independently until around 1970, 15 years after Einstein's death. Einstein's goal survives in the current drive for unification of the forces, embodied most notably by string theory.

Albert Einstein, 1950

Einstein died on April 18, 1955 in Princeton, New Jersey. After a long illness, he died peacefully in his sleep; the listed cause of death was a ruptured artery in his heart. By 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 its ashes were spread over a near-by river.

For more information on gravity, please visit Gravity: Newtonian relationships.

 

 

 

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