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Albert Einstein


Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein was born on 14 March 1879, in Ulm, Germany. He is considered the most influential physicist of the 20th Century, formulating both the theories of special and general relativity, concepts that still underpin much in the fields of physics and astrophysics today. In 1921 he was awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize in Physics for his explanation of the photoelectric effect – a process where electrically charged particles are released from a substance when exposed to electromagnetic radiation.

Einstein’s first real contact with science came when he was a young boy, instigated by his intrigue with his father’s compass. Confused by the invisible forces that seemed to be acting upon the needle, he went through his early years fascinated by such forces.
Spurred on by reading the work of Aaron Bernstein, which introduced him to the concepts of electricity and light, Einstein dedicated his later teenage years to the nature of light, writing a scientific paper entitled ‘The Investigation Of The State Of Aether In Magnetic Fields’.
Despite a great love for the sciences, Einstein had a troubled education. He skipped classes while attending the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School, and his father’s failed business led to much disruption, with Einstein having to move frequently. This led to a period where he was forced to take a position at the Swiss patent office in Bern, a role significantly less prestigious than his desired doctorate.
In hindsight, though, the position at the patent office was ideal, as the work left much time for him to theorise on the properties and nature of light. Then, suddenly, in 1905 Einstein made a breakthrough, starting what is now termed his ‘miracle year’. In that time he published four papers: the first on the photoelectric effect, the second on the existence of atoms, the third introducing the mathematical theory of special relativity and the fourth on the theory of relativity.
Famously, Einstein published the last paper almost as an afterthought, despite it containing the key equation for which he is famous: E=mc2.
At first the scientific establishment ignored Einstein’s papers. Fortunately, though, they caught the attention of the foremost scientist of the age: Max Planck, the founder of quantum theory. Through Planck, Einstein became a respected member of the international community, attending the prestigious Solvay conferences and being offered important positions at Europe’s foremost universities.
After completing his theory of general relativity in November 1915, Einstein’s work was interrupted by World War I. Being a life-long pacifist, Einstein opposed the war and spoke frequently on its folly. After its conclusion, Einstein toured the world, but his period away from Europe was soon to be made permanent, with Einstein fleeing Nazi Germany in 1933. He settled in America and was granted US citizenship in 1940.
While in America, though he was not immediately convinced that an atomic bomb was possible, Einstein had encouraged the US government, including personally writing to President Roosevelt, to research nuclear chain reactions using uranium in response to German advances in the field. He did not work directly on the project to build a bomb, despite it being heavily based on his own work.
According to reports, Einstein was on vacation when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. This action and its aftermath led to him undertaking anti-nuclear campaigns and lectures for the rest of his life.
Einstein’s later years saw him pioneer numerous key theories including wormholes, multi-dimensional models and the possibility of time travel, as well as discovering his unified field theory. The latter was to be an all-embracing theory that would unify the forces of the universe and physics into one framework. The theory was never completed, however, with Einstein dying of an aorticaneurysm in 1955 before being able to finish his work.

Five facts: Einstein

Five facts: Einstein
1 Boy of few words
According to reports, Einstein seldom spoke as a child and when he did, it was very slowly. Accounts state he did this until he was nine.
2 Point of inspiration
Einstein’s interest in science was reportedly sparked by his father’s compass. At the age of five he thought there must be some force in the apparently empty space that acted on the needle.
3 Slow to start
Einstein did not receive outstanding grades while at school, and when he left he flunked the entry exam for the polytechnic institute in Zurich. Instead he went to work in the Swiss patent office first.
4 Nuclear pacifist
Einstein was a pacifist and while initially supporting the use of atomic weapons as a deterrent, he later chose to campaign for nuclear disarmament and world peace.
5 Man with two brains
After his death in 1955, Einstein’s brain was removed for preservation by Thomas Stoltz Harvey in an attempt to discover what made him so intelligent.