Of all the scientists to emerge from the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries there is one
whose name is known by almost all living people. While most
of these do not understand
this man's work, everyone knows that its impact on the
world of science is astonishing. Yes,
many have heard of Albert Einstein's General Theory of
relativity, but few know about the
intriguing life that led this scientist to discover what
some have called, "The greatest single
achievement of human thought."
Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany on March 14, 1874. Before
his first birthday, his family
had moved to Munich where young Albert's father, Hermann
Einstein, and uncle set up a
small electro-chemical business. He was fortunate to have
an excellent family with which he
held a strong relationship. Albert's mother, Pauline
Einstein, had an intense passion for
music and literature, and it was she that first introduced
her son to the violin in which he
found much joy and relaxation. Also, he was very close with
his younger sister, Maja, and
they could often be found in the lakes that were scattered
about the countryside near
As a child, Einstein's sense of curiosity had already begun
to stir. A favorite toy of his was
his father's compass, and he often marvelled at his uncle's
explanations of algebra. Although
young Albert was intrigued by certain mysteries of science,
he was considered a slow
learner. His failure to become fluent in German until the
age of nine even led some teachers
to believe he was disabled.
Einstein's post-basic education began at the Luitpold
Gymnasium when he was ten. It was
here that he first encountered the German spirit through
the school's strict disciplinary
policy. His disapproval of this method of teaching led to
his reputation as a rebel. It was
probably these differences that caused Einstein to search
for knowledge at home. He began
not with science, but with religion. He avidly studied the
Bible seeking truth, but this
religious fervor soon died down when he discovered the
intrigue of science and math. To
him, these seemed much more realistic than ancient stories.
With this new knowledge he
disliked class even more, and was eventually expelled from
Luitpold Gymnasium being
considered a disruptive influence.
Feeling that he could no longer deal with the German
mentality, Einstein moved to
Switzerland where he continued his education. At sixteen he
attempted to enroll at the
Federal Institute of Technology but failed the entrance
exam. This forced him to study
locally for one year until he finally passed the school's
evaluation. The Institute allowed
Einstein to meet many other students that shared his
curiosity, and It was here that his
studies turned mainly to Physics. He quickly learned that
while physicists had generally
agreed on major principals in the past, there were modern
scientists who were attempting to
disprove outdated theories. Since most of Einstein's
teachers ignored these new ideas, he
was again forced to explore on his own. In 1900 he
graduated from the Institute and then
achieved citizenship to Switzerland.
Einstein became a clerk at the Swiss Patent Office in 1902.
This job had little to do with
physics, but he was able to satiate his curiosity by
figuring out how new inventions worked.
The most important part of Einstein's occupation was that
it allowed him enough time to
pursue his own line of research. As his ideas began to
develop, he published them in
specialist journals. Though he was still unknown to the
scientific world, he began to attract a
large circle of friends and admirers. A group of students
that he tutored quickly transformed
into a social club that shared a love of nature, music, and
of course, science. In 1903 he
married Mileva Meric, a mathematician friend.
In 1905, Einstein published five separate papers in a
journal, the Annals of Physics. The
first was immediately acknowledged, and the University of
Zurich awarded Einstein an
additional degree. The other papers helped to develop
modern physics and earned him the
reputation of an artist. Many scientists have said that
Einstein's work contained an
imaginative spirit that was seen in most poetry. His work
at this time dealt with molecules,
and how their motion affected temperature, but he is most
well known for his Special
Theory of Relativity which tackled motion and the speed of
light. Perhaps the most
important part of his discoveries was the equation: E= mc2.
After publishing these theories Einstein was promoted at
his office. He remained at the
Patents Office for another two years, but his name was
becoming too big among the
scientific community. In 1908, Einstein began teaching
party time at the University of Berne,
and the following year, at the age of thirty, he became
employed full time by Zurich
University. Einstein was now able to move to Prague with
his wife and two sons, Hans
Albert and Eduard. Finally, after being promoted to a
professor, Einstein and his family
were able to enjoy a good standard of living, but the job's
main advantage was that it
allowed Einstein to access an enormous library. It was here
that he extended his theory and
discussed it with the leading scientists of Europe. In 1912
he chose to accept a job placing
him in high authority at the Federal Institute of
Technology, where he had originally studied.
It was not until 1914 that Einstein was tempted to return
to Germany to become research
director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics.
World War I had a strong effect on Einstein. While the rest
of Germany supported the
army, he felt the war was unnecessary, and disgusting. The
new weapons of war which
attempted to mass slaughter people caused him to devote
much of his life toward creating
peace. Toward the end of the war Einstein joined a
political party that worked to end the
war, and return peace to Europe. In 1916 this party was
outlawed by the government, and
Einstein was seen as a traitor.
In that same year, Einstein published his General Theory of
relativity, This result of ten years
work revolutionized physics. It basically stated that the
universe had to be thought of as
curved, and told how light was affected by this. The next
year, Einstein published another
paper that added that the universe had no boundary, but
actually twisted back on its self.
After the war, many aspects of Einstein's life changed. He
divorced his wife, who had been
living in Zurich with the children throughout the war, and
married his cousin Elsa Lowenthal.
This led to a renewed interest in his Jewish roots, and he
became an active supporter of
Zionism. Since anti-Semitism was growing in Germany, he
quickly became the target of
prejudice. There were many rumors about groups who were
trying to kill Einstein, and he
began to travel extensively. The biggest change, though,
was in 1919 when scientist who
studied an eclipse confirmed that his theories were correct.
In 1921, he traveled through Britain and the United States
raising funds for Zionism and
lecturing about his theories. He also visited the battle
sites of the war, and urged that
Europe renew scientific and cultural links. He promoted
education, believing that it would prevent war from
happening in the future. He also
believed that socialism would help the world achieve peace.
Einstein received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1922. He
gave all the money to his ex-wife
and children to help with their lives and education. After
another lecture tour, he visited
Palestine for the opening the Hebrew University in
Jerusalem. He also talked about the
possibilities that Palestine held for the Jewish people.
Upon his return he began to enjoy a
calmer life in which he returned to his original curiosity,
While Einstein was visiting America in 1933 the Nazi party
came to power in Germany.
Again he was subject to anti-Semitic attacks, but this time
his house was broken into, and
he was publicly considered an enemy of the nation. It was
obvious that he could not return
to Germany, and for the second time he renounced his German
citizenship. During these
early years in America he did some research at Princeton,
but did not accomplish much of
In 1939 the second World War began to take form. There was
heated argument during this
time over whether the United States should explore the idea
of an atomic bomb. Einstein
wrote to President Roosevelt warning him of the disaster
that could occur if the Nazi's
developed it first. Einstein did not participate in the
development of the bomb, but the idea
did stem from his equation E=mc2. Just as he knew that the
bomb was under development,
he also knew when it was going to be used. Just before the
bomb was dropped on Japan
Einstein wrote a letter to the President begging him not to
use this terrible weapon.
The rest of Einstein's life was dedicated to promoting
peace. After the war ended, he
declared, "The war is won, but the peace is not." He wrote
many articles and made many
speeches calling for a world government. His fame, at this
point, was legendary. People
from all over would write to him for advice, and he would
often answer them. He also
continued his scientific research until the day he died.
This was on April 18, 1955. There is
no doubt that he was dissatisfied that he never was able to
find the true meaning of
existence that he strove for all his life.
Clark, Ronald W., Einstein - The Life and Times, New York:
World Publishing, 1971.
Dank, Milton, Albert Einstein, New York: An Impact
Dukas, Helen and Banesh Hoffman, eds., Albert Einstein: The
Human Side, Princeton:
University Press, 1979.
Einstein, Albert, Carl Seelig, ed., Ideas and Opinions, New
York: Bonanza Books, 1954.
"Einstein, Albert." Random House Encyclopedia, Random House
Press, 1990 edition.
Hunter, Nigel, Einstein, New York: Bookwright Press, 1987.
Nourse, Dr. Alan E., Universe, Earth, and Atom: The Story
of Physics, New York and
Evanston: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1969.