Albert Einstein Biography

Full Name: Albert Einstein
Occupation: Physicist
Date of Birth: Mar 14, 1879
Place of Birth: Ulm, Württemberg, Germany
Date of Death: Apr 18, 1955
Place of Death: Princeton, New Jersey, U.S.

Albert Einstein, a German-born physicist, is known for his special and general theories of relativity.

Albert Einstein was born in Württemberg, Germany, but his family soon moved to Munich. His father Hermann sold feather beds, then later ran an electrochemical factory. His mother Pauline managed the household, caring for Albert and his younger sister, Maria, who was called Maja. The Einsteins were secular Jews. Albert was religious as a child, writing songs that praised God, but his views changed after he read science books that contradicted his religious beliefs. He was fascinated by the invisible forces that could move a compass needle, and his favorite childhood book was about geometry.

Einstein was educated in Germany and Switzerland. He had difficulties with authority figures in school — one teacher even predicted that he would never amount to anything — and he dropped out at the age of 16. Max Talmyd, a family friend later known as Max Talmay, became Einstein’s informal tutor in higher mathematics and philosophy. Aaron Bernstein’s series of science books for children inspired Einstein to wonder about the wave properties of light beams, and he made his first attempt at writing a scientific paper, “The Investigation of the State of Aether in Magnetic Fields.”

In 1896, Einstein applied to attend the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School in Zurich. His entrance exam revealed his proficiency in mathematics and physics, but he had to take classes to improve his scores in French, chemistry, and biology before he could be admitted.

In 1901, Einstein received his diploma from Swiss Polytechnic, and that same year he obtained Swiss citizenship. Because he was unable to find a teaching position after he graduated, he joined the Swiss Patent Office. While working in that capacity, he developed his theory of special relativity. 

Einstein had fallen in love with Mileva Maric, a physics student from Serbia, while he was at Swiss Polytechnic, but his parents did not approve of their relationship. In 1902, Einstein and Maric had a child, Lieserl, who may have been placed for adoption or perhaps died of scarlet fever. Einstein’s father relented shortly before he died, approving of their union, and the couple were married in 1903. They had two more children, Hans Albert and Eduard, but over time they grew apart because Einstein spent most of his time working and attending conferences.  

In 1905, Einstein earned his doctorate, and he was appointed Privatdozent in Berne in 1908. In the years that followed, he was a physics professor in Prague, Zurich, and Berlin, and he became a German citizen in 1914. He published his theory of general relativity in 1915. Einstein and his first wife divorced in 1919, with Einstein promising to give her the money if he ever won a Nobel Prize. He soon married Elsa Löwenthal, who died in 1936.

Einstein won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921 for his ideas about the photoelectric effect, proposing that light is a stream of particles, not a wave. Surprisingly, in his acceptance speech Einstein spoke about relativity, not the photoelectric effect.

During Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, in 1933, Einstein renounced his German citizenship and emigrated to the U.S., where he joined Princeton University in New Jersey as a professor of theoretical physics. Einstein, a pacifist, advised President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939 that uranium could be used to create an atomic bomb, and he suggested that the U.S. should develop such a weapon before the Germans could do so. Einstein became a U.S. citizen in 1940 while retaining his Swiss citizenship.

Following World War II, Einstein retired from academia but continued to contribute to the scientific community. In opposition to the hydrogen bomb, he formed the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists. He was active in the World Government Movement and helped to establish the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He was asked to serve as president of the State of Israel, but he declined.

On April 18, 1955, Einstein died of an aortic aneurysm after refusing surgery. He said, “I have done my share; it is time to go. I will do it elegantly.” Before Einstein was cremated, a doctor at Princeton removed his brain and eyeballs for further study, without authorization. The doctor, Thomas Harvey, placed thin slices of the brain on microscope slides and took photographs, then kept the brain in a cider box for many years. Harvey’s research and other studies point to ways in which Einstein’s brain is different from the average adult male’s brain, including a higher number of glial cells, a thinner cerebral cortex, and elaborate folding in the frontal lobes. Harvey’s medical license was revoked in 1988, and he ultimately donated Einstein’s brain to Princeton Hospital.

Einstein’s legacy is assured in the scientific community, based on his revolutionary theories and his massive body of work. He is remembered by the world at large for his unruly hair, his pacifism, and his famous equation, E = mc2 (energy equals mass multiplied by the speed of light squared). His theory of special relativity states that the speed of light in a vacuum is a constant, and that an event seen by one person may be seen at a different time by another person, due to the relationship between space and time. His theory of general relativity states that massive objects create distortions in space-time. Regarding the photoelectric effect, he proposes that light is a stream of particles, not a single wave.

In his final years, Einstein was working on a theory of everything, hoping to unify all forces in a single theory. Decades later, physicists are still working on this problem.


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