Albert Einstein

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"There's a wonderful family called Stein. There's Gertrude, there's Ep and there's Ein. Gertrude's poems are bunk, Ep's statues are junk and nobody understands Ein."

The image of Albert Einstein that everyone is familiar with is of a rather rumpled individual with a moustache and wild hair. He is often picture as looking rather rumpled, perhaps having a rather distracted air about him as if thinking great and momentous thoughts. His appearance has become embedded in western minds as the image of the mad, or at least absent minded, professor.

We also know him to be a genius. That whole "theory of relativity e=mc2" thing is his, right? We all know about that. Of course, most of us don't understand it or why it is important (except those of us who read science fiction, who might have come across comments about the speed of light and time dilation). Nevertheless, we're all agreed that he was a genius even if we don't know why.

A Life, in brief

Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany in 1879. His early academic career was less than spectacular, although he demonstrates an interest in mathematics and physics from an early age. He attempted to get into the Swiss Institute of Technology but failed the entrance exam. His second attempt was successful, but following gradutation he couldn't find work teaching at a university and ended up at the Patent Office in Bern.

It was while working at the Patent Office, where he was employed until 1909, that he produced some of his most important work - in 1905 he published what would later become known as The Special Theory of Relativity. All the more remarkable was the volume of work he put out - three groundbreaking papers in 1905 alone - and the fact that he was doing all of this in his spare time and without access to scientific literature or collegues. He was working very much in the dark. One such paper, "On a new determination of molecular dimensions" earned him a Ph.D from the University of Zurich and others secured him an associate professorship of Physics at Zurich in 1909.

In 1914 he was given the highest paid job in European science - a research position in the Prussian Academy of Sciences together with a chair (but no teaching duties) at the University of Berlin. He was also offered the directorship of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Physics in Berlin which was about to be established. He was recognised as a leading, if not the leading, scientific thinker in Europe.

In 1915, he published his paper on General Relativity and four years later made headlines when British studies of the solar eclipse proved his theories correct. The Times of London wrote "Revolution in science - New theory of the Universe - Newtonian ideas overthrown."

During the 1920's Einstein had to contend with collegues who saw his Jewish faith as a problem, his pacifism as defeatist and who consequently downplayed his ideas and himself. Einstein's lectures were disrupted by anti-semites. He shrugged this off, changed nothing about himself and went on with his life. However in 1932 he was offered a position at Princeton and took it, intending to divide his time between the USA and Berlin. The rise of the Nazi Party took care of that and Einstein never went back to Germany, becoming a US citizen (and keeping dual Swiss nationality) in 1935.

Einstein was a lifelong humanitarian, a gentle and intelligent philospher in addition to his scientific genius. A true thinker, his contributions to human knowledge and thought are simply too wide and varied to list here. His influence on the 20th and 21st century are still being felt, not just in the field of science. He has appeared as a character in over two dozen movies and many more TV shows, books and plays. Stories about him continue to circulate (he was rumoured to have dated Marilyn Monroe, he had seven identical suits so he didn't have to waste brainpower deciding what to wear each day) and have reached the status of myth, even veneration. If you had to sum him up in a sentence, you'd have to use words like intelligence, depth, wit, humility, humanity and faith. Despite his death in 1955, Albert Einstein is very much alive in the minds of countless people.

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