Albert Einstein: The Genius Par Excellence

Activity: German physicist who acquired the American nationality in 1940.
Birth year: 1879 (Ulm).
Death year: 1955 (Princeton).

Albert Einstein


The same year Einstein was born, their parents settled in Munich, where he would spend his childhood. His father, Jewish, belonged to the small bourgeois and full of liberal ideologies, funded there a small factory of electronics. The education performance of the little Albert in school was not so good, showing no signs of vocation or calling. In fact, none of his teachers would later remember him. Also, he was subjected to a strict discipline, almost military. Since then, the indisputable authority and the pressure in school became intolerable for Einstein. After a crisis of religious fervor, Albert adopted a liberal thinking attitude that, later on, he would describe as "fanatical".

When he was 15, their parents and his sister moved to Milan, seeking a better life, while he stayed in Aarau, Switzerland with his studies thanks to the support of some rich relatives. After a first failure, he passed the exams to enter the Zurich Polytechnic Institute and decided to dedicate his time to teaching, before becoming an engineer. For those days, he adopted the Swiss nationality.

Once he finished his studies, he was seeking to work as a professor at the university. Throughout his life, he regretted not having the opportunity to teach young students. Thanks to the father of a friend, worried about him, he finally obtained in 1902, a job in the federal patents office, in Bern. This modest situation allowed Einstein to marry a Serbian student, Mileva Marec, a little older than him, who would also work as a physics teacher at the university. From this marriage, two children were born: Although Einstein worked in his humble post with an important commitment, in the free-time he started to think about the big enigmas and questions that physics was raising at that time. In fact, the principles of mechanics resisted badly the critical analysis of Austrian Ernst Mach (1838-1916). H. A. Lorentz had to introduce a longitudinal shrinkage in moving bodies and a local alteration of the time. Albert Michelson (1852-1931) had just finished revealing the constancy of light speed, despite the movement of the observer in relation to the propagating medium. Planck, finally, suggested that the radiant energy has to be emitted in an intermittent way.

Amazing Discoveries

The attention of Einstein was now completely in the atomic structures of matter, in the statistical interpretation of thermodynamics and in the hypothesis of Planck's quanta.  He was the first in discovering the reach of the quantic intermittences, which isn't limited only to the emission; he applied it to radiant energy, which brought him to the hypothesis of the corpuscles of light, or photons, reviving the old corpuscular theory of Isaac Newton. This way, he could explain the photoelectric effect and define its laws. On the other part, applying the probability calculus to the Brownian motion, he developed his theory and managed to get a correct value for the Avogadro number. Three articles of his were published in 1905 in the Annalen der Phisik, making their first public appearance. In the same year and in the same publication, he wrote two other more interesting articles: "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies" and "Does the Inertia of the Body Depend Upon its Energy Content?", where he exposed a theory entirely designed by him: the theory of special relativity which changed the laws of Newtonian mechanics and introduced the relation between mass and energy.

Einstein as Professor

Being these articles an announcement of the impact that would revolutionize the entire world, no one took notice of the dimensions of the discovery at first. Only 3 or 4 years later, the scientific world started to pay attention to Einstein's works. Einstein became the man of the moment in the scientific world. His ideas, which were not understood by many, were very controversial at the time: however, they opened the gates of the university (not without difficulties) to Albert Einstein. After he spent a brief period of time at the University of Bern, where he worked as a lecturer, Einstein was called, in 1909, as an alternate professor at the University of Zurich. Later on, and after working at the German University in Prague (1911-1912,) he held a chair in the Federal Polytechnic University of Zurich, where he was a student. Finally, at the requests of Planck and Nernst, accepted in 1913, to teach in the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute in Berlin and to enter in the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences. Although his independent attitude and political and social ideas didn't manage to appeal to him to move to the Germany of Wilhelm II, he finally moved to Berlin, which was at the time one of the most important scientific centers in Europe. He allowed himself to be taken by the hope of working close to the great masters who had requested his presence in the past.

During this period, he dedicated his time to extend his theory of relativity, adding gravity to this. But his nomination in Germany had also affected his marriage, where the relationship had gradually gotten worse.

The 1914 War

Einstein asked to hold his Swiss nationality which allowed him to stay neutral in the conflict that would later be known as the First World War. Using his condition, he could refuse to sign the "93 Intellectuals Manifesto", the capitulation of the German spiritual independence, and make a dissenting voice in the rancor concert be heard. At that moment of his life, he decided to, once again, marry his cousin Elsa, mother of two children. Elsa, until her death, would take care of him at all times. In the quietude of this new home, he went further in his theories and, in 1916, he finished his theory about general relativity, gravitational theory concerning a 4-dimensional universe, curve and finite that would later lead to modern cosmology.

Despite the war, this work was heard in Britain. Also, in 1919, British astronomer Eddington personally verified, in the Guinean Gulf, the curvature of the luminous rays that skim the edges of the Moon, when a solar eclipse takes place. When the Swiss Charles Eugène Guye (1866-1942), together with Lavanchy, from 1913, measure the mass increase that experienced the electrons at high speed, as the general relativity claimed, the theory was confirmed. When the announcement became public, the chairman of the London Royal Society qualified Einstein's theory as "the greatest discovery, concerning gravitation, that has been made since Newton's principles".

The Celebrity

Finally, in 1921, Einstein received the Physics Nobel Prize, but, as relativity was at the time a bit precipitated, the prize was given to Albert Einstein for "his merit in the field of the Rhetoric Physics and, especially for his discovery of the photoelectric effect". The amount he was given was distributed between his first wife and a charity gesture.

Now, a famous figure, Einstein traveled to different places around the globe, from North America to the Far East. He took advantage of his fame to defend the causes of which he was concerned. Enemy of injustice, he tried, at all possible occasions, to help the oppressed. He even became a counselor for everything and was called to become part of the Intellectual Cooperation Commission created by the League of Nations.

However, he continued with his scientific works. When he found out, from his friend P. Langevin, the famous thesis of Luis de Broglie, he published in 1924 a note where, using a recent work by Indian physicist sir Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858-1937), he created a valid statistic for the indiscernible particles (statistics of Bose-Einstein). In 1929, he exposed to the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences, his "Unfield Field Theory", which summarizes through a series of equations the laws governing the two fundamental forces in the universe, gravity, and the electromagnetism. Later on, when other forces were identified, mainly nuclear forces, he tried to implement these new forces to this synthesis.

Settlement in the United States

Until 1933, Einstein stayed in Berlin or in his country house in Caputh, not very far from the capital. However, when he received the news in America that Adolf Hitler had become chancellor of Germany, he decided to not return to Germany, where his situation had become more difficult: he abandoned all his assets and sent his resignation to the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences. At first, he settled in Coq-Sur-Mer, in Belgium with the intention to accept a chair in the Collège de France and finally he moved to the United States where he became the director of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study. There, he could restart the course of his investigations and in 1940 he acquired the American nationality.

The death of his spouse in 1936, the racial hatred persecutions of the national socialists and the announcement of a new world conflict, were progressively casting a shadow in his life. Despite his horror to militarism, Einstein regretted the lack of preparation of the Occidental democracies for the war. When Niels Bohr, who was in America at the time, spread the discovery of the phenomenon of fission, Fermi and Leo Szilard intervened close to him, and Einstein in 1939, decided to send president Roosevelt the following letter: "The results of the studies carried out recently by E. Fermi and L. Szilard which have been entrusted to me, show me that you could expect from it that the element uranium could, in an immediate future, be a new and important source of energy. This new phenomenon could also lead to the construction of very powerful bombs. One of these bombs, transported by ship, and that could be set off in a port, could destroy all the port and its surrounding territory". The consequences of this letter are very well known nowadays. Like the pacific Einstein would later say with tears in his eyes: "I am the one who truly pushed the button".

His efforts for World Peace

After the Second World War, Einstein wrote: "The war has been won, but not Peace". The nuclear explosive threatened the subsistence of humanity. Since 1946 Einstein knew that "restraining this threat had become the most urgent problem of our time". Committed to the accomplishment of this mission, he found the meaning of the life he had left. He led a campaign against the hydrogen bomb and heavily supported the victims of McCarthyism. After having held some vane projects about the international regulation of atomic energy, he advocated for the establishment of a world government, and he announced it in a letter to the United Nations in 1947. He started calling leaders, governors, and politicians, responsible for the decisions that would mark the future of the world. However, death surprised him before he could make a definitive exposure of his Unfield Field Theory and before his humanitarian words were truly understood.

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