Albert Einstein was a German-born physicist who has developed the General and Special Theory of relativity and is one of the recipients of the Nobel Prize for Physics in the year 1921 for his understanding of the photoelectric effect. Einstein is generally perceived as the most influential physicist of the 20th century and is also known as the father of modern physics.
- Personal life and Education
- The Journey from Graduation to Scientific Miracles
- Ignored To World-Renowned Physicist
- Einstein’s last days
Personal life and Education:
Albert Einstein was born on 14th March 1879 in the city of Ulm, in the Kingdom of Württemberg of the German Empire. His parents were Hermann Einstein and Pauline Koch. Hermann was a salesman and engineer by profession. His parents were secular, middle-class Jews. His father was initially a featherbed salesman and later ran an electromechanical factory.
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The family estate and the household was run by his mom, Pauline Koch. Albert had a sibling sister, Maria who went by the name Maja and she was born two years after him.
At the age of five young Einstein went to Catholic Elementary School in Munich and continued there for 3 years. At the age of 8, he was transferred to the Luitpold Gymnasium which is now known as the Albert Einstein Gymnasium where he got his primary and secondary education until he left the German empire almost seven years later.
Albert Einstein at the age of three(Wikipedia)
Einstein would write that his early years were profoundly influenced by two “wonders.” The first was an encounter with a compass and its needle when he was 5 years old. He was perplexed about the needle being distracted by unseen and invisible forces. Little did he know, that this would result in a lifetime fascination. The second wonder happened when he discovered a book of geometry, he called it a “sacred little geometry book”.
Einstein became profoundly religious at the age of 12 and even composed several pieces in honor of God and began chanting religious songs on his way to school. After reading various science books that contradicted his faiths, he started to alter his beliefs. This incident left a profound, enduring mark and a long-lasting impression for a lifetime. Einstein often felt out of place at Luitpold Gymnasium and was the victim of a Prussian-style education system that appeared to suppress originality and creativity. There was even one teacher who informed him he’d never mean anything.
Young Einstein was also influenced by a medical student name Max Talmud who introduced Einstein to many higher concepts. But, Einstein’s training and education had been disrupted by his father’s frequent business failures.
In 1894, Hermann Einstein relocated to Milan to operate with a friend after his business failed to get a signed agreement to electrify the town of Munich. Einstein was then left at a boarding house in Munich and was supposed to complete his studies. Alone and miserable, deterred by the looming military duty when he was 16, he ran away 6 months later and landed at his parents’ doorstep.
Young Einstein at patent office
Einstein then applied to the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School in Zurich. He proved that he was excellent in mathematics and physics, but failed in French, Chemistry and Biology subjects. He was permitted to study polytechnic due to his outstanding scores in Mathematics, provided that he completed his official training and schooling first.
In the following years, he moved to Aarau, Switzerland and took admission in a special high school which was run by Jost Winteler. He graduated in 1896. At that moment he also gave up his German citizenship. He became lifelong buddies with the Winteler family, with whom he was staying.
Einstein would mention that his Zurich years were some of his happiest years. He found many learners, like Marcel Grossmann, a mathematician, and Besso, with whom he had a long conversation about time and space. His future spouse, Mileva Maric was a fellow student of physics from Serbia at that time.
The Journey from Graduation to Scientific Miracles :
After graduation in 1900, Einstein faced one of the greatest crises in his life. Because he studied advanced subjects on his own, he often skipped his classes and this, in turn, earned him the animosity of some of his professors, especially Heinrich Weber. Unfortunately, Einstein asked Weber for a letter of recommendation. Einstein was subsequently turned down for every academic position that he applied to.
Einstein reached the lowest point of his life in 1902. He was unable to marry Maric and support his family without a stable job and at the same time, his father’s business went bankrupt. Desperate and unemployed, Einstein took to low tutoring jobs for children but was later fired from them as well.
The turning point came later that year when his lifelong friend Marcel Grossmann’s father was able to recommend him as a clerk at the Swiss patent office in Bern. With a small and steady income for the first time, Einstein felt confident enough to marry Maric, and he did so on January 6, 1903. Their children, Hans Albert and Eduard, were born in Bern in 1904 and 1910, respectively.
Einstein’s work at the patent office was a blessing. He would rapidly complete examining patent requests, giving him enough time to think about the dream that had fascinated him since he was 16: what would occur if you run alongside a light beam? While studying Maxwell’s equations at the polytechnic school, which describe the nature of light, he discovered a fact unknown to James Clerk Maxwell himself namely, the speed of light remains the same no matter how fast one moves.
However, this violates Newton’s laws of motion, however, because there is no absolute velocity in Isaac Newton’s principle. This knowledge prompted Einstein to formulate the concept and Theory of relativity.
Albert Einstein in his Berlin office in 1919 (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
There were other scientists who were actively working towards the theory of relativity, but Einstein was the first one to assemble the whole theory of relativity and to identify that it was a universal law of nature and not merely a curious figment of motion.
There were two pillars of physics in the 19th century: Newton’s rules of movement and Maxwell’s theory of light. Einstein was certain in knowing that they were in contradiction and that one of them had to collapse.
During 1905, often called Einstein’s “miracle year,” he published four papers in the Annalen der Physik, each of which would alter the course of modern physics:
- “Über einen die Erzeugung und Verwandlung des Lichtes betreffenden heuristischen Gesichtspunkt” (“On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light”), in which Einstein applied the quantum theory to light in order to explain the photoelectric effect. If light occurs in tiny packets (later called photons), then it should knock out electrons in a metal in a precise way.
- “Über die von der molekularkinetischen Theorie der Wärme geforderte Bewegung von in ruhenden Flüssigkeiten suspendierten Teilchen” (“On the Movement of Small Particles Suspended in Stationary Liquids Required by the Molecular-Kinetic Theory of Heat”), in which Einstein offered the first experimental proof of the existence of atoms. By analyzing the motion of tiny particles suspended in still water, called Brownian motion, he could calculate the size of the jostling atoms and Avogadro’s number
- “Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper” (“On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies”), in which Einstein laid out the mathematical Theory of Special Relativity.
- “Ist die Trägheit eines Körpers von seinem Energieinhalt abhängig?” (“Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content?”), submitted almost as an afterthought, which showed that relativity theory led to the equation E = mc2. This provided the first mechanism to explain the energy source of the Sun and other stars.
Albert Einstein had a massive influence on the subject of contemporary physics. His equation, E = mc2, which explained how stars produce energy for the first time is still considered one of the most popular equations. This equation also foreshadowed the creation of the atomic bomb giving some negative fame to this equation. Einstein’s understanding of light as something which can function both as a wave and as a stream of particles became the basis for what is today known as quantum mechanics.
Ignored To World-Renowned Physicist
Einstein’s 1905 papers were so revolutionary that no one was ready to believe and they just ignored Einstein. Einstein’s work then caught the attention of Max Planck, probably the most influential physicist of that time and the founder of Quantum theory. After Max Planck’s appreciating comments and experiments proving Einstein right, things started changing. Soon, Einstein got invites from Universities for lectures and he started gaining fame.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
One of the deep thoughts that consumed Einstein from 1905 to 1915 was a crucial flaw in his own theory: it made no mention of gravitation or acceleration. To Einstein, Newton’s gravitational force was actually a by-product of a deeper reality: the bending of the fabric of space and time.
In November 1915 Einstein finally completed the general theory of relativity, which he considered to be his masterpiece. In the summer of 1915, Einstein had given six two-hour lectures at the University of Göttingen that thoroughly explained an incomplete version of general relativity that lacked a few necessary mathematical details.
Much to Einstein’s consternation, the mathematician David Hilbert, who had organized the lectures at his university and had been corresponding with Einstein, then completed these details and submitted a paper in November on general relativity just five days before Einstein, as if the theory were his own. Later they patched up their differences and remained friends. Today physicists refer to the action from which the equations are derived as the Einstein-Hilbert action, but the theory itself is attributed solely to Einstein.
To prove his theories, Einstein would need to get some observations of a solar eclipse. With the images of the solar eclipse, Einstein could prove that the sun bends the light coming from other stars to earth which would prove his “bending of the fabric of space and time” theory.
Two expeditions had been sent to sample Einstein’s forecast of deflected starlight closes the Sun. One set sail to Principe Island off the West African coast and the other to Sobral in northern Brazil to observe the solar eclipse on May 29, 1919. The results were announced at a joint meeting of the Royal Society and the Royal Astronomical Society in London on November 6. This led to Einstein becoming a world-renowned physicist and he soon became the successor to Isaac Newton.
In the year 1921, Einstein received the Nobel Prize for Physics, for his services and contributions to theoretical physics and the discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect. But this award was only for the photoelectric effect and not the theory of relativity. During his acceptance speech at the awards, he startled the audience by telling them about the theory of relativity instead of the photoelectric effect.
Einstein’s last days:
Einstein continued to pioneer and contribute to many key developments in the theory of relativity, the existence of time travel, the existence of black holes and the creation of the universe. It is rather quite sad to know that he was isolated from the rest of the members of the physics community. Einstein was isolated because of his strong opposition to Quantum Theory.
The other reason for Einstein’s increasing detachment from his colleagues was his obsession, beginning in 1925, with discovering a unified field theory—an all-embracing theory that would unify the forces of the universe, and thereby the laws of physics, into one framework.
In his later years, he stopped opposing the quantum theory and tried to incorporate it, along with theories of light and gravity, into larger unified field theory. Gradually Einstein became set in his ways. He rarely traveled far and confined himself to long walks around Princeton with close associates, whom he engaged in deep conversations about politics, religion, physics, and his unified field theory.
In the year 1950, he published an article on his theory in Scientific American, but because it neglected the still-mysterious strong force, it was necessarily incomplete. When he died five years later of an aortic aneurysm, it still remained unfinished.
Albert Einstein was indeed one of the greatest Physicists to walk the earth. His research was vast and well planned and spanned from the subject of quantum mechanics to theories relating to general relativity and those of gravity and motion. These theories of gravity and motion further expanded in itself and were just additions to physics theories that had been previously put forth almost 200 years back by Isaac Newton.