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Albert Einstein








March 14, 1879 – April 18, 1955

Physicist and Mathematician

Nobel Laureate for Physics 1921

"There are only two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as if everything is."


Albert Einstein was a German-born theoretical physicist who is widely considered one of the greatest physicists of all time.

While best known for the theory of relativity (and specifically mass-energy equivalence, E=mc2), he was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics for his 1905 (Annus Mirabilis) explanation of the photoelectric effect and "for his services to Theoretical Physics". In popular culture, the name "Einstein" has become synonymous with great intelligence and genius. Einstein was named Time magazine's "Man of the Century."

He was known for many scientific investigations, among which were: his special theory of relativity which stemmed from an attempt to reconcile the laws of mechanics with the laws of the electromagnetic field, his general theory of relativity which extended the principle of relativity to include gravitation, relativistic cosmology, capillary action, critical opalescence, classical problems of statistical mechanics and problems in which they were merged with quantum theory, leading to an explanation of the Brownian movement of molecules; atomic transition probabilities, the probabilistic interpretation of quantum theory, the quantum theory of a monatomic gas, the thermal properties of light with a low radiation density which laid the foundation of the photon theory of light, the theory of radiation, including stimulated emission; the construction of a unified field theory, and the geometrization of physics.

Einstein was born on March 14, 1879, to a Jewish family, in Ulm, Württemberg, Germany. His father was Hermann Einstein, a salesman who later ran an electrochemical works, and his mother was Pauline née Koch. They were married in Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt.

At his birth, Albert's mother was reputedly frightened that her infant's head was so large and oddly shaped. Though the size of his head appeared to be less remarkable as he grew older, it's evident from photographs of Einstein that his head was disproportionately large for his body throughout his life, a trait regarded as "benign macrocephaly" in large-headed individuals with no related disease or cognitive deficits. His parents also worried about his intellectual development as a child due to his initial language delay and his lack of fluency until the age of nine, though he was one of the top students in his elementary school.

In 1880, shortly after Einstein's birth the family moved to Munich, where his father and his uncle founded a company manufacturing electrical equipment (Elektrotechnische Fabrik J. Einstein & Cie). This company provided the first lighting for the Oktoberfest as well as some cabling in the suburb of Schwabing.

Albert's family members were all non-observant Jews and he attended a Catholic elementary school. At the insistence of his mother, he was given violin lessons. Though he initially disliked the lessons, and eventually discontinued them, he would later take great solace in Mozart's violin sonatas.

When Einstein was five, his father showed him a small pocket compass, and Einstein realized that something in "empty" space acted upon the needle; he would later describe the experience as one of the most revelatory events of his life. He built models and mechanical devices for fun and showed great mathematical ability early on.

In 1889, a medical student named Max Talmud (later: Talmey), who regularly visited the Einsteins, introduced Einstein to key science and philosophy texts, including Kant's Critique of Pure Reason.

Einstein attended the Luitpold Gymnasium, where he received a relatively progressive education. In 1891, he taught himself Euclidean geometry from a school booklet and began to study calculus; Einstein realized the power of deductive reasoning from Euclid's Elements, which Einstein called the "holy little geometry book" (given by Max Talmud). At school, Einstein clashed with authority and resented the school regimen, believing that the spirit of learning and creative thought were lost in such endeavors as strict rote learning.

From 1894, following the failure of Hermann Einstein's electrochemical business, the Einsteins moved to Milan and proceeded to Pavia after a few months. Einstein's first scientific work, called "The Investigation of the State of Aether in Magnetic Fields", was written contemporaneously for one of his uncles. Albert remained in Munich to finish his schooling, but only completed one term before leaving the gymnasium in the spring of 1895 to join his family in Pavia. He quit a year and a half before the final examinations, convincing the school to let him go with a medical note from a friendly doctor, but this meant that he had no secondary-school certificate. That same year, at age 16, he performed a famous thought experiment by trying to visualize what it would be like to ride alongside a light beam. He realized that, according to Maxwell's equations, light waves would obey the principle of relativity: the speed of the light would always be constant, no matter what the velocity of the observer. This conclusion would later become one of the two postulates of special relativity.

Rather than pursuing electrical engineering as his father intended for him, he followed the advice of a family friend and applied at the Federal Polytechnic Institute in Zurich in 1895. Without a school certificate he had to take an admission exam, which he – at the age of 16 being the youngest participant ­ did not pass. He had preferred travelling in northern Italy over the required preparations for the exam. Still, he easily passed the science part, but failed in general knowledge.

After that he was sent to Aarau, Switzerland to finish secondary school. He lodged with Professor Jost Winteler's family and became enamoured with Sofia Marie-Jeanne Amanda Winteler, commonly referred to as Sofie or Marie, their daughter and his first sweetheart. Einstein's sister, Maja, who was perhaps his closest confidant, was to later marry their son, Paul. While there, he studied Maxwell's electromagnetic theory and received his diploma in September 1896. Einstein subsequently enrolled at the Federal Polytechnic Institute in October and moved to Zurich, while Marie moved to Olsberg, Switzerland for a teaching post. The same year, he renounced his Württemberg citizenship to avoid military service.

In the spring of 1896, Mileva Maric started as a medical student at the University of Zurich, but after a term switched to the Federal Polytechnic Institute. She was the only woman to study in that year for the same diploma as Einstein. Maric's relationship with Einstein developed into romance over the next few years, though his mother objected because she was too old, not Jewish, and physically defective.

In 1900, Einstein was granted a teaching diploma by the Federal Polytechnic Institute. Einstein then submitted his first paper to be published, on the capillary forces of a straw, titled "Consequences of the observations of capillarity phenomena". In this paper his quest for a unified physical law becomes apparent, which he followed throughout his life. Through his friend Michele Besso, Einstein was presented with the works of Ernst Mach, and would later consider him "the best sounding board in Europe" for physical ideas. Einstein and Maric had a daughter, Lieserl Einstein, born in January 1902. Her fate is unknown; some believe she died in infancy, while others believe she was given out for adoption.

Works and Doctorate

Einstein could not find a teaching post upon graduation, mostly because his brashness as a young man had apparently irritated most of his professors. The father of a classmate helped him obtain employment as a technical assistant examiner at the Swiss Patent Office[8] in 1902. His main responsibility was to evaluate patent applications relating to electromagnetic devices. He also learned how to discern the essence of applications despite sometimes poor descriptions, and was taught by the director how “to express [him]self correctly". He occasionally corrected their design errors while evaluating the practicality of their work.

His friend from Zurich, Michele Besso, also moved to Bern and took a job at the patent office, and he became an important sounding board. Einstein also joined with two friends he made in Bern, Maurice Solovine and Conrad Habicht, to create a weekly discussion club on science and philosophy, which they grandly and jokingly named "The Olympia Academy." Their readings included Poincare, Mach, Hume, and others who influenced the development of the special theory of relativity.

Einstein married Mileva Maric on January 6, 1903. Einstein's marriage to Maric who was a mathematician, was both a personal and intellectual partnership: Einstein referred to Mileva as "a creature who is my equal and who is as strong and independent as I am". Ronald W. Clark, a biographer of Einstein, claimed that Einstein depended on the distance that existed in his marriage to Mileva in order to have the solitude necessary to accomplish his work; he required intellectual isolation. In an obituary of Einstein Abram Joffe wrote: "The author of [the papers of 1905] wasŠ a bureaucrat at the Patent Office in Bern, Einstein-Maric which has been taken as evidence of a collaborative relationship. However, most probably Joffe referred to Einstein- Maric ecause he believed that it was a Swiss custom at the time to append the spouse's surname to the husband's name. The extent of her influence on Einstein's work is a controversial and debated question.

In 1903, Einstein's position at the Swiss Patent Office had been made permanent, though he was passed over for promotion until he had "fully mastered machine technology". He obtained his doctorate under Alfred Kleiner at the University of Zürich after submitting his thesis "A new determination of molecular dimensions" ("Eine neue Bestimmung der Moleküldimensionen") in 1905.

During 1905, in his spare time, he wrote four articles that participated in the foundation of modern physics, without much scientific literature he could refer to or many fellow scientists with whom he could discuss the theories. Most physicists agree that three of those papers (on Brownian motion, the photoelectric effect, and special relativity) deserved Nobel Prizes. Only the paper on the photoelectric effect would be mentioned by the Nobel committee in the award; at the time of the award, it had the most unchallenged experimental evidence behind it, although the Nobel committee expressed the opinion that Einstein's other work would be confirmed in due course.

Some might regard the award for the photoelectric effect ironic, not only because Einstein is far better-known for relativity, but also because the photoelectric effect is a quantum phenomenon, and Einstein became somewhat disenchanted with the path quantum theory would take.

Einstein submitted this series of papers to the "Annalen der Physik". They are commonly referred to as the "Annus Mirabilis Papers" (from Annus mirabilis, Latin for 'year of wonders').

AP – June 17, 1999

We always thought something must have made Albert Einstein smarter than the rest of us. Now, scientists have found that one part of his brain was indeed physically extraordinary.

In the only study ever conducted of the overall anatomy of Einstein's brain, scientists at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, discovered that the part of the brain thought to be related to mathematical reasoning – the inferior parietal region – was 15 percent wider on both sides than normal. 

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