Albert Einstein is probably the best known scientist of the twentieth century
and was born on March 14, 1879 in Ulm, a part of the Kingdom of Württemberg in
the German Empire. His father was a salesman and an engineer, while his mother
was a musician at the time of his birth. The family moved to Munich in 1880 when
Einstein was only a year old and they were non-observant Jews; this would later
have a profound effect on his life. Despite their Judaism, he attended a
Catholic elementary school for three years beginning when he was five. He then
transferred to the Luitpold Gymnasium, which has since been renamed the Albert
Einstein Gymnasium in order to honor its most famous student. Though he didn’t
like the school, it helped form the basis for all his future accomplishments.
These accomplishments included: the mass-energy equivalence, the theory of
relativity and brownian motion.
15) Einstein Left
School when He Was Fifteen
Einstein was born in 1879 and left school in 1894 when he was fifteen. He didn’t
attend school for a year, despite his love of science, math, music and playing
the violin that he learned how to play as a child. The reason for him dropping
out of school was his family left Munich, Germany, in 1894 due to their business
failing. Einstein's family owned a company that made electrical equipment that
used direct current, it went out of business in 1894 because alternating
current became the prevalent source of electricity. His parents moved to Milan,
Italy in an attempt to find a business opportunity then they moved to Pavia,
Italy shortly after. Albert stayed in Munich to try to finish his schooling
because he wanted to study electrical engineering but he resented the
authorities, regime and teaching methods of the Luitpold Gymnasium, which he
attended. He used a doctor’s note to convince the school to let him leave in
December of 1894 then left Munich and traveled to Pavia to be with his family. A
year later he attended the Aargau Cantonal School, so he could complete his
secondary education and be more qualified for a university education.
14) Einstein Failed
His First Admittance Exams for a University
Einstein took the entrance exams for the Swiss Federal Polytechnic, which was
later renamed to Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH), in 1895 when he was
sixteen, according to
Albert Einstein: A Biography by Albrecht Fölsing.
He excelled in mathematics and physics but failed in most of the other subjects,
his worst scores were in French. Albert returned to his secondary
education because the principal of the Polytechnic suggested he go to the Aargau
Cantonal School to finish it. He sat for the Swiss Matura in 1896, which was the
secondary school exit exam, when he was seventeen. He scored much better than he
had on the entrance exams for the Swiss Federal Polytechnic; on a scale of one
to six, he scored a six in mathematical subjects and physics. His other scores
were good as well and those scores allowed him to enroll at the Zurich
Polytechnic. He studied for a four year physics and mathematics teaching diploma
program while at Zurich Polytechnic, he was still just seventeen when he
enrolled. He received his teaching diploma from Zurich Polytechnic in 1900 when
he was twenty one, younger than most of his program cohorts.
13) Einstein Worked
in the Swiss Patent Office, Which Allowed Him Time to Come Up with Vital Thought
Einstein became a Swiss citizen in 1901 and accepted a position in the Swiss
Federal Office for Intellectual Property, which was the Swiss Patent Office, as
a technical assistant. He became a permanent employee in 1903 and gained
the position of examining patent applications regarding electromagnetic devices,
this position was well within Einstein’s capabilities. While working there, he
came up with many of his thought experiments thanks to the fact that the patents
he evaluated related to transmissions of electric signals as well as
electrical-mechanical synchronization of time. His thought experiments led to
his theories on the connection between space and time as well as his conclusions
about the nature of light. Einstein's work at the Federal Office for
Intellectual Property led to many important theories and experiments in physics,
photons, energy quanta, wave-particle duality as well as his theory of wave
particle duality. One of his important works includes the mass-energy
equivalence of the famous E = mc^2 that proves how energy and mass are related,
we wouldn’t have had this important physics equation without his patent office
12) Einstein Married
Twice and Was Very Bad at Monogamy
Einstein famously said to Dr. Eugenie Anderman, “You must be aware that most men
(and also not only a few women) are by nature not monogamous. This nature makes
itself even more forceful when tradition and circumstance stand in an
individual’s way” in 1953.
Einstein met his first wife, Mileva Maric, when he attended the Zurich
Polytechnic and she was the only woman in their course. The two struck up a
friendship and studied extracurricular physics together, something that
contributed greatly to Einstein’s future formulas and theories. In early 1902,
Maric bore a daughter whose fate is unknown. Maric and Einstein married in
January of 1903 and had two sons. Einstein moved to Berlin in 1914, while Maric
and their sons remained in Zurich; they divorced in February of 1919.
Einstein married Elsa Löwenthal four months later, who was his first cousin
on his mother’s side and his second cousin on his father’s side. They were in a
relationship that began in 1912, while Einstein was still married to his first
wife. Elsa had two daughters from her first marriage that Einstein raised as his
own and the couple remained married until Elsa’s death in December of 1936.
Mileva Maric, Einstein's first wife
Elsa Löwenthal , Einstein's second wife
11) A Compass Was
Einstein’s First Inspiration to Get into Physics
Einstein liked to tell a story about when he was five years old and sick in bed
how his father brought him a magnetic compass that was the first he’d ever seen.
He was fascinated by the fact that the needle always pointed north, pulled by an
invisible force. No matter how he twisted, shook or pointed it, the needle
pointed in the same direction. It convinced him there had to be something
hidden, something that worked behind things. It told him, even though he was a
young child, that there was more to the world than could possibly meet his eye;
this stimulated his interest in science and learning.
Einstein's uncle, who was an engineer, would come to his house and he would
be part of the adult discussions. Since his father and uncle ran an electrical
equipment company, he was introduced to concepts of electrical engineering. Once
a week his family would have a medical student over for dinner and Einstein
would participate in those discussions as well. Then at the age of twelve he
came across a book on Euclidian geometry and it left a deep powerful impression
that fueled his desire to learn.
A compass inspired Einstein to learn about physics
Hermann Einstein, Albert Einstein's father
10) Einstein Had
Einstein would build card towers and plenty of children did the same. The
difference was that most children would reach just four stories before the cards
fell, Einstein would reach fourteen. It amazed his younger sister to watch him
but he would say later, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with
This patience followed him into his studies and expertise in mathematics as
well as physics. He always looked for simple solutions, believing, “When the
solution is simple, God is answering”. His expressions of principles in
mathematical equations may be difficult for most people to comprehend but
Einstein had the patience to reduce the most complicated concepts into something
he could explain to anyone. This proved fortunate when he came up with general
and special relativity as well as his mass-energy equivalence concept because he
had to explain in simpler terms to other physicists at first in order to convey
the evidence that supported it as well as its great implications. He also needed
patience to finish his doctorate and publish five articles at the same time,
proving he had patience.
9) Einstein Had a
Great Love of Music
Einstein was a talented violinist with a lifelong passion for music and he once
said that he would have been a musician had he not been a scientist. His mother
was a talented pianist and he began to learn to play the violin when he was six.
At thirteen he discovered Mozart’s violin sonatas, he had no lessons after that
point but he dedicated himself to playing the violin well nonetheless. In 1895
he moved to Aarau, Switzerland to finish his secondary education and he devoted
himself to learning to play the Brahms G-major violin sonata. A great violinist
of the day, Joseph Joachim, was visiting Aarau and the sonata that Einstein was
playing was on his program. When he took a musical exam at the Aargau Cantonal
School, playing an adagio from a Beethoven sonata, the inspector said Einstein
“shone in a deeply felt performance”. He could also play the piano and loved to
improvise musically. According to his second wife, Elsa, music even helped
Einstein with his theories; he would go between his study and his piano to work
out problems with theories.
Pauline Einstein, Albert Einsteins mother
Einstein playing his beloved violin
8) Einstein Was a
Zionist Einstein’s first visit to America was marred by disputes between European and
American Jews over Zionism. Einstein was Jewish by birth, despite his parents’
household was secular. He held no fondness for religious rituals and faith. In a
letter he sent to rabbis in Berlin in 1921, he said he was Jewish in the sense
of nationality and origin but not faith.
Starting in 1919 German anti-Semitism increased and German Jews assimilated
as much as they could, going so far as converting to Christianity. Rather than
doing that, Einstein identified more strongly with his Jewish heritage and held
to the Zionist goal of creating a Jewish state in Palestine. He said to Kurt
Blumenfeld, the leader of Zionism, that he was an opponent of nationalism as a
human being but as a Jew he was a supporter of Zionism from that day forward.
Also, he advocated a Jewish university in Jerusalem that lead to the creation of
Despite his support for Zionism, Einstein advocated a binational state that
integrated Jews and Palestinian Arabs. He had strong reservations about the
British mandate of Palestine and supported efforts for Jewish-Arab cooperation.
Renounced His German Citizenship Twice
When Einstein was sixteen, nearing seventeen, he got his father’s permission to
renounce his citizenship in the German Kingdom of Württemberg in January of
1896. He did this in order to avoid conscripted military service then he was
stateless for five years, though he maintained residence in Switzerland for the
entire time. In February of 1901, just over five years after renouncing his
German citizenship, he became a Swiss citizen. He maintained that citizenship
for the rest of his life however, he also acquired Austria-Hungarian citizenship
in 1911. He held that citizenship for just a year and then became a citizen of
the German empire again in 1914, just in time for the First World War.
Einstein left Germany for America in 1932 and renounced his German
citizenship again in March of 1933. The second time he renounced German
citizenship was due to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. Nazi
physicists worked to eliminate so-called “Jewish physics” from Germany’s
lexicon. After World War II, he refused several honors Germany tried to give
him. He never again associated with Germany; he could not forgive Germans for
6) Einstein Was a
Civil Rights Advocate
Einstein noticed American racism on one of his first trips to the country and
this particularly dismayed him, since he had experienced anti-Semitism in
Germany. He strongly objected to racism from the start of living in the country
in 1933 and once he settled in Princeton, he began to speak against ethnic
discrimination. He also worked with civil rights leaders and organizations of
the day, like the NAACP. He invited Marian Anderson, an African-American singer
and civil rights proponent who was banned from hotels as well as eating in
restaurants, to stay at his home. He delivered the commencement address at
Lincoln University in 1946, which was a historically black Pennsylvania college.
Also in 1946, a Tennessee race riot happened that involved twenty five black men
being arrested for attempted murder. Five hundred state troopers, armed with
submachine guns, attacked and destroyed black owned businesses in a four square
block area during this riot. Einstein joined Thurgood Marshall, Eleanor
Roosevelt and Langston Hughes to try to get justice for the arrested black men;
twenty four of them were acquitted. Then he publicly supported Paul Robeson’s
American Crusade to End Lynching after two black couples were murdered in
5) Einstein Urged
President Roosevelt to Build the Atomic Bomb
Einstein wrote a letter to President Roosevelt on August 2, 1939. In this
letter, inspired by Leo Szilard, he told the president that Nazi Germany was
trying to purify uranium-235; the uranium could then be used to build an atomic
bomb. Germany had split the uranium atom eight months earlier in December of
1938, Einstein would not have spoken up on the matter if not for Szilard and
Eugene Wigner contacting him to explain the possibility of Germany building the
bomb. In fact, Szilard said later that Einstein stated the possibility of a
uranium chain reaction had never occurred to him. The letter wasn’t delivered to
President Roosevelt until October of 1939; Alexander Sachs, a friend of the
president, hand delivered it.
Einstein, Szilard, and Sachs wrote to President Roosevelt again in March of
1940 because the Briggs Committee, which had been formed in October of 1939 to
study uranium chain reactions, moved very slowly. This letter pointed out that
Germany had made progress in uranium research and it took more letters as well
as the British MAUD report to speed up the building of the first atomic bomb.
Einstein's letter to President Roosevelt
4) Einstein Was a
In addition to being a genius, Einstein was a pacifist as well. He stated, “My
pacifism is an instinctive feeling, a feeling that possesses me because the
murder of men is abhorrent. My attitude is not derived from intellectual theory
but is based on my deepest antipathy to every kind of cruelty and hatred”. He
went further in another quote, saying: “I am not only a pacifist but a militant
pacifist. I am willing to fight for peace. Nothing will end war unless the
people themselves refuse to go to war”. This contrasts sharply with his
encouragement of President Roosevelt to build the atomic bomb. A July 2005
article in The Guardian discusses letters Einstein wrote to Seiei Shinohara, a
German-Japanese translator and philosopher, in which he tried to reconcile his
pacifism with his scientific work that led to building the bomb.
A German pacifist wrote a “Manifesto to Europeans” in 1914, challenging World
War I and militarism. Einstein was one of only three other people to sign the
peace manifesto. He continued to support anti-war movements throughout the war
because he believed that war must be abolished and that intellectuals should
promote international reconciliation; he continued to speak on the subject even
after leaving Germany for America.
Published Four Papers in 1905, Also Known as His Annus Mirabilis
1905 was the year of Einstein’s great works; it started in March when he
submitted a paper to the Annalen der Physik, which was at the time the leading
German physics journal. In his first paper he proposed a new way of
understanding the properties of light; that it could act as if it was made up of
discrete particles of energy, much the way gasses are.
In May, he submitted a second paper to the Annalen der Physik and this one
explained brownian motion as being caused by the constant movement of atoms in
liquid that held tiny suspended particles. It created a tool for studying atomic
motion and enforced the kinetic theory.
In June, he sent the Annalen der Physik a paper on motion and
electromagnetism. It presented what would be known as the theory of special
relativity, demonstrating compatibility with electromagnetic theory and a new
simple analysis of time as well as space.
In September, Einstein showed that a body emitting energy must decrease
proportionally in mass. This would become known as mass-energy equivalence or E=
mc^2, perhaps the most famous equation in physics.
2) Einstein Wasn’t
Originally Sure That E= mc^2 Was Correct
Einstein himself wasn’t sure the formula was right but the formula’s basis began
well before Einstein synthesized it.
It began with Michael Faraday in the early nineteenth century when he created
electromagnets, a new branch of physics, through a series of experiments.
Faraday also argued that light was an electromagnetic wave; his friend, James
Clark Maxwell, eventually proved that. Also, Maxwell’s formula said that nothing
could ever catch up to a beam of light.
Antoine Lavoisier showed that the total mass of an object stayed the same,
regardless of the change in its form or shape.
Emilie Du Châtelet proved that the energy of an object equaled its mass times
Einstein’s thought experiments involved riding a beam of light combined with
previous discoveries as well as experiments and it eventually led him to the
concept of relativity; The faster an object travels, the slower the relative
time is. He also discovered that the faster an object goes, the greater its
mass. This ultimately led him to the mass-energy equivalence theory in 1905,
though he wasn’t certain of its accuracy at first. Einstein double checked his
math and this reassured him that he was correct.
James Clerk Maxwell
Emilie Du Châtelet
1) Einstein Won the
1921 Nobel Prize in Physics for the Work He Did on Theoretical Physics
The 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Einstein in 1922 for his work in
theoretical physics. It was awarded a year late because the 1921 selection
committee decided none of that year’s nominees met Alfred Nobel’s criteria
therefore, it was awarded the next year.
Einstein specifically received the Nobel Prize “for his services to
Theoretical Physics and especially for his discovery of the law of the
photoelectric effect”. The photoelectric effect is the effect of light shining
on the surface of matter, particularly metal, that causes electrons to be
emitted. He explained it by referring to the quanta or small particles that make
up light, which he’d originally proposed in his March 1905 submission to Annalen
der Physik. These particles are also known as photons, which carry energy
proportional to the light’s frequency. When electrons absorb the energy of
photons, they’re ejected from the matter. This helped establish that light can
act as both a particle and a wave. The photoelectric effect is crucial to
photosynthesis and applies to various modern technologies, such as:
Albert Einstein rightfully is considered the most influential scientist of the
twentieth century. Without him it would have taken far longer to establish
concepts like the photoelectric effect, which led to an understanding of
photosynthesis and the creation of photodiodes vital to modern communications.
He established special and general relativity as physics concepts, among his
many other achievements. He still found time to be a father, to marry
twice, avoid monogamy, to travel Europe, travel to the United States,
travel to Asia, to support civil rights, to support a binational Jewish-Arab
state, to reject Germany wholesale after World War II and more. While his
actions sometimes conflicted with his beliefs and created great challenges to
his ethics, he stood by science at all costs. Albert Einstein was a
mathematician, physicist, father, civil rights activist, outspoken pacifist and
still rightfully influences science students all over the world.