"When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour. That's relativity."

Happy birthday Albert Einstein!



Albert Einstein (March 14, 1879–April 18, 1955) was the 20th century German physicist who developed the special and general theories of relativity.

His formula for mass–energy equivalence, E = mc2 is often referred to as "the world's most famous equation." In 1921, he was honored with the Nobel Prize in Physics "for his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect," which was later integral in establishing quantum theory. Einstein developed much of his work while employed at the Swiss Patent Office and he went on to teach theoretical physics at a number of universities. In Februrary 1933, Einstein was visiting the United States when he decided not to return to Germany as a result of the rapidly increasing power of the Nazis. Einstein and his wife traveled to Belgium and renounced their German citizenship, and Einstein returned the US in October 1933 to settle permanently. In the summer of 1939, just before the onset of WWII, Einstein wrote a pivotal letter to President Roosevelt alerting him of Germany's likely interest in developing atomic weapons, and recommeding that the US take a similar course of action. This letter resulted in Roosevelt initiating the Manhattan Project, of which Einstein was a key member. 


photo credit: Yousef Karsh

"A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new."

As a young student, Einstein experienced two major events which he later recalled as being instrumental in establishing his scientific curiosity. The first was that his father showed him a small compass, and Einstein marveled at the invisible force causing the needle to move, despite the "empty space". Next, Einstein befriended Max Talmud, Jewish medical student who ate dinner with his family and shared much of his scientific knowledge with Albert. Talmud gave Einstein several books on mathematics, science, and philosophy, including Euclid's Elements, which Einstein read several times over, and called his "holy little geometry book".

"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."

Einstein studied at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School in Zurich and trained as a teacher in physics and mathematics. In Switzerland, Einstein made several lifelong friends and met his future wife, Mileva Marić, a fellow student at the Polytechnic School. After graduation, Einstein had difficulty finding a teaching position, and eventually found employment at the Federal Office for Intellectual Property, where he evaluated patents for electromagnetic devices. During this time, Einstein worked on several of his own ideas in mathematics and theoretical physics.


"Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value."

In 1901, Einstein published his paper, "Conclusions from the Capillarity Phenomena" which discussed the (incorrect) theory that molecular interactions are a universal function of distance. In 1902, he and Marić had a daughter named Lieserl who is either thought to have been adopted or died in infancy. In 1903, despite protestations from her parents on religious grounds, the couple married, and went on to have two sons. The couple later divorced on February 14, 1919 after having lived apart for five years.


In 1905, Einstein finished his thesis and was awarded his PhD from the University of Zurich. In the same year, he published four groundbreaking papers, on the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, special relativity, and the equivalence of mass and energy. Einstein's prolific accomplishments during what became known as his annus mirabilis (miracle year) established him to the academic world as a gifted physicist who would soon teach and conduct research at several universities, and be named president of the German Physical Society in 1916.


"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."

Einstein's theory of general relativity was used to disprove the widely accepted laws of Newtonian mechanics thought to govern the universe. This was reported in the British newspaper The Times as "Revolution in Science – New Theory of the Universe – Newtonian Ideas Overthrown". Beginning in the 1920s, Einstein embarked on a teaching and lecture tour of the world. He was welcomed by several countries to discuss his findings, and traveled to New York City, London, Palestine, Singapore, Japan, and other countries. In Japan, Einstein met the emperor and empress, and later wrote to his sons, "Of all the people I have met, I like the Japanese most, as they are modest, intelligent, considerate, and have a feel for art."




"An empty stomach is not a good political adviser."

Einstein experienced a deep, emotional connection to his Jewish heritage which would strengthen during the oncoming events of WWII. During his first reception in Palestine, he said, "I consider this the greatest day of my life. Before, I have always found something to regret in the Jewish soul, and that is the forgetfulness of its own people. Today, I have been made happy by the sight of the Jewish people learning to recognize themselves and to make themselves recognized as a force in the world."


"In matters of truth and justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same."

Around the same time, Nazism was gaining political steam in Germany. In 1933, Einstein formally renounced his German heritage, and was quickly named as an assassination target by the Nazi regime. Einstein lived briefly in England and then settled in the US, taking a position at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. In 1940, he obtained full US citizenship.

In America, Einstein began work on a unified field theory, and other Jewish scientists fled to the country as well. He was in contact with many of these academic peers and wrote in a letter, "For me the most beautiful thing is to be in contact with a few fine Jews—a few millennia of a civilized past do mean something after all." In another letter, he wrote, "In my whole life I have never felt so Jewish as now." Einstein was convinced to send an urgent appeal to President Franklin D. Roosevelt regarding the likelihood of a German atomic bomb and the necessity of preparation. Roosevelt met with Einstein, and Manhattan Project was born.


Einstein on the cover of "Time" magazine, July 1, 1946

Einstein was passionately outspoken on the injustice of racial prejudice and called racism the country's "worst disease". At Princeton he campaigned for civil rights as a member of the NAACP. When the talented singer Marian Anderson could not stay in a hotel during a tour of New Jersey, Einstein offered her a room in his home.

Einstein was once offered the figurehead position of President of Israel, but he declined. Just hours before his death at the age of 76, from a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm, Einstein had been been working on a speech for the seventh anniversary for the State of Israel. Near the end of his life, Einstein played violin with the Juilliard Orchestra and joined other musicians in private concerts. During his lifetime, Einstein became such a well-known public figure that he was constantly stopped by strangers. He was known to tell people, "Pardon me, sorry! Always I am mistaken for Professor Einstein."


"A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?"

His most important written works include: Special Theory of Relativity (1905), Relativity (English translations, 1920 and 1950), General Theory of Relativity (1916), Investigations on Theory of Brownian Movement (1926), and The Evolution of Physics (1938). Among his non-scientific works, About Zionism (1930), Why War?(1933), My Philosophy (1934), and Out of My Later Years (1950).


Albert Einstein Documentary


Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Friday, 14 March 2014
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