April of 2005 marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Albert Einstein, the great 20th century scientist. It is also 100 years since the publication of the theory of relativity, a theory that would eventually become the foundation of all modern physics. UNESCO has declared 2005 to be the Year of Physics and Germany Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, declared 2005 to be the Year of Einstein. Many countries have also marked the 20th century as Einstein’s century (Angola #1070, Guinea, Nevis 2117).
Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany, in March 1879. Many countries have marked the anniversary of Ein-stein’s birth with special postal releases (Camora Island #1999, Mexico #C542, San Marino #947, USSR #4741, Mali #C250, Germany #1299, USA #1285, Berlin S/S). His childhood and youth were spent in Munich. Albert was a quiet and timid child with no friends. He did not participate in noisy children’s games. At age six, he began to study music and in due course, music turned into a passionate hobby for Einstein (Togo #C381). His favorite composers were Bach, Mozart, Haydn. He gave solo concerts during his trips to America and Germany.
At the age of ten, Einstein attended the Luitpold Gymnasium. A classical Germany education in those years consisted primarily of Latin, Greek and history. His years at his Munich gymnasium were years of self-education during which he read book on philosophy, mathematics and astronomy. Astronomy, in particular, instilled in Einstein the idea of largely unknown, but ordered system. Between the age of twelve and sixteen, he had mastered the basic principles of mathematics, including differential and integral calculus. However, at the age of sixteen, he had moved to Milan, Italy before receiving his school diploma.
Albert applied to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, but despite his excellent knowledge of mathematics and physics, he lacked sufficient preparation in the humanities and foreign languages. Einstein wasn’t able to pass the entrance examinations. After his unsuccessful attempt, Einstein moved to a small city, Arau, twenty miles west of Zurich, in order to complete his secondary schooling. Within one year, Einstein obtained his diploma and was able to re-apply to the Federal Institute of Technology.
Einstein enjoyed Swiss and Italy life, and he renounced his Germany citizenship. But Einstein, upon graduating from the Institute, could not find a permanent job. In 1902, with the help of a friend, he was given a position at the Swiss Patent Bureau in Bern as the technical expert. The seven years that he spent in the patent bureau were happy and productive.
In 1903 Einstein married Mileva Moriz, and together they had two sons. The marriage, however, was not a happy one and soon they were divorced.
Meanwhile, the fruits of his labor at that patent bureau were paying off, and Einstein defended his doctoral dissertation in 1905. In this time, Einstein published a series of works that eventually became the basis of all modern physics. He was able to describe the relationship between the mass of a body and energy contained within that mass (Israel #117, Guyana #2684, Antigua & Barbuda #2366, Mali #C250, Nicaragua #879). He also determined the ratio between key parameters of light waves, (Bosnia & Gercego-vina #401, Germany #1299), and 16 years later he received the Nobel Prize for development of the quantum theory of light waves (Grenada #831, Sweden #1387, Malagasy #1132,a, St. Lucia #526).
However, the most significant event in that time was the publication of the Special Theory of Relativity in 1905 (Romania #4197). This theory established a link between the classical mechanics of Newton and modern physics.
Einstein’s theory shed new light on such fundamental concepts as space and time, and paved the way for explaining the processes occurring in nuclear physics. The new theoretical system concerned all basic sections of physics.
After the publication of his theory, Einstein finally gained academic recognition, and in 1909 he became an adjunct professor at the University of Zurich. The following year saw an appointment to professor at the German University in Prague, and in 1914 Einstein became the director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics. Subsequently, his German citizenship was restored, and he was offered a professorship at Berlin University and elected a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences. Following this, Einstein was made an honorary member of multiple academies and scientific organizations.
After much hard work, Einstein published in 1915 General Theory of Relativity (GTR), which replaced Newton’s law of gravitation. However, understanding and acceptance of this new theory by the scientists did not come right away. But in 1919, during a full solar eclipse, astronomers were able to discover a new star due to properties of light predicted by the Theory of Relative.
A new chapter of Einstein’s life had begun. Einstein attained worldwide acclaim. In 1919, he married his cousin, Eliza–his second marriage.
As for Einstein, the man, it is interesting to note that Einstein’s hobbies and appreciation of aesthetics greatly influenced his thinking and creativity. He once wrote that there are significant elements of poetry in scientific thinking, as both poetry and science demanded completeness of form. He even once said that he got more from Dostoevsky than he ever got from studying Gauss, the famous mathematician.
Einstein’s social and political views were defined by two primary elements; he was an avowed pacifist who strongly supported the mission and concept of the Leagues of the Nations, and he was also a strong supporter of the creation of the national Jewish state. Einstein welcomed the creation of Israel in 1948, but when he was offered the first presidency of Israel, he declined, saying that science is his primary concern.
The social and political situation in Germany was sharply during the 1920’s. Nationalistic propaganda was taking root and with it anti-Semitic spread. Many reactionary Germany physicists went so far as to condemn Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity as an instrument of Zionism.
Then Hitler came to power, the conditions in Germany became intolerable to Einstein. He gave up Germany citizenship and voluntarily resigned his post at the Germany Academy of Sciences. In 1933, he immigrated to the United States, where he received the post of professor of Princeton University.
In 1945, the German Academy of Sciences invited Einstein to once again assume his post, but he refused.
Einstein saw the dangers of fascism and he put aside his pacifistic predispositions. In August 1939, he addressed a letter to the President of the USA, Franklin D. Roosevelt. A pivotal letter in which he talked about German plans to create a nuclear weapon.
He urged the President to support researches to split uranium program. This letter was catalyst for what was to become the Manhattan Project. However, he was shocked when atomic bombs were dropped on Japan’s cities. Einstein once again became a fervent pacifist and added his signature to the Bertran Rassel appeal to all nations, warning of the dangers of the nuclear weapon (Aitutaki #189,191).
Einstein lived in Princeton for over twenty years. He was known as much for being a great scientist, as also being a kind and modest person. Einstein died in Princeton on April 18, 1955.