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Biography of Scientist Albert Einstein

Updated on June 28, 2013
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He was the man with the big mustache and the crazy hair who came up with a big theory of relativity, as well as the world's most famous equation.

Albert Einstein was one of the most influential physicists of the 20th century. A German who ended up in the US, he has become an international icon of intelligence.

When was Einstein born?

Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879 in Ulm, Württemberg, Germany. Born into a secular Jewish family, his father was a salesman and engineer who founded a company that manufactured electrical equipment.

Einstein went to a Catholic elementary school from the age of five. At the age of eight, he was transferred to the Luitpold Gymnasium, now called Albert Einstein Gymnasium. He stayed there until he left Germany seven years later.

"Imagination is more important than knowledge"

Albert Einstein

"Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new."

Albert Einstein

The early years of Einstein

When Einstein was a boy, his father gave him a compass. The young scientist was fascinated by the invisible forces which turned the needle. Max Talmud, a Jewish medical student from Poland, was later introduced to the family by his brother. He became an informal tutor to Einstein and gave the boy popular books on science, mathematical texts and philosophical writings. These included Euclid's Elements, which Einstein read repeatedly.

In 1894, Einstein's father's company failed. The family moved to Italy, but young Einstein stayed in Munich and finished his studies at the Luitpold Gymnasium. His father wanted him to go into electrical engineering. Einstein did not like the teaching methods of the school though. He didn't like the rote learning and thought there was little space for creativity.

In 1895, Einstein applied to the prestigious Polytechnic Institute in Zurich, Switzerland. Although he failed the entrance exam on the first try, he then spent a year studying at a local high school and retook the entrance exam in October 1896 and passed.

Einstein continued to have problems with the teaching methods used at the Polytechnic. He often skipped classes and stayed at home to read books about scientific theories. After graduating in 1900, Einstein took on various short term jobs, until eventually a friend helped him get a job at the Federal Office for Intellectual Property in the patent office. He worked as an assistant examiner, evaluating patent applications for electromagnetic devices.

Having a job with some stability, Einstein was able to marry his college sweetheart, Mileva Maric, whom his parents strongly disapproved. The couple went on to have two sons: Hans Albert (born 1904) and Eduard (born 1910).

What Were Einstein's Academic Achievements?

While he was working at the patent office, Einstein continued to work towards progressing his academic career. He received his doctorate from the University of Zurich in 1905. During the same year, he published four important scientific papers, including those on photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, special relativity, and another which introduced his equation 'E = mc²' which related mass and energy.

In 1908, he became a lecturer at the University of Bern. He left the patent office and the lecturer position the next day to take on the role of physics docent (a senior university position) at the University of Zurich

He became a full professor at Karl-Ferdinand University in Prague in 1911. He returned to Germany in 1914 to take on the role of director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics and then a professorship at the Humboldt University of Berlin. In 1916, Einstein published his theory of general relativity. Einstein received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921. This was for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect and his work in the field of theoretical physics.

Who was Einstein's second wife?

Einstein divorced from his first wife on 14 February 1919, having lived apart for five years. He married Elsa Löwenthal on 2 June 1919. He had been having a relationship with her for five years. Elsa Einstein was diagnosed with heart and kidney problems and died in December 1936.

When did Einstein emigrate to the USA?

Einstein visited the United States of America in 1933 and decided not to return to Germany. This was because of the rise to power of the Nazis under Germany's new chancellor. Einstein renounced his German citizenship. He settled in the United States and took a post at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. He stayed there for the rest of his life, working on his unified field theory and relaxing by sailing on a local lake or playing his violin. He became an American citizen in 1940.

What was the Manhattan Project?

During World War Two, Einstein was concerned that Nazi scientists would develop an atomic weapon. He wrote to the US president, Franklin Roosevelt, suggesting an American research project. The result was the Manhattan Project which led to the development of the atomic bombs which destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Being pacifist, Einstein was troubled by his part in the creation of such weapons for the rest of his life.

When did Einstein die?

Einstein died on 18 April 1955 in Princeton, New Jersey. He had suffered an internal bleed from previous surgery. He was taken to hospital, but refused surgery, saying it was pointless to prolong life artificially and believing it was his time to go. He was 76 when he died.

During the autopsy, the pathologist of Princeton Hospital took out Einstein's brain for preservation without the permission of his family, in the hope that the neuroscience of the future would be able to discover what made Einstein so intelligent. Michael Paterniti's book Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein's Baby is a quirky travelogue about a trip that the famous scientist's brain took.

ALBERT EINSTEIN MEMORIAL, NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES, WASHINGTON
ALBERT EINSTEIN MEMORIAL, NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES, WASHINGTON | Source

Remembering Einstein

Einstein is remembered for the important contributions he made to physics. He has also been the subject or inspiration for many works of popular culture. The character of Einstein, or a person very much like him, has appeared in many books, plays and films. The popular image of a mad scientists or an absent-minded professors tends to usually be one that looks like Einstein.

Einstein published more than 300 scientific papers along with many other non-scientific writings. He will always be remembered as a genius.

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    • Evan Smiley profile image

      Evan Smiley 3 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Love the hub! I have studied Einstein extensively, and this hub is very accurate! Keep it up! All of the books you linked to are very good reads!