Albert Einstein - Biographical
Questions and Answers on Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein was born at Ulm, in Württemberg, Germany, on March 14, 1879. Six weeks later the family moved to Munich, where he later on began his schooling at the Luitpold Gymnasium. Later, they moved to Italy and Albert continued his education at Aarau, Switzerland and in 1896 he entered the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School in Zurich to be trained as a teacher in physics and mathematics. In 1901, the year he gained his diploma, he acquired Swiss citizenship and, as he was unable to find a teaching post, he accepted a position as technical assistant in the Swiss Patent Office. In 1905 he obtained his doctor's degree.
During his stay at the Patent Office, and in his spare time, he produced much of his remarkable work and in 1908 he was appointed Privatdozent in Berne. In 1909 he became Professor Extraordinary at Zurich, in 1911 Professor of Theoretical Physics at Prague, returning to Zurich in the following year to fill a similar post. In 1914 he was appointed Director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Physical Institute and Professor in the University of Berlin. He became a German citizen in 1914 and remained in Berlin until 1933 when he renounced his citizenship for political reasons and emigrated to America to take the position of Professor of Theoretical Physics at Princeton*. He became a United States citizen in 1940 and retired from his post in 1945.
After World War II, Einstein was a leading figure in the World Government Movement, he was offered the Presidency of the State of Israel, which he declined, and he collaborated with Dr. Chaim Weizmann in establishing the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Einstein always appeared to have a clear view of the problems of physics and the determination to solve them. He had a strategy of his own and was able to visualize the main stages on the way to his goal. He regarded his major achievements as mere stepping-stones for the next advance.
At the start of his scientific work, Einstein realized the inadequacies of Newtonian mechanics and his special theory of relativity stemmed from an attempt to reconcile the laws of mechanics with the laws of the electromagnetic field. He dealt with classical problems of statistical mechanics and problems in which they were merged with quantum theory: this led to an explanation of the Brownian movement of molecules. He investigated the thermal properties of light with a low radiation density and his observations laid the foundation of the photon theory of light.
In his early days in Berlin, Einstein postulated that the correct interpretation of the special theory of relativity must also furnish a theory of gravitation and in 1916 he published his paper on the general theory of relativity. During this time he also contributed to the problems of the theory of radiation and statistical mechanics.
In the 1920s, Einstein embarked on the construction of unified field theories, although he continued to work on the probabilistic interpretation of quantum theory, and he persevered with this work in America. He contributed to statistical mechanics by his development of the quantum theory of a monatomic gas and he has also accomplished valuable work in connection with atomic transition probabilities and relativistic cosmology.
After his retirement he continued to work towards the unification of the basic concepts of physics, taking the opposite approach, geometrisation, to the majority of physicists.
Einstein's researches are, of course, well chronicled and his more important 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) are perhaps the most important.
Albert Einstein received honorary doctorate degrees in science, medicine and philosophy from many European and American universities. During the 1920's he lectured in Europe, America and the Far East, and he was awarded Fellowships or Memberships of all the leading scientific academies throughout the world. He gained numerous awards in recognition of his work, including the Copley Medal of the Royal Society of London in 1925, and the Franklin Medal of the Franklin Institute in 1935.
Einstein's gifts inevitably resulted in his dwelling much in intellectual solitude and, for relaxation, music played an important part in his life. He married Mileva Maric in 1903 and they had a daughter and two sons; their marriage was dissolved in 1919 and in the same year he married his cousin, Elsa Löwenthal, who died in 1936. He died on April 18, 1955 at Princeton, New Jersey.
From Nobel Lectures, Physics 1901-1921, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1967
This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and first published in the book series Les Prix Nobel. It was later edited and republished in Nobel Lectures. To cite this document, always state the source as shown above.
* Albert Einstein was formally associated with the Institute for Advanced Study located in Princeton, New Jersey.
Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1922
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Einstein qualified and became a Swiss citizen but couldn’t find a teaching job so began work as an assistant in the Swiss Patent Office in 1901, where he was passed over for promotion because he had not got to grips with “machine technology”.
However, much of his work was linked to the synchronising of time by mechanical and electrical means, which sowed the seeds that would later transform the understanding of the universe.
His first theoretical paper – on the capillary forces of a straw – was published in a respected journal that same year and by 1905 he was awarded his doctorate by the University of Zurich.
The scientist’s work began to pour out of him – by the end of that year, he published no less than four revolutionary papers on matter and energy; the photoelectric effect; Brownian motion; and the idea that perhaps defined him most of all – special relativity.
Despite the acclaim that he began to accrue, he continued working at the patent office until 1909.
Two years later his work on relativity made him world famous when he concluded that the trajectory of light arriving on Earth from a star would be bent by the gravity of the Sun.
His conclusions ripped up the ideas of Newtonian mechanics which had stood since the 17th century.
They are modest, intelligent, considerate and have a feel for art. [Einstein on the Japanese]
He returned to Germany where he held several prestigious positions, including president of the German Physical Society.
By 1921, his groundbreaking theories had transformed the basics of modern physics and he was awarded the Nobel Prize.
However, it was not given for his most famous work, that of relativity, because it remained too controversial.
Instead, the judges used his explanation of the photoelectric effect to explain the award.
The famous scientist began to lecture worldwide and travelled to Singapore, Sri Lanka, Palestine and Japan, where he spoke before the emperor and declared: “Of all the people I have met, I like the Japanese most, as they are modest, intelligent, considerate and have a feel for art.”
Wherever he went by this stage he was greeted like a head of state or a rock star, with crowds thronging to hear him and cannons fired to salute his arrival.
The rise of Hitler and Nazism persuaded him to move to the US, where he later shed his avowal of pacifism and wrote to President Roosevelt urging him to press ahead with construction of a nuclear bomb to ensure the Germans did not get there first.
There was always with him a wonderful purity at once childlike and profoundly stubborn. [Robert Oppenheimer on Einstein]
He later said this letter was his life’s biggest regret because nuclear weapons had such a fierce capacity for destruction.
He began work at Princeton University and became a US citizen in 1940 (his third passport) where he was a strident critic of racism, calling it America’s “worst disease”.
Albert Einstein died of internal bleeding on April 17, 1955, aged 76, which was marked with headlines around the world.
But his story did not end there - his brain was removed by the pathologist to try to understand what made him so intelligent.
At his memorial, Robert Oppenheimer, the developer of the atomic bomb which Einstein had backed, said: “He was almost wholly without sophistication and wholly without worldliness.
“There was always with him a wonderful purity at once childlike and profoundly stubborn.”