Father of modern physics
proved his skeptics wrong
Cartoons and films sometimes portray him as an absent-minded professor or a mad scientist. Yet Albert Einstein (1879 -1955) was one of the most brilliant minds in history although his estimated IQ was 160, below the genius IQ 130-140 level.
One day neuroscientists may determine why he was the Person of the 20th Century, a highly privileged status accorded to him by Time magazine in 1999. During his autopsy, a pathologist secretly removed his 1,492-gram brain and dissected it into nearly 240 blocks. Initial studies revealed that his brain contains an increased number of glial cells, which provide support and nutrition in the central nervous system.
By all accounts, Einstein was a genius in his time. He was the father of modern physics for discovering the law of the photoelectric effect. His contributions include the theories of relativity, prediction of the deflection of light by gravity and gravitational lenses.
In his exciting lifetime, he published over 300 scientific and more than 150 non-scientific works which caught the attention of fellow scientists and made him world-famous. Despite widespread cynicism, he proved that atoms exist; other scientists thought that atoms were not real. Later atomists learned about the distribution of the velocities of atoms in gas.
In 1905, he theorized that light itself consists of localized particles and the idea was universally accepted only in 1919. He proved skeptics wrong again when he expounded the effects of gravity on light.
Einstein and a former student co-invented the Einstein refrigerator which was revolutionary at that time. They did not install any moving parts; only heat was used as an input. Later Einstein obtained a US patent, but the product was not manufactured commercially.
Atomic bomb warning
When the Second World War broke out, he was alarmed and displeased. He told the media that he could not predict how the Third World War would be fought. In the Fourth World War, he said, people would use rocks!
Prompted by fellow scientists, Einstein wrote a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt to alert him to the strong possibility that Nazi Germany might be developing an atomic bomb. The President and the US armed forces took note of the warning and entered the “atomic age”. The US developed the bomb first.
Born in Ulm in the German Empire, Einstein attended elementary school for six years from the age of five. He showed an interest in mathematics, and in his leisure he enjoyed building models and mechanical devices for fun. Later a Polish medical student introduced him to science, mathematics and philosophy.
Einstein was a top student in school although he had early speech difficulties. His father, an engineer-salesman, wanted him to study electrical engineering, but the boy resented the school’s regimental approach. He stayed in Munich to complete his studies when his family moved to Milan, Italy. The student wrote his first scientific paper, The Investigation of the State of Aether in Magnetic Fields.
After failing his entrance examination to enrol at a prestigious polytechnic in Zurich, Einstein went to Aaran, northern Switzerland, to finish his secondary school. Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory aroused his curiosity although a professor’s daughter also had his attention. He graduated at the age of 17.
Two-year search for job
Einstein pursued mathematics and physics at the Zurich Polytechnic in 1896, and he graduated with a diploma in the two subjects in 1900. He and a fellow student, Mileva Maric, had a daughter, and they couple married in 1903. Mileva gave birth to a son a year later in Bern, Switzerland, and a second son was born in Zurich in 1910.
After graduation, Einstein spent two years searching for a teaching job in vain. A former classmate’s father helped him secure a job in Bern as an assistant examiner at a patent office.
In 1905, Einstein received his doctorate from the University of Zurich where he had submitted a thesis on the determination of molecular dimensions. The same year he published four papers on photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, special relativity and equivalence of matter and energy, which caught the attention of academics.
Einstein was appointed a lecturer at the University of Berne in 1908. The following year, he assumed the position of physics professor at the University of Zurich. He became a full professor at the Karl-Ferdinand University in Prague in 1911.
His family stayed in Zurich when he moved to Berlin. After five years of separation from Mileva, they divorced, and Einstein married his cousin Elsa Lowënthal in 1918. He and his wife migrated to the US in 1933. Three years later Elsa died of heart and kidney illnesses.
In the US, he obtained a position at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. His crowning glory was when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921. Two awards followed – the Copley Medal from the Royal Society in 1925, the Franklin Medal for extensive work on relativity and photoelectric effect in 1936.
In 1952, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion offered him the position of president after the death of the country’s first president. He declined, explaining that he “had neither the natural ability not the experience to deal with human beings.”
On April 17 1955, Einstein had internal bleeding, but he refused surgery, saying it was “tasteless to prolong life artificially.” He died in Princeton Hospital at the age of 76.