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Albert Einstein ( 2 )


albert einstein

Einstein, Albert (1879-1955), was the most important physicist of the 1900's and one of the greatest and most famous scientists of all time. He was a theoretical physicist, a scientist who creates and develops theories of matter and energy. Einstein's greatness arose from the fact that his theories solved fundamental problems and presented new ideas. Much of his fame came from the fact that several of those ideas were strange and hard to understand-but proved true.

Middle years

Academic appointments. By 1909, Einstein was famous within the physics community. That year, he accepted his first regular academic appointment, as an associate professor of theoretical physics at the University of Zurich. In 1911, he became a professor at the German University in Prague, Austria-Hungary (now Charles University in the Czech Republic). In 1912, he returned to the ETH as a professor.

Einstein moved to Berlin in 1914 to become a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences, a professor at the University of Berlin, and the director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics, a research center then in the planning stage. He headed the institute until 1933. After World War II (1939-1945), the institute was renamed the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Physics. Several other MPI's for various branches of physics and for other fields of study were later founded.

Second marriage. Mileva went with Albert to Berlin in March 1914 but returned to Zurich in June. Their marriage had become unhappy; and, in 1919, Albert divorced Mileva and married his cousin Elsa Einstein Lowenthal. Einstein's sons stayed in Zurich with Mileva, and Albert adopted Elsa's daughters, Ilse and Margot.

The general theory of relativity. In 1916, the Annalen der Physik published Einstein's paper on the general theory of relativity. This paper soon made Einstein world-famous. He suggested that astronomers could confirm the theory by observing the sun's gravitation bending light rays. During a solar eclipse in 1919, the British astronomer Arthur S. Eddington detected the bending aside of starlight by the sun's gravitational field. His observation supported Einstein's theory.

In his theory, Einstein also showed that gravity affects time-the presence of a strong gravitational field makes clocks run more slowly than normal. In addition, equations in the general theory are the basis of descriptions of black holes. A black hole is a region of space whose gravitational force is so strong that nothing can escape from it. A black hole is invisible because it traps even light.

Attacks on Einstein. Einstein's world fame came at a price. Einstein was of Jewish descent, and anti-Semitism (prejudice against Jews) was increasing in Germany. The physicist and his theories became targets of anti-Semitic verbal attacks. Following the 1922 murder of German foreign minister Walther Rathenau, who was Jewish, Einstein temporarily left Germany. He visited Palestine and a number of other Asian countries, Spain, and South America.

World travel. Threats of danger did not prevent Einstein from using his fame to promote causes dear to his heart. He took his first trip to the United States in 1921. The main purpose of the trip was not to lecture on physics but to raise money for a planned Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In July 1923, he traveled to Sweden to accept the Nobel Prize in physics that had been awarded to him in 1921.

Further scientific work. After creating the general theory of relativity, Einstein worked on a unified field theory that was to include all electric, magnetic, and gravitational phenomena. Such a theory would provide a single description of the physical universe, rather than separate descriptions for gravitation and other phenomena. Einstein worked on the theory for the rest of his life but never finished it; to this day, no one has developed a fully successful unified field theory.

Through the mid-1920's, Einstein was a major contributor to the development of quantum mechanics. By the late 1920's, however, he had begun to doubt the theory.

One reason for Einstein's doubt was that parts of quantum mechanics did not seem to be deterministic. Determinism states that strict laws involving causes and effects govern all events. As an example of apparent nondeterminism in quantum mechanics, consider an atom that absorbs a photon, thereby becoming more energetic. At a later moment, the atom reduces its energy level by releasing a photon. But a physicist cannot use quantum mechanics to predict the moment of release.

In 1926, Einstein wrote a famous letter to the German physicist Max Born expressing his doubts about quantum mechanics. Einstein wrote, "The theory produces a good deal but hardly brings us closer to the secret of the Old One [by which Einstein meant God]. I am at all events convinced that He does not play dice."

In 1936, Einstein and the German physicists Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen published an article, which became known as the "EPR paper," arguing that quantum mechanics is not a complete theory. The EPR paper and a reply from the Danish physicist Neils Bohr became the basis for a scientific debate that continues to this day.

Later years

Einstein in the United States. In December 1930, Einstein traveled to the United States. His trip was the first of what were meant to be annual visits to lecture at the California Institute of Technology. But in January 1933, during Einstein's third trip, the Nazi Party seized power in Germany. The Nazis had an official policy of anti-Semitism, and so Einstein never set foot in Germany again. He returned to Europe in March 1933, staying in Belgium under the protection of that country's royal family. He then went to England.

In September 1933, Einstein sailed to the United States to work at the Institute for Advanced Study, an independent community of scholars and scientists doing advanced research and study. The institute had recently been established in Princeton, New Jersey, and now consists of schools of Historical Studies, Mathematics, Natural Sciences, and Social Science. Princeton would be Einstein's home for the rest of his life. Einstein became a United States citizen in October 1940.

Letter to President Roosevelt. Einstein undertook one of his most important acts in the summer of 1939, shortly before the outbreak of World War II. At the urging, and with the help, of the Hungarian refugee physicist Leo Szilard, Einstein wrote a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The letter warned that German scientists might be working on an atomic bomb. The letter led to the establishment of the Manhattan Project, which produced the first atomic bomb in 1945.

Continuing fame. After World War II, Einstein worked tirelessly for international controls on atomic energy. He had a wide circle of professional acquaintances and friends, and he was still a world figure. In 1952, he was offered the presidency of Israel-the modern state of Israel had existed only since 1948-but he declined.

einstein in office

Final days. By the early 1950's, Einstein's immediate family had dwindled. His son Eduard had been confined to a mental institution in Zurich for years, suffering from schizophrenia. Einstein's first and second wives, his stepdaughter Ilse, and his sister Maja, to whom he had been especially close, had died. Einstein's son Hans Albert was a professor of civil engineering at the University of California in Berkeley. Of the people who were emotionally close to Albert Einstein, only his stepdaughter Margot and Helen Dukas, his secretary since 1928, remained with him in Princeton.

Einstein signed his last letter one week before his death. In the letter, to the British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell, Einstein agreed to include his name on a document urging all nations to give up nuclear weapons. Einstein died in Princeton on April 18, 1955. <<< Prev

Contributor: Don Howard, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Notre Dame.
Source : World Book 2005
Additional resources
Bodanis, David.E=mc2 : A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation. Walker, 2000.
Pirotta, Saviour.Albert Einstein. Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 2002.
Severance, John B.Einstein: Visionary Scientist. Houghton, 1999.
Strathern, Paul.Einstein and Relativity. 1997. Reprint. Doubleday, 1999.

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