By Mary Bellis
Photo: Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein was born in Germany in 1879. He enjoyed classical music and played the violin. One story Einstein liked to tell about his childhood was of a wonder he saw when he was four or five years old: a magnetic compass. The needle's invariable northward swing, guided by an invisible force, profoundly impressed the child. The compass convinced him that there had to be "something behind things, something deeply hidden."
Even as a small boy Albert Einstein was self-sufficient and thoughtful. According to family legend he was a slow talker, pausing to consider what he would say. His sister remembered the concentration and perseverance with which he would build houses of cards.
Albert Einstein's first job was that of patent clerk.
In 1933, he joined the staff of the newly created Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. He accepted this position for life, living there until his death. Einstein is probably familiar to most people for his mathematical equation about the nature of energy, E = MC2.
Albert Einstein wrote a paper with a new understanding of the structure of light. He argued that light can act as though it consists of discrete, independent particles of energy, in some ways like the particles of a gas. A few years before, Max Planck's work had contained the first suggestion of a discreteness in energy, but Einstein went far beyond this. His revolutionary proposal seemed to contradict the universally accepted theory that light consists of smoothly oscillating electromagnetic waves. But Einstein showed that light quanta, as he called the particles of energy, could help to explain phenomena being studied by experimental physicists. For example, he made clear how light ejects electrons from metals.
There was a well-known kinetic energy theory that explained heat as an effect of the ceaseless motion of atoms; Einstein proposed a way to put the theory to a new and crucial experimental test. If tiny but visible particles were suspended in a liquid, he said, the irregular bombardment by the liquid's invisible atoms should cause the suspended particles to carry out a random jittering dance. One should be able to observe this through a microscope, and if the predicted motion were not seen, the whole kinetic theory would be in grave danger. But just such a random dance of microscopic particles had long since been observed. Now the motion was explained in detail. Albert Einstein had reinforced the kinetic theory, and he had created a powerful new tool for studying the movement of atoms.
The Atomic Bomb
Please don't build one at home. On August 2nd 1939, just before the beginning of World War II, Einstein wrote to then President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Einstein and several other scientists told Roosevelt of efforts in Nazi Germany to purify U-235 with which might in turn be used to build an atomic bomb. It was shortly thereafter that the United States Government began the serious undertaking known only then as the Manhattan Project. Simply put, the Manhattan Project was committed to expedient research and production that would produce a viable atomic bomb. [The Letter]
Nova's multimedia presentation on the life of Albert Einstein
The Biography of Albert Einstein
Learn about the life and times of Albert Einstein. Chapters: Formative Years, The Great Works, E=mc², World Fame, Public Concerns, Quantum and Cosmos, The Nuclear Age, Science and Philosophy, An Essay: Albert Einstein - The World As I See It.
Albert Einstein in Princeton
"Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955) first gained worldwide prominence in 1919, when British astronomers verified predictions of Einstein's general theory of relativity through measurements taken during a total eclipse. Einstein's theories expanded upon, and in some cases refuted, universal laws formulated by Newton in the late seventeenth century."
Pictures of Albert Einstein
A Poster of Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein Archives
Albert Einstein Online
Einstein for Kids
Albert Einstein's Birthday - March Fundays
A Short Albert Einstein Biography
PORTRAIT OF A GENIUS
Albert Einstein was asked to pose so many times that he said if he hadn't been a physicist, he could have made a living as a model.
Inventor and innovations surrounding nuclear physics.
E = MC2
Albert Einstein developed a theory about the relationship of mass and energy. The formula, E=mc, is probably the most famous outcome from Einstein's special theory of relativity. The formula says energy (E) equals mass (m) times the speed of light (c) squared. In essence, it means mass is just one form of energy. Since the speed of light squared is an enormous number (186,000 miles per second), a small amount of mass can be converted to a phenomenal amount of energy. Or, if there's a lot of energy available, some energy can be converted to mass and a new particle can be created. Nuclear reactors, for instance, work because nuclear reactions convert small amounts of mass into large amounts of energy.