Albert Einstein is probably the world’s most famous scientist but how much about him do you really know? Here is a short biography of the father of quantum theory.
Albert Einstein’s name has become synonymous with genius but his contributions to science might have been cut short had he stayed in Germany, where he was born on March 14, 1879. He had already been used to being something of a migrant as by the age of 17. His parents had already taken him to live in Italy and Switzerland, where he began training to be a physics and maths teacher in 1896. 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.
However, much of his work was linked to the synchronising of time by mechanical and electrical means that would later transform the understanding of the universe. His first theoretical paper on the capillary forces of a straw was published in a 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. 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 is 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. 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.
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.
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. 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.