Albert Einstein: his life and work

By Keith Butler

Albert Einstein (1879 -1955) German born American physician and Nobel laureate, best know as the creator of the special and general theories of relativity and for his bold hypothesis concerning the particles and nature of light.

He was born in Ulm on March 14th 1879 and spent his youth in Munich. Here his family owned a small shop that manufactured electric machinery. He did not talk until the age of three, but even as a youth he showed a brilliant curiosity about nature and an ability to understand difficult mathematical concepts. At the age of 12 he taught himself Euclidean geometry. Einstein hated the dull regimentation and unimaginative spirit of school in Munich. At the age of 15 his family left Germany to go to Milan for 4 years

He spent a year with his parents in Milan and when it became clear that he would that he would have to make his own way in the world, he finished secondary school in Arrau, Switzerland, and entered the Swiss National Polytechnic in Zurich.

Einstein did not enjoy the methods of instructions there. He often missed classes, using the time to study Physics on his own or to play his beloved violin. He passed his examinations and graduated in 1900 by studying the notes of a classmate. His professors did not think highly of him and would not recommend him for a university position. Einstein worked as a tutor and substitute teacher.

In 1902 he secured a position as an examiner in the Swiss patent office in Bern. In 1903 he married Mileva Marci, who had been his classmate at the polytechnic. They had two sons but eventually divider. Einstein later remarried. Einstein received his doctorate from the University of Zurich for a theoretical dissertation on the dimensions of molecules, and he also published three theoretical papers of central importance to the development of 20th – century physics.

In the first of these papers, on Brownian motion, he made significant predictions about the motion of particles that are randomly distributed in a fluid. These predictions were later confirmed by experiment.In the spring of 1905 after considering these problems of ten years. The difficulty that others had with Einstein’s work was not because it was too mathematically complex or technically obscure the problem resulted rather from Einstein beliefs about the nature of good theories and the relationship between experiment and theory. The second paper, on the photoelectric effect, contained a revolutionary hypothesis concurring the nature of light.

Einstein not only proposed that under certain circumstances light can be considered as consisting of  particles, but he also hypothesized that the energy carried by any light particle, called a photon, is proportional to the frequency of the radiation


In fact when the American physicist Robert Andrews Millikan experimentally confirmed the theory almost a decade later, he was surprised and somewhat disquieted by the outcome. Einstein, whose prime concern was to understand the nature of electromagnetic radiation, subsequently urged the development of a theory that would be a fusion of the wave and particle models for light. Again, very few physicists understood or were sympathetic to these ideas. Einstein did have important supporters however his chief early patron was the German physicist Max Planck. Even before he left the patent office in 1907. Einstein began work on extending and generalising the Theory of Realativity to all coodinate systems.


Einstein’s third major paper of 1905, on the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies, contained what became known as the Special Theory of Relativity. In the spring of 1905, after considering these problems for ten years, Einstein realized that the crux of the problem lay not in a theory of matter but in a theory of measurement. At the heart of his special theory of relativity was the realization that all measurements of time and space depend on judgments as to whether two distant events occur simultaneously.
He began by enunciating the Principle of Equivalence, a postulate that gravitational fields are equivalent to accelerations of the frame of reference. The full general Theory of Relativity was not published until 1916. On the basis of the General Theory of Reality Einstein account for the previously unexplained variations in the sun.

The  confirmation  of  this  latter  phenomenon  during  an  eclipse  of  the  sun  in  1919  became a media  event  and  Einstein  fame  spread  worldwide. Most of Einstein’s collegues felt that these efforts were misguided. Between 1915 and 1930 the mainstream of Physics was in developing a new  conception  of  the  fundamental  characters  of  matter  known  as  Quentin  Theory.

Einstein  however  would  not  accept  such  notions  and  remaied  a  critic  of  these  developments  until  the  end  of  his  life.” God ” Einstein, once said,  “does not play dice with the world”.

After 1919 Einstein became internationally renowned. He accrued honors and awards, including the noble prize for Physics in 1921 from various world scientific societies. His visit to any part of the world became a National event photographers and reporters followed him everywhere. While regretting his loss of privacy Einstein capitalized on his fame to further his own political and social views.

The  two  special  movements  that  received  his  full  support  were  Pacifism  and  Zionism. When  Hitler  came  fully  in  power  Einstien  immediately  left  Germany  to  live  in  the  United  States  of  America.   He took a position at the Institute for advanced study at Princeton, New Jersey. While continuing his efforts on behalf of world Zionism, Einstein renounced his former pacifist stand in the face of the awesome threat to humankind posed by the Nazi regime in Germany. In 1939 Einstein collaborated with several other physicists in writing a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt pointing out the possibility of making an atomic bomb and the likelihood that the German government was embarking on such a course.

In  1939  Einstein  and  other  physicsts  in writing  a letter  to  the president   of  the  United  States  of  America  at  that  time   the  president  of  America  was  Franklin  D.  Roosevelt  pointing  out  the  possability  of  making  an  atomic  bomb. After  the war  Einstein  was  active  in  the  cause  of  internationl  disarmament  and  world  government. He  continued  his active  support  of  zionism  but  declined  the  offer  made  by  leaders  of  the  state  of  Israel  to  become  president  of  that  country.

In  the  U.S.  during  the  late  1940s  and  early  50s  he  spoke  out  on  the  need  for  the  nation’s  intellectuals  to  make  any  sacrifice  necessary   to  preserve  political  freedom. Einstein  died  in  princeton  on  April  18,1955. Einstein ‘s  efforts  in  behalf  of  social  causes  have  sometimes  been  viewed  as  unrealistic. In  fact  his  proposals  were  always  carefully  thought  out. Like  his  scientific  theories,  they  were  motivated  by  sound  intuition  based  on  a  shrewd  and  careful  assessment  of  evidence  and  observation.

Although  Einstein  gave  much  of  himself  to  political  and  social  causes, science  always  came  first, because ,  he  often  said  only  the  discovery  of  the  nature  of  the  universe  would  have  lasting  meaning.