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Albert Einstein Biography (1879–1955)


Physicist. Born on March 14, 1879, in Ulm, Germany. Albert Einstein changed our understanding of the physical world. Considered the one of the greatest thinkers in science ever, he was not such a good student when he was young. Einstein did not like the strict rules he had to follow in school and only really applied himself to the subjects that interested him, such as math and Latin. Outside of his academic studies, he learned to play the violin at the behest of his mother who adored music.

At the age of 10, Einstein enrolled at the Luitpold Gymnasium in Munich. He did not enjoy his new school any more than his previous one, but he did love studying geometry and tackling mathematical problems. Einstein’s father—who had an electrical business—ran into financial trouble in 1894. Except for Albert, the family moved to Pavia, Italy, to be closer to his mother’s family. Einstein stayed behind to finish the school year, but he did not last long on his own. After one term, he joined his family in Italy.

In 1895, Einstein moved to Aarau, Switzerland, to complete the equivalent of a high school education. There he developed an interest in physics. The following year, Einstein went on to study at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School in Zürich. He planned on becoming a science teacher. Again, Einstein was not a model student in many ways. He missed some of his classes and only did well in the subjects that he cared about. In spare time, Einstein continued his education on his own, reading physics and philosophy books. He also liked to discuss scientific and political matters with his friends, including Marcel Grossmann, Michele Besso, and Mileva Maric. Maric and Einstein eventually developed a romantic relationship.

After graduating in 1900, Einstein struggled to find work. He became a Swiss citizen the following year. Reuniting with Maric in 1901, Einstein later learned that she was pregnant with his child. Their daughter—named Lieserl—was born in early 1902. According to various accounts, Lieserl was later given up for adoption or sent to live with relatives. A letter from 1903 indicated that she had scarlet fever around this time. But no further mention of the child has been found.

Einstein landed a job at the Swiss Patent Office in Bern in 1902. The next year Maric joined him there and the couple got married. They welcomed their first son, Hans Albert, the following year. Einstein loved his son, but he remained committed to science. Balancing the two, he sometimes rocked his son’s cradle with his foot while reading or prop his books on his son’s stroller while taking a walk.

While Einstein did not secure a teaching position as he had wanted, his job at the patent office gave him the time to do some of his most significant work, writing theoretic papers on physics, most notably his theories of relativity. He was only 26 years old when he published a series of groundbreaking papers. To Einstein scholars, 1905 is remembered as a miracle year for this reason. One of the papers included that now famous equation, E=mc2, which he used to describe the relationship between mass and energy. In the equation, E stands for energy, m for mass, and c2 for the speed of light squared. Scientists were later successful in converting the energy of the mass of uranium into kinetic energy, making an enormously powerful weapon known as the atom bomb.

In 1909, Einstein joined the faculty of University of Zürich as an associate professor. He and his wife had their second son, Eduard, the next year. The Einstein family then moved to Prague where he became a professor at the German University in 1911. A rising star in the field of physics, Einstein was invited to the first ever Solvay Conference in Brussels that same year. The event drew such notable scientists as Marie Curie, Paul Langevin, and Max Planck.

By 1912, Einstein was back in Zürich, teaching theoretical physics at his alma mater. His marriage was beginning to fall apart. Known for his dalliances with other women, he fell for his old friend and cousin Elsa Löwenthal during a visit to Berlin. He sometimes wrote her letters declaring his love for her.

Einstein began working at the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin in 1914 and soon finished his work on his general theory of relativity. His family joined him for only a few months before returning to Zürich. Einstein and Maric soon started divorce proceedings.

Einstein and Löwenthal were married in 1919. Two years later, in 1921, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics. Einstein became a type of scientific star with people crowding lecture hall and auditoriums just to hear him talk about his theories. In the later part of the decade, he worked with Niels Bohr on quantum mechanics at the fifth Solvay Conference.

Over the years, Einstein kept in touch with his sons. Eduard suffered a mental breakdown in 1930. After visiting with Eduard in Switzerland, Einstein tried to find help for his troubled son. Eduard was later diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent most of adult life in mental health facilities.

Around this time, Einstein made several visits to the United States. He also toured Europe, giving numerous lectures. Everywhere he went, Einstein often spoke out about the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany and the country’s anti-Jewish policies. He also vocally supported the creation of a Jewish homeland.

After Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany in 1933, Einstein was seen as an enemy of the state. His homes were raided and his property was seized. This also happened to many other Jewish intellectuals and professionals at the time. After a stay in Belgium, Einstein and Löwenthal traveled to the United States to live. He went to work at the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton University in New Jersey. Three years later, Löwenthal died after an illness.

During World War II, Einstein tried to help as many Jewish refugees as he could. A longtime pacifist, Einstein put aside his usual principles to encourage the United States to take action against Nazi Germany. In 1939, he wrote a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, warning him that German scientists had been working on an incredibly powerful weapon based on his own formula, E = mc2. The next year, Einstein became a U.S. citizen.

After retiring from the institute in 1945, Albert Einstein spent much of his time giving lectures and speeches. He was asked to become the president of Israel in 1952 but turned it down. His health began to decline soon after. On April 18, 1955, the world lost one of its greatest thinkers when Einstein died of heart failure. Albert Einstein, one of science’s first full-blown celebrities, was named Person of the Century by Time magazine in 2000.

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