Albert Einstein Biography

Albert Einstein (March 14, 1879 – April 18, 1955) was a theoretical physicist who is widely regarded as the greatest scientist of the 20th century. He proposed the theory of relativity and also made major contributions to the development of quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics, and cosmology. He was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize for Physics for his explanation of the photoelectric effect and “for his services to Theoretical Physics”.
Youth and Education
Einstein was born at Ulm in Württemberg, Germany; about 100 km east of Stuttgart. His family was Jewish (and non-observant); Albert attended a Catholic elementary school and, at the insistence of his mother, was given violin lessons.
Einstein began to learn mathematics around age twelve. In 1894, following the failure of his fathers electrochemical business, the Einstein’s moved from Munich to Pavia, Italy (near Milan). Albert remained behind to finish school, completing a term by himself before rejoining his family in Pavia.
His failure of the liberal arts portion of the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, in Zurich) entrance exam the following year was a setback; he was sent by his family to Aarau, Switzerland, to finish secondary school, where he received his diploma in 1896. Einstein subsequently enrolled at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule. The same year, he renounced his Württemberg citizenship, becoming stateless.
In 1898, Einstein met and fell in love with Mileva Maric, a Serbian classmate (and friend of Nikola Tesla). In 1900, he was granted a teaching diploma by the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule and was accepted as a Swiss citizen in 1901. During this time Einstein discussed his scientific interests with a group of close friends, including Mileva. He and Mileva had a daughter Lieserl, born in January, 1902. Lieserl, at the time, was considered illegitimate because the parents were unwed.
Work and doctorate
Upon graduation, Einstein could not find a teaching post. The father of a classmate helped him obtain employment as a technical assistant examiner at the Swiss Patent Office in 1902.
Einstein married Mileva on January 6, 1903. Einstein’s marriage to Mileva, who was a mathematician, was both a personal and intellectual partnership: Einstein referred lovingly, or perhaps with some chagrin, to Mileva as “a creature who is my equal and who is as strong and independent as I am”.
On May 14, 1904, the couple’s first son, Hans Albert Einstein, was born. In 1904, Einstein’s position at the Swiss Patent Office was made permanent. He obtained his doctorate after submitting his thesis “On a new determination of molecular dimensions” in 1905.
That same year, he wrote four articles that provided the foundation of modern physics, without much scientific literature to which he could refer or many scientific colleagues with whom he could discuss the theories. Most physicists agree that three of those papers (on Brownian motion, the photoelectric effect, and special relativity) deserved Nobel Prizes. Only the paper on the photoelectric effect would win one. This is ironic, not only because Einstein is far better-known for relativity, but also because the photoelectric effect is a quantum phenomenon, and Einstein became somewhat disenchanted with the path quantum theory would take. What makes these papers remarkable is that, in each case, Einstein boldly took an idea from theoretical physics to its logical consequences and managed to explain experimental results that had baffled scientists for decades.
He submitted these papers to the “Annalen der Physik”. They are commonly referred to as the “Annus Mirabilis Papers” (from Latin: Extraordinary Year). The International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) plans to commemorate the 100th year of the publication of Einstein’s extensive work in 1905 as the ‘World Year Of Physics 2005’.
Brownian motion
His first article in 1905, named “On the Motion—Required by the Molecular Kinetic Theory of Heat—of Small Particles Suspended in a Stationary Liquid”, covered his study of Brownian motion. Using the then-controversial kinetic theory of fluids, it established that the phenomenon, which still lacked a satisfactory explanation decades after it was first observed, provided empirical evidence for the reality of atoms. It also lent credence to statistical mechanics, which was also controversial at the time.
Before this paper, atoms were recognized as a useful concept, but physicists and chemists hotly debated whether atoms were real entities. Einstein’s statistical discussion of atomic behaviour gave experimentalists a way to count atoms by looking through an ordinary microscope. Wilhelm Ostwald, one of the leaders of the anti-atom school, later told Arnold Sommerfeld that he had been converted to a belief in atoms by Einstein’s complete explanation of Brownian motion.
Photoelectric effect
The second paper, named “On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light”, proposed the idea of “light quanta” (now called photons) and showed how it could be used to explain such phenomena as the photoelectric effect. The idea of light quanta was motivated by Max Planck’s earlier derivation of the law of black-body radiation by assuming that luminous energy could only be absorbed or emitted in discrete amounts, called quanta. Einstein showed that, by assuming that light actually consisted of discrete packets, he could explain the mysterious photoelectric effect.
The idea of light quanta contradicted the wave theory of light that followed naturally from James Clerk Maxwell’s equations for electromagnetic behaviour and, more generally, the assumption of infinite divisibility of energy in physical systems. Even after experiments showed that Einstein’s equations for the photoelectric effect were accurate, his explanation was not universally accepted. However, by 1921, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize and his work on photoelectricity was mentioned by name in the award citation, most physicists thought that the equation (hf = Φ + Ek) was correct and light quanta were possible.
The theory of light quanta was a strong indication of wave-particle duality, the concept, used as a fundamental principle by the creators of quantum mechanics, that physical systems can display both wave-like and particle-like properties. A complete picture of the photoelectric effect was only obtained after the maturity of quantum mechanics.
Special relativity
Einstein’s third paper that year was called “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies”. While developing this paper, Einstein wrote to Mileva about “our work on relative motion”, and this has led some to ask whether Mileva played a part in its development. This paper introduced the special theory of relativity, a theory of time, distance, mass and energy which was consistent with electromagnetism, but omitted the force of gravity.
Special relativity solved the puzzle that had been apparent since the Michelson-Morley experiment, which had shown that light waves did not travel through a medium unlike other known waves which require a medium such as water or air. The speed of light was thus fixed, and not relative to the movement of the observer. This was impossible under Newtonian classical mechanics.
It had already been conjectured by George Fitzgerald in 1894 that the Michelson-Morley result could be accounted for if moving bodies were squashed in the direction of their motion. Indeed, some of the paper’s core equations, the Lorentz transforms, had been introduced in 1903 by Dutch physicist Hendrik Lorentz, giving mathematical form to Fitzgerald’s conjecture. But Einstein revealed the underlying reasons for this geometrical oddity.
His explanation arose from two axioms: Galileo’s old idea that the laws of nature should be the same for all observers that move with constant speed relative to each other, and the rule that the speed of light is the same for every observer. Special relativity has several striking consequences, because the absolute concepts of time and size are rejected. The theory came to be called the “special theory of relativity” to distinguish it from his later theory of general relativity, which considers all observers to be equivalent.
(to be continued)

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