Einstein was born in Bavaria on March 14, 1879, and spent his youth in Munich, where 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 geometry.
Einstein hated the dull regimentation and unimaginative spirit of school in Munich. When repeated business failure led the family to leave Germany for Milan, Italy, Einstein, who was then 15 years old, used the opportunity to withdraw from the school. He spent a year with his parents in Milan, and when it became clear 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 Zčrich.
In the spring of 1905, after considering the nature of matter and radiation and how they interacted in some unified world picture for ten years, Einstein realized that the crux of the problem lay not in a theory of matter but in a theory of measurement. He was able to provide a consistent and correct description of physical events without making special assumptions about the nature of matter or radiation, but virtually no one understood Einstein's argument.
In 1905, Einstein published five papers. The first ("Generation and Transformation of Light") was a physical explanation of the photoelectric effect (electrons emitted from a solid when irradiated by light). Behavior suggests that light consists of quanta, bundles of energy which behave somewhat like particles. This contribution to quantum mechanics eventually earned Einstein a Nobel Prize, in 1921.
A second paper ("Motion of Suspended Particles in the Kinetic Theory") provided a mathematical explanation of Brownian motion. The most famous paper "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies" introduced the Special Theory of Relativity (Einstein later used Special to denote the case of uniform motion, in which only inertial frames of reference are involved).
His star began to rise within the physics community. He then moved rapidly upward in the German-speaking academic world; his first academic appointment was in 1909 at the University of Zčrich. In 1911 he moved to the German-speaking university at Prague, and in 1912 he returned to the Swiss National Polytechnic in Zčrich. Finally, in 1913, he was appointed director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics in Berlin.
On the basis of the general theory of relativity, Einstein accounted for the previously unexplained variations in the orbital motion of the planets and predicted the bending of starlight in the vicinity of a massive body such as the sun. The confirmation of this latter phenomenon during an eclipse of the sun in 1919 became a media event, and Einstein's fame spread worldwide.
After 1919, Einstein became internationally renowned. He accrued honors and awards, including the Nobel Prize in 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.
Mileva and Albert were lovers as students. She was the only woman studying in Zurich Polytech Institute. But she stopped her thesis work, married Albert, and gave him all the credit. Mileva had a child by him but probably gave their daughter, Lieserl, up for adoption in 1902, because the scandal might hurt his career. They later married. Letters that fellow researchers found make clear--Mileva helped Albert refine many of the ideas for which he became famous. Mileva was devoted to Albert, as a typical Serbian woman. She would do anything to please her husband. Mileva did Albert's university homework, gave up her own physics career for his, took care of their schizophrenic son even after Albert divorced her, and was his scientific partner. (Albert's family was researched by Marija Dokmanovic).
The two social movements that received his full support were pacifism and Zionism. During World War I he was one of a handful of German academics willing to publicly decry Germany's involvement in the war. After the war his continued public support of pacifist and Zionist goals made him the target of vicious attacks by anti-Semitic and right-wing elements in Germany.
Even his scientific theories were publicly ridiculed, especially the theory of relativity. When Hitler came to power, Einstein immediately decided to leave Germany for the United States. 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. The letter, which bore only Einstein's signature, helped lend urgency to efforts in the U.S. to build the atomic bomb, but Einstein himself played no role in the work and knew nothing about it at the time.
After the war, Einstein was active in the cause of international 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.
"In a polar region there is a continual deposition of ice, which is not symmetrically distributed about the pole. The earth's rotation acts on these unsymmetrically deposited masses [of ice], and produces centrifugal momentum that is transmitted to the rigid crust of the earth. The constantly increasing centrifugal momentum produced in this way will, when it has reached a certain point, produce a movement of the earth's crust over the rest of the earth's body, and this will displace the polar regions toward the equator. " From The Path of the Pole by Charles Hapgood.
November 29, 1999 - BBC
Albert Einstein has been voted the greatest physicist of all time in an end of the millennium poll, pushing Sir Isaac Newton into second place.
The survey was conducted among 100 of today's leading physicists.
All-time top ten: 1. Albert Einstein 2. Isaac Newton 3. James Clerk Maxwell 4. Niels Bohr 5. Werner Heisenberg 6. Galileo Galilei 7. Richard Feynman 8= Paul Dirac 8= Erwin SchrÜdinger 10. Ernest Rutherford"Einstein's special and general theories of relativity completely overturned previous conceptions of a universal, immutable space and time, and replaced them with a startling new framework in which space and time are fluid and malleable," said physicist Brian Greene from Columbia University, US, who participated in the poll for Physics World magazine.
Peter Rodgers, Editor of Physics World, said: "Einstein and Newton were always going to be one and two but what was surprising about the top 10 was that there were seven out and out theorists."
The top 10 includes three British scientists: Newton, James Clerk Maxwell and Paul Dirac. New Zealander Ernest Rutherford, who did much of his work in the UK, also makes the list, at 10.
Hawking and Archimedes
A parallel survey of rank-and-file physicists by the site PhysicsWeb gave the top spot to Newton and also included Michael Faraday.
Neither list included any living scientist, but Stephen Hawking was rated at 16 by PhysicsWeb users, just behind Archimedes.
Paul Guinnessy, editor of PhysicsWeb, said: "My two biggest surprises were the inclusion of Stephen Hawking, as I think more time is needed to see whether his scientific contributions will last, and the low number of votes for Marie Curie and Ernest Rutherford.
"Both these physicists had a dramatic impact not only on scientific achievements but in the students they taught and drew into physics. Rutherford's lab in particular had a number of students who were awarded Nobel prizes at a later date."
The three most important discoveries in physics are quantum mechanics, Einstein's theory of general relativity and Newton's mechanics and gravitation.
Quantum computation pioneer David Deutsch of Oxford University said: "In each of these three cases, the discovery in question not only revolutionised the branch of physics that it nominally addressed, but also provided a framework so deep and universal that all subsequent theories in physics have been formulated within it."
Asked about their careers, the physicists said they were mostly happy. Over 70% of respondents said they would study physics if they were starting university this year. But 17% said they would not, with one Japanese researcher commenting: "I worked too hard. I want to enjoy life next time."
However, asked for the biggest problem in physics, one respondent joked "getting tenure or quantum gravity".
As is traditional, the physicists had a high opinion of their subject, calling it "the most grandiose science", "the most fascinating activity for our brain" and "still the most fundamental of all sciences".
But the biological sciences did appeal to some. Michael Green, a particle theorist at Cambridge University, said: "There is something attractive about a subject that is still in a relatively primitive state."
Einstein allowed his brain to be studied after his death
AP - June 17, 1999
We always thought something must have made Albert Einstein smarter than the rest of us. Now, scientists have found that one part of his brain was indeed physically extraordinary.
In the only study ever conducted of the overall anatomy of Einstein's brain, scientists at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, discovered that the part of the brain thought to be related to mathematical reasoning - the inferior parietal region - was 15 percent wider on both sides than normal.
Furthermore, they found that the groove that normally runs from the front of the brain to the back did not extend all the way in Einstein's case. That finding could have applications even to those with more pedestrian levels of intelligence.
Einstein thought in images
"That kind of shape was not observed in any one of our brains and is not depicted in any atlas of the human brain," said Sandra Witelson, a neuroscientist who led the study, published in this week's issue of The Lancet, a British medical journal.
"But it shouldn't be seen as anatomy is destiny," she added. "We also know that environment has a very important role to play in learning and brain development. But what this is telling us is that environment isn't the only factor."
The findings may point to the importance of the inferior parietal region, Witelson said.
While the differences may be extraordinary between Einstein and everyone else, there may be more subtle, even microscopic, differences when the anatomies of the brains of people who don't fall into the genius category are compared with each other, she said.
The researchers compared the founder of the theory of relativity's brain with the preserved brains of 35 men and 56 women known to have normal intelligence when they died.
With the men's brains, they conducted two separate comparisons - first between Einstein's brain and all the men, and next between his brain and those of the eight men who were similar in age to Einstein when they died.
They found that, overall, Einstein's brain was the same weight and had the same measurements from front to back as all the other men, which Witelson said confirms the belief of many scientists that focusing on overall brain size as an indicator of intelligence is not the way to go.
Witelson theorized that the partial absence of the groove in Einstein's brain may be the key, because it might have allowed more neurons in this area to establish connections between each other and work together more easily.
She said it is likely that the groove, known as the sulcus, was always absent in that part of Einstein's brain, rather than shrinking away as a result of his intelligence, because, as one of the two or three landmarks in the human brain, it appears very early in life.
"We don't know if every brilliant physicist and mathematician will have this same anatomy," Witelson said. "It fits and it makes a compelling story, but it requires further proof."
John Gabrieli, an associate professor of psychology at Stanford University who was not connected with the study, said the finding relating to the groove and connections between the neurons in the brain may be the key.
"We don't have a clue, so anything that is suggested is interesting," he said. "There must have been something about his brain that made him so brilliant."
Brilliance of the kind Einstein possessed is so extreme, however, that although the findings may give a clue to the neurology of genius, whether they could apply to normal differences in intelligence is more doubtful, Gabrieli said.
Witelson said the next stage is to scan the brains of living mathematicians and look for minute differences.
Witelson and her team acquired Einstein's brain after they were contacted by its keeper, scientist John Harvey, who had read about the university's brain research.
Harvey was a pathologist working at a small hospital in Princeton, N.J., when Einstein died in 1955 at the age of 76. Harvey performed the autopsy, determined Einstein died of natural causes and took the brain home with him.
Some parts of the brain were given to scientists, but no major study was ever conducted, until now.