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Albert Einstein

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Albert Einstein (March 14, 1879 - April 18, 1955) was a theoretical physicist widely regarded as the most important scientist of the 20th century. He was the author of the special and general theory of relativity and made significant contributions to quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics, and cosmology. He was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize for Physics for his explanation of the photoelectric effect in 1905 (his "wonderful year") and "for his services to Theoretical Physics".

After British solar eclipse expeditions in 1919 confirmed that light rays from distant stars were deflected by the gravity of the Sun by the amount he had predicted in his theory of relativity, Einstein became world-famous, an unusual achievement for a scientist. In his later years, his fame perhaps exceeded that of any other scientist in history. In popular culture, his name has become synonymous with great intelligence and genius.

Biography

Youth and college

Young Albert before the Einsteins moved from Germany to Italy.Einstein was born on March 14, 1879 at Ulm in Wьrttemberg, German Empire, about 100 km east of Stuttgart. His parents were Hermann Einstein, a salesman who later ran an electrochemical works, and Pauline, nйe Koch. They were married in Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt. The family was Jewish (non-observant); Albert attended a Catholic elementary school and, at the insistence of his mother, was given violin lessons. Though he initially disliked the lessons, and eventually discontinued them, he would later take great solace in Mozart's violin sonatas.

When Einstein was five, his father showed him a pocket compass, and Einstein realized that something in "empty" space acted upon the needle; he would later describe the experience as one of the most revelatory of his life. Though he built models and mechanical devices for fun and showed great mathematical faculty early on, he was considered a slow learner, possibly due to dyslexia, simple shyness, or the significantly rare and unusual structure of his brain (examined after his death).1 He later credited his development of the theory of relativity to this slowness, saying that by pondering space and time later than most children, he was able to apply a more developed intellect. Some researchers have speculated that Einstein may have exhibited some traits of mild forms of autism, although they concede that a reliable posthumous diagnosis is impossible.2

In 1889, a medical student named Max Talmud (later: Talmey) introduced Einstein to key science and philosophy texts, including Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. Two of his uncles would further foster his intellectual interests during his late childhood and early adolescence by recommending and providing books on science, mathematics and philosophy.

Einstein attended the Luitpold Gymnasium, where he received a relatively progressive education. He began to learn mathematics around age twelve; in 1891, he taught himself Euclidean plane geometry from a school booklet and began to study calculus. There is a recurring rumor that Einstein failed mathematics later in his education, but this is untrue; a change in the way grades were assigned caused confusion years later. However, while at the Gymnasium, he clashed with authority and resented the school regimen, believing that the spirit of learning and creative thought were lost in such endeavors as strict memorization.

In 1894, following the failure of Hermann Einstein's electrochemical business, the Einsteins moved from Munich to Pavia, a city in Italy near Milan. Einstein's first scientific work, called "The Investigation of the State of Aether in Magnetic Fields", was written contemporaneously. Albert remained behind in Munich lodgings to finish school, completing only one term before leaving the gymnasium in the spring of 1895 to rejoin his family in Pavia. He quit a year and a half prior to final examinations without telling his parents, convincing the school to let him go with a medical note from a friendly doctor, but this meant that he had no secondary-school certificate.3 That year, at the age of 16, he performed the thought experiment known as "Albert Einstein's mirror". After gazing into a mirror, he examined what would happen to his image if he were moving at the speed of light; his conclusion, that the speed of light is independent of the observer, would later become one of the two postulates of special relativity.

Although he excelled in the mathematics and science portion of the Eidgenцssische Technische Hochschule (ETH, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, in Zьrich) entrance exam the following year, his failure of the liberal arts portion was a setback; his family sent him to Aarau, Switzerland to finish secondary school, and it became clear that he was not going to be an electrical engineer as his father intended for him. There, he studied the seldom-taught Maxwell's electromagnetic theory and received his diploma in September 1896. During this time, he lodged with Professor Jost Winteler's family and became enamoured with Marie, their daughter and his first sweetheart. Einstein's sister, Maja, who was perhaps his closest confidant, was to later marry their son, Paul, and his friend, Michele Besso, married their other daughter, Anna.4 Einstein subsequently enrolled at the Eidgenцssische Technische Hochschule in October and moved to Zьrich, while Marie moved to Olsberg, Switzerland for a teaching post. The same year, he renounced his Wьrttemberg citizenship and became stateless.

In the spring of 1896, the Serbian Mileva Marić started initially as a medical student at the University of Zurich, but after a term switched to the same section as Einstein as the only woman that year to study for the same diploma. Einstein's relationship with Marić developed into romance over the next few years, which Einstein's family opposed based on the fact that she was not Jewish, older, and physically "defective." [1]

In 1900, Einstein was granted a teaching diploma by the Eidgenцssische Technische Hochschule (ETH Zurich). Einstein then wrote his first published paper, on the capillary forces of a drinking straw, titled "Folgerungen aus den CapillaritÐ'tserscheinungen", which translated is "Consequences of the observations of capillarity phenomena" (found in "Annalen der Physik" volume 4, page 513). In it, he tried to unify the laws of physics, an attempt he would continually make throughout his life. Through his friend Michelle Besso, an engineer, Einstein was presented

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