Einstein, Albert (1879-1955), was one of the greatest scientists of all time. He is best known for his theory of relativity, which he first advanced when he was only 26. He also made many other contributions to science.
Einstein's relativity theory revolutionized scientific thought with new conceptions of time, space, mass, motion, and gravitation. He treated matter and energy as exchangeable, not distinct. In so doing, he laid the basis for controlling the release of energy from the atom.
Thus, Einstein was one of the fathers of the nuclear age. Einstein's famous equation, E equals m times c-squared (energy equals mass times the velocity of light squared), became a foundation stone in the development of nuclear energy. Einstein developed his theory through deep philosophical thought and through complex mathematical reasoning. The great scientist was once reported to have said that only a dozen people in the world could understand his theory. However, Einstein always denied this report. See Relativity.
On Aug. 2, 1939, Einstein wrote a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, explaining that it might be possible to build an atomic bomb. Einstein urged the President to provide governmental help for the study of the release of nuclear energy. Einstein also warned the President that Nazi Germany might already be trying to build an atomic bomb. His letter helped set the United States on the long, difficult, and costly path that finally led to the production of an atomic bomb in 1945. See Nuclear weapon.
Einstein was born on March 14, 1879, in Ulm, Wurttemberg, Germany, the son of Hermann and Paulina Koch Einstein. When Einstein was 5 years old, his father showed him a pocket compass. The little boy was deeply impressed by the mysterious behavior of the compass needle, which kept pointing in the same direction no matter which way the compass was turned. He later said he felt then that "something deeply hidden had to be behind things."
After attending elementary and secondary schools in Munich and in Aarau, Switzerland, Einstein studied mathematics and physics at the Swiss Polytechnic Institute in Zurich. He graduated in 1900. From 1902 to 1909, Einstein worked as an examiner at the Swiss Patent Office in Bern. This job as patent examiner allowed him much free time, which he spent in scientific investigations. Einstein became a Swiss citizen in 1905.
During this time, Einstein made three of his greatest contributions to scientific knowledge. The year 1905 was an epoch-making one in the history of physical science, because Einstein contributed three papers to Annalen der Physik (Annals of Physics), a German scientific periodical. Each of them became the basis of a new branch of physics.
In one of the papers, Einstein suggested that light could be thought of as a stream of tiny particles. This idea forms an important part of the quantum theory (see Quantum mechanics). In 1900, the German physicist Max K....