Published on September 8, 2013
The chapter is a biographical account of Nobel laureate and “scientific genius” Albert Einstein. Born on 14 March, 1879, in Ulm, Germany, Albert Einstein was an unusual child. As a toddler he started talking late. His own mother considered him a freak and his playmates called him “Brother Boring”. He did not mix up with other children and spent much of his time playing with mechanical toys all by himself. Once, a headmaster declared to his father that Einstein would never succeed at anything in life. As per his mother's desire, Einstein began learning to play the violin when he was six. This skill he later developed and maintained all his life. Einstein fared well in his high school at Munich. However, he withdrew from the school because he found its strict imposition of discipline and order too suffocating. Besides that, he often had disagreements with his teachers. He was 15 then. Einstein was exceptionally talented in mathematics and physics. And for his further studies, he wished to go to Switzerland, a place more liberal than Munich in his view. After an extended discussion with his parents, Einstein was granted permission to do so. Accordingly, after finishing school he took admission at a university in Zurich. At the University in Zurich, a young Serb and fellow student, Mileva Maric, caught Einstein’s attention. He found her to be a “clever creature” who shared his love for science as well as his dislike for “philistines”. Einstein and Mileva fell in love. Letters exchanged by the couple, exhibiting a rare blend of science and affection, survive till date. After graduating at the age of 21, Einstein spent almost two years doing odd jobs—as a teaching assistant, as a private tutor—while searching for proper employment. In 1902, he finally secured a job as a technical expert in the patent office in Bern. It was here that Einstein started developing his ideas in secret. He is believed to have jestingly called his desk drawer at work the “bureau of theoretical physics”. In 1905, Einstein published his celebrated paper on the Special Theory of Relativity. According to this theory, time and distance are not absolute but relative. From this he developed the famous formula, E= mc2, which describes the relationship between mass and energy. In his private life, Einstein was facing a lot of difficulties. His mother was against his decision to marry Mileva. She was bothered by Mileva's intelligence as well as her being three years older than Einstein. He put the wedding off until January 1903, when the pair finally got married. They had two sons. But the marriage began to falter after a few years. Mileva started losing her ambition and became an unhappy housewife. The couple engaged in constant fights. Ultimately, they separated in 1919 and Einstein married his cousin Elsa the same year. Around this time, Einstein's fame began to rise. In 1915, with the publication of his General Theory of Relativity, he provided a new interpretation of gravity. His theory received validation in the total solar eclipse of 1919. The newspapers declared his work as “a scientific revolution”. In 1921, Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics. He received honours and invitations from all around the world. In 1933, with the coming to power of the Nazis, Einstein emigrated to the United States, opposing Fascism. Five years later, nuclear fission was discovered in Berlin. Its potential threat disturbed the American physicists They feared that the Nazis could build and use an atomic bomb. At the request of a colleague, Einstein wrote a letter to the American President, Franklin Roosevelt, on 2 August 1939. This letter was meant to warn Roosevelt against the fatal consequences of an atomic bomb explosion. However, the letter did not have the intended effect; instead led the Americans to develop their own atomic bomb in secret. Four years later, the bomb was dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Hiroshima-Nagasaki destruction left Einstein completely distraught. He wrote a public letter to the United Nations proposing the formation of a world government but all in vain. Gradually, Einstein became more involved in politics. He campaigned for peace and democracy, and against the use of arms. In 1955, Einstein died at the age of 76 years.