Einstein Albert 1879-1955 German-born American physicist and Nobel lau
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Einstein, Albert (1879-1955), German-born American physicist and Nobel laureate, best known as the creator of the special and general theories of relativity and for his bold hypothesis concerning the particle nature of light. He is perhaps the most well-known scientist of the 20th century.
Einstein was born in Ulm 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 Euclidean 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 Zürich. Einstein did not enjoy the methods of instruction there. He often cut classes and used the time to study physics on his own or to play his beloved violin. He passed his examinations and graduated in 1900 by studying the notes of a classmate. His professors did not think highly of him and would not recommend him for a university position.
For two years Einstein worked as a tutor and substitute teacher. In 1902 he secured a position as an examiner in the Swiss patent office in Bern. In 1903 he married Mileva Mariç, who had been his classmate at the polytechnic. They had two sons but eventually divorced. Einstein later remarried.
Early Scientific Publications
In 1905 Einstein received his doctorate from the University of Zürich for a theoretical dissertation on the dimensions of molecules, and he also published three theoretical papers of central importance to the development of 20th-century physics. In the first of these papers, on Brownian motion, he made significant predictions about the motion of particles that are randomly distributed in a fluid. These predictions were later confirmed by experiment.
The second paper, on the photoelectric effect, contained a revolutionary hypothesis concerning the nature of light. Einstein not only proposed that under certain circumstances light can be considered as consisting of particles, but he also hypothesized that the energy carried by any light particle, called a photon, is proportional to the frequency of the radiation. The formula for this is E = hu, where E is the energy of the radiation, h is a universal constant known as Planck's constant, and u is the frequency of the radiation. This proposal-that the energy contained within a light beam is transferred in individual units, or quanta-contradicted a hundred-year-old tradition of considering light energy a manifestation of continuous processes. Virtually no one accepted Einstein's proposal. In fact, when the American physicist Robert Andrews Millikan experimentally confirmed the theory almost a decade later, he was surprised and somewhat disquieted by the outcome.
Einstein, whose prime concern was to understand the nature of electromagnetic radiation, subsequently urged the development of a theory that would be a fusion of the wave and particle models for light. Again, very few physicists understood or were sympathetic to these ideas.
Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity
Einstein's third major paper in 1905, "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies," contained what became known as the special theory of relativity. Since the time of the English mathematician and physicist Sir Isaac Newton, natural philosophers (as physicists and chemists were known) had been trying to understand the nature of matter and radiation, and how they interacted in some unified world picture. The position that mechanical laws are fundamental has become known as the mechanical world view, and the position that electrical laws are fundamental has become known as the electromagnetic world view. Neither approach, however, is capable of providing a consistent explanation for the way radiation (light, for example) and matter interact when viewed from different inertial frames of reference, that is, an interaction viewed simultaneously by an observer at rest and an observer moving at uniform speed.
In the spring of 1905, after considering these problems for ten years, Einstein
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Albert Einstein, Theory of relativity, Theories of gravitation, General relativity, Particle physics, Principle of relativity, Special relativity, Equivalence principle, Unified field theory, Mileva Mari, Tests of general relativity, Photon
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