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Albert Einstein- the 20th Century Science Hero Essay

Albert Einstein is considered the most influential physicist of the 20th century. He is known for developing the theories of relativity. He is also noted for his mathematical formula of E = mc? (David Bodanis). Although he was not directly involved in the Manhattan Project, which was responsible for creating the atomic bomb, but he is still considered the mastermind because of his breakthrough formula. In 1921, he won the Nobel Prize for physics for his explanation of the photoelectric effect (A. Calaprice & T. Lipscombe).

The Einstein’s were a secular, middle class Jewish family. Albert’s father Hermann Einstein was a salesman and an engineer who owned a company that manufactured electrical equipment and his mother Pauline Koch was a house wife. They were living in Ulm, in Wurttemberg, Germany, when Albert was born on March 14, 1879 (Whittaker). In 1894, Hermann Einstein’s company failed to get an important contract to electrify the city of Munich and he was forced to move his family to Milan, Italy.

Albert was left at a boarding house in Munich to finish his education (A. Calaprice & T. Lipscombe). It was at this location, that Albert began elementary school at the Luitpold Gymnasium, where he excelled in his studies. He enjoyed classical music and played the violin. However, he was not fond of formal education and made it his business to teach himself math and science (Whittaker). One of the books Albert was intrigued with was a children’s science book in which the author imagined riding alongside electricity that was traveling inside a telegraph wire.

Einstein began to wonder what a light beam would look like if you could run alongside it at the same speed. If light were a wave, then the light beam should appear stationary, like a frozen wave. Yet, in reality, the light beam is moving. This paradox led him to write his first “scientific paper” at age 16, (Whittaker). “The Investigation of the State of Aether in Magnetic Fields. ” This question of the relative speed to the stationary observer and the observer moving with the light was a question that would dominate his thinking for the next 10 years (A. Calaprice & T. Lipscombe).

While his parent remained in Italy, Albert continued his education at Aarau, Switzerland. In 1896 Einstein attended the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School in Zurich to be trained as a teacher in physics and mathematics (Whittaker). Five years later, he earned his diploma, and acquired Swiss citizenship. Also at this time he was unable to find a teaching post, so he accepted a technical assistant position in the Swiss Patent Office. In 1905 he obtained his doctor’s degree (A. Calaprice & T. Lipscombe).

During his stay at the Patent Office, Einstein had a lot of down time. This is noteworthy because it was in this spare time, that he produced much of his remarkable work. Some of these great accomplishments included being appointed Privatdozent in Berne, becoming Professor Extraordinaire at Zurich, also Professor of Theoretical Physics in Prague, and returning to Zurich in the following year to fill a similar post (Whittaker). In 1914 he was appointed Director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Physical Institute and Professor in the University of Berlin.

Einstein’s accomplishments were on the rise and became very important works which include the Special Theory of Relativity (1905), Relativity (English translations, 1920 and 1950), General Theory of Relativity (1916), Investigations on Theory of Brownian Movement (1926), and The Evolution of Physics (1938). Among his non-scientific works, About Zionism (1930), Why War? (1933), My Philosophy (1934), and Out of My Later Years (1950) are perhaps the most important (A. Calaprice & T. Lipscombe).

Albert Einstein received honorary doctorate degrees in science, medicine and philosophy from many European and American universities. During the 1920’s he lectured in Europe, America and the Far East and he was awarded Fellowships or Memberships of all the leading scientific academies throughout the world. He gained numerous awards in recognition of his work, including the Copley Medal of the Royal Society of London in 1925, and the Franklin Medal of the Franklin Institute in 1935 (Whittaker).

He became a German citizen in 1914 and remained in Berlin until 1933 when he renounced his citizenship for political reasons and emigrated to America to take the position of Professor of Theoretical Physics at Princeton. He became a United States citizen in 1940 and retired from his post in 1945 (Whittaker). While Einstein was touring much of the world speaking on his theories in the 1920s, the Nazis were rising to power under the leadership of Adolph Hitler. Einstein’s theories on relativity became a convenient target for Nazi propaganda.

In 1931, the Nazi’s enlisted other physicists to denounce Einstein and his theories as “Jewish physics (A. Calaprice & T. Lipscombe) . ” At this time, Einstein learned that the new German government, now in full control by the Nazi party, had passed a law barring Jews from holding any official position, including teaching at universities. Einstein also learned that his name was on a list of assassination targets, and a Nazi organization published a magazine with Einstein’s picture and the caption “Not Yet Hanged” on the cover (A. Calaprice & T. Lipscombe).

In December, 1932, Einstein decided to leave Germany forever. He took a position a the newly formed Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, New Jersey, which soon became a Mecca for physicists from around the world. It was here that he would spend the rest of his career trying to develop a unified field theory—an all-embracing theory that would unify the forces of the universe, and thereby the laws of physics, into one framework—and refute the accepted interpretation of quantum physics.

Other European scientists also fled various countries threatened by Nazi takeover and came to the United States. Some of these scientists knew of Nazi plans to develop an atomic weapon. For a time, their warnings to Washington, D. C. went unheeded (David Bodanis). In the summer of 1939, Einstein, along with another scientist, Leo Szilard, was persuaded to write a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt to alert him of the possibility of a Nazi bomb. President Roosevelt could not risk the possibility that Germany might develop an atomic bomb first.

The letter is believed to be the key factor that motivated the United States to investigate the development of nuclear weapons. Roosevelt invited Einstein to meet with him and soon after the United States initiated the Manhattan Project (M. Talmey). Not long after he began his career at the Institute in New Jersey, Albert Einstein expressed an appreciation for the “meritocracy” of the United States and the right people had to think what they pleased—something he didn’t enjoy as a young man in Europe (David Bodanis).

In 1935, Albert Einstein was granted permanent residency in the United States and became an American citizen in 1940. As the Manhattan Project moved from drawing board to testing and development at Los Alamos, New Mexico, many of his colleagues were asked to develop the first atomic bomb, but Eisenstein was not one of them. According to several researchers who examined FBI files over the years, the reason was the U. S. government didn’t trust Einstein’s lifelong association with peace and socialist organizations. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover went so far as to recommend that Einstein be kept out of America by the Alien Exclusion Act, but he was overruled by the U. S. State Department. Instead, during the war, Einstein helped the U. S. Navy evaluate designs for future weapons systems and contributed to the war effort by auctioning off priceless personal manuscripts (David Bodanis). One example was a handwritten copy of his 1905 paper on special relativity which sold for $6. 5 million, and is now located in the Library of Congress (M. Talmey).

On August 6, 1945, while on vacation, Einstein heard the news that an atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. He soon became involved in an international effort to try to bring the atomic bomb under control, and in 1946, he formed the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists with physicist Leo Szilard. In 1947, in an article that he wrote for The Atlantic Monthly, Einstein argued that the United States should not try to monopolize the atomic bomb, but instead should supply the United Nations with nuclear weapons for the sole purpose of maintaining a deterrent.

At this time, Einstein also became a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He corresponded with civil rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois and actively campaigned for the rights of African Americans (Whittaker). After the war, Einstein continued to work on many key aspects of the theory of general relativity, such as wormholes, the possibility of time travel, the existence of black holes, and the creation of the universe. However, he became increasingly isolated from the rest of the physics community.

With the huge developments in unraveling the secrets of atoms and molecules, spurred on by the development to the atomic bomb, the majority of scientists were working on the quantum theory, not relativity. Another reason for Einstein’s detachment from his colleagues was his obsession with discovering his unified field theory. In the 1930s, Einstein engaged in a series of historic private debates with Niels Bohr, the originator of the Bohr atomic model. In a series of “thought experiments,” Einstein tried to find logical inconsistencies in the quantum theory, but was unsuccessful.

However, in his later years, he stopped opposing quantum theory and tried to incorporate it, along with light and gravity, into the larger unified field theory he was developing (Whittaker). In the last decade of his life, Einstein withdrew from public life, rarely traveling far and confining himself to long walks around Princeton with close associates, whom he engaged in deep conversations about politics, religion, physics and his unified field theory.


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