Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany on March 14, 1879. Popular legend indicates that he was a slow learner, learning to speak much later than is average. Elementary school records show he was a gifted child, particularly in maths, physics and violin playing. He rebelled against formal education by rote learning and was expelled at the age of 15 (reputedly just before he dropped out). His family moved to Italy, mainly for business reasons.
Einstein renounced his German citizenship and went to live with family in Italy then in Switzerland. He studied at the renowned Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (then the Polytechnic). He failed the entrance exam first time, probably because of difficulties with the French language. He missed many lectures, preferring self directed study, but passed the final exams after a short period of intense ‘learning’; reportedly cramming from the notes of a friend.
Two year later in 1902, began steady employment as a patents officer (technical expert third class) in Berne. Held this position for seven years, the freedom from financial worries giving him time to think about problems in physics. He had limited contact with other physicists and little contact with academia.
In 1905 while still employed as a patents officer, he was awarded his PhD in physics and published a number of papers that changed the thinking about physics. This year is often referred to as the annus mirabilis. The first of the papers was on the quantum theory of light including an explanation of the photoelectric effect for which he was awarded the Nobel prize for 1921. The second paper was on a statistical paper on Brownian motion, a proof for the existence of atoms. Other paper documented his reasoning on special relativity which led to the famous equation E = mc2.
Work on generalising the theory led to the general relativity paper which was published in 1916.
Einstein lived in Berlin during World War I and publicly expressed dissatisfaction with German militarism. He suggested that warfare be abolished and an International organisation be set up to mediate between nations.
In 1919, general relativity principles were supported by observations of a solar eclipse. Einstein became a celebrity.
1922 Einstein published his first paper on the unified field theory. The quest for a Law combining all the known forces occupied his scientific attention until his death. He was keen to find an alternative to quantum mechanics which described everything in terms of probabilities. His famous quote ‘God does not play dice’ reflects this quest.
While visiting the US in 1933, Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany. Einstein publicly criticised the racial and political policies of Hitler, resigned his position at the University of Berlin and vowed never to return to Germany. He then accepted a research position at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.
In 1939 Einstein wrote his famous letter to President Roosevelt pointing out the possibilities of a nuclear bomb. An ardent pacifist, he was prompted to do this by several prominent scientists and the thought that Hitler would develop such a bomb first. In actuality the first bomb fell on Japan after the fall of Germany in the war. In 1946 he became chairman of he Emergency Committee for Atomic Scientists. The FBI kept a file on his political activities from 1932 until his death.
Einstein was a compassionate man with a deep regard for his fellow humans and a love of children. He believed that humanity needed to create a moral order if it was to survive. He identified strongly with his Jewish identity, but regarded Judaism as a culture rather than a religion. In 1952 he was offered, but declined, the presidency of the State of Israel. Einstein died in 1955.