Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein
Einstein 1921 by F Schmutzer - restoration.jpg
Albert Einstein in 1921
Born(1879-03-14)14 March 1879
Ulm, Kingdom of Württemberg, German Empire
Died18 April 1955(1955-04-18) (aged 76)
Princeton, New Jersey, US
ResidenceGermany, Italy, Switzerland, Austria (present-day Czech Republic), Belgium, United States
Known for
Spouse(s)Mileva Marić
(m. 1903; div. 1919)

Elsa Löwenthal
(m. 1919; d. 1936)
Children"Lieserl" Einstein
Hans Albert Einstein
Eduard "Tete" Einstein
Scientific career
FieldsPhysics, philosophy
ThesisEine neue Bestimmung der Moleküldimensionen (A New Determination of Molecular Dimensions) (1905)
Doctoral advisorAlfred Kleiner
Other academic advisorsHeinrich Friedrich Weber
Albert Einstein signature 1934.svg

Albert Einstein (14 March 1879 – 18 April 1955) was a German-born theoretical physicist[5] who developed the theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics (alongside quantum mechanics).[4][6]:274 His work is also known for its influence on the philosophy of science.[7][8] He is best known to the general public for his mass–energy equivalence formula E = mc2, which has been dubbed "the world's most famous equation".[9] He received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics "for his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect",[10] a pivotal step in the development of quantum theory.

Near the beginning of his career, Einstein thought that Newtonian mechanics was no longer enough to reconcile the laws of classical mechanics with the laws of the electromagnetic field. This led him to develop his special theory of relativity during his time at the Swiss Patent Office in Bern (1902–1909), Switzerland. However, he realized that the principle of relativity could also be extended to gravitational fields, and he published a paper on general relativity in 1916 with his theory of gravitation. He continued to deal with problems of statistical mechanics and quantum theory, which led to his explanations of particle theory and the motion of molecules. He also investigated the thermal properties of light which laid the foundation of the photon theory of light. In 1917, he applied the general theory of relativity to model the structure of the universe.[11][12]

He lived in Switzerland between 1895 and 1914, except for one year in Prague, and he received his academic diploma from the Swiss federal polytechnic school (later the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, ETH) in Zürich in 1900. He taught theoretical physics there between 1912 and 1914 before he left for Berlin. He acquired Swiss citizenship in 1901, which he kept for the rest of his life after being stateless for more than five years. In 1905, he was awarded a PhD by the University of Zurich. The same year, he published four groundbreaking papers during his renowned annus mirabilis (miracle year) which brought him to the notice of the academic world at the age of 26.

He was visiting the United States when Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933 and he did not go back to Germany, where he had been a professor at the Berlin Academy of Sciences. He settled in the United States and became an American citizen in 1940.[13] On the eve of World War II, he endorsed a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt alerting him to the potential development of "extremely powerful bombs of a new type" and recommending that the US begin similar research. This eventually led to the Manhattan Project. Einstein supported the Allied forces, but he generally denounced the idea of using nuclear fission as a weapon. He signed the Russell–Einstein Manifesto with British philosopher Bertrand Russell, which highlighted the danger of nuclear weapons. He was affiliated with the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, until his death in 1955.

Einstein published more than 300 scientific papers and more than 150 non-scientific works.[11][14] His intellectual achievements and originality have made the word "Einstein" synonymous with "genius".[15] Eugene Wigner wrote of Einstein in comparison to his contemporaries that "Einstein's understanding was deeper even than Jancsi von Neumann's. His mind was both more penetrating and more original than von Neumann's. And that is a very remarkable statement."[16]

Life and career

Early life and education

A young boy with short hair and a round face, wearing a white collar and large bow, with vest, coat, skirt and high boots. He is leaning against an ornate chair.
Einstein at the age of 3 in 1882
Studio photo of a boy seated in a relaxed posture and wearing a suit, posed in front of a backdrop of scenery.
Albert Einstein in 1893 (age 14)
Einstein's matriculation certificate at the age of 17. The heading reads "The Education Committee of the Canton of Aargau". His scores were German 5, French 3, Italian 5, History 6, Geography 4, Algebra 6, Geometry 6, Descriptive Geometry 6, Physics 6, Chemistry 5, Natural History 5, Art Drawing 4, Technical Drawing 4. The scores are 6 = excellent, 5 = good, 4 = sufficient, 3 = poor, 2 = very poor, 1 = unusable.
Einstein's matriculation certificate at the age of 17, showing his final grades from the Argovian cantonal school (Aargauische Kantonsschule, on a scale of 1–6, with 6 being the highest possible mark). He scored: German 5; French 3; Italian 5; History 6; Geography 4; Algebra 6; Geometry 6; Descriptive Geometry 6; Physics 6; Chemistry 5; Natural History 5; Art and Technical Drawing 4.

Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, in the Kingdom of Württemberg in the German Empire, on 14 March 1879.[5] His parents were Hermann Einstein, a salesman and engineer, and Pauline Koch. In 1880, the family moved to Munich, where Einstein's father and his uncle Jakob founded Elektrotechnische Fabrik J. Einstein & Cie, a company that manufactured electrical equipment based on direct current.[5]

The Einsteins were non-observant Ashkenazi Jews, and Albert attended a Catholic elementary school in Munich, from the age of 5, for three years. At the age of 8, he was transferred to the Luitpold Gymnasium (now known as the Albert Einstein Gymnasium), where he received advanced primary and secondary school education until he left the German Empire seven years later.[17]

In 1894, Hermann and Jakob's company lost a bid to supply the city of Munich with electrical lighting because they lacked the capital to convert their equipment from the direct current (DC) standard to the more efficient alternating current (AC) standard.[18] The loss forced the sale of the Munich factory. In search of business, the Einstein family moved to Italy, first to Milan and a few months later to Pavia. When the family moved to Pavia, Einstein, then 15, stayed in Munich to finish his studies at the Luitpold Gymnasium. His father intended for him to pursue electrical engineering, but Einstein clashed with authorities and resented the school's regimen and teaching method. He later wrote that the spirit of learning and creative thought was lost in strict rote learning. At the end of December 1894, he travelled to Italy to join his family in Pavia, convincing the school to let him go by using a doctor's note.[19] During his time in Italy he wrote a short essay with the title "On the Investigation of the State of the Ether in a Magnetic Field".[20][21]

Einstein always excelled at maths and physics from a young age, reaching a mathematical level years ahead of his peers. The twelve year old Einstein taught himself algebra and Euclidean geometry over a single summer. Einstein also independently discovered his own original proof of the Pythagorean theorem at age 12.[22] A family tutor Max Talmud says that after he had given the 12 year old Einstein a geometry textbook, after a short time "[Einstein] had worked through the whole book. He thereupon devoted himself to higher mathematics... Soon the flight of his mathematical genius was so high I could not follow."[23] His passion for geometry and algebra led the twelve year old to become convinced that nature could be understood as a "mathematical structure".[23] Einstein started teaching himself calculus at 12, and as a 14 year old he says he had "mastered integral and differential calculus".[24]

At age 13, Einstein was introduced to Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, and Kant became his favorite philosopher, his tutor stating: "At the time he was still a child, only thirteen years old, yet Kant's works, incomprehensible to ordinary mortals, seemed to be clear to him."[23]

In 1895, at the age of 16, Einstein took the entrance examinations for the Swiss Federal Polytechnic in Zürich (later the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, ETH). He failed to reach the required standard in the general part of the examination,[25] but obtained exceptional grades in physics and mathematics.[26] On the advice of the principal of the Polytechnic, he attended the Argovian cantonal school (gymnasium) in Aarau, Switzerland, in 1895 and 1896 to complete his secondary schooling. While lodging with the family of professor Jost Winteler, he fell in love with Winteler's daughter, Marie. Albert's sister Maja later married Winteler's son Paul.[27] In January 1896, with his father's approval, Einstein renounced his citizenship in the German Kingdom of Württemberg to avoid military service.[28] In September 1896, he passed the Swiss Matura with mostly good grades, including a top grade of 6 in physics and mathematical subjects, on a scale of 1–6.[29] At 17, he enrolled in the four-year mathematics and physics teaching diploma program at the Zürich Polytechnic. Marie Winteler, who was a year older, moved to Olsberg, Switzerland, for a teaching post.

Einstein's future wife, a 20-year old Serbian woman Mileva Marić, also enrolled at the Polytechnic that year. She was the only woman among the six students in the mathematics and physics section of the teaching diploma course. Over the next few years, Einstein and Marić's friendship developed into romance, and they read books together on extra-curricular physics in which Einstein was taking an increasing interest. In 1900, Einstein passed the exams in Maths and Physics and was awarded the Federal Polytechnic teaching diploma.[30] There have been claims that Marić collaborated with Einstein on his 1905 papers,[31][32] known as the Annus Mirabilis papers, but historians of physics who have studied the issue find no evidence that she made any substantive contributions.[33][34][35][36]

Marriages and children

Head and shoulders shot of a young, moustached man with dark, curly hair wearing a plaid suit and vest, striped shirt, and a dark tie.
Albert Einstein in 1904 (age 25)

An early correspondence between Einstein and Marić was discovered and published in 1987 which revealed that the couple had a daughter named "Lieserl", born in early 1902 in Novi Sad where Marić was staying with her parents. Marić returned to Switzerland without the child, whose real name and fate are unknown. The contents of Einstein's letter in September 1903 suggest that the girl was either given up for adoption or died of scarlet fever in infancy.[37][38]

Einstein, looking relaxed and holding a pipe, stands next to a smiling, well-dressed Elsa who is wearing a fancy hat and fur wrap. She is looking at him.
Einstein with his second wife Elsa, 1921

Einstein and Marić married in January 1903. In May 1904, their son Hans Albert Einstein was born in Bern, Switzerland. Their son Eduard was born in Zürich in July 1910. The couple moved to Berlin in April 1914, but Marić returned to Zürich with their sons after learning that Einstein's chief romantic attraction was his first and second cousin Elsa.[39] They divorced on 14 February 1919, having lived apart for five years.[40] Eduard had a breakdown at about age 20 and was diagnosed with schizophrenia.[41] His mother cared for him and he was also committed to asylums for several periods, finally being committed permanently after her death.[42]

In letters revealed in 2015, Einstein wrote to his early love Marie Winteler about his marriage and his strong feelings for her. He wrote in 1910, while his wife was pregnant with their second child: "I think of you in heartfelt love every spare minute and am so unhappy as only a man can be". He spoke about a "misguided love" and a "missed life" regarding his love for Marie.[43]

Einstein married Elsa Löwenthal in 1919,[44][45] after having a relationship with her since 1912.[46] She was a first cousin maternally and a second cousin paternally.[46] They emigrated to the United States in 1933, and she was diagnosed with heart and kidney problems in 1935. She died in December 1936.[47]


Among Einstein's well-known friends were Michele Besso, Paul Ehrenfest, Marcel Grossmann, János Plesch, Daniel Q. Posin, Maurice Solovine, and Stephen Wise.[48]

Patent office

After graduating in 1900, Einstein spent almost two frustrating years searching for a teaching post. He acquired Swiss citizenship in February 1901,[49] but was not conscripted for medical reasons. With the help of Marcel Grossmann's father, he secured a job in Bern at the Federal Office for Intellectual Property, the patent office,[50][51] as an assistant examiner – level III.[52][53]

Einstein evaluated patent applications for a variety of devices including a gravel sorter and an electromechanical typewriter.[53] In 1903, his position at the Swiss Patent Office became permanent, although he was passed over for promotion until he "fully mastered machine technology".[54]:370

Much of his work at the patent office related to questions about transmission of electric signals and electrical-mechanical synchronization of time, two technical problems that show up conspicuously in the thought experiments that eventually led Einstein to his radical conclusions about the nature of light and the fundamental connection between space and time.[54]:377

With a few friends he had met in Bern, Einstein started a small discussion group in 1902, self-mockingly named "The Olympia Academy", which met regularly to discuss science and philosophy. Their readings included the works of Henri Poincaré, Ernst Mach, and David Hume, which influenced his scientific and philosophical outlook.[55]

First scientific papers

Einstein's official 1921 portrait after receiving the Nobel Prize in Physics

In 1900, Einstein's paper "Folgerungen aus den Capillaritätserscheinungen" ("Conclusions from the Capillarity Phenomena") was published in the journal Annalen der Physik.[56][57] On 30 April 1905, Einstein completed his thesis,[58] with Alfred Kleiner, Professor of Experimental Physics, serving as pro-forma advisor. As a result, Einstein was awarded a PhD by the University of Zürich, with his dissertation "A New Determination of Molecular Dimensions".[58][59]

In that same year, which has been called Einstein's annus mirabilis (miracle year), he published four groundbreaking papers, on the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, special relativity, and the equivalence of mass and energy, which were to bring him to the notice of the academic world, at the age of 26.

Academic career

By 1908, he was recognized as a leading scientist and was appointed lecturer at the University of Bern. The following year, after giving a lecture on electrodynamics and the relativity principle at the University of Zürich, Alfred Kleiner recommended him to the faculty for a newly created professorship in theoretical physics. Einstein was appointed associate professor in 1909.[60]

Einstein became a full professor at the German Charles-Ferdinand University in Prague in April 1911, accepting Austrian citizenship in the Austro-Hungarian Empire to do so.[61][62] During his Prague stay, he wrote 11 scientific works, five of them on radiation mathematics and on the quantum theory of solids. In July 1912, he returned to his alma mater in Zürich. From 1912 until 1914, he was professor of theoretical physics at the ETH Zurich, where he taught analytical mechanics and thermodynamics. He also studied continuum mechanics, the molecular theory of heat, and the problem of gravitation, on which he worked with mathematician and friend Marcel Grossmann.[63]

On 3 July 1913, he was voted for membership in the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin. Max Planck and Walther Nernst visited him the next week in Zurich to persuade him to join the academy, additionally offering him the post of director at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics, which was soon to be established.[64] (Membership in the academy included paid salary and professorship without teaching duties at the Humboldt University of Berlin.) He was officially elected to the academy on 24 July, and he accepted to move to the German Empire the next year. His decision to move to Berlin was also influenced by the prospect of living near his cousin Elsa, with whom he had developed a romantic affair. He joined the academy and thus the Berlin University on 1 April 1914.[65] As World War I broke out that year, the plan for Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics was aborted. The institute was established on 1 October 1917, with Einstein as its director.[66] In 1916, Einstein was elected president of the German Physical Society (1916–1918).[67]

Based on calculations Einstein made in 1911, about his new theory of general relativity, light from another star should be bent by the Sun's gravity. In 1919, that prediction was confirmed by Sir Arthur Eddington during the solar eclipse of 29 May 1919. Those observations were published in the international media, making Einstein world famous. On 7 November 1919, the leading British newspaper The Times printed a banner headline that read: "Revolution in Science – New Theory of the Universe – Newtonian Ideas Overthrown".[68]

In 1920, he became a Foreign Member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.[69] In 1922, he was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics "for his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect".[10] While the general theory of relativity was still considered somewhat controversial, the citation also does not treat the cited work as an explanation but merely as a discovery of the law, as the idea of photons was considered outlandish and did not receive universal acceptance until the 1924 derivation of the Planck spectrum by S. N. Bose. Einstein was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS) in 1921.[4] He also received the Copley Medal from the Royal Society in 1925.[4]

1921–1922: Travels abroad

Albert Einstein at a session of the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation (League of Nations) of which he was a member from 1922 to 1932.

Einstein visited New York City for the first time on 2 April 1921, where he received an official welcome by Mayor John Francis Hylan, followed by three weeks of lectures and receptions. He went on to deliver several lectures at Columbia University and Princeton University, and in Washington he accompanied representatives of the National Academy of Science on a visit to the White House. On his return to Europe he was the guest of the British statesman and philosopher Viscount Haldane in London, where he met several renowned scientific, intellectual and political figures, and delivered a lecture at King's College London.[70] [71]

He also published an essay, "My First Impression of the U.S.A.," in July 1921, in which he tried briefly to describe some characteristics of Americans, much as had Alexis de Tocqueville, who published his own impressions in Democracy in America (1835).[72] For some of his observations, Einstein was clearly surprised: "What strikes a visitor is the joyous, positive attitude to life . . . The American is friendly, self-confident, optimistic, and without envy."[73]:20

In 1922, his travels took him to Asia and later to Palestine, as part of a six-month excursion and speaking tour, as he visited Singapore, Ceylon and Japan, where he gave a series of lectures to thousands of Japanese. After his first public lecture, he met the emperor and empress at the Imperial Palace, where thousands came to watch. In a letter to his sons, he described his impression of the Japanese as being modest, intelligent, considerate, and having a true feel for art.[74]

Because of Einstein's travels to the Far East, he was unable to personally accept the Nobel Prize for Physics at the Stockholm award ceremony in December 1922. In his place, the banquet speech was held by a German diplomat, who praised Einstein not only as a scientist but also as an international peacemaker and activist.[75]

On his return voyage, he visited Palestine for 12 days in what would become his only visit to that region. He was greeted as if he were a head of state, rather than a physicist, which included a cannon salute upon arriving at the home of the British high commissioner, Sir Herbert Samuel. During one reception, the building was stormed by people who wanted to see and hear him. In Einstein's talk to the audience, he expressed happiness that the Jewish people were beginning to be recognized as a force in the world.[76]

Einstein visited Spain for two weeks in 1923, where he briefly met Santiago Ramón y Cajal and also received a diploma from King Alfonso XIII naming him a member of the Spanish Academy of Sciences.[77]

From 1922 to 1932, Einstein was a member of the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation of the League of Nations in Geneva, a body created to promote international exchange between scientists, researchers, teachers, artists and intellectuals.[78] Originally slated to serve as the Swiss delegate, Secretary-General Eric Drummond was persuaded by Catholic activists Oskar Halecki and Giuseppe Motta to instead have him become the German delegate, thus allowing Gonzague de Reynold to take the Swiss spot, from which he promoted traditionalist Catholic values.[79] His former physics professor Hendrik Lorentz and the French chemist Marie Curie were also members of the committee.

1930–1931: Travel to the US

In December 1930, Einstein visited America for the second time, originally intended as a two-month working visit as a research fellow at the California Institute of Technology. After the national attention he received during his first trip to the US, he and his arrangers aimed to protect his privacy. Although swamped with telegrams and invitations to receive awards or speak publicly, he declined them all.[80]

After arriving in New York City, Einstein was taken to various places and events, including Chinatown, a lunch with the editors of the New York Times, and a performance of Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera, where he was cheered by the audience on his arrival. During the days following, he was given the keys to the city by Mayor Jimmy Walker and met the president of Columbia University, who described Einstein as "the ruling monarch of the mind".[81] Harry Emerson Fosdick, pastor at New York's Riverside Church, gave Einstein a tour of the church and showed him a full-size statue that the church made of Einstein, standing at the entrance.[81] Also during his stay in New York, he joined a crowd of 15,000 people at Madison Square Garden during a Hanukkah celebration.[81]

Einstein (left) and Charlie Chaplin at the Hollywood premiere of City Lights, January 1931

Einstein next traveled to California, where he met Caltech president and Nobel laureate, Robert A. Millikan. His friendship with Millikan was "awkward", as Millikan "had a penchant for patriotic militarism," where Einstein was a pronounced pacifist.[82] During an address to Caltech's students, Einstein noted that science was often inclined to do more harm than good.[83]

This aversion to war also led Einstein to befriend author Upton Sinclair and film star Charlie Chaplin, both noted for their pacifism. Carl Laemmle, head of Universal Studios, gave Einstein a tour of his studio and introduced him to Chaplin. They had an instant rapport, with Chaplin inviting Einstein and his wife, Elsa, to his home for dinner. Chaplin said Einstein's outward persona, calm and gentle, seemed to conceal a "highly emotional temperament," from which came his "extraordinary intellectual energy".[84]:320

Chaplin's film, City Lights, was to premiere a few days later in Hollywood, and Chaplin invited Einstein and Elsa to join him as his special guests. Walter Isaacson, Einstein's biographer, described this as "one of the most memorable scenes in the new era of celebrity".[83] Chaplin visited Einstein at his home on a later trip to Berlin, and recalled his "modest little flat" and the piano at which he had begun writing his theory. Chaplin speculated that it was "possibly used as kindling wood by the Nazis."[84]:322

1933: Emigration to the US

Cartoon of Einstein, who has shed his "Pacifism" wings, standing next to a pillar labeled "World Peace". He is rolling up his sleeves and holding a sword labeled "Preparedness" (by Charles R. Macauley, c. 1933).

In February 1933 while on a visit to the United States, Einstein knew he could not return to Germany with the rise to power of the Nazis under Germany's new chancellor, Adolf Hitler.[85][86]

While at American universities in early 1933, he undertook his third two-month visiting professorship at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. He and his wife Elsa returned to Belgium by ship in March, and during the trip they learned that their cottage was raided by the Nazis and his personal sailboat confiscated. Upon landing in Antwerp on 28 March, he immediately went to the German consulate and surrendered his passport, formally renouncing his German citizenship.[87] The Nazis later sold his boat and converted his cottage into a Hitler Youth camp.[88]

Refugee status

Albert Einstein's landing card (26 May 1933), when he landed in Dover (United Kingdom) from Ostende (Belgium) to visit Oxford.

In April 1933, Einstein discovered that the new German government had passed laws barring Jews from holding any official positions, including teaching at universities.[87] Historian Gerald Holton describes how, with "virtually no audible protest being raised by their colleagues", thousands of Jewish scientists were suddenly forced to give up their university positions and their names were removed from the rolls of institutions where they were employed.[73]

A month later, Einstein's works were among those targeted by the German Student Union in the Nazi book burnings, with Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels proclaiming, "Jewish intellectualism is dead."[87] One German magazine included him in a list of enemies of the German regime with the phrase, "not yet hanged", offering a $5,000 bounty on his head.[87][89] In a subsequent letter to physicist and friend Max Born, who had already emigrated from Germany to England, Einstein wrote, "... I must confess that the degree of their brutality and cowardice came as something of a surprise."[87] After moving to the US, he described the book burnings as a "spontaneous emotional outburst" by those who "shun popular enlightenment," and "more than anything else in the world, fear the influence of men of intellectual independence."[90]

Einstein was now without a permanent home, unsure where he would live and work, and equally worried about the fate of countless other scientists still in Germany. He rented a house in De Haan, Belgium, where he lived for a few months. In late July 1933, he went to England for about six weeks at the personal invitation of British naval officer Commander Oliver Locker-Lampson, who had become friends with Einstein in the preceding years. To protect Einstein, Locker-Lampson had two assistants watch over him at his secluded cottage outside London, with photo of them carrying shotguns and guarding Einstein, published in the Daily Herald on 24 July 1933.[91][92]

Locker-Lampson took Einstein to meet Winston Churchill at his home, and later, Austen Chamberlain and former Prime Minister Lloyd George.[93] Einstein asked them to help bring Jewish scientists out of Germany. British historian Martin Gilbert notes that Churchill responded immediately, and sent his friend, physicist Frederick Lindemann to Germany to seek out Jewish scientists and place them in British universities.[94] Churchill later observed that as a result of Germany having driven the Jews out, they had lowered their "technical standards" and put the Allies' technology ahead of theirs.[94]

Einstein later contacted leaders of other nations, including Turkey's Prime Minister, İsmet İnönü, to whom he wrote in September 1933 requesting placement of unemployed German-Jewish scientists. As a result of Einstein's letter, Jewish invitees to Turkey eventually totaled over "1,000 saved individuals".[95]

Locker-Lampson also submitted a bill to parliament to extend British citizenship to Einstein, during which period Einstein made a number of public appearances describing the crisis brewing in Europe.[96] In one of his speeches he denounced Germany's treatment of Jews, while at the same time he introduced a bill promoting Jewish citizenship in Palestine, as they were being denied citizenship elsewhere.[97] In his speech he described Einstein as a "citizen of the world" who should be offered a temporary shelter in the UK.[note 2][98] Both bills failed, however, and Einstein then accepted an earlier offer from the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton, New Jersey, US, to become a resident scholar.[96]

Resident scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study

Portrait of Einstein taken in 1935 at Princeton

In October 1933 Einstein returned to the US and took up a position at the Institute for Advanced Study,[96][99] noted for having become a refuge for scientists fleeing Nazi Germany.[100] At the time, most American universities, including Harvard, Princeton and Yale, had minimal or no Jewish faculty or students, as a result of their Jewish quota which lasted until the late 1940s.[100]

Einstein was still undecided on his future. He had offers from several European universities, including Christ Church, Oxford where he stayed for three short periods between May 1931 and June 1933 and was offered a 5-year studentship,[101][102] but in 1935 he arrived at the decision to remain permanently in the United States and apply for citizenship.[96][103]

Einstein's affiliation with the Institute for Advanced Study would last until his death in 1955.[104] He was one of the four first selected (two of the others being John von Neumann and Kurt Gödel) at the new Institute, where he soon developed a close friendship with Gödel. The two would take long walks together discussing their work. Bruria Kaufman, his assistant, later became a physicist. During this period, Einstein tried to develop a unified field theory and to refute the accepted interpretation of quantum physics, both unsuccessfully.

World War II and the Manhattan Project

In 1939, a group of Hungarian scientists that included émigré physicist Leó Szilárd attempted to alert Washington to ongoing Nazi atomic bomb research. The group's warnings were discounted. Einstein and Szilárd, along with other refugees such as Edward Teller and Eugene Wigner, "regarded it as their responsibility to alert Americans to the possibility that German scientists might win the race to build an atomic bomb, and to warn that Hitler would be more than willing to resort to such a weapon."[105][106] To make certain the US was aware of the danger, in July 1939, a few months before the beginning of World War II in Europe, Szilárd and Wigner visited Einstein to explain the possibility of atomic bombs, which Einstein, a pacifist, said he had never considered.[107] He was asked to lend his support by writing a letter, with Szilárd, to President Roosevelt, recommending the US pay attention and engage in its own nuclear weapons research.

The letter is believed to be "arguably the key stimulus for the U.S. adoption of serious investigations into nuclear weapons on the eve of the U.S. entry into World War II".[108] In addition to the letter, Einstein used his connections with the Belgian Royal Family[109] and the Belgian queen mother to get access with a personal envoy to the White House's Oval Office. Some say that as a result of Einstein's letter and his meetings with Roosevelt, the US entered the "race" to develop the bomb, drawing on its "immense material, financial, and scientific resources" to initiate the Manhattan Project.

For Einstein, "war was a disease ... [and] he called for resistance to war." By signing the letter to Roosevelt, some argue he went against his pacifist principles.[110] In 1954, a year before his death, Einstein said to his old friend, Linus Pauling, "I made one great mistake in my life—when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made; but there was some justification—the danger that the Germans would make them ..."[111]

US citizenship

Einstein accepting US citizenship certificate from judge Phillip Forman

Einstein became an American citizen in 1940. Not long after settling into his career at the Institute for Advanced Study (in Princeton, New Jersey), he expressed his appreciation of the meritocracy in American culture when compared to Europe. He recognized the "right of individuals to say and think what they pleased", without social barriers, and as a result, individuals were encouraged, he said, to be more creative, a trait he valued from his own early education.[112]

Personal life

Views on race

In his travel diaries from his 1922-23 visit to Asia, he expresses xenophobic and racist judgments on the Chinese, Japanese and Indian people he saw.[113]

Einstein joined National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Princeton, where he campaigned for the civil rights of African Americans. He considered racism America's "worst disease,"[89] seeing it as "handed down from one generation to the next".[114] As part of his involvement, he corresponded with civil rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois and was prepared to testify on his behalf during his trial in 1951.[115]:565 When Einstein offered to be a character witness for Du Bois, the judge decided to drop the case.[116]

Einstein in 1947

In 1946 Einstein visited Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, a historically black college, where he was awarded an honorary degree. (Lincoln was the first university in the United States to grant college degrees to African Americans; alumni include Langston Hughes and Thurgood Marshall.) Einstein gave a speech about racism in America, adding, "I do not intend to be quiet about it."[117] A resident of Princeton recalls that Einstein had once paid the college tuition for a black student.[116]

Assisting Zionist causes

Einstein was a figurehead leader in helping establish the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which opened in 1925, and was among its first Board of Governors. Earlier, in 1921, he was asked by the biochemist and president of the World Zionist Organization, Chaim Weizmann, to help raise funds for the planned university.[118] He also submitted various suggestions as to its initial programs.

Among those, he advised first creating an Institute of Agriculture in order to settle the undeveloped land. That should be followed, he suggested, by a Chemical Institute and an Institute of Microbiology, to fight the various ongoing epidemics such as malaria, which he called an "evil" that was undermining a third of the country's development.[119]:161 Establishing an Oriental Studies Institute, to include language courses given in both Hebrew and Arabic, for scientific exploration of the country and its historical monuments, was also important.[119]:158

Chaim Weizmann later became Israel's first president. Upon his death while in office in November 1952 and at the urging of Ezriel Carlebach, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion offered Einstein the position of President of Israel, a mostly ceremonial post.[120][121] The offer was presented by Israel's ambassador in Washington, Abba Eban, who explained that the offer "embodies the deepest respect which the Jewish people can repose in any of its sons".[122] Einstein declined, and wrote in his response that he was "deeply moved", and "at once saddened and ashamed" that he could not accept it.[122]

Love of music

Einstein (right) with writer, musician and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, 1930

Einstein developed an appreciation for music at an early age, and later wrote: "If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music... I get most joy in life out of music."[123][124]

His mother played the piano reasonably well and wanted her son to learn the violin, not only to instill in him a love of music but also to help him assimilate into German culture. According to conductor Leon Botstein, Einstein began playing when he was 5, although he did not enjoy it at that age.[125]

When he turned 13, he discovered the violin sonatas of Mozart, whereupon "Einstein fell in love" with Mozart's music and studied music more willingly. He taught himself to play without "ever practicing systematically", he said, deciding that "love is a better teacher than a sense of duty."[125] At age 17, he was heard by a school examiner in Aarau as he played Beethoven's violin sonatas, the examiner stating afterward that his playing was "remarkable and revealing of 'great insight'." What struck the examiner, writes Botstein, was that Einstein "displayed a deep love of the music, a quality that was and remains in short supply. Music possessed an unusual meaning for this student."[125]

Music took on a pivotal and permanent role in Einstein's life from that period on. Although the idea of becoming a professional musician himself was not on his mind at any time, among those with whom Einstein played chamber music were a few professionals, and he performed for private audiences and friends. Chamber music had also become a regular part of his social life while living in Bern, Zürich, and Berlin, where he played with Max Planck and his son, among others. He is sometimes erroneously credited as the editor of the 1937 edition of the Köchel catalogue of Mozart's work; that edition was prepared by Alfred Einstein, who may have been a distant relation.[126][127]

In 1931, while engaged in research at the California Institute of Technology, he visited the Zoellner family conservatory in Los Angeles, where he played some of Beethoven and Mozart's works with members of the Zoellner Quartet.[128][129] Near the end of his life, when the young Juilliard Quartet visited him in Princeton, he played his violin with them, and the quartet was "impressed by Einstein's level of coordination and intonation".[125]

During his days at Oxford, he was accompanied by Russi Mody on the piano, while he played the violin. Mody would occasionally fill in knowledge gaps that Einstein had in Nuclear Physics.[130][131][132]

Political and religious views

Casual group shot of four men and two women standing on a brick pavement.
Albert Einstein with his wife Elsa Einstein and Zionist leaders, including future President of Israel Chaim Weizmann, his wife Vera Weizmann, Menahem Ussishkin, and Ben-Zion Mossinson on arrival in New York City in 1921

Einstein's political view was in favor of socialism and critical of capitalism, which he detailed in his essays such as "Why Socialism?".[133][134] Einstein offered and was called on to give judgments and opinions on matters often unrelated to theoretical physics or mathematics.[96] He strongly advocated the idea of a democratic global government that would check the power of nation-states in the framework of a world federation.[135] The FBI created a secret dossier on Einstein in 1932, and by the time of his death his FBI file was 1,427 pages long.[136]

Einstein spoke of his spiritual outlook in a wide array of original writings and interviews.[137] Einstein stated that he had sympathy for the impersonal pantheistic God of Baruch Spinoza's philosophy.[138] He did not believe in a personal God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings, a view which he described as naïve.[139] He clarified, however, that "I am not an atheist",[140] preferring to call himself an agnostic,[141] or a "deeply religious nonbeliever."[139] When asked if he believed in an afterlife, Einstein replied, "No. And one life is enough for me."[142]

Einstein was primarily affiliated with non-religious humanist and Ethical Culture groups in both the UK and US. He served on the advisory board of the First Humanist Society of New York,[143] and was an honorary associate of the Rationalist Association, which publishes New Humanist in Britain. For the seventy-fifth anniversary of the New York Society for Ethical Culture, he stated that the idea of Ethical Culture embodied his personal conception of what is most valuable and enduring in religious idealism. He observed, "Without 'ethical culture' there is no salvation for humanity."[144]


On 17 April 1955, Einstein experienced internal bleeding caused by the rupture of an abdominal aortic aneurysm, which had previously been reinforced surgically by Rudolph Nissen in 1948.[145] He took the draft of a speech he was preparing for a television appearance commemorating the State of Israel's seventh anniversary with him to the hospital, but he did not live long enough to complete it.[146]

Einstein refused surgery, saying, "I want to go when I want. It is tasteless to prolong life artificially. I have done my share; it is time to go. I will do it elegantly."[147] He died in Princeton Hospital early the next morning at the age of 76, having continued to work until near the end.[148]

During the autopsy, the pathologist of Princeton Hospital, Thomas Stoltz Harvey, removed Einstein's brain for preservation without the permission of his family, in the hope that the neuroscience of the future would be able to discover what made Einstein so intelligent.[149] Einstein's remains were cremated and his ashes were scattered at an undisclosed location.[150][151]

In a memorial lecture delivered on 13 December 1965, at UNESCO headquarters, nuclear physicist Robert Oppenheimer summarized his impression of Einstein as a person: "He was almost wholly without sophistication and wholly without worldliness ... There was always with him a wonderful purity at once childlike and profoundly stubborn."[152]

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