Introducing Mathematicians from History 10 : Albert Einstein?


Einstein was born in Germany in 1879 and, other than a short period spent studying in Switzerland, he lived there until 1933. He moved to the United States of America due to the rise to power of the Nazis under Adolf Hitler.

Why is he famous?

Many people use the word Einstein as a way of describing a genius. His most important work was the theory of general relativity which caused a huge sea change in our understanding of physics.

Unusual facts

Einstein studied for a mathematics and physics teaching diploma but struggled to find a job after graduation. He ended up spending some time working as a clerk in a patent office where he was passed over for promotion on at least one occasion. He was also turned down at one point when he applied for a job as a professor of mathematics.

In 1933 the Nazis organized mass burnings of books written by Jews and works by Einstein were among those set alight.

Einstein’s first wife was also a mathematician and some people have suggested that she may have made contributions to his works, although no evidence has been found of this.

Einstein had a huge respect for Isaac Newton and apparently had a picture of him on his wall. Newtonian Mechanics is now seen as a special case within Einstein’s theory of general relativity. People argue about which mathematician was the greater genius – there is even a Facebook page devoted to the argument.

Links to modern mathematics

Whilst much of Einstein’s work is way beyond Key Stage 3 and GCSE level you may well have heard of his famous equation E = mc² which links mass, the speed of light and energy. It is often used in exercises on rearranging formulae and substitution. You first need to understand algebra if you are to go on to understand the work of Albert Einstein.
Debby Gill

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