Albert Einstein was born on March 14th, 1879 in Ulm, Württemberg, Germany. He was to go on to become the most celebrated physicists of all time.
Of a secular Jewish family, Einstein attended elementary school at the Luitpold Gymnasium in Munich. Einstein never settled at school and towards the end of the 1880s, Max Talmud, a Polish medical student became Albert’s informal tutor. It was Talmud who introduced Einstein to science.
Before he could finish his schooling, Einstein’s parents moved to Italy for better jobs. However, he chose to remain in Germany to finish his studies. This despite the fact that whilst he was good at maths and science, his teachers didn’t agree he was a worthy pupil. His Munich schoolmaster said “he will never amount to anything”. Hope for us all, perhaps.
Einstein went on to Zurich technical college. He graduated with only average marks, and two years later he was employed at a patent office in Bern. He found the work easy here, and was able to spend a good deal of his time thinking more about physics!
It was during this time that he wrote a paper entitled “On the electrodynamics of moving bodies”, which would later become known as Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity. This showed that measurements of space and time were relative to motion, and this subsequently forced physicists to re-evaluate some of their most basic concepts.
As time passed, so Einstein’s fame and influence continued to grow. In 1915, he announced his most famous work, the General Theory of Relativity, which was the final culmination of an eight-year obsession with gravity. With its astonishing implications about the nature of time and space, it displaced Newtonian mechanics and shook the physics world. It suggested that space and time were one and the same and that gravity was not a force as Newton described, but rather the effect of objects bending space-time. His theory was given the weight of observational evidence when it was used to correctly predict anomalies in the orbit of Mercury; a problem that Newton’s theory of gravitation had been unable to resolve.
In 1919 the British physicist Arthur Eddington went to a small African island to observe the total eclipse of the Sun so that he could test Einstein’s theory; Einstein had predicted that gravity should bend light. The eclipse proved he was right, and our view of the Universe was changed forever. As a result of this and all his other work, Einstein was subsequently awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize.
Einstein continued to make substantial contributions to physics, including his desire to find a more complete and less complex theory for Quantum Physics. He sought to make sense of sub-atomic behaviour in a way that his general relativity theory could not.
Einstein died at the age of 76 on 18th April 1955, after suffering an abdominal internal bleed, which he refused to have treated. For all his successes, Einstein never was able to find a theory for Quantum Physics, though. He made a huge contribution to the way in which we understand the Universe, but with this failing, Perhaps some things are meant to evade the greatest of minds, though – it is a theory which still eludes physicists’ today.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.