Ulm, 1879 - Princeton, 1955
American scientist of German origin. He was the eldest son of Hermann Einstein and Pauline Koch, both Jews, whose families came from Swabia.
Little Albert was a quiet and self-absorbed child, who had a slow intellectual development. Einstein himself attributed to this slowness the fact of having been the only person to develop a theory such as that of relativity: "a normal adult is not concerned about the problems posed by space and time, since he considers that everything that exists to know about it already knows him from his early childhood. I, on the other hand, have been so slow to develop that I didn't start asking questions about space and time until I was older."
In 1894, financial difficulties caused the family to move to Milan; Eietnstein remained in Munich to finish his secondary studies, joining his parents the following year. In the fall of 1896, he began his higher studies at the Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule in Zurich, where he was a student of the mathematician Hermann Minkowski, who later generalized the four-dimensional formalism introduced by his former student's theories.
Obtained Swiss citizenship (1901), he found a job in the Department of Patents. On June 23, 1902, he began to provide his services at the Confederal Office for Intellectual Property in Bern, where he worked until 1909. In 1903, he married Mileva Maric, a former fellow student in Zurich, with whom he had two children: Hans Albert and Eduard, born respectively in 1904 and 1910. In 1919 they divorced, and Einstein remarried his cousin Elsa.
During 1905, he published five papers in the Annalen der Physik: the first of them earned him a doctorate from the University of Zurich, and the remaining four ended up imposing a radical change in the image that science offers of the universe. Of these, the first provided a theoretical explanation, in statistical terms, of the Brownian movement, and the second gave an interpretation of the photoelectric effect based on the hypothesis that light is made up of individual quanta, later called photons; the two remaining papers laid the foundations of the restricted theory of relativity, establishing the equivalence between the energy E of a certain amount of matter and its mass m, in terms of the famous equation E = mc2, where c is the velocity of the light, which is assumed to be constant.
Einstein's effort immediately ranked him among the most eminent of European physicists, but public recognition of the true scope of his theories was slow in coming; the Nobel Prize in Physics, which was awarded to him in 1921, was exclusively "for his work on Brownian motion and his interpretation of the photoelectric effect." In 1909, he began his career as a university teacher in Zurich, later moving to Prague and returning to Zurich again in 1912 to become a professor at the Polytechnic, where he had completed his studies. In 1914 he went to Berlin as a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences. The outbreak of the First World War forced him to separate from his family, who were on vacation in Switzerland at the time and who never met him again.
Against the general feeling of the Berlin academic community, Einstein at that time manifested himself openly anti-war, influenced in his attitudes by the pacifist doctrines of Romain Rolland. At the scientific level, his activity focused, between 1914 and 1916, on perfecting the general theory of relativity, based on the postulate that gravity is not a force but a field created by the presence of a mass in the space-time continuum. Confirmation of his forecasts came in 1919, when the solar eclipse of May 29 was photographed; The Times introduced him as the new Newton and his international fame grew, forcing him to multiply his popular conferences all over the world and popularizing his image as a third-class railway traveler with a violin case under his arm.
During the next decade, Einstein concentrated his efforts on finding a mathematical relationship between electromagnetism and gravitational attraction, determined to advance towards what, for him, should be the ultimate goal of physics: to discover the common laws that supposedly had to govern the behavior of all objects in the universe, from subatomic particles to stellar bodies. Such research, which he occupied for the rest of his life, was unsuccessful and ended up causing him to be alienated from the rest of the scientific community.
Starting in 1933, with Hitler's accession to power, his loneliness was aggravated by the need to renounce his German citizenship and move to the United States, where he spent the last twenty-five years of his life at the Institute of Higher Studies in Princeton, the city where he died on April 18, 1955.
Einstein once said that politics had a temporary value, while an equation was valid for all eternity. In the last years of his life, the bitterness for not finding the formula that would reveal the secret of the unity of the world had to be accentuated by the need in which he felt to intervene dramatically in the political sphere. In 1939, at the request of the physicists Leo Szilard and Paul Wigner, and convinced that the Germans might be able to make an atomic bomb, he approached President Roosevelt urging him to undertake a research program on atomic energy.
After the explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he joined the scientists who were looking for a way to prevent the future use of the bomb and proposed the formation of a world government from the embryo constituted by the United Nations. But his proposals for humanity's avoidance of threats of individual and collective destruction, formulated in the name of a singular amalgamation of science, religion, and socialism, met with a rejection from politicians comparable to the respectful criticism his successive remarks elicited from scientists. versions of the idea of a unified field.
During the last years of his existence, Einstein laid the foundations of a third theory, that of the "unitary field", which unifies in a single system both the equations of the electromagnetic field and those of the gravitational field. The further development of this theory, left behind by the scholar as an inheritance, will surely allow the obtaining -according to Infeld, a disciple of Einstein- not only of the equations of both fields, but also of those corresponding to the quanta theory. Among his works, the bases of the general theory of relativity (1916) should be highlighted; On the special and general theory of relativity (1920); Geometry and Experience (1921) and The Meaning of Relativity (1945).