The Incredible Life of Albert Einstein

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Shared March 18, 2019

As Albert Einstein’s March 14 birthday is quickly approaching, we thought we’d take a bit of time to talk a little about “the people’s scientist.” Not only was he quirky—he was a rebellious, fun, and kind-hearted man who touched many lives during his time on earth. Here, we’ll take a dive into his interesting, semi-troubled youth to his discovery some of the most famous equations and theories in science and mathematics. This is The Incredible Life of Albert Einstein!

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5. Negative Energy
Einstein, in 1917, inserted the cosmological constant into his general theory of relativity. He did so so that his equations would be forced to predict a static, stationary universe, as, before the constant, the equations weren’t working and showed an expanding universe. The constant was a figure which forced the equations to work by setting up a hypothetical negative force to balance out the runaway equations. When it was revealed that the universe is actually expanding and not staying static, Einstein called the constant the “biggest blunder” of his life. Well, it turns out the cosmological constant is actually the most accurate estimate of dark energy that we have, meaning that Einstein wasn’t wrong in the first place!

4. Nobel Prize
Extremely surprisingly, Einstein never won a Nobel Prize for either his special or general theory of relativity—some of his most significant accomplishments. But he did win the 1921 Nobel Prize and was awarded in 1922, and it was “for his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect.” Also, when he had wanted a divorce from his first wife, Mileva Maric, he promised her that in exchange for one, he would give her the winnings when he eventually won the Nobel Prize. So, he got his divorce, he won the prize just a few years later, and do you know where the prize money went? To Mileva Maric.

3. He Was a Refugee
Back in 1933, the German government put some new laws into place—laws which prevented Jews from holding any type of official position, including teaching at universities. Suddenly, thousands of Jewish scientists found themselves unemployed and, just a month later, Einstein’s works, as well as many others, were targeted in book burnings around the country. Eventually, a German magazine put him on a list of enemies to the country, put a $5,000 bounty on his head, and marked his status as “not yet hanged.” He moved out of Germany and lived in Belgium for a number of months, then moved onto England, where armed soldiers protected him. He was able to meet with Winston Churchill during this time and asked for help getting Jewish scientists out of Germany. Churchill requested Jewish scientists in Germany be found, brought to England, and hired on by British universities, which no doubt saved the lives of many. Einstein also wrote to the heads of other countries, including Turkey’s Prime Minister, for help getting more Jewish scientists out. Eventually, more than “1,000 saved individuals” showed up in the country, making Einstein quite the hero. He ended up making his way to America, where he settled into a position in New Jersey at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study.

2. Nuclear Weapons
On August 2, 1939, what is known as the Einstein-Szilard letter was sent to Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the White House. The letter was written by Leo Szilard, who had consulted a couple of Hungarian physicists, named Eugene Wigner and Edward Teller, about the potential for Germany’s development of nuclear weapons. Szilard had been concerned with the possibility that German scientists could attempt to harness nuclear power following his own experiments and two articles published by Siegfried Flugge, a German nuclear physicist, on the subject. The letter warned that the Germans might, in fact, be developing dangerous weapons, and the letter was signed by the hugely influential and respected Einstein. FDR took it very seriously, and it prompted him to start the Manhattan Project, kicking America’s development of its first atomic weapons into high gear.