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Einstein For Dummies

From Einstein For Dummies by Carlos I. Calle

Albert Einstein revolutionized science with his famous writings on relativity and quantum physics. But Einstein was more than a scientist — he was also a complex and well-respected man and an NAACP member who called racism America's "worst disease."

Einstein's Most Important Writings

Albert Einstein shared his scientific theories and discoveries through numerous books and papers. His theory of relativity made its first appearance in 1905 but was expanded upon and explained in many subsequent writings. The most important of Einstein's writings are listed here:

  • 1905 March 17. The light quantum paper: "On a heuristic point of view concerning the production and transformation of light." This paper gave birth to quantum theory.

  • 1905 June 30. The special theory of relativity: "On the electrodynamics of moving bodies." In this paper, Einstein stated that the laws of physics are the same for all observers in non-accelerated motion and that, for these observers, the speed of light never changes.

  • 1905 September 27. The E = mc2 paper: "Does an object's inertia depend on its energy content?" This paper explained Einstein's discovery that mass and energy are aspects of the same thing; mass and energy are equivalent, and one can be converted into the other.

  • 1911 June. The bending of light prediction: "On the effect of gravity on the propagation of light." This prediction (which was confirmed in 1919) was based on the idea that large objects, like the sun, warp space.

  • 1915 November 15. "On the general theory of relativity." This paper extended Einstein's special theory of relativity to include all types of motion. It took Einstein four years to develop the general theory.

  • 1915 March 20. Einstein's first book, The Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity. This book provided the first complete description of his general theory of relativity.

  • 1916 December. Einstein's best known book, Relativity: The Special and General Theory. This book, which has been reprinted continuously in every major language in the world, contains an accessible description of the two theories of relativity. It uses simple high school mathematics to explain the theories.

  • 1917 The cosmological constant: "Cosmological observations on the general theory of relativity." In this paper, Einstein introduced a correction term to prevent his equations from describing an expanding universe. Although he failed to predict the expansion of the universe (which was discovered later), his cosmological constant is now helping to explain observations about the shape of space and the rate of expansion of the universe.

  • 1935 April. The quantum reality problem: "Can the quantum-mechanical description be considered complete?" Einstein wasn't convinced that quantum theory described reality. Most physicists disagreed with him on this issue. In this paper, he proposed a clever experiment to settle the argument. This experiment was finally performed in the 1980s, and the results indicate that Einstein may have been wrong in this case.

Essential Facts about Albert Einstein's Life

Albert Einstein and his theories of relativity and quantum physics is celebrated the world over. Einstein, the scientist, is familiar to all; Einstein, the man, is less well-known. The following list contains basic facts about Einstein's life:

  • Albert Einstein was born in 1879 in Ulm, Germany, and was raised in Munich.

  • A common — and incorrect — belief about Einstein is that he had a learning disability. In fact, he was a top student in grade school and in college. But he had a rebellious character and clashed with teachers and professors. He sometimes missed classes to study what he liked, and he ended up with some bad grades as a result.

  • Einstein originally wanted to become a mathematics and physics teacher but later changed his mind and wanted to be a university professor.

  • His first permanent job was as a clerk in a patent office in Bern, Switzerland.

  • In one year, his miracle year of 1905, Einstein discovered the special theory of relativity, the E = mc2 equation, and the idea of the quantum.

  • Einstein developed his special theory of relativity in five weeks. It took him four years to develop the general theory of relativity.

  • Einstein was married twice: first to his college girlfriend and classmate, Mileva Maric, and then to his cousin, Elsa Einstein.

  • He had three children, all with Mileva. Their first child was a daughter, Lieserl, who was apparently given up for adoption. Their second child was Hans Albert, who became a professor of engineering at the University of California at Berkeley. Their third child, Eduard, was extremely gifted but was institutionalized because of schizophrenia.

  • Einstein was a citizen of three countries. He was a German citizen by birth but gave up his citizenship in 1896 because he despised Germany's militarism. He became a Swiss citizen in 1901. In 1933, he moved to the United States to flee the Nazis, and he became a U.S. citizen in 1940.

  • In 1939, Einstein wrote a letter to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, bringing to his attention the real possibility that the recent discovery of nuclear fission "would also lead to the construction of bombs." He warned the president of the dangerous possibility that Nazi Germany might develop the bomb. Einstein's involvement with the bomb ended with this letter; he didn't participate in its development.

  • Quantum theory started with the first paper of Einstein's miracle year of 1905, but he always expressed doubts that quantum physics actually described the real world. "An inner voice tells me that it is not yet the real thing," he wrote in 1926.

  • In 1952, Einstein was offered the presidency of Israel after the death of the country's first president. Einstein declined the offer.

  • Einstein died in Princeton, New Jersey, on April 18, 1955.

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