Albert Einstein was born in 1879 at Ulm, Württemberg, Germany. When Einstein was five, his father showed him a pocket compass, and Einstein realized that something in "empty" space acted upon the needle; he would later describe the experience as one of the most revelatory of his life. As a child, though he built models and mechanical devices for fun, he was considered a slow learner, possibly due to dyslexia, simple shyness or the significantly unusual structure of his brain (as seen following his death). He later credited his development of the theory of relativity to this slowness, saying that by pondering space and time later than most children, he was able to apply a more developed intellect.
Einstein began to learn mathematics at about age 12. There is a recurring rumor that he failed mathematics later in his education, but this is untrue; a change in the way grades were assigned caused confusion years later.
His failure of the liberal arts portion of the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (Federal Swiss Polytechnic University, in Zurich) entrance exam the following year was a setback; he was sent by his family to Aarau, Switzerland, to finish secondary school, and received his diploma in 1896. In 1900, he earned a teaching diploma at the Swiss Polytechnic University and became a Swiss citizen in 1901.
Upon graduation, Einstein could not find a teaching post and instead started to work at the Swiss patent office. He judged the worth of inventors' patent applications for devices that required knowledge of physics to understand. He obtained his doctorate after submitting his thesis, "On a new determination of molecular dimensions," in 1905.
That same year, he wrote four articles that provided the foundation of modern physics, despite the fact that he had little scientific literature to refer to and few scientific colleagues with whom to discuss his theories. Most physicists agree that three of those papers (on Brownian motion, the photoelectric effect and special relativity) were worthy of a Nobel Prize. Only the paper on the photoelectric effect would win, in 1921.
In December 1932, after learning he was a target of the Nazi party, Einstein moved to the United States and accepted a position at the newly formed Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, New Jersey, where he remained for the rest of his career. In 1940 he became a U.S. citizen. In 1946 he helped to form the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, which worked to control the atom bomb. He was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and actively campaigned for civil rights for African Americans.
Albert Einstein was much respected for his kind and friendly demeanor rooted in his pacifism. He occasionally had a playful sense of humor, and enjoyed playing the violin and sailing. He was also the stereotypical "absent-minded professor"—he was often forgetful of everyday items, such as keys, and would focus so intently on solving physics problems that he would often become oblivious to his surroundings.
At age 76, he suffered an abdominal aortic aneurysm while preparing to give a speech. He refused surgery, stating, “It is tasteless to prolong life artificially. I have done my share, it is time to go. I will do it elegantly.” He died, in Princeton, early the next morning, on April 18, 1955.
Confidence. Pass It On!
This billboard about Confidence features Albert Einstein (1879-1955); theoretical physicist, intellectual.