Einstein and His Life
Writing an article on
Einstein and his life for kids is a huge responsibility. Influenced by his
thinking, I have been reading about him quite elaborately for quite some time.
In his later years, his fame exceeded that of any other scientist in history,
and in popular culture, Einstein has become synonymous with someone of very high intelligence or the ultimate genius.
His face is also one of the most recognizable the world-over. In 1999, Einstein
was named “Person of the Century” by Time Magazine.
Einstein simulated the entire universe in his mind,
using his imagination skills and revolutionised the world of physics by
rewriting the Newton’s laws of gravity, in Space. It has been 100 Years, since
he published his first paper on “The Special Theory of Relativity” in 1905.The
International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) has planned to
commemorate the 100th year of the publication of Einstein’s extensive work in
1905 as the ‘World Year Of Physics 2005’.This article is a tribute for this
great scientist, on this new year.
He first significant understanding of mine about
Einstein happened when I was looking for inspiring quotes from inspiring
personalities, which was part of my work to keep children motivated by drawing
inspiration from the wisdom of the experts. One of my friends, Mr. Ramki, sent a
quotation of Einstein, viz., “Imagination is more important than Knowledge”. He
also sent an article on how modern researchers were researching on Einstein’s
brain to understand how Einstein single handedly unlocked a very complex mystery
of this Universe, without any financial or technical support from any
university. In fact, Einstein did not even have his own lab or the kind of
telescope that the researchers use to look for the stars into the sky.
When every one took for granted the Newton’s laws
of gravity, Einstein questioned Newton’s Laws of Gravity and extended some
beautiful facts and arguments. This resulted in a giant leap for the entire
world in Space Science, Nuclear Science and many more fields.
Let me now tell you how Einstein influenced me. The
first thing that impressed me about Einstein is his statement, “Imagination is
more important than Knowledge”. It caught my thinking.... and I went on to read
more... Einstein reasoned, “Knowledge is Limited and Imagination encircles the
world.” His argument, as I understood, is that there are many problems that
resulted from existing knowledge (what we know) and that the solutions can come
only from Imagination (what we don’t know).
The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of
thinking we were at when we created them.
- Albert Einstein
Working in the domain of Imagination
and Knowledge for the last 4-5 years, I just couldn’t appreciate any better how
profound his thinking is... Normally when we meet someone, we try to evaluate
them from their qualification(knowledge). After reading about Einstein, I
realized that we have to evaluate people only on the basis of what they can
imagine and what their imagination about future is (what we call as GOAL) and
how confident they are about their imagination…This also prompts me to think
that this may be one of the reasons, why it is difficult to identify great
scholars (like Thomas Alva Edison, Srinivasa Ramanujam, etc.) during their
struggle with minimum.
Their work caught the attention of someone, who had the
maturity to understand them and tell the world that irrespective of their
qualification, they are experts in their respective fields, comprehending things
far ahead of their time.
This also happened in Einstein’s case. The Man,
who simply believed in his power of Imagination and challenged the entire world
with his new theory of relativity, against the renowned scientific thinkers of
his century, who wanted not to think of something new when the old theories were
working fine for most of their experiments. Einstein, as a man of will power
and confidence, went on to just imagine and explore the boundaries of his
understanding of this universe, by conducting thought experiments in his mind,
while he was physically just sitting in his wooden chair, as a clerk in the
Swiss patent office.
Life has never been easy to many, for those who
don’t compromise with the circumstances, but rather challenge the circumstances
to change to suit their thinking... Einstein’s Life was one such! It took him 14
years of effort and persistence to hold onto his theory, till the world got
Bringing up Little Einstein...
Einstein was born in Ulm in Southern Germany of
Jewish parents on March 14, 1879. When he was four and sick in his bed, his
father gave him a magnetic compass. It caught the fascination of Albert
Einstein. Albert practiced turning the compass every which way, soon becoming
fascinated by the new toy. No matter which way he turned it, the needle would
always point in the same direction. That was possibly his first “Thought
Experiment” at the age of four. He later described this experience as one of the
most revelatory of his life
He showed early signs of brilliance but did not
do well at school because he rebelled against learning by memory and the strict
military discipline enforced by the school, because of the political scenario in
Germany. He became totally absorbed in Euclid’s geometry when he first
discovered it at the age of twelve. Two of his uncles fostered his intellectual
interests during his late childhood and early adolescence by suggesting and
providing books on science and mathematics.
At sixteen he asked himself how a ray of light would appear if one could
travel along beside it at the same speed. This was the commencement of the
train of thoughts, which led to the theory of relativity.
Einstein was very much influenced by his
domineering mother, who encouraged his passion for violin. He was a violinist
as well, which possibly is one of the clues to understand how he nurtured his
imagination, as Composing Music is more related to Right Brain Function.
Einstein was a God fearing kid with a religious bend of mind. He questioned and
reasoned out before he believed anything. This one strong characteristic of
his is an important trait for his success, in the scientific arena, creating
controversial theories, against the unquestioned acceptable ones. During his
pre-teen age, he questioned his family for eating pork. He was a
transparently honest, rebellious student, who could not stand deception.
In 1894, at age 15, Einstein staged his first great rebellion. Einstein quit
going to preparatory school, because of its militaristic bend, and renounced the
German citizenship and left to Switzerland, to study Diploma in Electrical
Engineering at the renowned Federal Swiss Polytechnic University, in Zurich. To
his disappointment, in 1895, he failed the entrance examination, because of his
poor French. Winners never quit. He started attending Secondary School at
Aarau for a year and in 1896, after studying French on his own, he passed the
examination and entered the Zurich Polytechnic, graduating (1900) as a secondary
school teacher of mathematics and physics at an age of 21.
Upon graduation, Einstein could not find a
teaching post, due mostly to the fact that his brashness as a young man had
apparently irritated most of his professors. Finally in 1902, he got a job
through his friend, as a third grade technical assistant examiner in the Swiss
Patent Office in Berne, reviewing patent applications.
From 1902 to 1909 he worked in the Swiss patent office
at Bern and it was there that his genius flowered. In his spare time, he wrote
theoretical research papers on mathematical physics.
The year 1905 was to be a major turning
point for Einstein and indeed for 20th century physics and beyond. Einstein
received his doctorate in that year (26 years of age) from the university of
Zurich for his thesis entitled ‘On a New Determination of Molecular Dimensions’.
He also published three very important theoretical papers that year, which were
to have a major impact on the physics of the time and their influence continues
to live on today. What makes these papers remarkable is that, in each case,
Einstein boldly took an idea from theoretical physics to its logical
consequences and managed to explain experimental results that had baffled
scientists for decades.
These papers were on:
(I) Photoelectric effect: He proposed that light could be considered to
be made up of particles. Building on Planck’s quantum theory Einstein suggested
that the electromagnetic energy in a beam of light was not continuous waves as
had previously been believed (despite Newton’s efforts), but actually emitted in
‘pulses’, called Quanta.
(II) Brownian motion: Using kinetic theory Einstein produced mathematical
equations that were able to predict the particle motion and their seemingly
random collisions in fluids, which was later proved by experimentation.
(III) On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies: This paper was developed
from an essay he wrote when he was 16. It was this paper that contained what
would become known as ‘The Special Theory of Relativity’. It introduced an
entirely new concept of time and motion. As a mathematical addition to this
theory, Einstein introduced his famous equation, E=MC2, which he called energy
After 1905, Einstein continued working in the
areas described above. He made important contributions to quantum theory, but he
sought to extend the special theory of relativity to phenomena involving
acceleration, which was his next challenge. The key appeared in 1907 with the
principle of equivalence. In 1908 he became a lecturer at the University of
Bern, the following year becoming professor of physics at the University of
Zurich. In 1909 Einstein was recognised as a leading scientific thinker. He was
regarded as a rising star of Theoretical Physics.
1911 was an important year for Einstein as by
this point he had completed formulating his postulates and he also realised
an important fact that light from a massive body would redshift (a Doppler shift
in the visible spectrum to red) as it loses energy in trying to escape the
gravitational field. Einstein was able to make preliminary predictions about
how a ray of light from a distant star, passing near the Sun, would appear to be
bent slightly, in the direction of the Sun.
About 1912, Einstein began a new phase of his
gravitational research, with the help of his mathematician friend Marcel
Grossman, by expressing his work in terms of the tensor calculus .Einstein
called his new work “The General Theory of Relativity”. Towards the end of 1913,
he was invited to Berlin where he was offered a job at the University of Berlin,
free of teaching obligations. He did exactly what he wanted to do: theoretical
research. In 1916, about halfway through the First World War, Einstein finally
published his famous General Theory of Relativity, where he gave a definitive
prediction about the deflection of light in the gravitational field.
It was in 1919 that the General Theory of
Relativity was actually confirmed. This was achieved by observation, during a
solar eclipse, that the Sun’s gravitational strength was able to bend light,
contrary to Newton’s theory. This was to bring Einstein world wide recognition. He became an overnight celebrity. The London Times 7 Nov 1919 ran the
headline: Revolution in Science - New Theory of the Universe - Newtonian Ideas
At the age of 32, in November 1921, he was
awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics and that was for his work on Photo Electric
Effect, 16 years after his first paper published on Photo Electric Effect
How did an ordinary third grade technical
assistant in a patent office work his way up to world fame with the help of his
imagination? Can you and I think of becoming one like Einstein? Do we have the
necessary ingredients of Imagination and Confidence?
Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.
- Henry Ford
There is no religion higher than truth. Albert Einstein
was one of the greatest truth-seekers of the twentieth century, and in the
scientific field, one or the greatest of all time. I personally believe
anybody who believes in himself and who has the confidence and persistence to
seek the eternal truth, can do so... What do you think?
Can we understand what he discovered in Special
Theory of Relativity? What is the difference between Newton’s (17th Century) and
Einstein’s Theories (19th Century)? How common sense based was his arguments?
What does E=MC2 mean? How Einstein’s discovery lead to the creation of Atom
Bomb? Can anything travel faster than Light? Will a Moving stick change its
length, if it moves closer to the velocity of Light? Does Time slow down when an
object travels in the speed of light? To know all that , please wait for my next article. (to be continued)