Einstein, Albert

Died: 19550418

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein

The face is human, thoughtful. We have all seen it, a mass of unruly white hair framing a weary, yet endearing face. And we've all heard of Albert Einstein and his scientific theories. Yet few of us know of his days as a refugee, when his books were thrown into Hitler's bonfires, and as a German Jew, Einstein was accused of treason.

Growing up in Munich, Einstein was particularly interested in music and mathematics, and his ambition was to study electrical engineering in Zurich. However, he failed the entrance exam, leading some biographers to speculate that he suffered from the learning difficulty, dyslexia. Undeterred, he moved to Switzerland and enrolled in a school in Aarau, hoping to get a second chance to qualify for a place at the technical college. Eventually he succeeded, but he was unable to secure a teaching post at the college, and eventually took up the position of technical expert, third class at the Bern patent office.

In Bern, he worked on his research in his spare time and in 1905 published three papers that formed the basis for his work on the theory of relativity. He was awarded a doctorate by the University of Zurich, and from then on his academic career was made. In 1909, he resigned from the patent office and moved to Prague to take up a university post. In 1914, he returned to Germany to take up a research position at the Prussian Academy of Sciences.

In 1919, Einstein's theory that gravity was equivalent to mass was confirmed by research into solar eclipses. He was idolised in the popular press. The London Times ran a headline on November 7, proclaiming: "Revolution in Science - New Theory of the Universe - Newtonian ideas overthrown." In 1921, Einstein received the Nobel Prize.

However, the rise of the Nazi party and anti-Semitism made it increasingly difficult for him to work and in 1932 he took up the offer of a post at Princeton. He became a citizen of the United States, but retained Swiss citizenship.

Einstein and his wife worked tirelessly on behalf of German Jews, making visa applications and vouching personally for many refugees. He expressed mixed feelings about his life in exile. "I am privileged by fate to live here in Princeton," he wrote to the Belgian Queen, who had befriended him in the early days. "In this small university town the chaotic voices of human strife barely penetrate. I am almost ashamed to be living in such peace while all the rest struggle and suffer."

In 1944, Einstein supported the war effort by putting up for auction his 1905 paper on special relativity. It fetched $6 million, and the manuscript is now in the Library of Congress. His final letter was to philosopher and pacifist Bertrand Russell, lending his support to the movement to ban nuclear weapons. Einstein died on April 18, 1955.