The Hacker's Almanac for Wednesday March 14, 2007

14 March, 2007

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It's the birthday of physicist Albert Einstein, born in Wurttemberg, Germany in 1879. Einstein did well in school from an early age despite having a speech impediment, but when he was 15, his father's business failed and his family moved to Italy, leaving him behind to finish high school and Einstein started getting into trouble and eventually dropped out. He took the entrance exam for the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, but failed it and was refused admission and so had to go back to finish high school.

After eventually graduating from the Institute in mathematics, Einstein spent two years unsuccessfully searching for a professorship before taking a job in the Swiss Federal Office for Intellectual Property evaluating patent applications where he was passed over for promotion because his boss thought he had not "fully mastered machine technology". He continued working on math and physics in his spare time.

And in 1905, Einstein published four papers in the Swiss physics journal, Annalen der Physik. The papers introduced a series of breakthrough ideas on a broad range of topics including inventing the photon, demonstrating that Brownian motion was evidence for the existence of atoms, explaining the effect of relative motion on observations of time and velocities, and proposing the equivalence of matter and energy. Einstein was 26 years old and the papers launched his career as a physics professor in the German-speaking world, although it would be another three years before he was able to quit his job at the Intellectual Property Office.

In 1911, while working to generalize his theory of relative motion, Einstein published a paper about the effects of gravity on light. The paper predicted an observable shift towards the red end of the spectrum in light moving away from a massive body such as a star and challenged astronomers to detect this shift during a solar eclipse.

On the eve of World War I, Einstein took a job in Berlin, leaving his wife and children in Zurich. During the war, the Central Powers prohibited their scientists from publishing outside the alliance and so Einstein's work was not widely known until after the war.

When the war did end, observatories around the world began testing Einstein's red shift prediction. After two observatories in California had failed to find evidence of a red shift, in 1919, a British astronomer named Arthur Eddington took a series of photographs of a solar eclipse in Brazil, which finally proved its existence and so confirmed Einstein's general theory of relativity. When the news hit the popular media, Einstein became a world-wide celebrity.

In 1921 he won the Nobel Prize for his invention of the photon, which had since been strongly supported by experimental evidence.

After the observational confirmation of general relativity, Einstein spent the rest of his life trying to broaden his theories in an attempt to unify the fundamental laws of physics. He increasingly became isolated from other scientists and more of his time was occupied by politics and the requirements of his public fame.

Einstein was Jewish and a strong supporter of Zionism so he left Germany in 1932 as the Nazi regime was rising to power. He renounced his German citizenship, moved to the US, and took a position at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. During the war, Einstein worked to aid refugees from Europe by writing affidavits and raising money. After it ended, he was offered the presidency of the state of Israel, but declined.

In the 50s, Einstein worked with a number of other prominent academics and scientists to lobby against nuclear proliferation. He also was active in the civil rights movement, joining the Princeton chapter of the NAACP.

Einstein died on On April 18, 1955 at Princeton Hospital from a aortic aneurism. Hospital Pathologist Thomas Stoltz Harvey removed Einstein's brain for preservation so that future neuroscientists would be able to discover what made him so intelligent.

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All information courtesy of Wikipedia except where otherwise noted.