Einstein: Physics, Relativity, And Beyond

by Shirley Williams
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There are very few people whose very name is synonymous within popular culture with the word “genius,” but Albert Einstein is certainly one of them.

Einstein’s aptitude for mathematics and hard sciences was apparent even when he was a small boy. Born in 1879 in Ulm in what is now modern-day Germany, Einstein flourished in academia, teaching himself higher math from the age of 12. He added philosophy to his intellectual pursuits three years later and learned to play the violin as a teenager after becoming enamored with Beethoven as a boy. At the precocious age of 17, he enrolled in a teaching degree program at Zurich Polytechnic, graduating in 1900 – the same year. Despite his early discovered aptitude and mastery of physics and math, he could not find a teaching position after graduation, and so took a position as a patent clerk in Bern, Switzerland, while pursuing his PhD., which he obtained only five years later from the University of Zurich.

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While working mainly with electrical device patents, Einstein began work on his most famous and groundbreaking work: his theory of special relativity. The theory was published in an article, “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies,” the same year he received his doctoral degree, in one of four groundbreaking papers he produced in 1905. In another of these four papers, matter and energy equivalence is discussed, leading to his iconic equation “E=mc^2”, the basis of modern studies of nuclear energy (“Does Inertia of a Body Depend Upon It’s Energy Content?”). Work by other physicists during the 1940s would lead to the development and production of both atomic weapons and power. Atomic weaponry was posited in a letter by Einstein to Franklin Roosevelt at the beginning of World War II, which Einstein came to later regret due to the awesome destructive power and deadly force of nuclear fission. Atomic power proved to be the cleanest energy source outside of solar and wind turbine energy.

Einstein changed the study of physics forever as a young man, standing on the shoulders of giants, as Isaac Newton, the man whose work was the basis for a lot of Einstein’s work, once wrote. From Einstein’s breakthroughs, the world has made further breakthroughs, both challenging and solidifying Einstein’s theoretical models, especially in the fields of quantum mechanics and gravitational waves. Both his contemporaries (Bohrs, Schrodinger, and Planck, to name a few), as well as his academic successors, have, in turn, stood on Einstein’s shoulders.

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