Nobel Prize-winning scientist Albert Einstein is known for introducing to mankind the theory of relativity. But there’s another theory he regrets pushing the world toward: the atomic bomb.
A German national who later migrated to the United States, where he lived and taught until his death at the age of 76, Einstein was celebrated for multiple scientific achievements in a career that spanned over 50 years. He was even once offered the Presidency of the State of Israel.
But of greater significance, he was one of three people who urged the United States to create an atomic bomb before Germany during World War II, an advice the Truman Administration took seriously, leading to the nuclear strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.
Einstein, a non-believer of war, was, however, horrified by Japan’s destruction in that war, telling a friend before his death that recommending the atomic bomb to America was the “one great mistake” of his life.
In his theory of special relativity, Einstein determined that the laws of physics are the same for all non-accelerating observers, and he showed that the speed of light within a vacuum is the same no matter the speed at which an observer travels. As a result, he found that space and time were interwoven into a single continuum known as space-time. Events that occur at the same time for one observer could occur at different times for another.
As he worked out the equations for his general theory of relativity, Einstein realized that massive objects caused a distortion in space-time. Imagine setting a large body in the center of a trampoline. The body would press down into the fabric, causing it to dimple. A marble rolled around the edge would spiral inward toward the body, pulled in much the same way that the gravity of a planet pulls at rocks in space.
Einstein was born in Ulm, Württemberg, Germany, on March 14, 1879, the son of Hermann Einstein, a salesman and engineer, and Pauline Koch, a homemaker.
Six weeks after his birth, his family moved to Munich, where he began schooling at the Luitpold Gymnasium. Einstein lived in Italy next, before going to Switzerland, where he obtained most of his education.
In 1896, Einstein enrolled at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School in Zurich to be trained as a teacher in physics and mathematics. He got his diploma in 1901 and later a Swiss citizenship. But he was unable to find a teaching post, so he accepted a position as technical assistant in the Swiss Patent Office. In 1905, he obtained his doctorate degree.
During his stay at the Patent Office, and in his spare time, Einstein produced much of his remarkable work. In 1908 he was appointed Privatdozent in Berne. A year later, he became Professor Extraordinary at Zurich. In 1911, he was named Professor of Theoretical Physics at Prague and returned to Zurich in 1912 to fill a similar post.
In 1914, he was appointed Director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Physical Institute and Professor in the University of Berlin and became a German citizen that same year. He remained in Berlin for nearly 20 years until he left in 1933 to escape the rise of Hitler and the anti-Jewish movement in Germany. Einstein became a U.S. citizen in 1940.
In the United States, Einstein largely devoted his time to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, where he took up the post of Professor of Theoretical Physics.
After World War II, Einstein was a leading figure in the World Government Movement, and was offered the Presidency of the State of Israel, which he declined. He, however, worked with Dr. Chaim Weizmann in establishing the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Einstein always seemed to have a clear view of the problems of physics and the grit to solve them. And he was always humble, regarding each major achievement as a stepping-stone to the next.
Einstein realized the shortcomings in the theories of another world-class scientist, Newton. His own theory of relativity, which forms one of the two pillars of modern physics, addresses inadequacies in Newton’s laws of mechanics in the electromagnetic field.
Einstein received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921. His most important works included the Special Theory of Relativity (1905), Relativity (English translations, 1920 and 1950), General Theory of Relativity (1916), Investigations on Theory of Brownian Movement (1926), and The Evolution of Physics (1938). Among his non-scientific works, About Zionism (1930), Why War? (1933), My Philosophy (1934), and Out of My Later Years (1950) are perhaps the most important.
After his retirement from the Princeton-based Institute for Advanced Study, Einstein continued to work towards the unification of the basic concepts of physics.
He married twice: first to Mileva Maric in 1903, with whom he had a daughter and two sons, and then to Elsa Löwenthal, in 1919.
He died on April 18, 1955 in Princeton — Compiled from multiple sources