Einstein was born March 14, 1879 at Ulm inWürttemberg, Germany. He grew up in Munich and later in Italy, and received his higher education in Switzerland. At age 17 he renounced his German citizenship and later, in 1901, was accepted as a Swiss citizen. He obtained his doctorate in 1905. That same year, he wrote four articles that lay the foundation for modern physics.
The first article in this miracle year is remembered as his study ofBrownian motion. It established empirical evidence for the reality of atoms. Before this paper, atoms were recognized as a useful concept, but physicists and chemists hotly debated the question of whther atoms were real things. Einstein's statistical discussion of atomic behavior gave experimentalists a way to count atoms by looking through an ordinary microscope. Wilhelm Ostwald?, one of theleaders of the anti-atom school, later told Arnold Sommerfeld? that he had been converted to a belief in atoms by Einstein's complete explanation of Brownian motion.
The second paper of 1905 proposed the idea of "light quanta" (now called photons) and showed how they could be used to explain such phenomena as the photoelectric effect. Einstein's theory of light quanta received almost no supportfrom other physicists for nearly 20 years. It contradicted the wave theory of light that underlay James Clerk Maxwell's equations for electromagnetic behavior. Even after experiments demonstrated that Einstein's equations for the photoelectric effect were splendidly accurate, his explanation was not accepted. In 1922, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize, and his work on photoelectricity wasmentioned by name, most physicists thought that, while the equation was correct, the idea of light quanta was impossible.
1905's third paper introduced the special theory of relativity, a detailed analysis of the concepts of time, distance, mass and energy which omits the force of gravity. Some of the paper's core mathematical ideas had been introduced a year earlier by the Dutch physicist HendrikLorentz?, but Einstein showed how to understand these mathematical oddities. His explanation arose from two axioms: one was Galileo's old idea that the laws of nature should be the same for all observers that move with constant speed relative to each other; and, two, that the speed of light is the same for every observer. Special relativity has several striking consequences since the absoluteconcepts of time and size are rejected. The theory came to be called "special theory of relativity" to distinguish it from his later theory of general relativity, which considers all observers to be equivalent.
A fourth paper published later that same year showed one further deduction from relativity's axioms. That deduction was the famous equation that rest energy (E) equals mass (m) times thesquare of the speed of light (c) squared. Einstein considered this equation to be of paramount importance because it showed that matter and energy are profoundly linked. The idea later proved invaluable at understanding how the Big Bang (which was a pure burst of energy) could lead to the precipitation of a universe filled with matter. More immediately, however, the equation set people to dreaming ofexplosive weaponry, although atomic bombs only became a practical possibility after nuclear physics had developed considerably beyond the few vague speculations of 1905. (Remember that before that year, even the existence of atoms was controversial.)
In November 1915 Einstein presented a series of lectures before the Prussian Academy of Sciences? in which he described his theory of general...