Most people will never be labeled “profound” or “influential” because of the things they do during the course of their lives. In any given time period, only a handful of men and women will be remembered with such admiration and respect. It is my opinion that within the last one hundred years, one man, Albert Einstein, has fit this description to the letter. This review of Einsteins life and work will help readers to understand better Einsteins prolific scientific and social contributions to mankind and to the modern world. He will always be remembered as that great scientist with the crazy hair.
Born in Ulm, Germany in 1879, Einstein grew up to be a rebel with a cause. Never backing down and never giving up, he broke down barriers and challenged others to do the same, making him one of the most important people of the 20th century. Einstein had a sister named Maja, and they were both raised by their parents, Hermann and Pauline Einstein. German by nationality, Jewish by origin, dissenting in spirit, Einstein reacted ambivalently against these three birthday gifts. He threw his German nationality overboard at the age of fifteen but twenty years later, after becoming Swiss, settled in Berlin, where he remained throughout the first world war (Clark 8).
Albert Einstein was brilliant. In fact, he gained worldwide fame and the Nobel Prize with scientific theories that reshaped traditional Newtonian principles and changed our way of looking at the universe. His theories on relativity explained a number of natural phenomena that traditional Physics had no way of accurately predicting or understanding. Subsequently the great theory of relativity brought Einstein much fame, for this was one of his greatest achievements. Comparable to the special theory, it was fixed on a thought experiment: Imagine being in an enclosed lab accelerating through space. The effects you’d feel would be no different from the experience of gravity. Gravity, he figured, is a warping of space-time (Golden 64).
In the same way as Einstein’s earlier work led the way to understanding the smallest subatomic forces, the general theory opened up doors for the consideration of the largest of all things, from the formative Big Bang of the universe to its mysterious black holes (Isaacson 48).For example, in the galaxy of M87, which lies fifty million light-years away (really, really, really far away!) from our own galaxy. The stars revolve around the core, as the Earth does around the sun. Scientists studying M87 in the 1970’s noticed something very odd: the stars orbit the core at about 250 million miles per second. In order for such speeds to be possible, the core of M87 had to be approximately 5 billion times heavier than the sun, and from what the scientists could tell, there was no way something that large could fit. The scientists wouldn’t have been able to explain the star movements or the nature of the core if not for something called a black hole, a super dense body of immense gravity that Einstein predicted would exist according to his Theory of Relativity (Isaacson 49).
Along with the assumption of black holes, Einstein also developed an explanation for Brownian motion, hypothesized about the wave-particle nature of light, and helped to make fundamental strides in developing the quantum theory (Isaacson 48). In addition to aiding modern Physics however, Einstein’s theories also prepared us for age of nuclear energy, space flight, radar, laser beams and atomic clocks; they have, essentially, given us everything from the secret of the sun’s burning core to those amazing laser pointers. According to author Isaacson who wrote an article on Einstein in Time magazine, he was a great scientist. He showed that energy and matter were merely different looking but consisted of the same thing, their association described by the most famous equation in all of physics: energy equals mass multiplied by the speed of light squared, E=mc2. Although not an equation for an atomic bomb, it explained why one was possible. He also helped resolve smaller mysteries, such as why the sky is blue: it has to do with how the molecules of air diffuse sunlight (Isaacson 48).
Although Einstein came up with the formula E=mc2, he did not intend it to be used develop a bomb. In fact, it made him very upset when a young scientist came up to him one time, and told him that he could create a bomb using the principles involved or expressed in the equation. According to author Beckhard, the young scientist exclaimed: Ive only taken your formula as a springboard. Its all right here, if youd only look at it. Its a natural outgrowth of E=mc2. No! Albert shouted. It is not! No one will ever release the energy locked in the atom. Its purely theoretical (Beckhard 82). Clearly shown, Einstein was very upset about the situation at hand; he did not want to see man use his formula to destroy the world. He merely wanted it for theoretical discovery. Nonetheless, his contributions to science have proved themselves to be both diverse and profound in their own way, including both revolutionary theories and sophisticated modern technologies.
However, beyond Albert Einstein’s unlimited intellect, there was another aspect of his personality. Though science was his passion, Einstein also explored social and political views. In fact, once he gained worldwide fame for his scientific theories in 1919, Einstein used every ceremony, function, and conference to spread his social-political views. Specifically, his most cherished ideals included pacifism, a belief in nonviolence Zionism, a movement calling for the reunification of Jews in Palestine; and democracy, about which he argued that, men should be respected as individuals and that no man should be idolized. In his essay, Why socialism was originally published in the first issue of Monthly Review (May 1949),
Einstein wrote Socialism is directed towards a social-ethical end. Science, however, cannot create ends and, even less, instill them in human beings; science, at most, can supply the means by which to attain certain ends. But the ends themselves are conceived by personalities with lofty ethical ideals and–if these ends are not stillborn, but vital and vigorous–are adopted and carried forward by those many human beings who, half unconsciously, determine the slow evolution of society (Einstein n.p.).
Indeed, during the first, tumultuous half of this century, Einstein made his views known and openly spoke out against anyone whom he thought was wrong, including politicians in his homeland of Germany. In fact, during World War 1, he was one of only four scientists to sign an antiwar counter-manifesto to oppose a manifesto signed by ninety-three German scientists that condoned Germany’s actions. After the war had been lost, Einstein continued to speak out against the growing, anti-Semitic, fascist right wing, even to the point that his scientific reputation in Germany was jeopardized. In addition, Einstein also continually protested the treatment of Germany by other nations in the aftermath of the war. In 1921, he refused an invitation to the Solvay Congress in Belgium when he learned that no other German scientist had been invited, and in 1923, he resigned as a member of the Committee on Intellectual Cooperation, sponsored by the League of Nations, because of its support of the French occupation of Germany’s Ruhr region.
More than a decade later, when Adolf Hitler came to power in his homeland, Einstein left Germany and renounced his citizenship. Moving to the United States, Einstein was more fervent than ever in his protests, maintaining that the Nazis, and those supporting fascism, be stopped at all costs. This belief lead to one of the most profound political contributions he would ever make. In 1939, a letter, bearing only Einstein’s signature and urging the United States to seriously consider the possibility of nuclear warfare with Germany, was sent to President Roosevelt. This letter, of course, lead to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 and on a greater scale, to the Cold War. Seeing that the world was headed in such a chaotic path and situations were only becoming worse, Einstein decided to speak out a little more. He wanted the people to hear and maybe follow some of his proposals. Following World War II, Einstein became even more outspoken. Besides campaigning for a ban on nuclear weaponry, he denounced McCarthyism and pleaded for an end to bigotry and racism. Coming as they did at the height of the cold war, the haloed professor’s pronouncements seemed well meaning if naive(Golden 62). Indeed, though he is rarely noted for his contributions to society, Albert Einstein has definitely left an indelible mark on it.
In conclusion, I strongly believe that Albert Einstein was one of the most important individuals of the past one hundred years. This is clearly shown by his scientific, social, and political contributions, all of which have had a lasting impact on our lives. In his later years, he pursued society and encouraged us to avoid the darker elements of our nature in favor of peace and equality.