Talk about a bad hair day. Albert Einstein, born on this day in 1879, was rarely photographed on a good hair day. However, his looks didn’t prevent him from becoming one of the greatest physicists ever to live. Not that it really matters what one looks like when working in the field of science. He certainly captured public attention in his lifetime and his face became a familiar commodity.
We all have heard about his theory of relativity and the famous equation E=MC2, which foreshadowed the development of atomic power and the atomic bomb. In 1921, he won the Nobel Prize for physics for his explanation of the photoelectric effect. In the following decade, he immigrated to the U.S. after being targeted by the Nazis, for his Jewish heritage. We know most of those things, but not too much about his childhood.
He was born in Ulm, Wurttemberg, Germany. He attended elementary school in Munich but struggled there. He had what was considered challenges. His father, Hermann Einstein, was a salesman and engineer who, with his brother, founded a Munich-based company that manufactured electrical equipment. Albert’s mother, Pauline, ran the family household. Einstein had one sister, Maja, born two years after him.
He developed a passion for classical music and playing the violin, which continued throughout his life. He was deeply inquisitive and questioned everything. He once said that the two “wonders” that affected his life at an early age were a compass and a geometry. At elementary school, he felt out of place because creativity was not encouraged. The style of education was very strict. In fact, one of his teachers told him he would never amount to anything.
A young medical student, Max Talmud became an informal tutor, introducing Einstein to higher mathematics and philosophy. When Einstein was 16 Talmud introduced him to a series of popular books which stirred his imagination. The brain is like that. Science and creativity go hand in hand. Einstein then asked himself the question that would dominate his thinking for the next 10 years: What would a light beam look like if you could run alongside it? . He knew that stationary light waves had never been seen. Einstein also wrote his first “scientific paper” at that time.
Albert Einstein married Milena Maric, a Serbian physics student on Jan. 6, 1903. His parents were strongly against the relationship due to her ethnic background. Nonetheless, Einstein continued to see her. The two corresponded through letters, expressing many of his scientific ideas. Einstein’s father died in 1902, and the couple then married. Their marriage ended in 1919.
The time in between were turbulent times for Einstein. As with most human beings, he had his up times and then there were the low ones. Wouldn’t it be nice if life treated us the same all the time. Of course that isn’t part of God’s plan for humanity. Albert stepped away from his early beliefs as a child. As he delved into science, he believed that there really wasn’t a god who designed things. He didn’t consider himself an atheist. He once had this to say about his “religion.”
“I’m not an atheist and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages.…The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God.”
He suffered an aortic aneurysm in 1955. He refused surgery saying he wanted to die with dignity. In his lifetime, Albert’s inquisitive nature opened the door to further scientific exploration, but what I remember most about the man is his wild hair. Go figure.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ALBERT EINSTEIN