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The Miraculous Year

In early 1905, Albert was 26 and working six days a week as a an expert at the Bern Patent office. Mileva was a hausfrau of 29 with a baby on her hip. No one appeared less likely to change the world. But this was Einstein's annus mirabilis (miraculous year), by definition a year of amazing events.

In the span of seven months, Einstein delivered four revolutionary articles to Annalen der Physik, the top physics journal in Europe. Each thesis elegantly removed another timber from the structure of accepted scientific theory. Totaling just 43 pages, these few papers provided much of the framework for 20th century physics.

This amazing body of work didn't appear out of thin air. Between 1902 and 1904, Einstein produced three "apprentice" papers, each containing a piece of an idea, or a new way to think about the structure of matter, the nature of radiation, and the interaction of light and matter. These ideas incubated until the results burst forth in the papers of 1905.

In addition to the journal articles, Albert wrote his dissertation, suggesting a method for determining molecular sizes and Avogadro's number, a method he applied to sugar molecules in solutions. Compared with the other fireworks of 1905, it wasn't a very sexy subject matter. But the work withstood the test of time, and is cited more often than any of the other pieces.

The year was a high point of scientific achievement--a watershed moment in the history of physics. The work of 1905 gave Albert a mantle of leadership in the new field of relativity theory. Einstein eventually grew troubled, especially as fascism swept Europe in the 1930s, with the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, which enshrined a non-deterministic approach to quantum physics. He didn't like the randomness of it all, and expressed his thoughts with the famous pronouncement, "The good God does not play dice with the universe."

A decade after the annus mirabilis, Albert completed the crowning achievement of his early efforts - the general theory of relativity. He spent the last three decades of his life searching for a unified field theory that would tie together gravity and light. He never succeeded.

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Note: The contents of this page were modified on September 24, 2007. Read more in the Editor's Note.
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