August 16th, 2006
Albert Einstein
How I See the World

Albert Einstein is considered one of the greatest scientific thinkers of all time. His theories on the nature of time and space profoundly affected the human conception of the physical world and set the foundations for many of the scientific advances of the twentieth century. As a thinker on the human condition, politics, and all issues of the day, he was as well-respected as anyone in his time.

Born in Ulm, Germany in 1879, Einstein was brought up in Munich. His parents were of Jewish German ancestry, and his father ran an electrical equipment plant. He did not speak fluently until after he was nine and was considered slow. Though his grades were fair in high school, he was eventually expelled for his rebellious nature. Always an individual, he traveled around before re-enrolling and completing school in his new home in Zurich, Switzerland.

After graduating from high school, Einstein enrolled in the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, where he studied the works of classical physicists. By 1900 he graduated with a teaching degree and three years later married his college sweetheart, Mileva Maric. Unable to find a teaching job he tutored high school students until beginning work at the Swiss Patent Office. His job at the patent office allowed much time for independent work and it was during these seven years that he made his most important discoveries.

By 1905 Einstein had brought together much of the works of contemporary physicists with his own thoughts on a number of topics including the nature of light, the existence of molecules, and a theory concerning time, mass, and physical absolutes. The “Theory of Relativity” proposed a revolutionary conception of the physical world, suggesting that time, mass, and length were not fixed absolutes, but dependent on the motion of the observer. Two years later he presented his equation E=MC2 (Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared). With this early work Einstein unhinged the assumptions of the absolute within the physical world and set the course for the scientific investigations of the century.

Though the Theory of Relativity was to be his most famous, his other work that year was equally important. With his publication of the article, “On the Movement of Small Particles Suspended in a Stationary Liquid Demanded by the Molecular-Kinetic Theory of Heat,” he abandoned Newton’s theory that light was made of particles, in exchange for one that presented light as being made of particles and waves. It was for this work with light that he was eventually awarded the Nobel Prize (1929) for physics.

Not immediately recognized for the important thinker he was, Einstein moved through a number of teaching jobs before being offered a research position at the University of Berlin in 1914. Soon after his move to Berlin, Einstein was divorced by his wife and married his cousin Elsa. During the 1920s Einstein’s fame grew and he spent much of this time traveling throughout the world with Chaim Weizmann, the future president of Israel, promoting the cause of Zionism. By the early 1930s the growing threat of Nazi fascism had made it impossible for Einstein to continue working in Germany, and he moved to Princeton, New Jersey. There, while teaching at Princeton University, he continued to elucidate his theory of relativity and work on new theories that brought together our understanding of other physical phenomenon.

It was from Princeton, in 1939, that Einstein signed a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt discussing the possibilities of creating an atomic bomb. Though Einstein was never directly involved in the creation of the bomb, it was his earlier theories that had paved the way for its possibility. After its eventual use on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Einstein became a constant and vocal activist for peace—spending much of the rest of his life speaking and writing on the subject. By the time of his death in 1955, Einstein was considered by many not only the most important scientist of his time, but the smartest man alive. It is impossible to understand how different the events of the last hundred years might have been without the work of Albert Einstein.

  • Matt

    Another good one, for you , PBS. Very enlightening, fun.

  • Bob

    Didn’t Einstein actually teach at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study?

  • Jerry

    Better check that date for the nobel prize. He won the 1921 Nobel Prize for physics-it was awarded to him in 1922.

  • Billy

    Einstein did infact write Roosevelt a letter about the Atomic Bomb, but it was about that he and some other of his fellow scientists found out the effort in Nazi, Germany to purify the U-235 which could later be created to make the Atomic Bomb.

  • Rob

    A King James bible and the good ol’ Red, White, & Blue.

    - Rob

  • vane

    how do the relativity papers help us though?

  • Jauna

    i love this old mans nose…!
    i think he is handsome
    love always
    Jauna, Bre

  • Reader

    The following is taken from a book called “Jewish Heroes and Heroines of America ” by Seymour “Sy” Brody, written in 1996: “Einstein’s scientific contributions to the world are immeasurable. He is also known for promoting Israel, fighting bigotry, fighting against the use of nuclear eapons, and loving humanity.” Oh, yeah, and he also won a little ole award known as the Nobel Prize. Many considered him to be one of the greatest and most brilliant men who ever walked the planet. Or maybe even THE greatest and most brilliant man ever. He sure is one of my heroes.

  • jay

    Briliant , I loved his work.

    But how can he love humanity,
    When he creates or gives the blue print
    Of an artifact that could destroy it
    Or impulse the first step to world threat

  • Baz

    @Jay – – Do you blame Isaac Newton, for falling down & bruising your knee, when you were a child?
    It was gravity… how nature works, which Newton explained.
    Einstein gave no blueprint, nor artifact, to destroy anything… nor did he create anything. He just explained one aspect of how the universe works. It just so happens that every atom has a lot of energy potential within. He never worked on the Manhattan Project, nor any other endeavor to build weapons. If it wasn’t him, someone else would’ve eventually discovered, what he did.

  • Alan

    I just finished the first section of E’s autobiography, and the portrait that emerges is one of a very rebellious guy who went his own way, had little thought for authority. I had the impression that there was a lot of the autistic in him: he tended to think non-verbally, and perhaps pictorially. After he had done his thinking, he went ahead to turn his thought into words. Amazing man, worth-while to get beneath the idealized surface.

  • Will

    Yeah some inconsistencies in this description. He did in fact win the Nobel Prize in 1921, he had been a peace activist since the days of the the first world war. It makes him sound like a Zionist when he was staunchly opposed to the creation of the state of Israel.

  • C.C. Ashford

    i still dont understand y he is famous

  • MFM

    awesome dude

  • Laurie

    Thought I thought this show was very interesting, McLaughlin doesn’t let people speak. This was not a political hot heated discussion. He spoke more than his guests. I think he was rude to his guests cutting them off in mid word not even letting them finish answering the questions he asked.

  • alex

    what was the music used in this documentary?

  • greg

    music: michael galasso

  • George F.Sioris

    The year that Albert Einstein earned the Nobel Prize for Physics was 1921 and not 1929 as written above. For sure we know that he got the prize one year later in Dec.1922 because the previous year he could not cancell his trip to Tokyo in order to participate in the ceremony held each year on 10 Dec. the day that Alfred Nobel died.GFS

  • Tim

    If Albert Einstein got the copyrights of his theory and claimed that anyone who used his theory in the developing of any applications would need to pay him royalty, he would be rich.

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