Saturday, August 11, 2007
Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
A human being is a part of a whole, called by us _universe_, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest... a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
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Marcus Aurelius Med. VIII.18: Einstein the Stoic
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German born theoretical physicist. Albert Einstein became a citizen of Switzerland in 1901, the year he began a temporary position as a mathematics teacher at the Technical High School in Winterthur. The following year he was hired as a technical expert at the patent office in Berne, a position he held until 1909. Einstein completed his doctorate from the University of Zurich in 1905.
Working in his spare time Einstein wrote three remarkable papers in the year 1905. Each was revolutionary. The first paper on the quantum nature of light (photoelectric effect) led to a Nobel prize sixteen years later. His second paper on special relativity made Einstein a household name throughout the world. His third paper provided an explanation for what had been known as Brownian motion, the random and hitherto unexplained rapid movements of very small particles suspended in fluids or in air. Einstein's explanation provided convincing evidence for the physical existence of atom-sized molecules.
After 1905 Einstein made important contributions to quantum theory and sought to extend the special theory of relativity to non-inertial (i.e. accelerating) reference frames. In 1907 Einstein articulated the principle of equivalence. This idea holds that gravitational acceleration is indistinguishable from acceleration caused by mechanical forces. For example an observer moving with a reference frame accelerating at a = g could not experimentally determine if the forces experienced were inertial (caused by the motion of the reference frame) or gravitational (caused by the attractive gravitational force of a nearby planet). As a consequence gravitational mass (i.e. the mass m in Newton's inverse square law of gravitation) is identical with inertial mass (i.e. the mass m in Newton's 2nd law F=ma).
In 1909 Einstein became professor of physics at the University of Zurich. He was appointed a full professor at the Karl-Ferdinand University in Prague in 1911. About 1912, Einstein began a new phase of his gravitational research by expressing his work in terms of the tensor calculus of Tullio Levi-Civita and Gregorio Ricci-Curbastro. Einstein called his new work the General Theory of Relativity. Einstein published the definitive version of the general theory in 1915 and a British eclipse expedition confirmed some of Einstein's predictions on May 29, 1919. According to Einstein's new general theory, light from distant stars would appear to be attracted or "bent" towards large massive objects. This apparent attraction would be caused not by gravity (light has no mass) but caused by a geometrical distortion of space and time arising from the large mass. Astronomers were astonished to see that the light from distant stars close to the sun and revealed by the eclipse was in fact "bent" (the positions of the stars had shifted towards the sun) by exactly the amount predicted by the new general theory.
Einstein received the Nobel Prize in 1921 for his 1905 work on the photoelectric effect. A visit to the United States in 1932 was followed by the offer of a post at Princeton which he assumed in December 1932. The following month the Nazis came to power in Germany and Einstein was never to return there.
At Princeton his work attempted to unify the laws of physics. One week before his death Einstein signed his last letter, a letter to Bertrand Russell in which he agreed that his name should go on a manifesto urging all nations to give up nuclear weapons. [Adapted and expanded by Russell McNeil, PhD from MacTutor]
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