For those of you who don’t already know, “Pi Day” is also Einstein’s birthday (how awesome is that?).
Einstein is probably one of the smartest human beings who ever lived. Regardless, he is certainly one of the smartest people (if not the smartest person) that the average individual can name off the top of their head. He was responsible for unifying mass and energy with his famous E=mc^2 equation. This equation is considered by many to be the world’s most famous equation.
Additionally, he brilliantly developed the general theory of relativity, and laid the foundation for all modern science. It seems obvious then that Einstein won the Nobel Prize for his scientific efforts (though, not for relativity… more on that later).
Einstein was born to a German middle-class Jewish family in 1879. His father was a well respected engineer who worked with direct current electrical equipment.
At the time, direct current and alternating current were in a market war with each other (similar to recent blue-ray vs DVD war). Because of this, the Einsteins moved to Munich in 1880 so they could better compete with alternating current (a battle which direct current eventually lost).
According to some of Einstein’s biographical sources, early is his life, Einstein was shown a compass by his father. Immediately, the young genius realized that something must be causing the needle to move, even though there was nothing currently observable causing this motion.
Between that and Einstein’s interest in building models and mechanical devices, he showed at aptitude for math and science.
After Einstein’s Father’s business failed, the family moved to Italy. In this time, Einstein published his first paper titled “On the Investigation of the State of Ether in a Magnetic Field.” Whereas the paper was not widely circulated, it marked the beginning of his contributions to science. Eventually, Einstein moved to Switzerland where he was awarded a teaching diploma in math and physics in 1900.
Unfortunately, due to the poor job climate and Einstein’s less-than-stellar school record, he had problems finding a teaching job, so he started work in a patent office and evaluated patents for electromagnetic devices. One of the biggest issues of the time was the synchronization of time (something we take for granted now). While thinking about this problem, among others, Einstein realized that space and time were fundamentally connected.
In 1905, Einstein published a flurry of papers dealing with various different topics. These were the claim that light must (sometimes) act like a stream of particles, experimental proof for the existence of atoms, offering a solution for the issue of connectivity between electromagnetism and motion, and finally the unification of mass and energy in his famous E=mc^2 equation.
Shortly after publication of these papers, Einstein got a teaching job at the University of Zurich, then later at the Karl-Ferdinand University in Prague. Over the course of the next decade, Einstein continued to refine his theory of general relativity. In 1916, he published the paper on general relativity which tied his theory of special relativity with the Newtonian laws of universal gravitation. This essentially unified gravity with spacetime.
In 1921, Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics due to his work on the photoelectric effect… that’s right, not relativity (at the time it was a really controversial theory). To ever-so-briefly summarize the photoelectric effect, it deals with the idea that photons (a particle of light) exists and how it behaves (instead of light simply being a wave).
After his discovery of general relativity, and as World War II kicked into full gear, Einstein became increasingly more politically active, eventually immigrated to the US and did work on the Manhattan Project. For the remainder of his life, Einstein worked on the Theory of Everything – the grand unification of all four fundamental forces of nature. That theory would elude Einstein to the day he died, which was caused by internal bleeding due to an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
Relativity is one of the greatest contributions to science of all time. The theory is a cornerstone of modern science, if you were to disprove relativity tomorrow, the entire infrastructure for our current understanding of the universe would collapse around itself and science would be set back a century. Fortunately for science it is extremely unlikely that this will happen.
Relativity is one of the most tested scientific theories of all time and, with that scrutiny, this hard-to-swallow theory has withstood these tests flawlessly.