I remember that some years ago, in 2005, scientists decide they should choose a Person of the Century. And of all the significant figures they considered for that honor, the one they ended up choosing was Albert Einstein.
And on the face of it, this is really a remarkable decision, because Einstein, he was a theoretical physicist, he dealt with very abstract and very abstruse matters.
And yet, having the prize to be the ‘Person of the Century’, means that Albert Einstein is somebody we should really know a little bit more about. If not for his charisma and personality, let’s do it in honor of the ‘miracle year’: 1905.
In 1905, Einstein had maybe the greatest year any scientist has ever had. At that time he was only 26 years old, of all things, he’s a patent clerk at the Swiss patent office. He essentially was a failed academic, he graduated from university in 1900, tried to get a job as a physics assistant in University, Quantum revolutionhad failed in that.
So he tried to get a job as teacher of physics and wasn’t able to find a position in the field of education. Even in the high school level, and he was a genius! Therefore he was able to find a job at the Swiss patent office in the city of Berna.
So, the annus mirabilis: 1905. He published five papers, almost anyone of which could have made his career as a physicist and his name. To give you an idea, one of those five papers dealt with the quantum nature of light. Really introduced the idea that light maybe was more than just a wave, which was well accepted by that time, but that it had particle like aspects to it. So, that was the paper that “kicked off” what later became known as the Quantum Revolution in physics in the 20th century.
So that was one paper, another paper he wrote showed that there was really convincing evidence that atoms existed. And you might say, well, people thought about atoms for centuries, actually. Let’s think on the ancient greek philosopher Democritus: central figure in the development of philosophical atomism and of the atomic theory of the Universe.
But up until that time, even in the era of 1900 or so, it was debated whether these entities actually existed, we could never see them, probably, and therefore really even proper to talk about scientifically. And Einstein showed, theoretically, that there was good solid evidence that atoms existed. And then, another paper was his famous equals mc squared paper, introducing probably the most famous equation in all of science. Without doubts.
And, yet another paper was what later became know as the Special Theory of Relativity. What was it about Einstein that enabled him to come up with some of these ideas, and in particular the Special Theory of Relativity? He really transformed our understanding of space and time, that perhaps time isn’t different for one person compared to another person, just the ticking off of clocks can change. Length, measuring lengths can be different, how can a length be one thing for one person, and yet another thing for another person?
So, Person of the Century and miracle year of 1905, but not only that…
There are many philosophical and political quotes by Einstein all over the place, all over the Internet, you see them all the time. Actually, many of them are fake quotes, Einstein didn’t say what he supposedly said. Sometimes it’s something he might have said, but never actually quite said it that way. But this quote I want to tell you about, is definitely something Einstein said, and he said, the important thing is not to stop questioning. The important thing is not to stop questioning, curiosity has its own reason for existing.
He said, one cannot help but be in awe when one contemplates the mystery of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. The mystery, the marvelous structure of reality, and then he went on to say, it is enough if one tries to comprehend only a little of this mystery every day.
If you aspire to be that sort of person, try to lift the veil a little bit on that marvelous structure of reality and the mystery of it. And go after papers and the footsteps of Einstein in these revolutionary ideas that he introduced, especially in the miracle year of 1905.
No wonder 2005 has been designated worldwide as a celebration of all things Einstein did. International physics organizations have proclaimed this centenary as the World Year of Physics, and thousands of scientific and educational institutions have followed their lead. Images of Einstein have become even more common than usual, discussions of his impact a cultural drumbeat. “His name is synonymous with science,” says Brian Schwartz, a physicist at the City University of New York Graduate Center. “If you ask kids to show you what a scientist looks like, the first thing they’ll draw is wild white hair.”
I can agree with that. And actually had the proof with kids that have a nourished and free “imagination”:-)