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Happy Birthday Al! On this day, in the year 1879, a person was born whose name would become synonymous with our popular concept of genius. When we take a closer look at Albert Einstein’s contributions to science, it’s plain to see why. Within a single year, working at a Swiss patent office, Einstein wrote a series of papers explaining several key ideas that would revolutionize Physics –

  • His paper on the particulate nature of light put forward the idea that certain experimental results, notably the photoelectric effect, could be simply understood from the postulate that light interacts with matter as discrete “packets” (quanta) of energy, an idea that had been introduced by Max Planck in 1900 as a purely mathematical manipulation, and which seemed to contradict contemporary wave theories of light.
  • His paper on Brownian motion explained the random movement of very small objects as direct evidence of molecular action, thus supporting the atomic theory.
  • His paper on the electrodynamics of moving bodies introduced the radical theory of special relativity, which showed that the observed independence of the speed of light on the observer’s state of motion required fundamental changes to the notion of simultaneity. Consequences of this include the time-space frame of a moving body slowing down and contracting (in the direction of motion) relative to the frame of the observer. This paper also argued that the idea of a luminiferous aether–one of the leading theoretical entities in physics at the time–was superfluous.
  • In his paper on mass-energy equivalence (previously considered to be distinct concepts), Einstein deduced from his equations of special relativity what has been called the twentieth century’s most well known equation: E = mc2. This suggests that tiny amounts of mass could be converted into huge amounts of energy and presaged the development of nuclear power.

When published in 1905, Einstein’s theories garnered little response from the scientific community. It wasn’t until 1921 that he received the Nobel prize for defining the law of the photoelectric effect – surprisingly not for either of his theories of relativity. Einstein’s special theory of relativity is best known for equating mass to energy with E=MC² and describes the relationship between space and time. Developed later, his general theory of relativity redefines the concept of gravity. Einstein spent much of the rest of his life attempting to unify this general theory with electromagnetism, and many others continue that work today.

Einstein was an accomplished daydreamer – many of his ideas were born from simply observing everyday life and re-imagining those situations with unusual variations in motion and perspective. So the next time you catch yourself ‘spacing out’, consider jotting down some of those wandering ideas – they may be the building blocks of something much greater.

As Gareth points out, the History Channel has a good documentary on Mr. Einstein, currently available for viewing online. And of course the all-encompassing Wikipedia has a ton of great info as well, including Albert’s individual theories and life in general.

Collin Cunningham

Collin Cunningham

Born, drew a lot, made video, made music on 4-track, then computer, more songwriting, met future wife, went to art school for video major, made websites, toured in a band, worked as web media tech, discovered electronics, taught myself electronics, blogged about DIY electronics, made web videos about electronics and made music for them … and I still do!


    Do we know of him Making anything physical? Surely his love and devotion to science and math led him to a tinker session here or there?

  • Collin Cunningham

    That thought occurred to me as well. He is said to have built various tangible projects in his youth but I suspect the system of mathematics became his primary medium of creativity as his life progressed.
    If you come across any examples please let us know.

  • zof

    The Einstein refrigerator is an absorption refrigerator which has no moving parts and requires only a heat source to operate. It was jointly invented in 1926 by Albert Einstein and his former student Leó Szilárd and patented in the US on November 11, 1930 (U.S. Patent 1,781,541 ).

    A great man, that gave humanity so much and never asked for much back in return. A hero if there ever was one.

  • garethb2

    The History Channel 2-hour docu is definitely worth your time. When they describe his eureka moment with the general theory of relativity, it really hit me — like what it must have been like to realize that you’d discovered something that changes everything, a fundamental law of the Universe. Can you imagine? A handful of people discover something this huge. What a rush that must be. And as they say in the docu, it was just a guy in a little room with a pencil and paper. Crazy.

  • Einstein

    Some people dont know this but Einstein would very likely clinically be called a High Functioning Autistic, or maybe he would have been diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome. although his IQ tests came out in only the 150’s at best and he didnt finish the 5th grade, he is currently known as the greatest thinker of all known time. For him to be able to not only invent a perfectly viable theory of relativity (recently backed with even more evidence), but also see reality with such presence and insight to almost be able to predict the future. Now I will misquote some of my more favorite quotes of his. I know not what world war 3 will be fought with but world war 4 will be fought with sticks and stones. two things appear infinite, human stupidity and the universe, and Im not positive about the universe.

    Einstein was not only a great thinker but also good man with good intent, he was also a great kidder. I actually went as him for Halloween, I have strong wild hair and even slightly resemble him also, my entire costume was gray hairspray and a suit. Since I was a child Ive been fascinated with him. You may even notice I sign my comments as Einstein since forever. Ive also noted many strange similarities between us, born a week apart and exactly 100 years later being only one of many. My IQ is supposedly a little higher but I do not put any stock in IQ tests for actually judging intelligence. Im pretty sure he was much smarter than I and just didnt test well. I first heard of him when I was about 12 and I came up with my own (limited) version of the theory of relativity. After asking my science teacher what he thought, he told be how Einstein already had that figured out 80 years before. I also have been diagnosed with HFA, or high functioning autism, I also didnt finish school, yet I still have the ability to invent daily and learn or do just about anything better than 99% of people. The list goes on for a while. I feel that the more you know of reality, the more you understand, the more you can see the bigger picture and life becomes easy, albeit extremely stressful at the same time. The ability to see the most likely outcome or see through the BS to get truth is clearly a double edged sword… You see whats going to happen and then when it does you either feel bad for not trying to help or you feel mad because they didnt listen when you tried. The ability to see truth is exceptionally frustrating when its your spouse or friends you are sizing up. Everyone cheats, lies, and has secrets. You either overlook the facts and live with them or you remove that person from your life forever. Either way it does appear that ignorance is bliss.

    After reading much of Einsteins writings it is clear that he had foresight to the upcoming pollution, hunger, depth and danger of future wars, use of atomic bombs and their likely poisoning of nearly every square foot of earth, etc. You can see great stress and even fear in some of the letters written to heads of state and even the president and congress about the dangers and use of nuclear weapons. It must have weighed in heavily on his head.

    So heres one to you Albert Einstein…..

  • jammit

    This is something of his that could be remade:

  • Anonymous

    Based on that picture he’s also the Ron Jeremy of physicists

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