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In 1921, Albert Einstein presented a paper on his then-infant Theory of Relativity at the Sorbonne, the prestigious French university. “If I am proved correct,” he said, “the Germans will call me a German, the Swiss will call me a Swiss citizen, and the French will call me a great scientist. If relativity is proved wrong, the French will call me a Swiss, the Swiss will call me a German and the Germans will call me a Jew.”
At the time, Einstein was not yet 40, but he had already spent most of his life forging revolutionary new ways of looking at the world.
An Interest in the Impossible
Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany to assimilated Jewish parents in 1879. When Einstein was ten, his father’s business failed, and his family moved to Italy. Albert, who was already somewhat of a loner, became even more absorbed in his work.
In 1905, at the age of 26, Einstein had what he would later refer to as his annus mirabilis, or miracle year. While working as a patent clerk, he submitted four papers to a leading German physics journal, all of which were accepted for publication. One of them, “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies,” argued against Newton’s ideas of an absolute space and time. It suggested that time and space are perceived differently by subjects in different states of motion. These papers contained the seeds of the formula that would one day be his trademark, appearing everywhere from T-shirts to hip-hop videos: E=mc2.
Amazingly, Einstein continued working as a patent clerk for several years before finally receiving a professorship at the German University in Prague in 1911. It wasn’t until 1919, the year that a solar eclipse proved Einstein’s theory right, that he devoted himself to his research fulltime. It was also the year that he divorced his first wife, the mother of his children, and married his second wife, his cousin Elsa.
In 1920, Einstein received the Nobel Prize. Interestingly, it wasn’t awarded for the Theory of Relativity, but for his work on the photoelectric effect, which is a way of measuring the electrons that bounce off a surface when light shines on it.
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