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The amazing life of Albert Einstein, an underestimated genius whose childhood nickname was 'the dopey one'

Albert einsteinGetty ImagesAlbert Einstein at his desk in 1929.

On Thursday, a team of physicists heard and recorded the sound of two black holes colliding 1.3 billion light-years away, and in doing so, they have opened a new era of astronomy.

Thursday’s discovery, helps validate a prediction Albert Einstein made a century ago.

Einstein, revered for his scientific intellect, laid the foundations for modern-day physics and earned him introductions with some of the most exclusive people on Earth.

His opinions on race, politics, and war were also incredibly progressive for their time. Some even say that we will never see the likes of another Einstein again.

Here’s how a man, who “had no understanding of how to relate to people,” became history’s most beloved scientist.

Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany on March 14, 1879 to Pauline Koch and Hermann Einstein.

Albert Einstein was the elder of the two -- his younger sister, Maria Einstein, was born about two years later in Nov. 1881.

Einstein reportedly was slow in learning how to talk. That, combined with his tendency to whisper words softly to himself before saying them aloud led the family maid to nick name him 'der Depperte' -- the dopey one.

Source: Einstein: His Life and Universe

Einstein's parents were concerned about his intelligence because he was slow to learn to speak.

Einstein at age 3.

One year after Einstein was born, his father, mother, and uncle moved to Munich -- to establish an electrical engineering company -- where Einstein earned the bulk of his early education.

The secondary school he attended was eventually named after him and called the Albert Einstein Gymnasium before merging with another school in 2010.

Source: Einstein: His Life and Universe

Einstein developed a passion for music in his early teens.

Uploaded by Quibik on Wikipedia
Einstein at age 14.

Einstein began violin lessons at age 5 but didn't enjoy music until age 13, when he discovered Mozart's violin sonatas. After that, the young genius was hooked and would play the violin in string quartets later as a young adult and throughout the rest of his life.

'Mozart's music is so pure and beautiful that I see it as a reflection of the inner beauty of the universe itself,' Einstein later told a friend.

Source: Charles Chaplain: My Autobiography

He wrote his first scientific paper as a teenager.

Uploaded by Materialscientist on Wikipedia
A 14-year-old Einstein with his sister Maria.

Originally, Einstein was destined to take over the family business, but when it failed in 1894, Einstein's family moved to northern Italy.

It was there in Italy, that a teenage Einstein wrote what today is referred to as his first scientific paper, which investigated the nature of the ether -- a hypothetical consequence of how light travels through space that Einstein later disproved. Before his death, Einstein published a total of more than 300 scientific papers.

Source: The Golden Age of Theoretical Physics

At age 21, Einstein earned his physics teaching diploma.

Uploaded by Schutz on Wikipedia
This photo of Einstein's final scores shows that he scored a 6, the highest possible score, in 5 out of 14 subjects.

Einstein graduated with his teaching diploma from the Zürich Polytechnic, Switzerland in 1900. Though Einstein showed exceptional skill in his theoretical physics courses, he scored lower in his maths courses.

'It was not clear to me as a student that a more profound knowledge of the basic principles of physics was tied up with the most intricate mathematical methods,' an older, wiser Einstein later admitted.

Source: Encyclopedia

Childhood family struggles ultimately led Einstein to be a socialist.

Harris & Ewing Collection (Library of Congress)
Albert Einstein, circa 1940.

In 1902, Einstein's father died, leaving him to care for his mother and sister, which was incredibly difficult because he was unemployed.

Moreover, the family was in significant debt to Einstein's uncle. This financial strain, which was largely due to the failing business, is what ultimately led Einstein to favour the ideals of socialism over capitalism. In his later years, Einstein envisioned a single government to rule the globe.

Source: Encyclopedia

At age 23, Einstein had his first child -- out of wedlock.

Marić (left) and Einstein (right).

The same year his father died, Einstein fathered an illegitimate child with Mileva Marić, whom he'd met while at the Zürich Polytechnic, Switzerland.

Marić had been in the same physics teaching program as Einstein, but never graduated. The two married in 1903, yet little is known about the fate of their first child -- a daughter who historians expect was either adopted or died of scarlet fever.

In 1904, the couple welcomed the first of their two sons, Hans Albert Einstein.

Source: Encyclopedia

Despite his brilliance, Einstein couldn't secure an academic job after graduation.

Uploaded by Quibik on Wikipedia
Einstein (right) with friends Conrad Habicht (left) and Maurice Solovine (middle).

Even with his physics teaching diploma, Einstein could not find work in academia and was thwarted by his initial efforts to attain higher education -- a doctoral degree -- which would have helped him in job hunting.

Instead, he took a position as a clerk at the Federal Office for Intellectual Property patent office in Bern, Germany in 1903 -- two years before he introduced his Special Theory of Relativity.

Source: Einstein: His Life and Universe

After two years as a patent clerk, Einstein published four scientific papers in quick succession in the prestigious journal Annals of Physics.

Image © The Albert Einstein Archives, The Jewish National & University Library, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
Einstein when he was working at the patent office.

Here's an explanation -- in his own words taken from a letter he wrote to a friend -- of some of the papers:

  1. 'The first deals with radiation and the energy properties of light and is very revolutionary.' (This describes his photoelectric effect, which laid the foundations for a completely new scientific field: quantum mechanics.)
  2. 'The second paper is a determination of the true sizes of atoms.' (His second and third papers established Brownian motion, which helped prove the existence of atoms.)
  3. 'The fourth paper is only a rough draft at this point, and ... employs a modification of the theory of space and time.' (This describes his Special Theory of Relativity, which stamped a speed limit on the universe: the speed of light.)

Source: Einstein: His Life and Universe

But it wasn't until the end of 1905 that Einstein developed his most-famous equation.

Subsequently, 1905 was dubbed Einstein's 'miracle year.' Before the year was up, he published a fifth paper, which included an addendum to his earlier one on the Special Theory of Relativity.

The addendum identified a novel relationship between energy and mass, which ultimately spawned the most famous equation in the world: E=mc2.

Source: Einstein: His Life and Universe

Four years later, in 1909, Einstein was offered his first permanent academic position, which he initially turned down.

Einstein accepted a temporary apprenticeship at the University of Bern in 1908. However, after two teaching semesters, he canceled his lectures because attendance had waned to just one student.

The following year, in 1909, Einstein was offered his first permanent academic position as a full professor at the University of Zurich. But he declined the offer, at first, because the pay was lower than his salary at the patent office.

It was only after the university raised their offer that Einstein accepted. 'So, now I too am an official member of the guild of whores,' Einstein wrote to a colleague, exclaiming the news.

Source: Einstein: His Life and Universe

The following year, Einstein welcomed another son -- his last biological child.

A portrait of Einstein's family in 1914.

In 1910, Einstein and Marić had their second son, whom they named Eduard Einstein. By that point, despite Einstein's growing fame within the scientific community, the couple's relationship was getting rocky.

In 1912, Einstein began an affair with his cousin and childhood friend Elsa Löwenthal, who would later become his second wife.

Source: Encyclopedia

In the midst of impending global war and family conflict, Einstein did something incredible.

An artist's portrayal of a black hole in the Milky Way galaxy.

Somehow, despite his rocky relationship and the start of World War I, Einstein managed to develop one of the greatest contributions to science of the 20th century: his General Theory of Relativity, which he introduced in 1915.

This new theory, which allowed for a broader application of his Special Theory of Relativity, introduced the counter-intuitive concept that space and time were not separate entities but a single element, which he called spacetime.

But there was a problem.

Source: Einstein: His Life and Universe

Einstein now had to prove his theory worked.

Photo of the total solar eclipse in 1919.

While Einstein's genius lay with his thought experiments that challenged conventional science, he struggled to think of a way to prove his General Theory of Relativity through experimentation and observation.

In 1917, Sir Frank Watson Dyson conceived of a way: measure the apparent position of stars near the sun.

But this could only be done during a rare event called a total solar eclipse, when the sun's light is obstructed by the moon. (Without an eclipse, the bright sun would otherwise drown out the light from the nearby stars, making them impossible to observe.)

Source: Wired

It wasn't until 1919 that Einstein's General Theory of Relativity was put to the test, but not by Einstein.

The star in position 'A' would appear from Earth to be in position 'B' because the sun's gravity warped its light path.

If Einstein was right, the stars near the sun at the time of the eclipse would appear in a slightly different location from normal because the sun's gravity would warp the spacetime around it, bending the starlight's path, and therefore changing the apparent position of the star.

Sir Arthur Eddington performed the experiment during a total solar eclipse in 1919, proving Einstein right and making him an instant celebrity over night.

Source: Wired

Though his family was well aware of Einstein's fame, they did not understand why.

Einstein with his son Eduard.

Later in life, Einstein's second-son Eduard once asked why his father was so famous. Einstein replied:

'When a blind beetle crawls over the surface of a curved branch, it doesn't notice that the track it has covered is indeed curved. I was lucky enough to notice what the beetle didn't notice.'

Source: Einstein: His Life and Universe

The same year Einstein became the world's most famous scientist, he and his first wife filed for divorce.

Uploaded by Kelson on Wikipedia
A photo of Mileva Marić.

By that point, Einstein was fairly confident that he would eventually win the Nobel Prize in Physics.

And to convince Marić to sign the divorce papers, which she was at first reluctant to do, Einstein offered her all of the money that came with the Nobel prize, if he were to win. Back then, the prize winnings were 37 times more than she earned in a year.

She accepted his offer.

Source: Einstein: His Life and Universe

Less than four months after his divorce, Einstein married Elsa -- the woman whom he'd been having an affair with for the last 7 years.

Wikimedia Commons
Einstein and Elsa.

Elsa had two daughters with a previous husband before she married Einstein. Though Einstein was content with their relationship as it was, Elsa pushed for the marriage because she felt her reputation was at risk.

Despite Einstein's affairs with other women throughout their marriage, Elsa stayed with Einstein until she dies in 1936 of heart and kidney problems.

Source: Einstein: His Life and Universe

Einstein was first nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1910 but did not receive it until 11 years later.

Max Planck presenting Albert Einstein the medal of the German Physical Society in 1929.

Sure enough, Einstein won the 1921 Nobel Prize for Physics 'for his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect,' which transformed the way physicists understand the behaviour of light and, ultimately, the nature of the universe.

Einstein did not win for either of his relativity theories, as is the common misconception. All of his earnings went to Marić and their two sons.


Everyone wanted to know more about this genius who had now won the world's most prestigious scientific award.

Einstein in New York, 1921, his first visit to the United States.

So, in 1921 and 1922, Einstein gave lectures on his theories around the world including Palestine, Japan, the US, France, and elsewhere. Everywhere he went, he was greeted with cheering crowds.

While in Japan, Einstein was introduced to the emperor and empress of the time at the Imperial Palace. He was no longer a struggling patent clerk but a world famous scientist who's name had become synonymous with genius.

Source: Einstein: His Life and Universe

Shortly after winning the Nobel Prize, Einstein began his search for a unified field theory.

Getty Images
Albert Einstein at his desk in 1929.

He was mostly alone in the endeavour to discover a theory of everything because scientists were busy delving into quantum mechanics, a field that Einstein himself had helped develop.

But Einstein did not like the incompleteness of quantum mechanics theory and therefore searched for something grander that would tie the four leading physics fields -- electricity, magnetism, quantum mechanics, and gravity -- together.

Source: Einstein: His Life and Universe

For seven years, Einstein slaved over his search.


And this time, when Einstein was ready to introduce his unified theory, the entire world was watching. In 1929, he published his first crack at a theory of everything and was subsequently featured on the cover of Time magazine -- the first of five appearances on Time.

But the theory he introduced had holes that other scientists quickly surfaced, indicating that it was not the theory for which Einstein endlessly sought to the end of his life.

It's said that on the last night of his life, Einstein jotted down a line of equations that were his last attempt at a grand theory that has continued to elude the greatest scientists of the last century.

Source: Einstein: His Life and Universe, World Science Festival

Shortly after his unified theory publication in 1929, Einstein sought refuge from the public eye for his 50th birthday in a secluded spot in northeast Germany.

Getty Images

As a birthday present that year, the city of Berlin offered Einstein the rights to live in a country house by a lake near the capital.

Though he never learned to swim, Einstein loved to sail and gladly accepted the gift. But he did not stay at the country house long.

Source: Einstein: His Life and Universe

In 1933, Einstein moved to the US when Nazi leader Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany.

Einstein riding his bicycle in Santa Barbara that same year in 1933.

In April, 1933 Germany's new government passed a law that prevented Jews from holding any official positions -- including academic ones.

For the following few months, Einstein was unemployed. He eventually emigrated to the U.S. in Oct. 1933 where he took a position at Princeton University, but not before writing letters to countries asking that they take in unemployed German-Jewish scientists. His letters reportedly saved over 1,000 individuals.

Two years later, Einstein applied for US citizenship, eventually earning it in 1940.

Source: Einstein: His Life and Universe

Being a victim of anti-semitism, Einstein was an outspoken civil rights advocate.

Uploaded by Materialscientist to Wikipedia
Photo of Mariam Anderson in 1940.

After Einstein moved to New Jersey, he soon became aware of the separate schools and theatres for blacks and whites. These blatantly racist elements of the American culture was what Einstein called the country's 'worst disease.'

To counteract racism in America, Einstein openly befriended African Americans such as actor Paul Robeson and opera star Mariam Anderson, and publicly encouraged the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People.

But there was another problem that Einstein was aware of by the late '30s: nuclear fission.

Source: Einstein on Race and Racism, LiveScience

On August 2, 1939, a month before World War II, Einstein wrote this two-page letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt that launched the US into a nuclear arms race against the Nazis.

You can see Einstein's signature in the lower right corner.

Throughout the '40s and until his death in 1955, Einstein spoke out against racism and the use of nuclear weapons, but he also had his hobbies.

Screen grab

In 1950, after accepting a life membership to the Montreal Pipe Smokers Club, Einstein said he believed 'that pipe smoking contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgment in all human affairs.'

Einstein eventually gave up smoking at the request of his physician.

'He didn't give up on the pipes themselves and he would fairly often stick an empty one in his mouth and just chew on it,' said Roger Sherman, the Smithsonian's associate curator for the modern physics collection.

Source: Smithsonian

Despite his unconventional views, Einstein still had his fans -- some very powerful ones.

Solvay Conference on quantum mechanics at the Institute International de Physique Solvay, Brussels, Belgium in 1927. Einstein is front and center.

In 1952, the first President of Israel, Chaeim Weizmann, died, and Einstein was offered to take his place. By that point, Einstein was 73 and collaborating with leading physicists of the age on the behaviour of black holes, wormholes, and more abstract concepts that astrophysicists continued to study to this day.

Einstein politely declined the offer stating in his refusal letter that he lacked the 'natural aptitude and the experience to deal properly with people.'

Source: World Science Festival

'I have done my share, it is time to go.'

Princeton University
Einstein's desk at Princeton University after he died.

On April 17, 1955, Einstein suffered an abdominal aortic aneurysm and was taken to the University Medical Center in Princeton, New Jersey.

He refused treatment by saying, 'It is tasteless to prolong life artificially. I have done my share, it is time to go. I will do it elegantly.' The next morning, at the age of 76, Einstein died in his sleep.

Source: Postcards from the Brain Museum,, National Geographic

But the world wasn't quite satisfied.

According to Brian Burrell, author of 'Postcards from the Brain Museum,'Einstein did not want his brain to be studied or worshiped.

'He (Einstein) had left behind specific instructions regarding his remains: cremate them, and scatter the ashes secretly in order to discourage idolaters,' Burrell wrote.

However, Thomas Harvey, a doctor on call at the hospital took Einstein's brain without permission and carved it into 240 pieces in order to further study the scientists' unique brain.

Einstein's brain is currently located at Princeton University Medical Center.

Source: Postcards from the Brain Museum: The Improbable Search for Meaning in the Matter of Famous Minds

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