Albert Einstein (/ˈaɪnstaɪn/ EYEN-styne; German: ; 14 March 1879 – 18 April 1955) was a German-born theoretical physicist, widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest and most influential physicists of all time. Best known for developing the theory of relativity, he also made important contributions to the development of the theory of quantum mechanics. Relativity and quantum mechanics are the two pillars of modern physics. His mass–energy equivalence formula E = mc2, which arises from relativity theory, has been dubbed “the world’s most famous equation”. His work is also known for its influence on the philosophy of science. He received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics “for his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect”, a pivotal step in the development of quantum theory. His intellectual achievements and originality resulted in “Einstein” becoming synonymous with “genius”. Einsteinium, one of the synthetic elements in the periodic table, was named in his honor.
In 1905, a year sometimes described as his annus mirabilis (‘miracle year’), Einstein published four groundbreaking papers. These outlined the theory of the photoelectric effect, explained Brownian motion, introduced special relativity, and demonstrated mass–energy equivalence. He thought that the laws of classical mechanics could no longer be reconciled with those of the electromagnetic field, which led him to develop his special theory of relativity. He then extended the theory to gravitational fields; he published a paper on general relativity in 1916, introducing his theory of gravitation. In 1917, he applied the general theory of relativity to model the structure of the universe. He continued to deal with problems of statistical mechanics and quantum theory, which led to his explanations of particle theory and the motion of molecules. He also investigated the thermal properties of light and the quantum theory of radiation, which laid the foundation of the photon theory of light.
However, for much of the later part of his career, he worked on two ultimately unsuccessful endeavors. First, despite his great contributions to quantum mechanics, he opposed what it evolved into, objecting that “God does not play dice”. Second, he attempted to devise a unified field theory by generalizing his geometric theory of gravitation to include electromagnetism. As a result, he became increasingly isolated from the mainstream of modern physics.
Einstein was born in the German Empire, but moved to Switzerland in 1895, forsaking his German citizenship (as a subject of the Kingdom of Württemberg) the following year. In 1897, at the age of 17, he enrolled in the mathematics and physics teaching diploma program at the Swiss Federal polytechnic school in Zürich, graduating in 1900. In 1901, he acquired Swiss citizenship, which he kept for the rest of his life, and in 1903, he secured a permanent position at the Swiss Patent Office in Bern. In 1905, he was awarded a PhD by the University of Zurich. In 1914, he moved to Berlin in order to join the Prussian Academy of Sciences and the Humboldt University of Berlin. In 1917, he became director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics; he also became a German citizen again, this time Prussian. In 1933, while he was visiting the United States, Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany. Einstein objected to the policies of the newly elected Nazi government; he settled in the United States and became an American citizen in 1940. On the eve of World War II, he endorsed a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt alerting him to the potential German nuclear weapons program and recommending that the US begin similar research. Einstein supported the Allies but generally denounced the idea of nuclear weapons.
Life and career
Early life and education
A young boy with short hair and a round face, wearing a white collar and large bow, with vest, coat, skirt, and high boots. He is leaning against an ornate chair.
Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, in the Kingdom of Württemberg in the German Empire, on 14 March 1879 into a family of secular Ashkenazi Jews. His parents were Hermann Einstein, a salesman and engineer, and Pauline Koch. In 1880, the family moved to Munich, where Einstein’s father and his uncle Jakob founded Elektrotechnische Fabrik J. Einstein & Cie, a company that manufactured electrical equipment based on direct current. Albert attended a Catholic elementary school in Munich, from the age of five, for three years. At the age of eight, he was transferred to the Luitpold-Gymnasium (now known as the Albert-Einstein-Gymnasium [de]), where he received advanced primary and secondary school education until he left the German Empire seven years later.
In 1894, Hermann and Jakob’s company lost a bid to supply the city of Munich with electrical lighting because they lacked the capital to convert their equipment from the direct current (DC) standard to the more efficient alternating current (AC) standard. The loss forced the sale of the Munich factory. In search of business, the Einstein family moved to Italy, first to Milan and a few months later to Pavia. In Pavia, the Einsteins settled in Palazzo Cornazzani, a medieval building where, at different times, Ugo Foscolo, Contardo Ferrini and Ada Negri lived. When the family moved to Pavia, Einstein, then 15, stayed in Munich to finish his studies at the Luitpold Gymnasium. His father intended for him to pursue electrical engineering, but Einstein clashed with the authorities and resented the school’s regimen and teaching method. He later wrote that the spirit of learning and creative thought was lost in strict rote learning. At the end of December 1894, he traveled to Italy to join his family in Pavia, convincing the school to let him go by using a doctor’s note. During his time in Italy, he wrote a short essay with the title “On the Investigation of the State of the Ether in a Magnetic Field”.
Einstein excelled at math and physics from a young age, reaching a mathematical level years ahead of his peers. The 12-year-old Einstein taught himself algebra and Euclidean geometry over a single summer. Einstein also independently discovered his own original proof of the Pythagorean theorem aged 12. A family tutor Max Talmud says that only a short time after he had given the 12-year-old Einstein a geometry textbook, “[Einstein] had worked through the whole book. He thereupon devoted himself to higher mathematics … Soon the flight of his mathematical genius was so high I could not follow.” His passion for geometry and algebra led the 12-year-old to become convinced that nature could be understood as a “mathematical structure”. Einstein started teaching himself calculus at 12, and as a 14-year-old he says he had “mastered integral and differential calculus”.
At the age of 13, when he had become more seriously interested in philosophy (and music), Einstein was introduced to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Kant became his favorite philosopher, his tutor stating: “At the time he was still a child, only thirteen years old, yet Kant’s works, incomprehensible to ordinary mortals, seemed to be clear to him.” In 1895, at the age of 16, Einstein took the entrance examinations for the Swiss Federal polytechnic school in Zürich (later the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, ETH). He failed to reach the required standard in the general part of the examination, but obtained exceptional grades in physics and mathematics. On the advice of the principal of the polytechnic school, he attended the Argovian cantonal school (gymnasium) in Aarau, Switzerland, in 1895 and 1896 to complete his secondary schooling. While lodging with the family of Jost Winteler, he fell in love with Winteler’s daughter, Marie.
Einstein’s sister Maja later married Winteler’s son Paul. In January 1896, with his father’s approval, Einstein renounced his citizenship in the German Kingdom of Württemberg to avoid military service. In September 1896, he passed the Swiss Matura with mostly good grades, including a top grade of 6 in physics and mathematical subjects, on a scale of 1–6. At 17, he enrolled in the four-year mathematics and physics teaching diploma program at the Federal polytechnic school. Marie Winteler, who was a year older, moved to Olsberg, Switzerland, for a teaching post. Einstein’s future wife, a 20-year-old Serbian named Mileva Marić, also enrolled at the polytechnic school that year. She was the only woman among the six students in the mathematics and physics section of the teaching diploma course. Over the next few years, Einstein’s and Marić’s friendship developed into a romance, and they spent countless hours debating and reading books together on extra-curricular physics in which they were both interested.
Einstein wrote in his letters to Marić that he preferred studying alongside her. In 1900, Einstein passed the exams in Maths and Physics and was awarded a Federal teaching diploma. There is eyewitness evidence and several letters over many years that indicate Marić might have collaborated with Einstein prior to his landmark 1905 papers, known as the Annus Mirabilis papers, and that they developed some of the concepts together during their studies, although some historians of physics who have studied the issue disagree that she made any substantive contributions.
Marriages and children
Albert Einstein and Mileva Marić Einstein, 1912
Early correspondence between Einstein and Marić was discovered and published in 1987 which revealed that the couple had a daughter named “Lieserl”, born in early 1902 in Novi Sad where Marić was staying with her parents. Marić returned to Switzerland without the child, whose real name and fate are unknown. The contents of Einstein’s letter in September 1903 suggest that the girl was either given up for adoption or died of scarlet fever in infancy.
Einstein and Marić married in January 1903. In May 1904, their son Hans Albert Einstein was born in Bern, Switzerland.
Their son Eduard was born in Zürich in July 1910. The couple moved to Berlin in April 1914, but Marić returned to Zürich with their sons after learning that, despite their close relationship before, Einstein’s chief romantic attraction was now his cousin Elsa Löwenthal; she was his first cousin maternally and second cousin paternally. Einstein and Marić divorced on 14 February 1919, having lived apart for five years. As part of the divorce settlement, Einstein agreed to give Marić any future (in the event, 1921) Nobel Prize money.
In letters revealed in 2015, Einstein wrote to his early love Marie Winteler about his marriage and his strong feelings for her. He wrote in 1910, while his wife was pregnant with their second child: “I think of you in heartfelt love every spare minute and am so unhappy as only a man can be.” He spoke about a “misguided love” and a “missed life” regarding his love for Marie.
Einstein married Löwenthal in 1919, after having had a relationship with her since 1912. They emigrated to the United States in 1933. Elsa was diagnosed with heart and kidney problems in 1935 and died in December 1936.
In 1923, Einstein fell in love with a secretary named Betty Neumann, the niece of a close friend, Hans Mühsam. In a volume of letters released by Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2006, Einstein described about six women, including Margarete Lebach (a blonde Austrian), Estella Katzenellenbogen (the rich owner of a florist business), Toni Mendel (a wealthy Jewish widow) and Ethel Michanowski (a Berlin socialite), with whom he spent time and from whom he received gifts while being married to Elsa. Later, after the death of his second wife Elsa, Einstein was briefly in a relationship with Margarita Konenkova. Konenkova was a Russian spy who was married to the Russian sculptor Sergei Konenkov (who created the bronze bust of Einstein at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton).
Einstein’s son Eduard had a breakdown at about age 20 and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. His mother cared for him and he was also committed to asylums for several periods, finally, after her death, being committed permanently to Burghölzli, the Psychiatric University Hospital in Zürich.
Head and shoulders shot of a young, moustached man with dark, curly hair wearing a plaid suit and vest, striped shirt, and a dark tie.
Einstein in 1904 (age 25)
After graduating in 1900, Einstein spent almost two years searching for a teaching post. He acquired Swiss citizenship in February 1901, but was not conscripted for medical reasons. With the help of Marcel Grossmann’s father, he secured a job in Bern at the Swiss Patent Office, as an assistant examiner – level III.
There, he evaluated patent applications for a variety of devices including a gravel sorter and an electromechanical typewriter. In 1903, his position at the patent office became permanent, although he was passed over for promotion until he “fully mastered machine technology”. Much of his work was related to questions about transmission of electric signals and electrical-mechanical synchronization of time, two technical problems that show up conspicuously in the thought experiments that eventually led Einstein to his radical conclusions about the nature of light and the fundamental connection between space and time.
With a few friends he had met in Bern, he started a small discussion group in 1902, self-mockingly named “The Olympia Academy”, which met regularly to discuss science and philosophy. Sometimes they were joined by Marić who attentively listened but did not participate. Their readings included the works of Henri Poincaré, Ernst Mach, and David Hume, which influenced his scientific and philosophical outlook.
First scientific papers
In 1900, Einstein’s paper “Folgerungen aus den Capillaritätserscheinungen” (“Conclusions from the Capillarity Phenomena”) was published in the journal Annalen der Physik. On 30 April 1905 Einstein completed his dissertation, A New Determination of Molecular Dimensions with Alfred Kleiner, serving as pro-forma advisor. His thesis was accepted in July 1905, and Einstein was awarded a PhD on 15 January 1906.
Also in 1905, which has been called Einstein’s annus mirabilis (amazing year), he published four groundbreaking papers, on the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, special relativity, and the equivalence of mass and energy, which were to bring him to the notice of the academic world, at the age of 26.
By 1908, he was recognized as a leading scientist and was appointed lecturer at the University of Bern. The following year, after he gave a lecture on electrodynamics and the relativity principle at the University of Zurich, Alfred Kleiner recommended him to the faculty for a newly created professorship in theoretical physics. Einstein was appointed associate professor in 1909.
Einstein became a full professor at the German Charles-Ferdinand University in Prague in April 1911, accepting Austrian citizenship in the Austro-Hungarian Empire to do so. During his Prague stay, he wrote 11 scientific works, five of them on radiation mathematics and on the quantum theory of solids.
In July 1912, he returned to his alma mater in Zürich. From 1912 until 1914, he was a professor of theoretical physics at the ETH Zurich, where he taught analytical mechanics and thermodynamics. He also studied continuum mechanics, the molecular theory of heat, and the problem of gravitation, on which he worked with mathematician and friend Marcel Grossmann.
When the “Manifesto of the Ninety-Three” was published in October 1914—a document signed by a host of prominent German intellectuals that justified Germany’s militarism and position during the First World War—Einstein was one of the few German intellectuals to rebut its contents and sign the pacifistic “Manifesto to the Europeans”.
The New York Times reported confirmation of “the Einstein theory” (specifically, the bending of light by gravitation) based on 29 May 1919 eclipse observations in Príncipe (Africa) and Sobral (Brazil), after the findings were presented on 6 November 1919 to a joint meeting in London of the Royal Society and the Royal Astronomical Society.
In the spring of 1913, Einstein was enticed to move to Berlin with an offer that included membership in the Prussian Academy of Sciences, and a linked University of Berlin professorship, enabling him to concentrate exclusively on research. On 3 July 1913, he became a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin. Max Planck and Walther Nernst visited him the next week in Zurich to persuade him to join the academy, additionally offering him the post of director at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics, which was soon to be established.
Membership in the academy included paid salary and professorship without teaching duties at Humboldt University of Berlin. He was officially elected to the academy on 24 July, and he moved to Berlin the following year. His decision to move to Berlin was also influenced by the prospect of living near his cousin Elsa, with whom he had started a romantic affair. Einstein assumed his position with the academy, and Berlin University, after moving into his Dahlem apartment on 1 April 1914. As World War I broke out that year, the plan for Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics was delayed. The institute was established on 1 October 1917, with Einstein as its director. In 1916, Einstein was elected president of the German Physical Society (1916–1918).
In 1911, Einstein used his 1907 equivalence principle to calculate the deflection of light from another star by the Sun’s gravity. In 1913, Einstein improved upon those calculations by using the curvature of spacetime to represent the gravity field. By the fall of 1915, Einstein had successfully completed his general theory of relativity, which he used to calculate that deflection, and the perihelion precession of Mercury. In 1919, that deflection prediction was confirmed by Sir Arthur Eddington during the solar eclipse of 29 May 1919. Those observations were published in the international media, making Einstein world-famous. On 7 November 1919, the leading British newspaper The Times printed a banner headline that read: “Revolution in Science – New Theory of the Universe – Newtonian Ideas Overthrown”.
In 1920, he became a Foreign Member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1922, he was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics “for his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect”. While the general theory of relativity was still considered somewhat controversial, the citation also does not treat even the cited photoelectric work as an explanation but merely as a discovery of the law, as the idea of photons was considered outlandish and did not receive universal acceptance until the 1924 derivation of the Planck spectrum by S. N. Bose. Einstein was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS) in 1921. He also received the Copley Medal from the Royal Society in 1925.
Einstein resigned from the Prussian Academy in March 1933. Einstein’s scientific accomplishments while in Berlin, included finishing the general theory of relativity, proving the Einstein–de Haas effect, contributing to the quantum theory of radiation, and Bose–Einstein statistics.
1921–1922: Travels abroad
Einstein visited New York City for the first time on 2 April 1921, where he received an official welcome by Mayor John Francis Hylan, followed by three weeks of lectures and receptions. He went on to deliver several lectures at Columbia University and Princeton University, and in Washington, he accompanied representatives of the National Academy of Sciences on a visit to the White House. On his return to Europe he was the guest of the British statesman and philosopher Viscount Haldane in London, where he met several renowned scientific, intellectual, and political figures, and delivered a lecture at King’s College London. He also published an essay, “My First Impression of the U.S.A.”, in July 1921, in which he tried briefly to describe some characteristics of Americans, much as had Alexis de Tocqueville, who published his own impressions in Democracy in America (1835). For some of his observations, Einstein was clearly surprised: “What strikes a visitor is the joyous, positive attitude to life … The American is friendly, self-confident, optimistic, and without envy.” In 1922, his travels took him to Asia and later to Palestine, as part of a six-month excursion and speaking tour, as he visited Singapore, Ceylon and Japan, where he gave a series of lectures to thousands of Japanese. After his first public lecture, he met the emperor and empress at the Imperial Palace, where thousands came to watch. In a letter to his sons, he described his impression of the Japanese as being modest, intelligent, considerate, and having a true feel for art. In his own travel diaries from his 1922–23 visit to Asia, he expresses some views on the Chinese, Japanese and Indian people, which have been described as xenophobic and racist judgments when they were rediscovered in 2018.
Because of Einstein’s travels to the Far East, he was unable to personally accept the Nobel Prize for Physics at the Stockholm award ceremony in December 1922. In his place, the banquet speech was made by a German diplomat, who praised Einstein not only as a scientist but also as an international peacemaker and activist. On his return voyage, he visited Palestine for 12 days, his only visit to that region. He was greeted as if he were a head of state, rather than a physicist, which included a cannon salute upon arriving at the home of the British high commissioner, Sir Herbert Samuel. During one reception, the building was stormed by people who wanted to see and hear him. In Einstein’s talk to the audience, he expressed happiness that the Jewish people were beginning to be recognized as a force in the world. Einstein visited Spain for two weeks in 1923, where he briefly met Santiago Ramón y Cajal and also received a diploma from King Alfonso XIII naming him a member of the Spanish Academy of Sciences.
Albert Einstein at a session of the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation (League of Nations) of which he was a member from 1922 to 1932, From 1922 to 1932, Einstein was a member of the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation of the League of Nations in Geneva (with a few months of interruption in 1923–1924), a body created to promote international exchange between scientists, researchers, teachers, artists, and intellectuals. Originally slated to serve as the Swiss delegate, Secretary-General Eric Drummond was persuaded by Catholic activists Oskar Halecki and Giuseppe Motta to instead have him become the German delegate, thus allowing Gonzague de Reynold to take the Swiss spot, from which he promoted traditionalist Catholic values. Einstein’s former physics professor Hendrik Lorentz and the Polish chemist Marie Curie were also members of the committee.
1925: Visit to South America
In the months of March and April 1925, Einstein visited South America, where he spent about a month in Argentina, a week in Uruguay, and a week in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Einstein’s visit was initiated by Jorge Duclout (1856–1927) and Mauricio Nirenstein (1877–1935) with the support of several Argentine scholars, including Julio Rey Pastor, Jakob Laub, and Leopoldo Lugones. The visit by Einstein and his wife was financed primarily by the Council of the University of Buenos Aires and the Asociación Hebraica Argentina (Argentine Hebraic Association) with a smaller contribution from the Argentine-Germanic Cultural Institution.
1930–1931: Travel to the US
In December 1930, Einstein visited America for the second time, originally intended as a two-month working visit as a research fellow at the California Institute of Technology. After the national attention he received during his first trip to the US, he and his arrangers aimed to protect his privacy. Although swamped with telegrams and invitations to receive awards or speak publicly, he declined them all.
After arriving in New York City, Einstein was taken to various places and events, including Chinatown, a lunch with the editors of The New York Times, and a performance of Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera, where he was cheered by the audience on his arrival. During the days following, he was given the keys to the city by Mayor Jimmy Walker and met the president of Columbia University, who described Einstein as “the ruling monarch of the mind”. Harry Emerson Fosdick, pastor at New York’s Riverside Church, gave Einstein a tour of the church and showed him a full-size statue that the church made of Einstein, standing at the entrance. Also during his stay in New York, he joined a crowd of 15,000 people at Madison Square Garden during a Hanukkah celebration.
Einstein next traveled to California, where he met Caltech president and Nobel laureate Robert A. Millikan. His friendship with Millikan was “awkward”, as Millikan “had a penchant for patriotic militarism”, where Einstein was a pronounced pacifist. During an address to Caltech’s students, Einstein noted that science was often inclined to do more harm than good.
This aversion to war also led Einstein to befriend author Upton Sinclair and film star Charlie Chaplin, both noted for their pacifism. Carl Laemmle, head of Universal Studios, gave Einstein a tour of his studio and introduced him to Chaplin. They had an instant rapport, with Chaplin inviting Einstein and his wife, Elsa, to his home for dinner. Chaplin said Einstein’s outward persona, calm and gentle, seemed to conceal a “highly emotional temperament”, from which came his “extraordinary intellectual energy”.
Chaplin’s film, City Lights, was to premiere a few days later in Hollywood, and Chaplin invited Einstein and Elsa to join him as his special guests. Walter Isaacson, Einstein’s biographer, described this as “one of the most memorable scenes in the new era of celebrity”. Chaplin visited Einstein at his home on a later trip to Berlin and recalled his “modest little flat” and the piano at which he had begun writing his theory. Chaplin speculated that it was “possibly used as kindling wood by the Nazis”.
1933: Emigration to the US
In February 1933, while on a visit to the United States, Einstein knew he could not return to Germany with the rise to power of the Nazis under Germany’s new chancellor, Adolf Hitler.
While at American universities in early 1933, he undertook his third two-month visiting professorship at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. In February and March 1933, the Gestapo repeatedly raided his family’s apartment in Berlin. He and his wife Elsa returned to Europe in March, and during the trip, they learned that the German Reichstag had passed the Enabling Act on 23 March, transforming Hitler’s government into a de facto legal dictatorship, and that they would not be able to proceed to Berlin. Later on, they heard that their cottage had been raided by the Nazis and Einstein’s personal sailboat confiscated. Upon landing in Antwerp, Belgium on 28 March, Einstein immediately went to the German consulate and surrendered his passport, formally renouncing his German citizenship. The Nazis later sold his boat and converted his cottage into a Hitler Youth camp.
In April 1933, Einstein discovered that the new German government had passed laws barring Jews from holding any official positions, including teaching at universities. Historian Gerald Holton describes how, with “virtually no audible protest being raised by their colleagues”, thousands of Jewish scientists were suddenly forced to give up their university positions and their names were removed from the rolls of institutions where they were employed.
A month later, Einstein’s works were among those targeted by the German Student Union in the Nazi book burnings, with Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels proclaiming, “Jewish intellectualism is dead.” One German magazine included him in a list of enemies of the German regime with the phrase, “not yet hanged”, offering a $5,000 bounty on his head. In a subsequent letter to physicist and friend Max Born, who had already emigrated from Germany to England, Einstein wrote, “… I must confess that the degree of their brutality and cowardice came as something of a surprise.” After moving to the US, he described the book burnings as a “spontaneous emotional outburst” by those who “shun popular enlightenment”, and “more than anything else in the world, fear the influence of men of intellectual independence”.
Einstein was now without a permanent home, unsure where he would live and work, and equally worried about the fate of countless other scientists still in Germany. Aided by the Academic Assistance Council, founded in April 1933 by British liberal politician William Beveridge to help academics escape Nazi persecution, Einstein was able to leave Germany. He rented a house in De Haan, Belgium, where he lived for a few months. In late July 1933, he went to England for about six weeks at the personal invitation of British naval officer Commander Oliver Locker-Lampson, who had become friends with Einstein in the preceding years. Locker-Lampson invited him to stay near his Cromer home in a wooden cabin on Roughton Heath in the Parish of Roughton, Norfolk. To protect Einstein, Locker-Lampson had two bodyguards watch over him at his secluded cabin; a photo of them carrying shotguns and guarding Einstein was published in the Daily Herald on 24 July 1933.
Resident scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study
On 3 October 1933, Einstein delivered a speech on the importance of academic freedom before a packed audience at the Royal Albert Hall in London, with The Times reporting he was wildly cheered throughout. Four days later he returned to the US and took up a position at the Institute for Advanced Study, noted for having become a refuge for scientists fleeing Nazi Germany. At the time, most American universities, including Harvard, Princeton and Yale, had minimal or no Jewish faculty or students, as a result of their Jewish quotas, which lasted until the late 1940s.
Einstein was still undecided on his future. He had offers from several European universities, including Christ Church, Oxford, where he stayed for three short periods between May 1931 and June 1933 and was offered a five-year research fellowship (called a “studentship” at Christ Church), but in 1935, he arrived at the decision to remain permanently in the United States and apply for citizenship.
Einstein’s affiliation with the Institute for Advanced Study would last until his death in 1955. He was one of the four first selected (along with John von Neumann, Kurt Gödel, and Hermann Weyl at the new Institute. He soon developed a close friendship with Gödel; the two would take long walks together discussing their work. Bruria Kaufman, his assistant, later became a physicist. During this period, Einstein tried to develop a unified field theory and to refute the accepted interpretation of quantum physics, both unsuccessfully.
World War II and the Manhattan Project
In 1939, a group of Hungarian scientists that included émigré physicist Leó Szilárd attempted to alert Washington to ongoing Nazi atomic bomb research. The group’s warnings were discounted. Einstein and Szilárd, along with other refugees such as Edward Teller and Eugene Wigner, “regarded it as their responsibility to alert Americans to the possibility that German scientists might win the race to build an atomic bomb, and to warn that Hitler would be more than willing to resort to such a weapon.” To make certain the US was aware of the danger, in July 1939, a few months before the beginning of World War II in Europe, Szilárd and Wigner visited Einstein to explain the possibility of atomic bombs, which Einstein, a pacifist, said he had never considered. He was asked to lend his support by writing a letter, with Szilárd, to President Roosevelt, recommending the US pay attention and engage in its own nuclear weapons research.
The letter is believed to be “arguably the key stimulus for the U.S. adoption of serious investigations into nuclear weapons on the eve of the U.S. entry into World War II”. In addition to the letter, Einstein used his connections with the Belgian Royal Family and the Belgian queen mother to get access with a personal envoy to the White House’s Oval Office. Some say that as a result of Einstein’s letter and his meetings with Roosevelt, the US entered the “race” to develop the bomb, drawing on its “immense material, financial, and scientific resources” to initiate the Manhattan Project.
For Einstein, “war was a disease … he called for resistance to war.” By signing the letter to Roosevelt, some argue he went against his pacifist principles. In 1954, a year before his death, Einstein said to his old friend, Linus Pauling, “I made one great mistake in my life—when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made; but there was some justification—the danger that the Germans would make them …” In 1955, Einstein and ten other intellectuals and scientists, including British philosopher Bertrand Russell, signed a manifesto highlighting the danger of nuclear weapons.