The Boy Who Knew Too Much - Albert Einstein

Albert had had a miserable day at school. He could not answer in which year Napolean was defeated in the Waterloo battle by the Prussians, because he had forgotten. His history teacher Mr. Braun asked him if he ever studied, to which Albert replied that he didn’t see any point in learning dates and names. He told the class that it was more important to know reasons and ideas, than to learn facts and figures. His teacher responded by insulting him and calling him a disgrace to the school. Albert wanted to quit school and rejoin his family in Italy, but he was given a strict warning by his father that he could not leave his school in Munich till he completed his matriculation.


Being poor, Albert was put up in the slum in the poorest part of Munich. He hated his landlady who used to beat up the children regularly, and never let him play his violin to relieve his stress. He felt that he must quit school as he was wasting his father’s money. Hence, with the help of his best friend Yuri, he obtained a medical certificate which stated that he was vulnerable to a nervous breakdown and must discontinue school. This was at a time when the school was already deciding to expel him for his rebellious behaviour and disinterest in adhering to the current educational system at school. Albert was most happy, but the only thing he regretted was leaving his favourite Mathematics teacher, Mr. Koch.


Mr. Koch was a great man and probably the only one who identified Albert’s ingenuity and revolutionary thinking regarding education. He witnessed Albert grasp concepts of mathematics and physics with ease and challenge existing knowledge. Mr. Koch admired Albert’s knowledge and regretted not being able to teach what he wanted to learn. He had a clear idea that the school would not stand strong in front of Albert’s curiosity for learning. Mr. Koch gave him such a certificate that helped him secure a seat in a university. This gave Albert the confidence to leave school, and at the end of December 1894, he travelled to Italy to join his family in Pavia.


Rather than finish high school, Albert directly applied to the prestigious Polytechnic Institute in Zurich, Switzerland. Here he again did not like school. Believing that his professors only taught old science, Albert would often skip class, preferring to stay home and read about the newest in scientific theory. When he did attend class, he would often make it obvious that he found the class dull. Last-minute studying allowed him to graduate in 1900. However, he was unable to find a job because none of his teachers liked him enough to write him a recommendation letter. For nearly two years, Einstein worked at short- term jobs until a friend was able to help him get a job as a patent clerk at the Swiss Patent Office in Bern.


For seven years, Albert worked six days a week as a patent clerk. He was responsible for examining the blueprints of other people’s inventions and then determining whether or not they were feasible. If they were, he had to ensure no one else had already been given a patent for the same idea. Here, between his very busy work life, Einstein not only found time to earn a doctorate from the University of Zurich (awarded 1905), but found time to think. It was while working at the patent office that Einstein made his most shocking and amazing discoveries. He published three revolutionary papers in the same year, for which he is most well known:- 1) The photoelectric effect, 2) The Brownian motion, 3) The Special Theory of Relativity.


Albert posited a path breaking theory, called the Special Theory of Relativity. It says that the speed of light being constant under any circumstances, the measurement of time, mass and length is not absolute, but relative to the conditions in which measurement is made by the observer. This theory introduced a new framework for physics and proposed new concepts of space and time. Albert then spent 10 years trying to include acceleration in the theory and published his theory of general relativity in 1915. In it, he determined that massive objects cause a distortion in space-time, which is felt as gravity. He postulated that mass and energy are not independent phenomena as the scientific world believed, but derived a relation between them in his famous equation E = mc2.


After Albert’s miracle year of 1905 in which he published his three ground breaking theories, he eventually came to the notice of the academic world at the age of 26. Albert taught theoretical physics at Zurich between 1912 and 1914 before he left for Berlin, where he was elected to the Prussian Academy of Sciences. He went on to win the Nobel Prize in 1921 for Physics for his explanation of the photoelectric effect, since his ideas on relativity were still considered questionable. Born a German Jew, he later acquired citizenship of USA and warned USA of the nuclear ambitions of Germany.


Albert Einstein continued to work on his unified field theory and key aspects of the theory of general relativity, such as wormholes, the possibility of time travel, the existence of black holes and the creation of the universe. However, he became increasingly isolated from the rest of the physics community, whose eyes were set on quantum theory. In the last decade of his life, Einstein, who had always seen himself as a loner, withdrew even further from any sort of spotlight. He continued his research at Princeton University with his colleagues and laid the foundations for quantum mechanics. His contributions to the field of modern physics continue to captivate scientists till today to carry on his legacy of challenging existing laws and continuous scientific inquiry.