Happy 132th Birthday Albert Einstein
March 14 marks the 132th year since Albert Einstein’s birth in 1879 in the German Empire city of Ulm. While Einstein died in Princeton New Jersey in 1955, his work continues to have an impact on the world today.
Einstein’s scientific achievements are well documented and he received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics for his theoretical work. He continued making significant contributions in the fields of electronics, quantum physics, and space travel until his death.
Outside of the scientific community he is known for the equation E = mc2, some theory about relatives, and as the stereotypic mad scientist or absent-minded professor. Einstein biographer Don Howard indicates that “Einstein is synonymous with genius.”
Time magazine recognized his accomplishments by naming Einstein the “Person of the Century” in 1999, but what did he contribute to the lives of non-scientists?
He received the Nobel Prize for a variety of contributions to theoretical physics, but was specially recognized for his discovery of the law of photoelectric effect. While the name sounds daunting, the process involves converting light into energy. This process is the basis of photosynthesis allowing the green portions of plants to use sunlight to build food (sugar) molecules. However plants are unlikely to have heard of Einstein or to have read his theories. From the perspective of modern man, Einstein’s work on the photoelectric effect contributes to the light-sensing photodiodes in fiber optic telecommunication systems and solar cells.
Einstein’s Theory of Relativity (E = mc2) contributed to the idea that the atom can be split releasing huge amounts of energy. While he was a pacifist he petitioned Franklin Delano Roosevelt to support the development of the atomic bomb before German scientists. He was not directly involved with the Manhattan Project to develop the bomb and later regretted his letter to Roosevelt. He later argued that no country should have an atomic monopoly but that the United Nations should hold nuclear weapons for deterrence. (picture of Einstein from Wikimedia Commons)
In celebration of Einstein’s Birthday, March 14 is designated as International As a Question Day:
“The important thing is not to stop questioning” Albert Einstein
The National Question Day website has a set of resources on how to ask better questions.
March 14 is also Pi Day
The Greek letter Pi is the symbol for the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. Although it has been mathematically calculated to over 1 trillion digits past the decimal point, it is known the world around as 3.14. So it is only fitting that 3/14 is the day that mathematicians and others celebrate that Pi equals 3.14.