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The Restless universe
Introduction to The restless Universe

1 The lawful Universe

2 The clockwork Universe

3 The irreversible Universe

4 The intangible Universe

5 The uncertain Universe

6 Closing items

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Other titles in the Physical World series

Describing motion

Predicting motion

Classical physics of matter

Static fields and potentials

Dynamic fields and waves

Quantum physics: an introduction

Quantum physics of matter

Featured Physicists

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

Part 1 of 2 | Part 2

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figure 1.25, Albert EinsteinFigure 1.25
Albert Einstein
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Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany on 14 March 1879. The following year he and his family moved to Munich where he had a successful, though not brilliant, school career. In 1896 Einstein renounced his German citizenship and started to study for a high-school teaching diploma at the prestigious Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) in Zurich, Switzerland. Amongst his fellow students at ETH was Mileva Maric, who became his first wife. Einstein graduated in 1900 and in December of that year submitted his first paper to a scientific journal. However, he failed to get any of the university positions that he applied for, and after some temporary school teaching he became, in 1902, a technical expert (third-class) at the patent office in Bern. He continued to pursue his interest in physics while at the patent office, and worked on a doctoral thesis during his spare time.

1905 was an extraordinary year in Einstein's life and in the progress of science. During that year he produced four of his most important papers. In the first he explained Brownian motion - the apparently random motion exhibited by pollen grains and other small particles when they are suspended in a fluid. According to Einstein, the motion is a result of the incessant bombardment of the suspended particles by molecules of the fluid. The quantitative success of this explanation established beyond reasonable doubt the existence of molecules, which until then had been questioned by many physicists. In his second 1905 paper, Einstein formulated a theory of the photoelectric effect - the liberation of electrons from a metal exposed to electromagnetic radiation. His explanation was one of the earliest applications of quantum physics and was an important step in the development of that subject. It was mainly for this piece of work that Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921. His third and fourth 1905 papers concerned the special theory of relativity. He laid out the foundations of the subject in the third paper and in the fourth he provided a brief but eloquent justification of his famous equation E = mc2, which uses c, the speed of light in a vacuum, to relate the mass m of a body to its total energy content E.

figure 1.26, Einstein's 1905 paper
Figure 1.26 Einstein's 1905 paper On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies. This was his first paper on special relativity.
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Although these brilliantly original papers eventually established Einstein as a physicist of the first rank, three more years were to elapse before he obtained his first academic post. During that time he worked on a variety of topics and did pioneering work on the quantum physics of solids. In 1909 he was finally appointed to a lecturing post at the University of Bern, in 1911 he became a professor at the University of Prague and in 1912 he returned to Zurich, as Professor of Theoretical Physics at ETH. By this time his attention was focused on the search for a general theory of relativity that would extend his earlier work on the special theory. The principle of equivalence which he formulated in 1907 had convinced Einstein that a general theory of relativity would also be a new theory of gravity, and it was from the gravitational point of view that the problem of general relativity was attacked.
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