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"Sit with a pretty woman for an hour, and it'll seem like a minute. But sit on a hot stove for a minute, and it'll seem like an hour. That's relativity."
—Einstein's explanation for the theory of relativity, attributed
Theoretical physicist, patent clerk, statesman, philosopher, father of modern physics, superstar, one of the smartest humans in history, and the most famous scientist of the 20th century. Single-handedly responsible for pretty much every genius-related trope in modern media: the brilliant yet witty and genial old man, the fly-away hair, the mild loopiness and absent mindedness, etc, etc.
Born in Ulm, Germany in 1879, Einstein was the son of an engineer. He was gifted in math and science from an early age. (The urban legend that he failed mathematics in high school was completely untrue. He did fail the entrance examination to The Zürich Institute of Technology, due to French.) He first started thinking about relativity at the age of 16, as he tried to imagine how a light wave would look if he traveled with it at the speed of light.
After graduating, a friend got him a job at a patent office, a boring post where he could work on physics secretly. Nothing special happened until 1905, dubbed Annus Mirabilis, when he published four papers, in which he explained the photoelectric effect (which eventually got him a Nobel prize, and provided a major breakthrough in quantum mechanics), Brownian motion (which proved the existence of atoms once and for all—a scientific mystery that has been around since the days of classical Greece), special Relativity (a theory explaining the previously observed fact that light travels at the same apparent speed regardless of the speed of the observer, which predicts some bizarre consequences, like that two observers moving relative to each other will not agree on how quickly time passes), and matter-energy equivalence (where we get the equation E = mc2). Needless to say, the papers had a revolutionary impact on science, most notably kicking off the age of nuclear energy.
In 1916, Einstein published the Theory of General Relativity, where he unified Newton's theory of gravity with special relativity; he postulated that gravity is not a force, but simply a curvature of the space-time continuum created by a massive object. The theory predicted the existence of black holes, higher dimensions, wormholes, and the possibility of time travel (sci-fi writers know who to thank).
Einstein left Germany for the US during the early rise of Nazism, where his Jewish heritage made him an easy target. In 1939, he signed a famous letter to Roosevelt supporting the opening of research into the atomic bomb. Einstein was never involved in Project Manhattan because the FBI was deeply suspicious of his staunch pacifism and supposed "communist sympathies"; during the Cold War, the FBI kept very close tabs on him and even considered kicking him out of the country. In fact, he had almost nothing to do with the letter: It was written by Leo Szilard in consultation with fellow Hungarian physicists Edward Teller and Eugene Wigner, and they asked Einstein to sign it only because his famous name would draw attention.
In the US, Einstein became something of a pop culture icon, with newspapers and reporters beating a path to his door. He also became something of a star amongst children, who wrote him thousands of letters about all manner of topics. Einstein was an influential member of the civil rights, pacifist, and Zionist movements; David Ben-Gurion even offered him the (mostly ceremonial) post of President of Israel (its powers are similar to those of the British Monarch). He turned it down (much to Ben-Gurion's relief, as a pacifist saint is not exactly something that a fledgling nation beset by enemies need), and the post went to Chaim Weizmann (himself a scientist).
Einstein died in 1955. He spent most of the time after his arrival at the United States attempting to reconcile quantum mechanics with relativity, a quest that continues to this day.
- Einstein has often been accused of plagiarism. It is true that other scientists had written about relativity before Einstein (in fact, relativity as a concept is first considered by Galileo in 1632). It was Hendrik Lorentz that first came up with the idea that light speed is constant, and it was Henri Poincare who originally came up with the equation E = mc2, only he wrote it as "m = E/c2". But to Einstein's credit, he was the only person to realize that relativity can be applied to the entire universe. Also, Lorentz and Poincare made very different physical assumptions than Einstein - namely the existence of a perfect reference point and the Luminiferous Aether. Though Lorentz and Einstein would become friends, Einstein never got over (what he perceived to be) Poincare's scientific conservatism.
- Einstein received his Nobel prize for his explanation of the photoelectric effect, not relativity. At the time of the awarding, physical proof for relativity was still somewhat scant, and the more conservative members of the award committee disliked relativity and held up the award process for a few years. Eventually, they compromised and awarded the prize for the photoelectric effect, a safer option. Many treated this as an Award Snub.
- His views about religion were complex. He believed in a God and considered himself religious, but his definition of those terms was somewhat rather different from the norm. He was heavily influenced by Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza and believed in Spinoza's definition of God, which is ambiguous and somewhat... well, rather different from the norm. Spinoza posited an impersonal, amoral, non-sapient god in a kind of pantheism, in which God permeates and transcends nature. Einstein did say that he considered most of the beliefs of organized religion to be childish, but he liked the teachings of Christ and Buddha.
Tropes about Einstein
- Absent-Minded Professor: He could not remember his own phone number.
- Or rather, didn't bother to memorize it since it was easy to look it up in a phone book.
- Aspergers Syndrome
- Beam Me Up, Scotty: He never said "Everything's relative."
- Celebrity Resemblance: Invoked quite brilliantly (of course) as a way to avoid unwanted conversations. Whenever he was approached on the street by strangers who recognized him and wanted to discuss his theories, he would respond, "Pardon me, sorry! Always I am mistaken for Professor Einstein."
- Casanova: He had multiple mistresses.
- Cool Old Guy: Later in life.
- Deadpan Snarker: When the antisemitic tract 100 Authors Against Einstein was published, Einstein responded with: "Why a hundred authors? If I were wrong, then one would have been enough!" (Okay, so 99 were replacing a lightbulb).
- Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe
- Eccentric Mentor
- Einstein Hair: Do we really need to explain?
- Herr Doktor: Probably largely responsible for the benign examples of this trope.
- Kissing Cousins: Elsa Loewinthal (née Einstein), Einstein's second wife
- Last Words: Einstein spoke his last words in German, but the person with him did not. So we will never know what he said.
- During his tenure at Princeton, the university employed grad students to follow him and eavesdrop/take notes, just in case he mentioned something ground-breaking off-hand.
- My God, What Have I Done?: His feelings toward the fateful A-bomb letter.
- Old Shame: Einstein disliked the implication that relativity predicted an expanding universe, and so added a "cosmological constant" to cancel out the expansion. He recanted the constant when Hubble proved that the universe is really expanding, and called it the "biggest blunder of his life".
- Fun stuff: there are people thinking of bringing (some form of) cosmological constant back through the kitchen door. Ever heard of Dark Energy?
- Our Gods Are Greater: Famous for once saying that God is expressed in the laws of the universe.
- The Big Board
- The Rival: He had a very cordial rivalry with Niels Bohr over the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics.
- TV Genius: Most of the attendant characteristics are based on him.
Works featuring Einstein
- In Command and Conquer Red Alert Einstein builds a time machine shortly after WWII and uses it to go back in time and
killremove Adolf Hitler from time long before the war. It worked. Sort of.
- Aaand then the Soviets travelled back in time to
killremove him (After he killedremove Hitler. I think...) to stop him from developing the Allies superior weapons. Somehow, It Got Even MORE Worse.
- Aaand then the Soviets travelled back in time to
- IQ (1994 film). Walter Matthau plays Albert Einstein as a romantic matchmaker between his (fictional) niece Catherine and local auto mechanic Ed Walters.
Albert Einstein: "Edward... are you thinking what I am thinking?"
- Appears playing poker with Data, Isaac Newton, and Stephen Hawking (played by the real Stephen Hawking) in Star Trek: The Next Generation:
Einstein: The uncertainty principle will not help you now, Stephen. Hm? All the quantum fluctuations in the universe will not change the cards in your hand. I call. You are bluffing. And you will lose!
- Einstein & Eddington, in which Einstein is played by Andy Serkis (i.e. Gollum)
- Dexter's Laboratory: Dexter himself praises and cherishes Albert Einstein so much, he even has a poster of of him in his room.
- In Time Squad, Einstein masqueraded as a Texas car salesman named Big Al.
- The Steve Martin play Picasso At The Lapin Agile, about an imagined meeting between Einstein and Pablo Picasso.
- In Animaniacs, the Warners come to sell cookies to Einstein, and end up inspiring him to write the Mass-Energy Conversion formula.
- In Powers, Christian Walker goes to Albert to show off his powers and, hopefully, finally understand why he has them and how they work. Einstein cannot explain them, but his speech about the true nature of science is a thing of beauty to behold.
- CSA: Confederate States of America has him develop the atomic bomb for the Confederacy. In exchange, he gets a plantation and some slaves.
- Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian had several Einstien bobbleheads brought to life.
- In the Heechee Saga future, Robinette Broadhead has an A.I. created to be Einstein. Every single writing by and about Einstein is used to create an A.I. as close to the real thing as possible. This creates a problem later on when the A.I. discovers that God really does play dice with the universe.
- The Doctor Who story "Time and the Rani".
- Matt Smith has written fanfic featuring Eleven and Einstein. A bunch of Who fans are demanding to be allowed to read it.
- A short episode written by a contest-winning kid revealed that he and The Doctor are engaged in a prank war, filching one another's petty (and occasionally, not so petty) possessions for no adequately explained reason.
- Young Einstein, of course.
- Implied in Family Guy that he stole the Relativity theory from someone named "Smith". And by implied, it means he savagely beat poor Smith to death.
- He also beat up God to steal the secret of Shrinky-Dinks.
- In Red Dwarf episode "Meltdown", he's a wax droid.
- In Tales Designed to Thrizzle he and Mark Twain are Buddy Cops.
- The song "Einstein on the Beach (For an Eggman)" by Counting Crows, which is about the guilt for his part in designing nuclear weapons.
- The Nicholas Roeg film Insignificance, about the imaginary meeting of Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, Sen. Joseph McCarthy and Joe DiMaggio in a hotel room. The characters are billed as The Professor, The Actress, The Senator and The Ballplayer: but it's not difficult to figure out who's who.
- One episode of the cartoon The Mummy (a spin-off of The Mummy Trilogy films) has Imhotep kidnap Einstein to help him decode the Scrolls of Thebes.
- In And You Thought Your Parents Were Weird, the spirit of Einstein is contacted in a seance.
- Epic Rap Battles of History features Einstein slinging verses with Stephen Hawking.
- In the short story The Old Man And C by Sheila Finch, Einstein became a violin teacher instead. A master violin teacher with world-famous students, but he's troubled in his old age by the feeling that he really should have been doing something else with his life.
- Lex Luthor considers Einstein one of his idols, and refuses to commit any acts of evil on his birthday.
- On the other hand, Wernher von Braun did fail ninth-grade algebra, so you can use that to cheer your kid up about his bad grades if you like.
- "Wonderful Year"