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18 November 2015

Beyond the Scientist (II): 5 Things You Didn’t Know about Einstein

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If you’ve read our previous article, I’m sure you’ve been wanting to know more about Albert Einstein. Discover all the curiosities about the life of scientific genius of the twentieth century in OpenMind.

6. What did Einstein do with his Nobel Prize money?

On November 10, 1922 Einstein found out that he had won a Nobel Prize through a telegram but, to what extent was he surprised? Despite the fact that we was already famous for his Theory of General Relativity, he received the award “for his services to theoretical physics and, in particular, for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect“, as the Swedish Academy announced at the time.

The prize awarded to Albert Einstein in 1922 was actually the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics, which had not been given to anyone that year and thus, it had been reserved until the following year, according to the statutes of the Nobel Foundation. Einstein could not attend to the ceremony in December 1922 because he was on a trip, so he gave his acceptance speech in July 1923.

Albert Einstein delivering his Nobel Prize acceptance speech for the Nordic Assembly of Naturalists in Gothenburg, Sweden, on July 11, 1923. Picture: Anders Wilhelm Karnell, Gothenburg Library. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Along with the prize he also received an economic reward of around 120,000 SEK, a sum that represented about 10 times a professor’s annual salary at the time. But Einstein never spent his award money. He gave it all to his former wife, Mileva Maric, as they had decided when they negotiated their divorce agreement, which was signed in 1919. Mileva used it to buy several houses and to look after her children. Why was Einstein so sure that he would receive a Nobel Prize at some point? Why was he so “generous” with Mileva?

7. He didn’t want to become a president

Chaim Weizmann was the first president of the State of Israel until his death in 1952. By then, Einstein was a consolidated scientist famous around the world, a pacifist and a human rights activist, in addition to a professed defender of the Jewish cause. Weizmann and Einstein knew each other and had collaborated at the foundation of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Principal Mossinson, Professor Einstein, Dr. Weizmann and Dr. Ussishkin in New York (1921). Image published originally in The Scientific Monthly / Public domain via Wikimedia

After Weizmann’s death, Einstein received the proposal to become the second president in the history of Israel. Abba Eban, then his country’s ambassador to the United States, conveyed the proposal on behalf of the prime minister (David Ben Gurion) in a letter. Through the same means, the most famous physicist in history rejected the proposal: “All my life I’ve dealt with objective matters; therefore, I lack both natural aptitude and experience to properly deal with people and to perform official functions”. The same document includes one of Einstein’s most personal phrases:

 “My relationship with the Jewish people has become my strongest human bond”.

8. Einstein, a Soviet spy?

Einstein never took part in the Manhattan Project, the group of scientists tasked with developing the atomic bomb that would be dropped over Hiroshima (August 6, 1945) and Nagasaki (August 9, 1945). Despite the fact that he himself alerted President Roosevelt of the urgent need to develop the bomb before the Germans did, he was never invited to participate -and we will never know what he would have replied- because Einstein was a risk to national security.

Albert Einstein receives from Judge Phillip Forman his U.S. citizenship certificate (1/10/1940). Image: Al. Aumuller, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

FBI agents followed him for years, and even continued with the investigation after his death. What were they looking for? The scientist was regarded as a security risk by the U.S. intelligence service: this is evidenced by more than 1,400 pages of investigation (they are available on the FBI website). Einstein was a man of the world, he had many contacts and traveled abroad frequently. Moreover, his left-leaning political views, his human rights activism, or his fight against racism made him a target of the “Communist obsession” in the United States at the time.

9. Einstein’s legacy: between New Jersey and Jerusalem

Albert Einstein Memorial. Bronze statue of Albert Einstein by sculptor Robert Berks (Washington, United States) / Image: public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Have you ever considered visiting Einstein’s grave? You wouldn’t be able to do it even if you wanted. Before he died, the physicist made it clear that he didn’t want to be buried, since he was terrified of the idea that his resting place might become a pilgrimage site for admirers and the curious. This is why he was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the United States, near the Delaware river, not far away from Princeton University, where he had developed most of his scientific career. But Einstein’s most important legacy, all his scientific and non-scientific papers, his photographs and the rights to his works, are kept in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in the Edmond J. Safra campus. Some of the documents have been digitized and are available to the public.

10. Einstein’s brain traveled around the United States in a bottle

Cover of the book “Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein’s Brain”, de Michael Paterniti.

It’s not science fiction. It is not a surprise that the brain of the most famous physicist of the 20th century was a sought-after “good”. Was that the secret behind his intelligence? This is probably what Thomas Stoltz Harvey, the forensic pathologist who oversaw Albert Einstein’s autopsy at Princeton Hospital (New Jersey, 1955), asked himself. He was not a specialist in analyzing brains and he had no authorization to remove it. But he did and for over 40 years he was determined to unveil his secret. He never arrived at a conclusion, although he did send several scientists a sample of the more than 170 slices in which he had divided the genius’s brain. Depressed, probably from remorse, he finally decided to get rid of his prized treasure and thought that Einstein’s brain should be given to his family. He tried to return it to Einstein’s granddaughter, Evelyn, on a trip from New Jersey to California, where she studied. In this unusual journey we was accompanied by writer Michael Paterniti, who described the trip in his book, “Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein’s Brain”.

By Dory Gascueña for OpenMind


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