Einstein’s Greatest Breakthrough

U.S. #1285 – Einstein published more than 300 scientific papers during his lifetime.

Einstein’s Greatest Breakthrough

On November 21, 1905, Einstein published a paper that presented one of the world’s most famous formulas — E = mc2.

One of the greatest scientific minds in human history, Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, Württemberg, Germany in 1879. Although he was very successful in the end, Einstein occasionally faced adversity. Not always a great student, he had a teacher who told him that nothing would ever become of him. Then, after graduating with teaching credentials, he couldn’t find a job in his field. He finally found a position as a clerk, and although this was not his chosen profession, it left him time to research and write about his theory of relativity.

U.S. #1774 – E = mc2 laid the foundation for atomic energy.

In 1905, Einstein was awarded his PhD from the University of Zurich. That same year, called his annus mirabilis (miracle year), he published four papers in the journal Annalen der Physik (Annals of Physics). The first three of these introduced the scientific community to the photoelectric effect, expanded on the kinetic theory of heat, and formed the basis of his theory of relativity.

Item #M6388 – Einstein photomosaic made up of thousands of tiny photos.

On November 21, Einstein published his final paper of the year, “Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content?” This paper introduced the formula E = mc2. According to the formula, the energy of a body at rest (E) is equal to its mass (m) multiplied by the speed of light (c) squared. Many of Einstein’s miracle year theories were controversial for years before they were accepted by leading physicists. This equation in particular enabled developments as diverse as the atom bomb, diagnostic P.E.T. scans, and smoke detectors. Over time, Einstein’s ideas became widely accepted. He received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 for his work with the photoelectric effect.

Item #M11260 – “Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.”

In 1933, while Einstein was visiting the United States, the Nazis seized all of his possessions in Germany. He knew he couldn’t return, so he officially renounced his German citizenship. Einstein then accepted a position as a staff member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. In 1940, he became an American citizen.

In 1939, as the world war continued to spread across the globe, a number of scientists including Einstein grew concerned over Germany’s goal to build an atomic weapon. Believing they were close to succeeding, these scientists sent a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt, voicing their concern. From this letter, the Manhattan Project was born. Einstein wasn’t allowed to participate, and the scientists involved were not permitted to discuss it with him because officials considered him a security risk. Einstein’s equation, E=mc2, explained how the energy of an atomic bomb was released, though it didn’t detail how to build one.

Item #55012 – Einstein First Day Proof Card.

When asked about his role, Einstein said he didn’t consider himself the father of atomic energy and that his part was “quite indirect.” He also admitted that had he known the Germans wouldn’t succeed in building an atomic bomb, he never would have written the letter to President Roosevelt initiating the Manhattan Project.

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10 responses to "Einstein’s Greatest Breakthrough"

10 thoughts on “Einstein’s Greatest Breakthrough”

  1. Einstein was not just a clerk in an office – he was a patent examiner in the Swiss Patent Office at the time he was developing his groundbreaking papers.

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  2. Every morning when I open This Day in History it’s like opening a Christmas gift. It’s always an interesting surprise . . . and educational. I sent the web site to a grammar school teacher who can use the information with student computers and teaching American history.

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  3. This man had a tremendous impact on life and my life. His theory of relativity was published the year my dad was born. I was 7 when the first atomic bomb went off in Hiroshima.He died in my junior year of high school and on 22 Oct 1962, when President Kennedy announced the Cuban Missile Blockade, I was sitting on Nuclear Alert, in the AF, thinking an Atomic World War was about to happen.

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  4. This Day in History brought back a fond memory of going to my local post office thirty-five years ago to add the #1773 John Steinbeck and #1774 Einstein commemoratives as the first plate blocks to my collection. As if it happened yesterday, I remember the clerk taking the mint sheets from the drawer, separating the numbered corner blocks of four, and then placing them in a glassine envelope as she remarked smiling “Oh, we have a young stamp collector”. As times have changed, that post office eventually closed due to consolidation and is now a walk-in urgent care facility.

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  5. Thank you Mystic for reminding us of various incidents in world history and for teaching us that the past indeed is important.

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  6. One of my favorite quotes from Prof. Einstein is “The most incomprehensible thing about the Universe is that it is so comprehensible.” Einstein was a true genius because he was able to figure out great truths about the Universe that did not jibe with our common sense. He never used a computer. He scribbled notes on the back of an old envelope.

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  7. A brilliant man. Re: the last paragraph, there was a scientist on the Manhattan Project from Australia (Mark Oliphant) who became a harsh critic of nuclear weapons after seeing the destruction they caused. By the way, I love the Togo photomosaic stamps.

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