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Man of the Century

Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein
Photo courtesy of AIP Niels Bohr Library
Who says physicists never get respect? Time magazine recently named theoretical physicist Albert Einstein its "person of the century" in its year-end issue (December 27, 1999), citing not only his intellectual brilliance but his humanitarian concerns, and describing him as a "paramount icon of our age."

Born in Germany in 1879, Einstein is notorious for having been expelled by a headmaster as a young school boy. He went on to win the 1921 Nobel Prize in physics for uncovering the theory of the photo-electric effect. His early work on the fundamentals of quantum theory and, of course, relativity, laid the groundwork for much of modern physics. This in turn paved the way for an unprecedented degree of technological development, including nuclear fission and fusion - the basis for the atomic bomb, nuclear power, and solar energy. Einstein emigrated to the US in 1933 to take a post at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ, narrowly escaping persecution by the Nazi government because of his Jewish heritage. He has since become one of the most recognizable faces in American physics, and has even been immortalized on the Silver Screen by actor Walter Matthau in the popular romantic comedy, I.Q

In announcing their selection, the magazine editors wrote, "In a century that will be remembered foremost for its science and technology - in particular for our ability to understand and then harness the forces of the atom and the universe - one person clearly stands out as both the greatest mind and paramount icon of our age: The kindly, absent-minded professor whose wild halo of hair, piercing eyes, engaging humanity and extraordinary brilliance made his face a symbol and his name a synonym for genius."

More information about Einstein can be found at websites: www.aip.org/history and www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/einstein<.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette