He was daring, wildly ingenious, passionately curious. He saw a beam of light and imagined riding it; he looked up at the sky and envisioned that space-time was curved. Albert Einstein reinterpreted the inner workings of nature, the very essence of light, time, energy, and gravity. His insights fundamentally changed the way we look at the universe—and made him the most famous scientist of the 20th century.
We know Einstein as a visionary physicist, but he was also a passionate humanitarian and anti-war activist. Born a German Jew, Einstein truly considered himself a citizen of the world. His celebrity status enabled him to speak out—on global issues from pacifism to racism, anti-Semitism to nuclear disarmament. "My life is a simple thing that would interest no one," he once claimed. But in fact, his letters, notebooks and manuscripts tell a dramatically different story. Einstein saw the universe as a puzzle, and he delighted in trying to solve its mysteries. All he needed to contemplate the cosmos was his most valuable scientific tool—his imagination.
Albert Einstein reinterpreted the inner workings of nature, the very essence of light, time, energy and gravity. His insights fundamentally changed the way we look at the universe—and made him the most famous scientist of the 20th century.
Albert Einstein's lifelong passion for physics was sparked at the age of four or five when his father showed him a small compass. Young Albert tried to imagine the mysterious force that caused the compass needle to move, and the experience awakened a sense of wonder that stayed with him for life.
Einstein was fascinated by the nature of light. His Special Theory of Relativity, which revolutionized our understanding of time and space, is based on Einstein's astonishing recognition that light always travels at a constant speed, regardless of how fast you're moving when you measure it.
Einstein passed by the clock towers morning on his way home, a route he often took with his closest friend, Michele Besso. The two men regularly discussed science and philosophy—including the nature of time. After one such discussion, Einstein came to a sudden realization: Time is not absolute.
The most famous equation in the world, E=mc2, arrived rather quietly. The secret the equation revealed—that mass and energy are different forms of the same thing—had eluded scientists for centuries.
Albert Einstein imagined how a housepainter would experience gravity if he fell off a roof. The success of Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity had prompted requests for more articles on the subject. As he rewrote the original work, Einstein thought about ways to expand his theory to include the presence of gravity.
Einstein despised militarism and the use of force his entire life—although he later recognized that in some situations, there is no alternative but to "fight for peace."
Einstein recognized that his fame made it possible for him to serve as a powerful advocate for his deeply held political beliefs. A passionate humanitarian, he emerged from his shell to argue for the protection of human rights around the world.
Einstein's work laid the foundation for much of the research into the evolution of the universe as well as modern technology, including lasers and computer chips. His enduring legacy will continue to inspire generations of great thinkers.
This lab offered visitors and school groups a hands-on opportunity to experiment with many of the physics concepts presented throughout the exhibition.
Prior to joining the Museum in 1999, Michael Shara was with the Space Telescope Science Institute at Johns Hopkins for 17 years, where he was responsible for the peer review committees for the Hubble Space Telescope.
Einstein is made possible through the generous support of Jack and Susan Rudin and the Skirball Foundation, and of the Corporate Tour Sponsor, TIAA-CREF.