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Einstein's Mistakes

Science has always fascinated me. This includes not only the ecological sciences, which I studied in school, but other endeavors, as well.

Alfred Einstein in 1921 in Vienna

Alfred Einstein in 1921 in Vienna

Why Write About Einstein's Mistakes?

In science, as in life, you usually get things wrong over and over again before you get it right” - Ethan Siegel, senior editor at Forbes Magazine

The purpose of this article is not to argue that Einstein was incompetent as a scientist. In fact, just the opposite is true. This article is meant to demonstrate that to be successful as a researcher, you have to be willing to make mistakes along the way. Alfred Einstein's great accomplishment was to replace Newtonian physics with a new set of ideas, known as relativity. Nonetheless, there are some theoretical holes in the ideas and equations that have come to define the scientific concept of relativity.

Alfred Einstein enjoyed playing the fiddle

Alfred Einstein enjoyed playing the fiddle

Who Was Alfred A. Einstein?

Alfred Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany in 1879, but soon thereafter, he moved with his family to Munich. There he attended grade school. Eventually, the family moved to Italy and so young Albert furthered his educational pursuits at Federal Polytechnic School in Zurich, Switzerland. Here, he was trained as a teacher of mathematics and physics, but upon his graduation from the prestigious school, Alfred was unable to find a teaching position, so he took a position as a technical assistant in the Swiss Patent Office. This lasted from 1902 to 1909.

During that time Einstein published several papers and also earned a P.H.D. in Physics in 1905 from the University of Zurich. In 1910 Einstein began teaching physic in Zurich. After a brief teaching stint in Prague, Einstein earned a prestigious position at the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin. He remained in the Prussian capital until 1933 when Hitler rose to power. At the time, Einstein was visiting America and chose to remain in the U.S. after the Nazi takeover. Einstein remained in the United States until his death in 1955.

Einstein's Accomplishments

While working as a patent examiner in Switzerland, Einstein first developed his startling ideas on relativity and photoelectrics. The year 1905 looms as especially important, for it was during this time that he released four groundbreaking papers on theoretical physics.

It was actually Einstein's work on photoelectrics that earned him a Nobel Prize in 1921. His work on relativity was more controversial, resulting in a slower acceptance among the scientific world.

The Unusual Death of Alfred A. Einstein

On April 17th, 1955, Alfred A. Einstein was working on a speech that he was preparing for a television appearance commemorating the State of Israel’s seventh anniversary. Before Einstein could finish the speech, he suffered a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm and was taken to the Princeton Medical Center. Doctors at the hospital said that they could help Alfred with surgery, but at the time Professor Einstein refused, saying: "I want to go when I want. It is tasteless to prolong life artificially. I have done my share, it is time to go. I will do it elegantly."

The next day Alfred A. Einstein passed away. Shortly thereafter, his body was cremated and taken for burial in a local cemetery, but before being converted to ashes, Einstein's brain was removed and preserved for future study.

The Sombrero Galaxy as viewed with infrared light

The Sombrero Galaxy as viewed with infrared light

The Expansion of the Universe

One of the most basic of relativity's major shortcomings is its failure to allow for the expansion of the universe. All through his adult life, Einstein developed models and equations that described a universe of definite size and proportions. Furthermore, to make his theoretical world work, he developed a concept called the cosmological constant. This force had a numerical value and it was theorized that the constant acted as a counterbalance to gravitational fields. In 1930, Edwin Hubble (for whom the Hubblecraft is named) developed his model of an expanding universe, forcing Einstein to abandon his cosmological constant.

Astro physicists today believe that black holes are a major source of gravitational waves

Astro physicists today believe that black holes are a major source of gravitational waves

Gravitational Waves

Another area where Einstein had theoretical problems was with the concept of gravitational waves. Einstein did not think gravitational waves existed or if they did, they were very weak. Also, he did not acknowledge the existence of black holes, which are now thought to be the source of gravitational waves. It took until 2015 to prove that gravitational waves existed, but the two scientists that proved their existence were rewarded the Nobel Prize for their efforts.

A pulsar is a rapidly spinning neutron star that is a remnant of a larger denser star

A pulsar is a rapidly spinning neutron star that is a remnant of a larger denser star

Quantum Physics and Mechanisms

Even though Einstein's early work with the photoelectric effect laid the groundwork for the development of quantum physics, Einstein never really felt comfortable with the uncertainty that accompanied the new theories. In a sense, Einstein was kind of old school in that he liked to view the nature of the universe in nice tidy theories and equations. Furthermore, Einstein did not particularly get along or agree with the three main proponents of quantum physics, Max Planck, Niels Bohr, and Erwin Schrodinger.

Einstein and Photoelectrics


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Harry Nielsen