Albert Einstein's name, expressive face, and mane of wild white hair have become synonymous with "eccentric genius." Which he really was.
Illustration by Jean-Leon Huens, National Geographic

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  • On March 14, 1879, Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany. Einstein became the most prominent scientist of the 20th century, winning the Nobel Prize for physics in 1921 and authoring the most famous equation in history—E=MC2. 
     
    Einstein was a theoretical physicist, meaning he used and formulated mathematical models to understand the way the universe works. In particular, Einstein was interested in the way different sets of physical laws—gravity, magnetism, electricity, energy—relate to each other. His most famous accomplishments reflect this. His Nobel Prize recognized Einstein’s work in explaining the photoelectric effect—the way atoms emit electrons when they absorb energy from light. His famous equation explains that an object’s mass (M) is a measure of its energy (E) and its motion (measured by the speed of light, C).
     
    Einstein was a lifelong humanitarian. He supported civil rights for African Americans and protection for religious minorities in Europe (he himself fled Germany and Switzerland as Nazis gained power). He was also a committed socialist who supported strong education for all students: “The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow-men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.”
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    absorb Verb

    to soak up.

    Albert Einstein Noun

    (1879-1955) American (German-born) physicist.

    civil rights Plural Noun

    set of fundamental freedoms guaranteed to all individuals, such as participation in the political system, ability to own property, and due process and equal protection under the law.

    electricity Noun

    set of physical phenomena associated with the presence and flow of electric charge.

    electron Noun

    negatively charged subatomic particle.

    emit Verb

    to give off or send out.

    equation Noun

    mathematical statement of the equality of two sets of numbers or values.

    formulate Verb

    to develop a theory or idea.

    genius Noun

    very intelligent person.

    gravity Noun

    physical force by which objects attract, or pull toward, each other.

    humanitarian Adjective

    having to do with relief, aid, or other support to people in need.

    innate Adjective

    based in instinct, not learned or experienced.

    magnetism Noun

    force by which objects attract or repel one another.

    Encyclopedic Entry: magnetism
    mass Noun

    measure of the amount of matter in a physical object.

    Nazi noun, adjective

    (1919-1945) (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei) having to do with the National Socialist German Workers' Party.

    Nobel Prize Noun

    one of five awards established by the Swedish businessman Alfred Nobel in 1901. Nobel Prizes are awarded in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace.

    pedestrian noun, adjective

    person who travels by walking.

    photoelectric effect Noun

    phenomenon in which electrons are emitted by an atom as it absorbs energy from light.

    physics Noun

    study of the physical processes of the universe, especially the interaction of matter and energy.

    prominent Adjective

    important or standing out.

    protect Verb

    to take action to prevent injury or attack.

    socialist Noun

    person who supports greater community control of the production and distribution of goods and services.

    theoretical Adjective

    having to do only with theories or models, not practical application.

    violin Noun

    bowed string instrument.