Quirks and Quarks

March 11: Encore of Quirks & Quarks' 2005 special celebrating Albert Einstein's impact on science

"The Einstein Show" marked 100 years since his publication of four papers that changed the laws of physics

'The Einstein Show' marked 100 years since his publication of four papers that changed the laws of physics

This photo shows physicist Albert Einstein in his later years in 1954 in Princeton, New Jersey. (Associated Press)

On this week's episode of Quirks & Quarks with Bob McDonald:

Einstein's ideas that turned the physics establishment "upside down" 

In 1905, Albert Einstein was a 26-year-old obscure patent clerk in Bern, Switzerland, who produced four separate science papers that would change the laws of physics, and, in many ways, the world. Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist from the City College of New York, said the secret to Einstein's genius is how he thought in pictures that even children can understand, like a police officer chasing a speeding light beam. Kaku, who wrote Einstein's Cosmos: How Albert Einstein's vision transformed our understanding of space and time, said he considers three of those 1905 papers to be Nobel-worthy. They included his special theory of relativity, the photoelectric effect for which he did win a Nobel Prize, where he introduced the idea of a photon and Brownian motion that proved the existence of atoms. 

This black and white photo shows more than 20 distinguished looking white men and one woman standing and seated around a table. A young-looking Albert Einstein is standing second to the right whereas Max Planck, another one of the brightest physicists of all time, stands second to the left.
Perhaps the most formidable gathering of scientists ever: the international physics conference convened in Brussels in 1911. In attendance are: standing, Albert Einstein (2nd from the right) and Max Planck (2nd from the left) and sitting at the table, Madame Marie Curie (2nd from the right.) (Couprie/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
The man behind the myth: Einstein in his own words 

Einstein revolutionized science with his thoughts on physics, but much of his fame came from his personal charisma and the wit and wisdom he displayed in his many correspondences and writings. Alice Calaprice is a writer and editor who worked with Einstein's papers at the Princeton University Press. She's written several books on Einstein, including a collection of quotations called, The Quotable Einstein, and The Einstein Almanac, a chronology of his life and writings. Calaprice said despite Einstein's immense popularity, he never understood why he became so famous. She explores his writings about education, his activism and even what he described as his "cosmic religion" that she said was more of an attitude of cosmic awe and wonder rather than any belief of personal God with the power to control people's lives. 

This black and white photo shows Albert Einstein looking off in the distance with his wife standing next to him looking like she's squinting in the sun's light.
Albert Einstein is seen here in Egypt in 1921 with his second wife Elsa. (Getty Images)
Albert Einstein's time and spaces from his years in Europe 

In many ways, even though Einstein spent the last 20 years of his life in Princeton, New Jersey, and became an American citizen, he was a quintessential European scientist. Born in Germany, schooled in Switzerland, a professor in Zurich, Prague and Berlin, he was part of a wide network of scientists in Europe in the early decades of the last century. Those scientists were re-writing the laws of physics: Planck, Heisenberg, Bohr, Schrodinger. Together with Einstein, they changed our understanding of the universe and the forces that rule it. Freelance journalist Vincent Landon took us on a tour of Einstein's Europe to visit where he lived for insight into his life during those crucial years of discovery and achievement.

Albert Einstein's passport is open and shows his personal information on the left page and his photo is on the right.
Photo of Albert Einstein's original passport presented during Albert Einstein's exhibition at the Bern museum in 2005, 100 years after his "Miracle Year." (Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP/Getty Images)

The Einstein Show originally aired in 2005.