Who is Einstein today?


1905 was Albert Einstein's miracle year: he published five groundbreaking works. Including his light quantum hypothesis, for which he received the Nobel Prize.

In 1905, the 26-year-old Albert Einstein submitted his dissertation “A New Determination of Molecular Dimensions” to the University of Zurich and published four further publications within a few months, each of which is worthy of a Nobel Prize from today's perspective. The pioneering work included the special theory of relativity and his light quantum hypothesis. For the latter, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921.

Einstein's light quantum hypothesis was revolutionary. It says that light consists of portions (quanta) of energy. If these quanta are strong enough, electrons can be knocked out of a metal surface. This releases electrical charge that can be measured. This is called the photoelectric effect. Einstein was the first to correctly explain this effect, which has long been known in physics, by introducing the hypothesis of light quanta. Their reality was only proven experimentally almost twenty years later.

Einstein had studied physics from 1896 to 1900 at the Eidgenössisches Polytechnikum (today's ETH). Although he was the only successful student in his class, he did not get an assistant position there after completing his studies. Probably because of his moderate grades and because he had often skipped classes. Instead of following the lectures, Einstein preferred to study at home with "holy zeal", as he later recalled, the masters of theoretical physics.

Since he did not get a job at the university, Einstein worked from 1902 to 1909 as an employee of the Federal Patent Office in Bern. In 1909 the University of Zurich created an associate professor for theoretical physics for him. It was Einstein's first position as a lecturer. He left it again in 1911 and became a professor in Prague.

From 1912 to 1914 Einstein returned to Zurich once more as a professor at the ETH - in 1914 he definitely moved away to Berlin. He later turned down a generous offer for a double professorship at the university and the ETH.