The Formative Years III

"As a somewhat precocious young man, I was struck by the futility of the hopes and the endeavors that most men chase restlessly throughout life. And I soon realized the cruelty of that chase, which in those days was more carefully disguised with hypocrisy and glittering words than it is today."

After Einstein graduated with an undistinguished record, he made a number of efforts to get a university job, and failed. He found only occasional jobs on the periphery of the academic world. He felt he was a burden on his none too prosperous family, and wondered if he had been mistaken in trying to become a physicist. Finally he got a position at the Swiss Patent Office in Bern. It was "a kind of salvation," he said. The regular salary and the stimulating work evaluating patent claims freed Einstein. He now had time to devote his thought to the most basic problems of physics of his time, and began to publish scientific papers.

Einstein's closest friend, with whom he walked home from the Patent Office every day, was Michele Besso. Einstein thought him "the best sounding board in Europe" for scientific ideas. With other friends in Bern, all unknown to the academic world, Einstein met regularly to read and discuss books on science and philosophy. They called themselves the Olympia Academy, mocking the official bodies that dominated science.

Einstein's began to attract respect with his published papers (described in the next section), and in 1909 he was appointed associate professor at the University of Zurich. He was also invited to present his theories before the annual convention of German scientists. He met many people he had known only through their writings, such as the physicist Max Planck of Berlin. Soon Einstein was invited to the German University in Prague as full professor. Here he met a visiting Austrian physicist, Paul Ehrenfest. "Within a few hours we were true friends," Einstein recalled, "as though our dreams and aspirations were made for each other."


� 1996 - American Institute of Physics