Person of Century: It’s all relativity
End of the year rankings – the top 10 news stories, for example – are an instructive way of musing about the past. And Time magazine, which popularized the Man of the Year, has taken its rankings a politically correct step further and named the Person of the Century.
That person is Albert Einstein, a justifiable and interesting choice; interesting because, even though his name has become a common noun synonym for genius, most people would have difficulty describing exactly what it was that made Einstein so famous.
Beginning with four papers published in 1905, Einstein revolutionized the world of theoretical and quantum physics. Politicians who like to belabor government bureaucrats might want to keep in mind that he was a clerk in the Swiss patent office at the time. Subsequent breakthroughs won him the Nobel Prize for physics in 1921.
A Jew, Einstein was lecturing in the United States in 1933 when Hitler came to power and here he stayed, to the inestimable benefit of the American scientific establishment. He is commemorated with a large statue in front of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C.
As much for his discoveries, he is remembered for a letter he wrote in 1939 to President Roosevelt, runner-up for Time’s Person of the Century, that led to the crash development of the atomic bomb. It was an odd and uncomfortable distinction for Einstein, who was a committed pacifist. ”If I had only known, I would have been a locksmith,” he said, only half-jokingly.
Fortunately for lay people, his most famous discovery was codified in a simple formula, E equals M times C squared (energy equals mass times the speed of light squared) – easy to remember if not so easy to explain.
Einstein laid the groundwork for the bursting field of cosmology, the theory of the universe, and the discoveries being made, thanks to his pioneering work, justify Time’s naming him the person of this century. Maybe the next as well.
Scripps Howard News Service