Albert Einstein - A Remembrance

Albert Einstein Einstein played such an important role in history with the theory of relativity (first the special theory in 1905 and then the general theory in 1916) that certainly I would have to rate him as the outstanding scientist of the twentieth century. And of course the derivation of the formula E = mc2, which followed from his theory, was the basis for the practical release of nuclear energy.

I met him for the first time when I was of tender years; it was 1933 and I was an undergraduate student at UCLA. It was Einstein's fourth visit to the United States, and his third visit to Caltech, where he had become accustomed to coming in the winter months to collaborate with Robert Millikan and others. During this particular visit, which was to be his last, he was less occupied with formal activities outside his research and was able to see many of his friends. Among these was my German instructor, Rolf Hoffmann, then Associate Professor at UCLA, from whom I was taking a course on German civilization, having completed my German language requirement. Hoffmann learned of Einstein's winter visit and offered me the opportunity to meet him.

I of course was thrilled at such a chance, and Hoffmann arranged it. Einstein was then approaching his 54th birthday, and had won the Nobel Prize some ten years earlier; he was to my mind the most famous scientist in the world. Hoffmann presented me to Einstein, saying, in German, "Here is an aspiring young scientist I want you to meet."

I was very impressed, and awed that such a great man was so approachable, considerate, easy to talk to, and not condescending. Prof. Hoffmann spoke to Einstein in German, no doubt to encourage my ability to understand, and Einstein responded both in German and English. He was very cordial to me, and encouraged me in my scientific pursuits.

I met him occasionally in later years at Princeton, but that first impression was the most powerful. My knowledge of his dedication to peace was only made clearer by our early meeting: here was a man whose very presence projected the plain logic of the necessity of peace.

Later, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the publication of the special theory -- 1955, also the year of Einstein's death -- I wrote the following tribute:

Those of us who have had the pleasure of participating in some of the more recent developments in the science of physics and chemistry acknowledge with gratitude how impossible these developments would have been without the brilliant fundamental contributions of Albert Einstein, particularly in the early part of this century. His research drastically altered the entire outlook of the scientist toward the physical world and supplied the key to an almost innumerable list of fruitful experiments of the last 50 years.

All of us, citizens and scientists alike, honor him for this. We honor him also for the splendid example he has set for us in his modesty, kindliness and the humanity expressed in his efforts to bring better understanding between the peoples and the nations of the world.

-- Glenn T. Seaborg

Berkeley, California
December 1978