Across the street from the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial on Constitution Avenue, a quirky, perplexing genius lounges on a white granite bench. In the yard of the National Academy of Sciences, this character is holding a paper that contains complex mathematical equations, such as the theory of relativity and the photoelectric effect.
It is easy to see that these intricate scientific details are not the focus of his attention nor are the many children and birds who are walking across his lap and climbing onto his head. His gaze is fixed downward, and he is most likely contemplating some aspect of humanity or existence that is greater than the heavens depicted at his feet.
It is undoubtedly a theory that would throw even the most accomplished minds into a state of awe and confusion if he were still alive to share it.
The Albert Einstein Memorial, created in 1978 by sculptor Robert Berks, commemorates the life and career of one of the world’s most inspiring and impressive thinkers.
Einstein sits tall with 12 feet of bronze and weighs about four tons, according to NAS. The monument, supported by three caissons sunk in bedrock, rests on a three-step bench of white granite.
At Einstein’s feet is a giant map of the stars, an assembly of 2,700 metal studs in emerald pearl granite. These studs represent the planets, sun, moon, stars and other celestial bodies. They were put together by astronomers from the U.S. Naval Observatory on the memorial’s dedication date, according to NAS.
The Einstein Memorial is a calmer and less frequently visited site than the Lincoln Memorial or the Washington Monument. But it is nevertheless oddly striking and quietly captivating, much like the brilliant scientist himself.
So what is there to know about Albert Einstein? One of two thoughts come to mind when students outside the field of science think of Einstein:
a) E = mc2
b) He failed math, right? So whatever grades I get in statistics are virtually meaningless, as I, too, am obviously a misunderstood genius.
Actually, there is much more to know about Time magazine’s Man of the Century.
Did you know Einstein did not begin to speak until the age of three? Or that by age seven he was already displaying a well-rounded group of interests, excelling both at the violin and Euclidean geometry? Did you know that he often cut classes at the Swiss National Polytechnic in Z?rich to study the violin and physics on his own, and, as a result, his teachers refused to recommend him for a teaching position after graduation?
Einstein made a living substitute teaching and tutoring until a former classmate’s father helped him get a job at the Swiss patent office in Bern, where he worked from 1902 until 1909. During this time, Einstein also met and married Mileva Mari?, a former classmate. The couple had two sons before divorcing. He eventually remarried.
Working in the patent office, Einstein spent his spare time writing and publishing theoretical papers – one of which proposed what we now accept as the special theory of relativity – and pursuing a doctorate from the University of Z?rich. From there, he was appointed as a full-time professor at the Karl-Ferdinand University in Prague. He later moved to Zurich only to return to Germany in 1912.
Einstein’s fame grew to an international level when a 1919 solar eclipse confirmed his general theory of relativity and validated other predictions. His theory explained variations in the orbital motion of the planets, and his prediction that starlight bends in the direction of the sun.
Einstein won a plethora of awards, including the Nobel Prize in physics in 1921, the Copley Medal in 1925 and the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1926.
A victim of anti-Semitism, Einstein used his fame and influence to speak out against injustices and encourage pacifism, as is evidenced by one of his many quotations engraved upon the memorial steps:
As long as I have any choice in the matter, I shall live only in a country where civil liberty, tolerance, and equality of all citizens before the law prevail.
Einstein left Germany for the United States after accepting a joint position at Berlin and Princeton universities in 1932. The Nazis came into power soon after his arrival, and Einstein never returned to Germany.
In 1939 he co-authored a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, warning him that the technology existed to build an atomic bomb and that Germany could develop one. Although he played no part in the construction, the letter encouraged the U.S government to increase efforts in building an atomic bomb of its own. Einstein, however, continued to actively support international disarmament, writing letters and petitions up until a week before his death.
Three years before his death, Einstein was offered the presidency of Israel. The then-ailing Einstein refused, and began to write his will. He died April 18, 1955 in Princeton, New Jersey, leaving his scientific papers to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem
The Memorial was erected in 1978, and unveiled at the annual meeting of the NAS in 1979 in honor of the centennial of Einstein’s birth.
The NAS is a private, nonprofit society of scientists that selects its members and foreign associates on the basis of their achievement in the scientific community. The Academy consists of about 2,000 members and 300 foreign associates.
The NAS chose Einstein to be a foreign associate in 1922, and Einstein became a full member in 1942, after he became a naturalized citizen in the United States.
Whether you are an enthusiastic tourist looking for a new piece of D.C. to explore, a desperate student hoping some of the genius will rub off, or someone with an hour to kill, the humble elegance of this monument cannot be replicated by anyone other than the great thinker himself.