His father once showed him a pocket compass when he was still in elementary school; Einstein realized that there must be something causing the needle to move, despite the apparent empty space.  This curiosity led to a lifelong pursuit of understanding his world in logical, scientific terms. From age ten, he consumed scientific journals, mathematical texts and philosophical writings, including Immanuel Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason.” and Euclid’s Elements (which Einstein called the “holy little geometry book”).  In 1905 at the age of 26, while working as a patent clerk, Einstein was awarded a PhD by the University of Zurich for his dissertation entitled “A New Determination of Molecular Dimensions.” That same year, which has been called Einstein’s miracle year, he published four groundbreaking papers—on the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, the equivalence of matter and energy, and the special theory of relativity, where the world famous equation “e = mc2” unlocked mysteries of the Universe theretofore unknown.

It would be six more years before he could prove his theory, and sixteen more years before he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921. Perhaps he could have rested on his laurels, as he embarked on a multi-year speaking tour and being accorded laurels similar to heads of state. But In 1933, while visiting American universities in April 1933, he learned that the new German government had passed a law barring Jews from holding any official positions, including teaching at universities. Nazi book burnings occurred, with Einstein’s works being among those burnt, and Einstein also learned that his name was on a list of assassination targets. This merely rechanneled his living life in crescendo.

He and many other Nobel laureates and professors of theoretical physics fled to America, because of their Jewish ancestry. Einstein wrote to a friend, “For me the most beautiful thing is to be in contact with a few fine Jews—a few millennia of a civilized past do mean something after all.” In 1939, a group of Hungarian scientists that included physicist Leó Szilárd attempted to alert Washington of ongoing Nazi atomic bomb research. The group’s warnings were discounted. In the summer of 1939, a few months before the beginning of World War II, Einstein was persuaded to lend his prestige by writing a letter with Szilárd to President Franklin D. Roosevelt to alert him of the possibility. Roosevelt could not take the risk of allowing Hitler to possess atomic bombs first, and initiated the Manhattan Project. The United States became the only country to successfully develop an atomic bomb during World War II.

Ironically, whereas the Nobel Peace Price stems from the inventor of dynamite, perhaps Einstein’s involvement in creating weapons of mass destruction motivated him towards a life of humanitarianism as well. As a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) he campaigned for the civil rights of African Americans calling racism America’s worst disease—the only remedies being enlightenment and education.

In 1954, Einstein said to his old friend, Linus Pauling, “I made one great mistake in my life — when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made; but there was some justification — the danger that the Germans would make them…” Days before Einstein’s death on April 18, 1955, he signed The Russell–Einstein Manifesto days which was issued in London on July 9, 1955 by Bertrand Russell in the midst of the Cold War. It highlighted the dangers posed by nuclear weapons and called for world leaders to seek peaceful resolutions to international conflict.

Today, the practical applications of Einstein’s theories include nuclear energy, the development of the television, remote control devices, automatic door openers, lasers, and even DVD-players. Recognized as TIME Magazine’s “Person of the Century in 1999, Einstein’s intellect, coupled his strong passion for social justice and dedication to pacifism, left the world with infinite knowledge and pioneering moral leadership.

It’s a wonder that his pathway for a life in crescendo began with a compass, and that his development of a terrifyingly powerful energy source would motivate him to pursue a path for peace. “Logic will get you from point A to B, but imagination will take you everywhere.”

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