EFL Club
English as a Second or Foreign Language for Advanced Students

EFL Club > People > Einstein

Name: Albert Einstein

Genre: Science

Birth: March 14, 1879 Germany

Major Achievement: The Nobel Prize in Physics 1921

“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” - Albert Einstein
1 Biography

Son of Hermann and Pauline Einstein. His father was a featherbed salesman. Albert began reading and studying science at a young age, and he graduated from a Swiss high school when he was 17. He then attended a Swiss Polytechnic, where he met his first wife. He graduated in 1900, and became a Swiss citizen in 1901. He began working at the Swiss Patent Office, and continued his scientific studies. He taught at universities in Prague, Zurich, and Berlin, and continued his research in physics. The onset of World War II led him to move to the United States, and he was granted a post at the Institute for Advanced Study in New Jersey. Einstein was heavily involved in attempting to bring about world peace in his later life, and he continued his scientific research until his death in 1955.

Albert Einstein - Biography. The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved on January 14th, 2009, from http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0251868/bio.

2 Vocabulary

Do you know these words?

achieve alternative coincidence conclude confirm
contact core dimension enormous expert
global image implicate media period
phenomenon precedent previous prohibit revolution
role symbol technology theory transmit

Match the words on the left with their definitions on the right.

1 achieve a based in scientific and industrial progress
2 alternative b a person with a high level of knowledge or skill
3 coincidence c someone or something extremely successful
4 conclude d to succeed in finishing something or reaching an aim
5 confirm e picture
6 contact f the position or purpose that someone has in society
7 core g a measurement of something in a particular direction
8 dimension h communication with someone
9 enormous i to give certainty to a belief or an opinion which was previously not completely certain
10 expert j relating to the whole world
11 global k period in US history when the production and sale of alcohol was forbidden
12 image l newspapers, radio and television
13 implicate m an occasion when two or more similar things happen at the same time
14 media n representing something else
15 period o a length of time
16 phenomenon p something suggested as a reasonable explanation for facts
17 precedent q the basic and most important part of something
18 previous r to show that someone is partly responsible for something bad that has happened
19 Prohibition s the way that something has been done in the past which is also the correct way
20 revolution t happening or existing before something or someone else
21 role u to judge or decide something after some consideration
22 symbolic v extremely large
23 technological w a very important change in the way that people do things
24 theory x something that is different from something else, especially from what is usual
25 transmit y to send or give something

3 Reading

Bob Dylan came up with one way to remember Albert Einstein: “Now you would not think to look at him / But he was famous long ago / For playing the electric violin / On Desolation Row.”

This is the pure distillate of celebrity. Dylan’s folk-rock vision of “Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood” is one in which the original man has disappeared into a symbolic fog where more or less any meaning may be found. Nowadays, such content - less fame has become common, though there aren’t many out there who match Einstein for resonance. But when he first exploded into public view, there were no precedents. No scientist before or since has so completely transcended the role of expert to become a universal emblem of reason.

It is possible to fix almost to the day the moment when Einstein became an icon. On November 6, 1919, he was still a private person. But that night, the Royal Society held a special meeting in London to announce the results of observations that seemed to confirm Einstein's theory of gravity, the general theory of relativity. As The Times of London reported in a headline the next day, the society concluded that the work amounted to a “Revolution in Science - New Theory of the Universe - Newton's Ideas Overthrown.” Three days later, The New York Times picked the story up, blaring that there were “Lights All Askew in the Heavens…[the] stars [were] not where they seemed or were calculated to be.” From there the word spread around the globe until, by the turn of the year, Albert Einstein had crossed the point of no return: He was and has remained public property. But that raises questions: Why him, why then, why still?

Partly it was just that Einstein happened to photograph well. He had always been appealing, even seductive, in the photos from his younger days. By 1919 he had become someone whom the camera loved. Einstein joked about it, describing himself for his young cousin, Elizabeth Ney, as a fellow with a “pale face, long hair, and a tiny start of a paunch. In addition an awkward gait, and a cigar in the mouth, but crooked legs and warts he does not have and so is quite handsome”

Photographers caught that wit as well as the gravitas. It helped that he was astonishingly willing to play along. No one made him ride that bicycle or stick out his tongue straight into the barrel of an oncoming lens. Whatever weariness he felt at the crush of the public gaze, he was almost always willing to pause for the shot. There is a story that he was once asked - by perhaps the only person on earth who did not recognize him - what he did for a living. He replied that he was a photographer's model.

He was just as open to sharing his ideas. Einstein took seriously questions about his science, up to the point of writing one of the best introductions to relativity for the lay reader. (Called Relativity, it's still in print.) He handled the ridiculous questions, too, with humor and enormous stamina. He told his interrogators what he thought of Prohibition (against, though he didn't drink), the death penalty (against, at least some of the time), and abortion (for, up to a certain point in the pregnancy). No scientist before Einstein had been so willing to stand before his public.

None of this would have turned him into a universal figure, however, without the means to carry his words and image to a global audience. By 1919, undersea cables could transmit Einstein's doings, no matter how trivial, around the world. In 1927, The New York Times judged newsworthy the fact that Einstein had lost his luggage on the train from Paris to Berlin. By 1930 radio broadcasts could carry his voice to millions of strangers. Above all, the immediate postwar period was when film inherited the earth. Newsreels showed what Einstein looked like, how he moved, the angle of his grin. It is no coincidence that he achieved fame greater than that of any previous discoverer at just the time that the first true Hollywood stars (Charlie Chaplin, for example, or Mary Pickford) became legends.

Even so, why such lasting appeal? The answer lies with the historical events preceding his first contact with the public. Einstein completed the general theory of relativity in November 1915 in Berlin, the capital of a nation absorbed in the most destructive war Europe had ever known. How dreadful was that conflict? Here is a telling anecdote: The painter George Grosz, an acquaintance of Einstein's, was recovering from wounds in Berlin. Told he had to go back to his unit, he tried to drown himself in a latrine: Better dead in a pool of feces than back to the trenches. Worse still, science itself was implicated in the disaster. After Einstein's friend Fritz Haber pioneered the use of chlorine gas as a weapon, Einstein lamented that “our whole, highly praised technological progress, and civilization in general, can be likened to an ax in the hand of a pathological criminal.”

And then in 1919 came news of Albert Einstein's wondrous ideas - ideas that were strange, difficult, true, and completely innocent of the disastrous war just past. He had found this truth with only the power of his mind. His theory was woven from numinous words of wisdom: warped space, the fourth dimension, bending time. Here was an alternative to the memory of the killing grounds of the western front.

Fast-forward to Dylan's electric violinist, and then again to image after image poured into the media stream to this day. A few other scientists - Stephen Hawking, for one - have a similar aura. But Hawking and the others must fight through the relentless noise of the modern publicity machine. Even more, Hawking's story is personal, the battle of one man against a terrible illness.

Einstein always represented something more - an aspiration that extended far beyond himself. At the core of the Einstein phenomenon lies his connection to a time when the whole idea of human reason seemed a grim joke in the wake of the so-called Great War. The hold he still has on popular imagination derives from that moment when Albert Einstein - the patron saint of reason, all-knowing, unknowable - smoothed balm on the terrible wounds of the 20th century.

Highlighted words: Academic Word List (570)
Word Count 1050

Levenson, Thomas (2008). Albert Einstein, Rock Star | Einstein | DISCOVER Magazine. Discover Magazine. Published on March 26, 2008. Retrieved on January 14th, 2009, from http://discovermagazine.com/2008/mar/26-albert-einstein-rock-star.

4 Reading Quiz

Read the article above. Then choose the right answer to the questions from below.

1 According to the article, what does Einstein represent?

fame reason science Robin Hood

2 What was Einstein before 1919?

a famous person an infamous person an unknown person a well-known person

3 Whose ideas did Einstein's replace?

Dylan's The Times of London Newton's The New York Times

4 Without using your dictionary, what do you think "paunch" means?

bicycle hair legs stomach

5 What did Einstein do for a living as a young adult?

He worked in an office. He was a scientist. He was a model. He was a movie star.

6 What did Einstein think of Prohibition?

He was for it. He was against it. He didn't drink. He had no opinion.

7 Who or what helped Einstein to become famous?

the media Hollywood Charlie Chaplin his cousin Elizabeth

8 Without using your dictionary, what do you think "latrine" means?

an alternative to war a jacuzzi a toilet a kind of weapon

9 What is an alternative name for The Great War?

the First World War the Second World War the Third World War the Russian Revolution

10 What would be an appropriate title for the article?

Einstein the Scientist The Life of Einstein Albert Einstein, Rock Star Einstein's Theories
5 Listening
Einstein's unfinished symphony: http://www.eflclub.com/people/einstein/einstein.html
6 Listening Quiz

1 In the video, what did Einstein say first?

2 Before Einstein, what did people think about the passage of time?

3 What was the arena in which things happened?

4 According to Einstein, what did the rate that time passed depend on?

5 What did Einstein think time was like?

6 What, according to Michio Kaku, is the most famous mathematical formula of all time?

7 What did Einstein believe was always constant?

8 According to Einstein's special theory of relativity, what was relative?

9 In Einstein's equation, what were two aspects of the same thing?

10 What happened to energy just after the Big Bang?

7 Discussion

1 Why is Einstein so famous?

2 What do you think of Einstein?

3 Who, if anyone, is the equivalent of Einstein in your country?

4 Do you think the Universe will go on expanding for ever?

5 Einstein was heavily involved in world peace. What are the major threats to world peace today?

6 Has your country ever had a prohibition law?

7 What laws concerning alcohol does your country have?

8 What is the law about abortion in your counrtry.

9 What do you think of abortion?

10 Are you for or against the death penalty? Why?

11 Einstein causted a revolution in science. What other revolutions do you know?

12 What is your opinion on nuclear energy?

13 Einstein was an expert at science. What is your strong subject?

14 What media do you usually use to get the news?

15 Einstein achieved a great deal in his life. What would you like to achieve in your life?

16 Do you think life is just a coincidence?

17 Do you like science?

18 Do you remember an interesting science lesson? What did you do? What happened?

19 Einstein once joked that he was a photographer's model. What would you like to do for a living?

20 When was the last time you stuck out your tongue?

8 Review

1 Which country was Einstein from?

2 In which category did he win the Nobel prize?

3 In which three European cities did he teach?

4 In which year did Einstein complete his general theory of relativity?

5 What new kind of media could transmit Einstein's message in 1930?

6 What did Einstein think time was like?

7 What is another word for "image"?

8 What does "period" mean?

9 What does "enormous" mean?

10 When did Einstein die?

9 Quiz

1 What three nationalies did Einstein have throughout his life?

2 What do the letters of E equals MC squared stand for?

3 How many billion years ago was the Big Bang?

4 In which decade did Prohibition start?

5 When did the First World War finish?

6 What is the fourth dimension?

7 What was Newton's first name?

8 In which year was the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

9 Who sang "Desolation Row"?

10 How old was Einstein in the photo of him sticking out his tongue?

10 Homework

A Conduct a class survey about a controversial topic such as abortion, alcohol or the death penalty.

B Make a poster presentation of a Nobel Prize winner you admire.

C What exactly was Einstein's unfinished symphony? Search the Internet to find out.

D Why was Einstein so popular? Write an summary in your own words.

Study this exercise online at http://www.eflclub.com/people/einstein/einstein.html.

This print is available online at http://www.eflclub.com/people/einstein/print.html.

www.eflclub.com. Copyright © Chris Elvin 2009. All rights reseved