Einstein’s birthday is Pi Day; coincidence?

March 14, 2019

How many ways can we say happy birthday to a great scientist born on Pi Day?  An encore post.

Happy Einstein Day! to us.  Albert’s been dead since 1955 — sadly for us.  Our celebrations now are more for our own satisfaction and curiosity, and to honor the great man — he’s beyond caring.

Almost fitting that he was born on π Day, no? I mean, is there an E=mc² Day? He’s 140 years old today, and famous around the world for stuff that most people still don’t understand.

E=energy; m=mass; c=speed of light

Fittingly, perhaps, March 14 now is celebrated as Pi Day, in honor of that almost magical number, Pi, used to calculate the circumference of a circle. Pi is 3. 1415~, and so the American date 3/14 got tagged as Pi Day.

Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879, in Ulm, Germany, to Hermann and Pauline Einstein.

26 years later, three days after his birthday, he sent off the paper on the photo-electric effect; that paper would win him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921.

Einstein as a young man.
Einstein as a younger man, circa 1921. Nobel Committee photo.

In that same year of 1905, he published three other papers, solving the mystery of Brownian motion, describing what became known as the Special Theory of Relativity and solving the mystery of why measurements of the light did not show any effects of motion as Maxwell had predicted, and a final paper that noted a particle emitting light energy loses mass. This final paper amused Einstein because it seemed so ludicrous in its logical extension that energy and matter are really the same stuff at some fundamental point, as expressed in the equation demonstrating an enormous amount of energy stored in atoms, E=mc².

Any one of the papers would have been a career-capper for any physicist. Einstein dashed them all off in just a few months, forever changing the fields of physics. And, you noticed: Einstein did not win a Nobel for the Special Theory of Relativity, nor for E=mc². He won it for the photo-electric effect. Irony in history. Nobel committee members didn’t understand Einstein’s other work much better than the rest of us today.

114 years later, Einstein’s work affects us every day. Relativity theory at some level I don’t fully understand makes possible the use Global Positioning Systems (GPS), which revolutionized navigation and mundane things like land surveying and microwave dish placement.

Development of nuclear power both gives us hope for an energy-rich future, and gives us fear of nuclear war. Sometimes, even the hope of the energy rich future gives us fear, as we watch and hope nuclear engineers can control the piles in nuclear power plants damaged by earthquakes and tsunami in Japan.

English: Albert Einstein on a 1966 US stamp
Albert Einstein on a 1966 US stamp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If Albert Einstein was a genius at physics, he was more dedicated to pacifism. He resigned his German citizenship to avoid military conscription. His pacifism made the German Nazis nervous; Einstein fled Germany in the 1930s, eventually settling in the United States. In the U.S., he was persuaded by Leo Szilard to write to President Franklin Roosevelt to suggest the U.S. start a program to develop an atomic weapon, because Germany most certainly was doing exactly that. But while urging FDR to keep up with the Germans, Einstein refused to participate in the program himself, sticking to his pacifist views. Others could, and would, design and build atomic bombs. (Maybe it’s a virus among nuclear physicists — several of those working on the Manhattan Project were pacifists, and had great difficulty reconciling the idea that the weapon they worked on to beat Germany, was deployed on Japan, which did not have a nuclear weapons program.)

Everybody wanted to claim, and honor Einstein; USSR issued this stamp dedicated to Albert Einstein Русский: Почтовая марка СССР, посвящённая Альберту Эйнштейну (Photo credit: HipStamp)

Einstein was a not-great father, and probably not a terribly faithful husband at first — though he did think to give his first wife, in the divorce settlement, a share of a Nobel Prize should he win it. Einstein was a good violinist, a competent sailor, an incompetent dresser, and a great character.

His sister suffered a paralyzing stroke. For many months Albert spent hours a day reading to her the newspapers and books of the day, convinced that though mute and appearing unconscious, she would benefit from hearing the words. He said he did not hold to orthodox religions, but could there be a greater show of faith in human spirit?

When people hear clever sayings, but forget to whom the bon mots should be attributed, Einstein is one of about five candidates to whom all sorts of things are attributed, though he never said them. (Others include Lincoln, Jefferson, Mark Twain and Will Rogers). Einstein is the only scientist in that group. So, for example, we can be quite sure Einstein never claimed that compound interest was the best idea of the 20th century. This phenomenon is symbolic of the high regard people have for the man, even though so few understand what his work was, or meant.

Einstein in 1950, five years before his death

A most interesting man. A most important body of work. He deserves more study and regard than he gets, in history, diplomacy and science.

Does anyone know? What was Albert Einstein’s favorite pie?

More, and resources:

Typewriter of the moment: Nelly Sachs

December 10, 2018


Typewriter of Nelly Sachs. It’s a Mercedes, if I have identified it correctly.

She fled Nazi Germany for Sweden in 1940. In Sweden, she adapted to a new culture. Then she wrote about the experiences of flight, and adaptation.

In 1966 the Nobel organization awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature to Nelly Sachs. Sachs was born December 10, 1891. Google’s Doodle honored her on December 10, 2018, with a short video and image of her typewriter. The animation shows Sachs’ typewriter in a suitcase, an homage

Google explained at YouTube:

December 10th, 2018: Google honors Nelly Sachs. She was a Jewish German-Swedish poet and playwright.

Nelly Sachs was born on 10 December 1891 in Berlin. In 1940 Nelly fled with her aged mother to Sweden. Nelly Sachs and her mother escaped on the last flight.

Her best-known play is: … “Eli – Ein Mysterienspiel vom Leiden Israels” (1950) 1957 she got the Nobel Prize in Literature. Sachs’ poetry is intensely lyrical and reflects some influence by German Romanticism. Happy birthday Nelly Sachs.

* * * * *

Music: “Trio for Piano Violin and Viola” by Kevin MacLeod

Google shows 3 sketches of the doodle.

More about this doodle: “Nelly Sachs 127th birthday” https://www.google.com/doodles/nelly-…

She was also honored by a stamp by German Bundespost in 1991: https://www.briefmarken-bilder.de/brd… #nellysachs #googledoodle

Nelly Sachs Biography (Wikipedia): Born Leonie Sachs in Berlin-Schöneberg, Germany, in 1891 to the wealthy natural rubber and gutta-percha manufacturer Georg William Sachs (1858–1930) and his wife Margarete, née Karger (1871–1950),[1] she was educated at home because of frail health. She showed early signs of talent as a dancer, but her protective parents did not encourage her to pursue a profession. She grew up as a very sheltered, introverted young woman and never married. She pursued an extensive correspondence with, and was friends with, Selma Lagerlöf and Hilde Domin. As the Nazis took power, she became increasingly terrified, at one point losing the ability to speak, as she would remember in verse: “When the great terror came/I fell dumb.” Sachs fled with her aged mother to Sweden in 1940. It was her friendship with Lagerlöf that saved their lives: shortly before her own death Lagerlöf intervened with the Swedish royal family to secure their release from Germany. Sachs and her mother escaped on the last flight from Nazi Germany to Sweden, a week before Sachs was scheduled to report to a concentration camp. They settled in Sweden and Sachs became a Swedish citizen in 1952.

Living in a tiny two-room apartment in Stockholm, Sachs cared alone for her mother for many years, and supported their existence by translations between Swedish and German. After her mother’s death, Sachs suffered several nervous breakdowns characterized by hallucinations, paranoia, and delusions of persecution by Nazis, and she spent a number of years in a mental institution. She continued to write even while hospitalized. She eventually recovered sufficiently to live on her own, though her mental health would always be fragile. Her worst breakdown was ostensibly precipitated by hearing German speech during a trip to Switzerland to accept a literary prize. However, she maintained a forgiving attitude toward a younger generation of Germans, and corresponded with many German-speaking writers of the postwar period, including Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Ingeborg Bachmann. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nelly_S…

Apartment of Nelly Sachs, with her typewriter, in Stockholm, Sweden. Gewerk.com image.

Apartment of Nelly Sachs, with her typewriter, in Stockholm, Sweden. Gewerk.com image.


Nelly Sachs, undated photo (probably after 1966). Image from Heavy.com

Nelly Sachs, undated photo (probably after 1966). Image from Heavy.com


Nobel Peace Prize winner pledges the award to making peace

October 10, 2018

Nadia Murad, in a photograph for her book, The Last Girl.

Nadia Murad, in a photograph for her book, The Last Girl.

It’s the same thing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., did with the prize money he got from the Nobel Committee for winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

But when King did it, it was about $50,000.

Bloomberg news noted: “Nadia Murad, co-winner of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, says she will commit 100% of her share of the $1.01 million prize money to continue the work of ending sexual violence in war zones.”

In the press release announcing the prize for peace, on October 5, the Nobel Committee said:

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2018 to Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict. Both laureates have made a crucial contribution to focusing attention on, and combating, such war crimes. Denis Mukwege is the helper who has devoted his life to defending these victims. Nadia Murad is the witness who tells of the abuses perpetrated against herself and others. Each of them in their own way has helped to give greater visibility to war-time sexual violence, so that the perpetrators can be held accountable for their actions.

*     *     *     *     *

Nadia Murad is herself a victim of war crimes. She refused to accept the social codes that require women to remain silent and ashamed of the abuses to which they have been subjected. She has shown uncommon courage in recounting her own sufferings and speaking up on behalf of other victims.

Nadia Murad is a member of the Yazidi minority in northern Iraq, where she lived with her family in the remote village of Kocho. In August 2014 the Islamic State (IS) launched a brutal, systematic attack on the villages of the Sinjar district, aimed at exterminating the Yazidi population. In Nadia Murad’s village, several hundred people were massacred. The younger women, including underage children, were abducted and held as sex slaves. While a captive of the IS, Nadia Murad was repeatedly subjected to rape and other abuses. Her assaulters threatened to execute her if she did not convert to their hateful, inhuman version of Islam.

Nadia Murad is just one of an estimated 3 000 Yazidi girls and women who were victims of rape and other abuses by the IS army. The abuses were systematic, and part of a military strategy. Thus they served as a weapon in the fight against Yazidis and other religious minorities.

After a three-month nightmare Nadia Murad managed to flee. Following her escape, she chose to speak openly about what she had suffered. In 2016, at the age of just 23, she was named the UN’s first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking.

Below, a Twitter Moment prepared by Bloomberg News on Ms. Murad’s plans to dedicate her prize money to fighting sexual violence.



Nobel prizes grow in U.S. public schools

October 4, 2017

I’m an advocate of public schools. I graduated from public schools, I attended two state universities, Universities of Utah and Arizona, graduating from one. My law degree came from a private institution, George Washington University’s National Law Center. I’ve taught at public and private schools.

Public schools are better, on the whole. Public schools form a pillar of U.S. national life that we should protect, and build on, I find.

That’s not a popular view among elected officials, who generally seem hell bent on privatizing every aspect of education. We would do that at our peril, I believe.

We can argue statistics, we can argue funding and philosophy — believe me, I’ve been through it all as a student, student leader, parent, U.S. Senate staffer (to the committee that deals with education, no less), teacher and college instructor. I find fair analysis favors the public schools over private schools in almost ever circumstance.

Though I admit, it’s nice to have private schools available to meet needs of some students who cannot be fit into education any other way. Those students are few in any locality, I find.

There is one area where the quality of U.S. public schools shines like the Sun: Nobel prizes. In the 100+ years Nobels have been around, students out of U.S. public schools have been awarded a lot of those prizes. Public school alumni make up the single largest bloc of Nobel winners in most years, and perhaps for the entire period of Nobels.

I think someone should track those statistics. Most years, I’m the only one interested, and in many years I’m too deeply involved in other work to do this little hobby.

2017 seems to be off to a great start, spotlighting U.S. public school education.

Comes this Tweet from J. N. Pearce, editor of the Salt Lake Tribune:

Followed by a Tweet from a Utah teacher, Tami Pyfer, noting that Kip Thorne is not the only Utah public school kid to win recently:

Two categories of prizes have been announced already in 2017, Medicine and Physiology, and Physics.

In both categories, the prizes went to three Americans. In Medicine or Physiology, for their work on circadian rhythms, the prize went to
Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young.

Physics Nobel winners Rainer Weiss, Barry C. Barish and Kip S. Thorne. 2017 Physics Laureates. Ill: N. Elmehed. © Nobel Media 2017

Physics Nobel winners Rainer Weiss, Barry C. Barish and Kip S. Thorne. 2017 Physics Laureates. Ill: N. Elmehed. © Nobel Media 2017

In Physics, for work on gravity waves, the prize went to Rainer Weiss, Barry C. Barish and Kip S. Thorne.

Thorne, we already know, was born in Logan, Utah, and graduated from Logan High School. Rainer Weiss was born in Berlin, so it is unlikely he attended U.S. public schools — but I haven’t found a definitive answer to that question. All three of the Physiology or Medicine winners were born in the U.S. Michael Young was born in Miami, but attended high school in Dallas. Oddly, Dallas media haven’t picked up on that yet. Dallas has some good private schools, and some of the nation’s best public schools.

(That article from the Logan Herald-Journal notes Logan High School also graduate Lars Peter Hansen, Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics, in 2013.)

Nobels in Chemistry will be announced Wednesday, October 4; Literature will be announced Thursday, October 5 (this category award often goes to non-Americans); Peace will be announced Friday, October 6 (another category where U.S. kids win rarely); and the Nobel Memorial prize for Economics will be announced next Monday, October 9.

Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young. Ill. Niklas Elmehed. © Nobel Media 2017.

Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young. Ill. Niklas Elmehed. © Nobel Media 2017.

If you know where any of these winners attended primary and secondary education, would you let us know in comments? Let’s track to see if my hypothesis holds water in 2017. My hypothesis is that the biggest bloc of Nobel winners will be products of U.S. public schools.

As I post this, the Chemistry prize announcement is just a half-hour away. Good night!

A video about the work of Kip Thorne, from CalTech:






Feynman at the Nobel Awards Dinner

May 12, 2015

Photos tell a thousand stories.

Richard Feynman at the Nobel Awards dinner after receiving his prize in Physics.  Who is the woman to Feynman's right?

Richard Feynman at the Nobel Awards dinner after receiving his prize in Physics. Who is the woman to Feynman’s right? Found on Pinterest

Richard P. Feynman won his Nobel in Physics, in 1965, shared with Sin-Itiro Tomonaga and Julian Schwinger.

The Nobel Foundation said:

The Nobel Prize in Physics 1965 was awarded jointly to Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, Julian Schwinger and Richard P. Feynman “for their fundamental work in quantum electrodynamics, with deep-ploughing consequences for the physics of elementary particles”.

In its description of his award, the Foundation pointed to the now-famous Feynman Diagrams.

Introduced the Feynman Diagrams

Following the successes of the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics, a first relativistic theory was formulated for the interaction of charged particles with electromagnetic fields. However, in the work of reformulating the theory, Richard Feynman made contributions to a new quantum electrodynamics, in particular in 1948, he introduced so called Feynman diagrams, a graphical representation of interactions between different particles. These diagrams facilitate calculations of interaction probabilities.

Who is the woman next to Feynman?


  • Yesterday, May 11, was Feynman Day; see why we need to mark our calendars for next year!

%d bloggers like this: