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:


Jack Kilby, inventor of the computer chip

November 1, 2009

KERA Television has a marvelous short film profile of Jack Kilby, who won the Nobel in physics for his invention of what we now call “the computer chip.”

Late in his life, Jack Kilby holds his first integrated circuit, which is encased in plastic. Photo via Texas Instruments, via Earth & Sky

Late in his life, Jack Kilby holds his first integrated circuit, which is encased in plastic. Photo via Texas Instruments, via Earth & Sky

Teachers should check out the film and use it — it’s a great little chapter of Texas history, science history, and U.S. history.  It’s an outstanding explanation of a technological development that revolutionized so much of our daily life, especially in the late 20th century.  At 8 minutes and 37 seconds, the film is ideal for classroom use.

Alas!  My technology won’t allow embedding the video here, and so far as I can tell it is only available in broadcast on KERA and at KERA’s website.  So, go there and look at it!  If you can download it for use, more power to you — and let us know in comments how you did it.
[2015 update: Good news! KERA put the film up on YouTube! Teachers, especially Texas history teachers, take note, and copy URL!]

2009 marks the 50th anniversary of Kilby’s filing for a patent on an integrated circuit.  He’s been honored by the Inventor’s Hall of Fame.  Despite the stupendous value of his invention, Kilby’s name is far from a household name even in North Dallas, home of Texas Instruments. Robert Noyce, who came up with almost exactly the same idea at almost exactly the same moment, is similarly ignored.

Shouldn’t today’s high school students know about Kilby and Noyce?  Not a class period goes by that I don’t use a device powered by Kilby’s invention; nor does one pass that I don’t have to admonish at least one student for misuse of such a device, such as an iPod, MP3 player, or cell phone.  It’s difficult to think of someone whose invention has greater influence on the life of these kids, hour by hour — but Kilby and his invention don’t get their due in any text I’ve seen.

It’s a great film — original and clever animation, good interviews, and it features Kilby’s charming daughter, and the great journalist and historian of technology T. R. Reid.  Don’t you agree that it’s much better than most of the history stuff we have to show?

Texas history standards require kids to pay brief homage to inventors in the 20th century.   Kilby is not named in the standards, however, and so he and his invention are ignored as subjects of history study.  You ought to fix that in your classroom, teachers.

(Kilby was born and grew up in Great Bend, Kansas — Kansas teachers may want to take note.  According to the KERA film, Kilby was a Boy Scout, making it at least to First Class.)

TI company video on Kilby featuring interviews from the 1990s, prior to his 2000 Nobel Physics Prize

Additional Resources

TI company video on the 2008 50th anniversary of the chip

Share this post:

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl


%d bloggers like this: