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Einstein Did More Than Discover Relativity, Say Those Who Came to Know Him Personally


Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and E=mc². His simple-looking equation linked time and space as well as energy, mass and the speed of light.

Albert Einstein himself explained his E=mc² equation in which energy is equal to mass multiplied by the square of the velocity of light where a very small amount of mass may be converted into a very large amount of energy.

Brad Lemley, a contributing editor to Discover, a science magazine, says Einstein used to say if a physical theory couldn't be explained to a five year child it probably isn't worth much. In an article for Discover titled "A Tangled Life," he looked into the simplicity the famed scientist sought to bring to the mysteries surrounding time, light and space:

"It was his simplicity that led him to a lot of the insights that he came to rather than thinking (about) a lot of deep, abstract mathematical concepts. He still had this great ability to take the simplest experience and turn that into physical knowledge.

"For example, it occurred to him when you fell off a roof while you are falling you are weightless. Well, this doesn't matter to you or me. We tend to think of the consequences of hitting the ground. But Einstein had the ability to understand that because you are weightless that has profound implications for the nature of gravity. When you are under gravity's sway at that particular moment, you are in fact inside of a warp in space time rather than rather than in the grip of a field if that means anything to you. It meant something to Einstein."

Simplicity may have been the key that unlocked a door and allowed Gillett Griffin into the life of Albert Einstein. "I think that the reason he liked me was that I was simple," says Mr. Griffin. "He could relax and know that nothing would go any further and I was was not testing him at every corner."

In 1954, an invitation to dinner at the Einstein home in Princeton, New Jersey, and a toy brought Gillett Griffin into the life and family of Albert Einstein. The dinner party included Professor Einstein's stepdaughter, Margot, his housekeeper and another woman.

"And then mid-way through dessert he apologized. Said he had to get to work. Said he had a lot of things on his mind. And so I thanked him profusely. As he was leaving the room I turned to the ladies and said, 'Let me help with the dishes,'" says Mr. Griffin. "Einstein turned around and said, 'Ach, in Europe the men never do the dishes.' And I prevailed anyway. They let me dry.

"When the dishes were all done I thought I had better leave, and I was getting ready to leave and thanking everybody. And Elaine Dukos said, 'Did the professor show you his bird?' And I said no and she called upstairs. The typewriter was banging away upstairs. She said, 'Professor, you need to show Griffin your bird.' The typewriter stopped," continues Mr. Griffin.

"He came shuffling down the backstairs with a twinkle in his eye, beckoned with his head, went to a sort of baroque cabinet, pulled out a plastic dickey bird with suction cups and wound it up (and) stuck it on the mirror. Instead of watching the dickey bird going up the mirror, he watched my face. When the dickey bird hit the frame at the top, it fell into his hand. He said, 'Did you like it?' I said, 'I loved it.' Eventually I got three different telephone calls from the three ladies saying, 'consider yourself part of the family.' So how's that?" laughs Mr. Griffin.

Being part of the Einstein family meant being challenged from time to time by the professor. "He loved little plastic puzzles," says Mr. Griffin. "Get the three balls in the center of a maze or get the ball up a ramp or whatever. And I hated those things because my brother would tease me a lot and that was one way of teasing me. But every time I would show up at the Einstein house he would hand me a puzzle. And I would work on it with…quietly…clouds of steam coming out of my ears. And then I would hand it to him and say, 'You can do this better than I can.' And he would say, 'It just takes patience.'

Gillett Griffin was 24 when he first met Albert Einstein and had just begun work as a curator of graphic arts in Princeton University's rare book collection.

If we could turn the clock back 20 years earlier to 1934, we would find an 11-year-old by the name of Ralph Gardner confronting the renowned physicist across a chess board.

"Well, when you're 11 years old, you're not that impressed," recalls Mr. Gardner. "I knew who he was, of course, because back then in 1934 his picture was in the newspapers. He was in the movie newsreels. So everybody knew who he was. And he was just such a lovely person, such a friendly nice person who seemed genuinely interested in an 11-year-old kid that it was very normal and natural."

Young Ralph Gardner met the famous scientist when he was invited to tea at the home of federal judge Julian Mack, a family friend. "And he asked me if I could play any instruments and I said no," says Mr. Gardner. "And he said he could play a violin. But there was no violin there so he didn't get to play it for me.

"However, on a little table between our chairs there was a chess set. So he asked me if I played chess, and I said no," continues Mr. Gardner. "I started to think that he would think that I couldn't do anything. But, anyhow, he said, 'Come. I'll show you how.' And he showed me. As it turned out I spent several Saturday afternoons at the Macks' apartment with him. And we played chess. The first time he taught me the different moves; and he said, 'The next time we'll play a game.' People have often asked me if I ever won a game from him. Well, I don't think we ever finished because generally tea was ready before we finished."

Ralph Gardner would later learn something else may have been going on during those Saturday afternoons when he played chess with Albert Einstein in the home of Judge Mack. The judge and the scientist may have been plotting and planning.

"Judge Mack and Einstein, of course, were very busy and very interested in rescuing European scientists and saving them from the Nazis, bringing them to this country and where possible getting them positions in American universities," he notes.

As Ralph Gardner and others who knew him learned when the troubles of the world or the pressures of just being Albert Einstein weighed heavily on him, the great scientist found comfort in music, particularly classical music. And he found contentment at the keyboard of his piano and in his violin. He once said, "If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music."

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