The Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Albert Einstein, is a household name and considered to be one of the most influential physicists of the 20th century. There’s no way you got through school without learning about his theories, but where did Einstein receive his schooling?
Albert Einstein attended school, but was unhappy with structured teaching. He supplemented his school tuition with self-education, and chose to study complicated mathematical concepts at his own pace, with the support of his parents.
Read on to learn more about Einstein’s unconventional education and big breakthroughs.
A Hard Time in School
Though now hailed as a genius, Albert Einstein was initially a slow learner, so much so that his mother was prompted to consult a doctor. The future scientist didn’t start talking until the age of four, and wasn’t fluent until he was nine.
Einstein attributes his theory of relativity, however, to this delayed development: “the ordinary adult never bothers his head about the problems of space and time. But I developed so slowly that I began to wonder about space and time only when I was already grown up”.
School was a struggle for Einstein and he found it a miserable affair. His teachers reportedly assessed him as being “mentally slow, unsociable, and adrift forever in his foolish dreams”.
Structured schooling, it seems, just didn’t agree with Einstein’s inquisitive approach and he resisted “rote” learning. Giving a speech in 1931 on the structure of education, Einstein asserted that “the development of general ability for independent thinking and judgment should always be placed foremost”, emphasising his dissatisfaction with his own schooling.
Einstein was unwilling to do homework and rebelled against authority, eventually leaving school at 15 with poor grades.
A high school dropout, Einstein decided to apply for a place at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School in Zürich but, despite excelling in physics and maths, was told he would have to finish formal schooling in order to begin a course of study.
Unsurprisingly, Einstein resisted traditional teaching here as well and often skipped lectures. He managed to graduate, but without the good favor of any of his professors.
Spirit of Discovery
It was outside of formal schooling that Einstein’s creativity and imagination was properly nurtured. Beyond the classroom, Einstein was inquisitive and quick. Aged 12 he taught himself Euclidean geometry and he was up to speed on differential and integral calculus by 15.
His family supported his commitment to self-education by buying him textbooks and sending him puzzles and problems to solve. Outside of his family unit, Einstein was encouraged by two key figures who stimulated his scientific interests: his Uncle Jakob, who was an engineer, and a young medical student named Max Talmud, who provided Einstein with science books and tuition.
His home education gave him the freedom to explore his own lines of thinking and engage his mind in many different ways.
Interestingly, Einstein wrote that there were “two wonders” which consumed his early years. These were a “compass” and a “holy geometry book” and made a strong impression on his perception of the world.
Of the compass Einstein wrote, “there must have been something behind things that was deeply hidden”. It was here perhaps that Einstein’s fascination with invisible forces was born.
Whilst working as a patent clark in 1905, Einstein released four scientific papers, known as the Annus Mirabilis papers, which altered the course of modern physics. These were written on the Photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, the special theory of relativity and mass-energy equivalence.
His Theory of General Relativity was developed between 1907 and 1916 and catapulted him to international celebrity status. Einstein’s incredible contribution to scientific discovery is undeniable.
If you’re up for a challenge, watch the YouTube video below for a 3-minute breakdown of Einstein’s General Relativity theory.