Happy Birthday, Albert Einstein! Celebrate the Genius Who Still Makes News Decades Later

Happy Birthday, Albert Einstein, Who's Still Making News Decades Later
Albert Einstein
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03/14/2016 AT 01:05 PM EDT

Born in 1879, Albert Einstein would have celebrate his 137th birthday on Monday. Einstein, of course, died in 1955 at the age of 76, which means he's been dead for nearly as long as he was alive. However, passing away has done little to diminish Einstein's presence in the public eye. Decades later, his name gets mentioned at a frequency that few others do – and certainly more frequently than many living scientists' names.

In honor of his birthday – March 14, also known as Pi Day – we thought we'd look at the ways Albert Einstein has made headlines thus far in 2016. There are plenty to choose from:

1. Those gravitational waves, for one thing


In February, the news broke that scientists had proven the existence of gravitational waves, a phenomenon that Einstein had theorized existed decades beforehand but had spent much of his subsequent research career debating whether those waves actually existed – and whether they were the result of curves in space-time. Let this be a lesson to us all: Our hunches may turn out to be right, but even the brightest among us doubt ourselves.

2. And he was a refugee


Just last week, Shiloh Jolie-Pitt was spotted heading through LAX with her mother, Angelina Jolie, and her siblings Zahara and Pax. But it wasn't just her presence on camera that generated buzz so much as what she was wearing on her T-shirt: A photo of Albert Einstein along with the caption "Einstein was a refugee." She (and her T-shirt) were right: Einstein was a non-observing Ashkenazi Jew born in Germany, and he had to flee Nazis in his homeland. It was ultimately the offer of a position at Princeton University that saved Einstein from the Nazis, and in 1935 he applied for permanent U.S. citizenship. The implications on the world's current refugee crises were apparently not lost on young Jolie-Pitt, at least.



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3. His brain was different


Einstein's brain wasn't like the average person's. No, it wasn't bigger, but as this March 4, 2016, Forbes article notes, it was anatomically different. The Sylvian fissure, or the division between the his brain's frontal and parietal lobes, was bigger than most people's, and some researchers have speculated that this could have allowed the parts of his brain to communicate differently or better than the rest of ours. (Certain researchers also claim that Einstein's brain lacked parietal opercula, though others disagree on that point.) Einstein's brain also had more glial cells, which among other things supply oxygen and nutrients to the brain.

And while scientists have many theories about how the physical structure of Einstein's brain may have influenced how he thought (and at least one says it wasn't all that special, in the end), there's also a fascinating story about how his brain was able to be studied in the first place. Thomas Harvey, the doctor who conducted Einstein's autopsy, removed the brain prior to the cremation of the body. It's unclear whether Einstein consented to this, and his family was only notified after the fact, whereupon they permitted studies only if the results be published in a non-sensational manner. In 1978, the brain made headlines when it was revealed preserved parts of it were being kept in mason jars enclosed in a cider box. The New Jersey Monthly article ran with the headline "I Found Einstein's Brain."

4. Special brain or not, Einstein struggled in school – and that's important


A March 1, 2016, New Yorker article claims that students shouldn't merely be told of Einstein's accomplishments but also of his failures. It may help kids to know that the great intellectuals and scientists of history didn't simply breeze through life; they encountered obstacles just like everyone else.

It should be noted that many accounts of Einstein's young life claim that he may have had a learning disability such as dyslexia. This isn't proven, but the young lad objected to the rote method in which children were taught back in the day. Also, when he first applied to a polytechnic school at age 15, he failed the entrance exam, and had to re-take the test the following year. Keep that in mind if you're ever consoling a high school senior displeased with a middling SAT score.

5. When he made a mistake, he admitted it


Let this be helpful to all of us. On at least one occasion, Albert Einstein proved to be fallible. In 1921, the New York Times was preparing to run an article on a series of lectures Einstein had given at Princeton. The lectures were given in German and translated into English by physicist Edwin Adams. Before the piece was published, the Times' sharp-eyed managing editor, Carr Van Anda, noticed what appeared to be a mistake in one of the formulas. The Times called Adams, who at first said there was no error, but when Adams called Einstein himself, Einstein admitted to the mistake: "Yes, Mr. Van Anda is right. I made a slip in transcribing the equation on the board." And this is the story of how the New York Times corrected Albert Einstein.

6. He's part of pop culture forever


On Feb. 24, an unusual play opened in New York – in a hotel room, no less. The play, Insignificance, imagines a clandestine meeting between two of the most famous figures of America's midcentury: Albert Einstein and Marilyn Monroe. By most accounts, Einstein and Monroe didn't now each other, but there's a persistent rumor that they did, and one form of the rumor credits Shelley Winters, Monroe's roommate at one point, with saying that the two actually had a dalliance.

7. Decades later, "Einstein" is still synonymous with "genius"


Few people's names have become common words quite as successfully as Einstein's. Today, call someone an "Einstein" – or, you know, "not exactly an Einstein" – and anyone listening should instantly understand that you're commenting on their intellectual abilities. The name appeared in a series of stories earlier this year about the search for the next Einstein, specifically in Africa. The Next Einstein Forum (NEF) seeks to find a genius-caliber mind in Africa and then help that person make a contribution to society as far-reaching as Einstein's. The organization also hopes to keep its greatest minds on the continent rather than losing them to "brain drain" immigration. "There are more African engineers working in the United States than in Africa," explained Thierry Zomahoun, chief executive of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, at an event on March 10.

8. Some people, however, simply look like Einstein

Well, not every mention of Einstein's name is going to happen in a positive context. The New York Daily News ran a short item on the arrest of Jerry Salerno, a New York-area homeless man who's accused of burning down a bank. The article notes his uncanny resemblance to Albert Einstein, but also notes that the similarities between the two men seem to end there.

9. And then there's The X-Files


Albert Einstein's name had come up a few times during the series run of The X-Files – you know, for science stuff – but the follow-up mini-series that aired earlier this year made a direct connection with him in the form of Agent Einstein (Lauren Ambrose), a redheaded FBI up-and-comer who claims to be a distant relation to Albert Einstein and who is clearly meant to suggest Agent Scully (Gillian Anderson). Scully has always been the embodiment of intellectual reason on the show, and it follows that the "new" Scully would share her name with one of the smartest people to have ever lived.

There's a rumor that should Anderson and David Duchovny decline further X-Files revivals, the show could continue with Agent Einstein and her partner, pseudo-Mulder Agent Miller (Robbie Amell), which would mean more Einstein references to come.
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