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Sunday, 26 December, 1999, 18:41 GMT
Time for Einstein

Albert Einstein: Massive impact

Albert Einstein, whose theories laid the groundwork for many modern technologies including nuclear weapons, has been named "person of the century" by Time magazine.

Time called him a "genius, political refugee, humanitarian, locksmith of the mysteries of the atom and the Universe".

"In a century that will be remembered foremost for its science and technology ... one person clearly stands out as both the greatest mind and paramount icon of our age.

"The kindly, absent-minded professor whose wild halo of hair, piercing eyes, engaging humanity and extraordinary brilliance made his face a symbol and his name a synonym for genius, Albert Einstein," the magazine said.

Albert Einstein writes out an equation for the density of the Milky Way

It described him as "the century's greatest thinker, as an immigrant who fled from oppression to freedom and as a political idealist, who best embodies what historians will regard as significant about the 20th Century."

"The world has changed far more in the past 100 years than in any other century in history. The reason is ... technologies that flowed directly from advances in basic science," theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking wrote in a Time essay.

"Clearly, no scientist better represents those advances than Albert Einstein."

Time's runners-up for person of the century were US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who it said represented the triumph of freedom and democracy over fascism and communism, and Mahatma Gandhi, who symbolised individuals struggling for their rights. The issue is out on Monday.

The previous issue named the founder of online bookstore Amazon, Jeff Bezos, "man of the year".

Slow starter

Earlier in the year, 100 of today's leading physicists voted Einstein the greatest physicist of all time.

Einstein facts
Born in Germany in 1879
Worked out theories of relativity
Won Nobel Prize in physics in 1921
Emigrated to US in 1933
Died in 1955

He did not show promise as a youngster, but went on to publish theories on space, time and matter which overturned existing concepts of the Universe and had a huge influence on society.

In his special theory of relativity, Einstein described how the only constant in the universe is the speed of light. Everything else could be worked out from the equation E=MC squared (energy = mass x the speed of light squared).

To solve some of the problems with his theory, he later produced the general theory of relativity, which states that to account for gravity, time and space must be curved around massive objects like stars, planets or black holes.

In 1939, six years after he fled European fascism and settled at Princeton University, Einstein, a pacifist, urged President Roosevelt to develop an atomic bomb before Nazi Germany.

Roosevelt formed the "Manhattan Project" which secretly developed the first atomic weapon, although Einstein did not work on the bomb himself.

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See also:
29 Nov 99 |  Sci/Tech
Einstein the greatest
01 Oct 99 |  World
Marx the millennium's 'greatest thinker'
20 Dec 99 |  Business
Amazon founder wins accolade
18 Jun 99 |  Sci/Tech
Why size mattered for Einstein
26 Nov 99 |  Sci/Tech
Science: Story of the century

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