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The Practical Einstein

Experiments, Patents, Inventions

József Illy

Publication Year: 2012

Albert Einstein may be best known as the wire-haired whacky physicist who gave us the theory of relativity, but that’s just one facet of this genius’s contribution to human knowledge and modern science. As József Illy expertly shows in this book, Einstein had an eminently practical side as well. As a youth, Einstein was an inveterate tinkerer in the electrical supply factory his father and uncle owned and operated. His first paid job was as a patent examiner. Later in life, Einstein contributed to many inventions, including refrigerators, microphones, and instruments for aviation. In published papers, Einstein often provided ways to test his theories and fundamental problems of the scientific community of his times. He delved deeply into a variety of technological innovations, most notably the gyrocompass, and consulted for industry in patent cases and on other legal matters. Einstein also provided explanations for common and mundane phenomena, such as the meandering of rivers. In these and other hands-on examples culled from the Einstein Papers, Illy demonstrates how Einstein enjoyed leaving the abstract world of theories to wrestle with the problems of everyday life. While we may like the idea of Einstein as a genius besotted by extra dimensions and too out-of-this world to wear socks, The Practical Einstein gives ample evidence that not only is this characterization incomplete, it is also an unfair representation of a man who sought to explore the intricacies of nature, whether in theory or practice.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. c-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

The scope of the experiments, opinions for patent cases, and inventions in which Albert Einstein participated shows how multifarious his activities were, how deeply he was involved in searching for various technological solutions, and how wide his knowledge of physics was outside the fields for which he has been so famous....

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pp. 1-6

Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879, in Ulm, in southern Germany. His uncle and his father had a firm producing electrotechnical apparatus: generators, transformers, measuring devices, and electric lighting networks for towns. They started the enterprise in Germany, then moved to northern Italy, to Pavia (fig. I.1). Einstein’s father, Hermann, was the business manager...

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1 Musings

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pp. 7-14

In February 1925, sensational news swept across the world: a refi tted steel vessel was cruising on the Baltic Sea en route from Danzig (the present- day Gdansk, Poland) to Scotland without motors or sails or masts. It was a mystery how the ship, with only two big revolving cylinders resembling smokestacks,...

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2 Experiments

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pp. 15-36

According to Einstein, “The theoretically oriented scientist cannot be envied because nature, i.e. the experiment, is a relentless and not very friendly judge of his work. In the best case scenario it says only ‘maybe’ to a theory, but never ‘yes’ and in most cases ‘no.’ If an experiment agrees with theory it means ‘perhaps’...

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3 Expert Opinions

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pp. 37-66

At the Swiss Patent Offi ce, Einstein’s job was to consult with inventors. Only one of his written opinions on patent applications is left , the administrative documents having been routinely destroyed. This opinion is on an alternating current machine with short- circuit brushes and opposing auxiliary spools for...

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4 European Inventions

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pp. 67-130

In April 1908 Einstein published a short paper on an electrostatic method for the measurement of small quantities of electricity.1 He was led to the idea by the following considerations.
In his papers on Brownian motion published between 1905 and 1908,2 Einstein...

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5 American Inventions

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pp. 131-170

The following inventions were developed in cooperation with Gustav Bucky, a medical doctor, a specialist in X-ray examinations, and an inventor both in his field and out of it.1 During his lifetime, he took out 143 patents. He is most famous for “Grenz ray therapy” of the skin. The rays of a 2- angstrom wavelength...


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pp. 171-196


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pp. 197-202

E-ISBN-13: 9781421405339
E-ISBN-10: 1421405334
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421404578
Print-ISBN-10: 1421404575

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 66 halftones, 6 line drawings
Publication Year: 2012