GALVESTON DAILY NEWS:
Ulm, Germany. 1884. A five year old Jewish boy receives two presents. From his mother, violin lessons. His father, a compass.
A brilliant musician, but a petulant pupil, he chafes at the mechanical exercises mandated by his tutor. He asks to play his own compositions. When his request is denied, his face flushes yellow with rage and he flings his chair at the teacher, who never returns.
The full measure of Al’s musical talent is not realized until age thirteen when he falls in love with Mozart’s sonatas. Years later he would say to a friend about Mozart’s music, “Like all great beauty, his music was pure simplicity.”
His passion for the violin is rivaled only by his fascination with the compass. He wears it around his neck. Like a stream of notes channeled naturally into a great sonata, the needle’s allegiance to an unseen force mesmerizes him. A magic force, a unified field, seems to him to be at work in both.
When he is chosen to play first violin at a church concert, the second chair asks in amazement, “Do you count the beats?” Al responds, “Heavens no, it’s in my blood.”
Al excels in school as well as music. He tops his high school class in math and science.
By 1896 a tide of anti-Semitism is on the rise in Germany. Al flees his home country for Switzerland just ahead of his seventeenth birthday-the age at which he will been eligible for military conscription.
He renounces his German citizenship in favor of Swiss, a process that will take four years. Ultimately he will become a citizen of Switzerland, Austria, Germany (again), and the United States.
He is accepted to Zurich Polytechnic university where he develops a reputation for challenging conventional wisdom in physics. So irreverent are his debates with his professors and so unorthodox his protocols, they view him as unmanageable. His innovative ideas about the laws of the universe are dismissed as too simple for consideration.
Upon graduation, he is the only one in his class not offered work as an assistant professor. Neither is he accepted into any doctorate programs.
Now a husband and father, he is desperate to find work. For the next two years he searches across Europe, without success. His only solace is his violin.
In 1902, with the help of a friend, Al lands a job as a third class clerk in the Swiss Patent office in Bern. He is an unknown government bureaucrat.
That is, until he authors four letters to well-known physics professors, some who had refused him employment. In them he explains a theory that will change the world. As pure and simple as a Mozart sonata: There exists a fundamental and common code to the universe. That all things in nature are relative.
This theory of relativity expressed in algebraic form—E=mc squared—would become as well-known as its author….Albert Einstein.
Malcolm D. Gibson
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