Albert Einstein Exhibition
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EXHIBIT = MAJOR, COPIOUS CLARITY
By Michelle Delio
November 23, 2002
Pauline Einstein's baby boy, with his "extremely large and angular" skull,
went on to lay the foundation for much of modern scientific research.
The ideas of lasers, computer chips and atomic energy were first born in
Albert Einstein's brain. Einstein's molecular theories helped unlock the
mysteries of DNA.
But although we may think we know him and his science, strange and wonderful
things lurk below Einstein's wild-haired and seemingly well-documented
Visitors to the American Museum of Natural History's new exhibition on
Einstein (http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/einstein/) linger long before the
glass case that contains the most famous mathematical equation of all time.
"E=mc2," scrawled in Einstein's own handwriting, is displayed under dim
lights. Viewing that scrap of paper is like gazing at a potent religious
But in the end it's Einstein the man who truly fascinates visitors. The
museum has put together a wonderful collection cataloging Einstein's entire,
eccentric life. (Einstein rationalized against wearing socks because they
would eventually develop holes.)
He was "passionate, the smartest human ever, but not conceited, proud or
arrogant," show curator Michael Shara said.
Einstein was kind, graciously helping the neighbor's children with their
math homework, but he could also be cruel: He described his first wife as
Einstein's personal life was messy. He was an unrepentant flirt and even a
bit of a trollop.
Einstein's love letters to his various mistresses are on display at the
museum, as well as missives to scientific colleagues and a note containing
his mother's description of little Einstein's oddly shaped skull.
There's a letter offering Einstein the presidency of Israel (he declined),
and references to the 1,400-plus-page file the FBI maintained on the
scientist, who was for a time considered a national security risk by the
The documents paint a personal portrait of the man who wanted nothing less
than to understand the inner workings of the entire universe.
Visitors to the exhibit walk through a series of rooms named after the
scientist's core interests: Light, Time, Gravity, Energy, War and Peace, and
Taken together, it's a glimpse of what it would be like to possess the sort
of brain that dared to believe it was capable of describing all physical
phenomena in the universe through one "Grand Unified Theory."
Einstein firmly believed that he would be able to describe every single law
of physics through one simple mathematical equation. He devoted 35 years of
his life to this quest.
The exhibit of Einstein's last notebook containing his final calculations in
pursuit of his Unified Theory, which he was working on just before his death
in 1955, is a sobering sight.
But the playful genius that inspired Einstein, who could see a ray of light
and envision what it would be like to climb on top of it and ride through
space and time, is also on display.
A video of a black hole sucks in visitors at the entry, demonstrating
gravitational theories. Fun-house mirrors show how mass warps light.
An interactive "blackboard," when touched, reveals the layers of reasoning
behind E=mc . Cartoons illustrate Einstein's thoughts on time, by showing
the impact that frame of reference has on perspective.
The games and gimmicks are perfectly suited to the spirit of Einstein, who
once explained his complex ideas about time by offering this example: "When
you have a pretty girl sitting on your lap, an hour seems like a second;
when you're sitting on a hot stove, a second seems like an hour."
"The fact that he used both heat and a girl to explain a complex theory
tells you something about Einstein," Shara said. "It's very much the essence
of the man."
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