Professor Albert Einstein, once described by George Bernard Shaw as one of the three universe builders in man’s recorded history, was honored by 300 leaders in the fields of physics, astronomy, mathematics and cosmology last week at a symposium arranged in his honor to celebrate his seventieth birthday anniversary on March 14. He has been on the faculty of the Institute for Advanced Study since 1933.

Held under the joint auspices of Princeton University and the Institute for Advanced Study, the symposium dealt with the topic, “The Theory of Relativity in Contemporary Science.” Arrangements were made by Rudolf W. Ladenburg, Princeton’s Brackett Professor of Physics, and J. Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Institute.

When Einstein entered the Frick Chemical Laboratory Auditorium, where the symposium was held, his colleagues rose and applauded for several minutes. He then took his seat and listened attentively as the speakers outlined the revolutionary role of his contributions to the two basic approaches to the physical world, the relativity and quantum theories.

Subjects discussed at the morning session were : relativity in the atomic domain, by Mr. Oppenheimer; the implications of relativity for modern experimental physics, by I. I. Rabi, Nobel Prize physicist of Columbia; and invariance in physical theory, by Eugene P. Wigner of Princeton.

Subjects on the afternoon agenda included: the present state of relativistic cosmology, by Howard P. Robertson, formerly of Princeton and now at the California Institute of Technology; relativity effects in planetary motion, by G.M. Clemence of the United States Naval Observatory; and the theory of relativity as a stimulus to mathematical research, by Hermann Weyl of the Institute for Advanced Study. Mr. Ladenburg served as the chairman.

Silent at the morning session, Einstein electrified the afternoon audience with comments of the Robertson paper, stepping up to the blackboard to illustrate his remarks with mathematical symbols.

The 70-year-old physicist was hailed by Mr. Oppenheimer as “the greatest member of our brotherhood.”

Mr. Rabi began his tribute by declaring that “relativity is as vigorous today as it was 44 years ago, when, like Athena, it sprang from his jovian brow.”

In 1905, he continued, “Einstein created the theory of relativity and in the same year recreated the quantum theory which Max Planck had suggested five years earlier. Since then these two theories have become inseparably intertwined, although not yet welded into a unity. Without these children of Einstein’s imagination, one natural born, the other adopted, there would be no modern experimental physics.

“If we gave relativity back to Einstein, he would have to take along with it a major portion of the most interesting results of experimental physics and practically all the promise of the future.”


This was originally published in the March 25, 1949 issue of PAW.