Historisches Museum Bern, Bern, Switzerland
Albert Einstein’s Annus Mirabilis (Miracle Year)
In 1905, Albert Einstein was living in Bern, Switzerland. He was working at the patent office as a clerk examining patent applications. That same year he submitted his doctoral thesis and published four papers that changed physics forever. These Annus Mirabilis papers covered the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, special relativity, and the relationship between matter and energy.
Einstein won the Nobel Prize in 1921 for his explanation of the photoelectric effect. It had been observed that when matter absorbs light, it emits electrons. Einstein explained that light was not absorbed continuously, but rather in discrete packets of energy (termed quanta). This insight was one of the underpinnings of the wave-particle duality of matter, and was later shown experimentally to be correct.
The paper on Brownian motion helped put an end to the idea that atoms were a mere theoretical device. The paper showed that it should be possible to observe the motion of atoms and molecules under a microscope. The French physicist Jean Perrin used this paper as the motivation ...