Albert Einstein and Prague

15-02-2005

In last week's Czech Science we reported on 2005 being the International Year of Physics. It is sometimes also referred to as "Einstein Year" because 2005 marks the centenary of the extraordinary year when Albert Einstein published three of his seminal works. Before moving to the United States in 1932, the great scholar had lived and taught in many European cities, from Bern to Berlin. But it was Prague where Albert Einstein, according to his own writings, found the necessary composure to give the basic idea of the general theory of relativity a more definite shape.

I'm now standing in Prague's Old Town Square, just outside a house on which a memorial plaque reads:

"Here in this salon of Mrs Berta Fanta, Albert Einstein, Professor at Prague University in 1911 to 1912, founder of the theory of relativity, Nobel Prize Winner, played the violin and met his friends, famous writers, Max Brod and Franz Kafka."

One of three memorial tablets commemorating Albert Einstein's Prague stay, it was placed here care of the Union of Czech Mathematicians and Physicists in 1999 to mark the 120th anniversary of the great physicist's birth. The Union's President is Professor Stefan Zajac.

"He was invited to Prague, to the German part of Prague University, in 1911 and here he obtained for the first time a full professorship. And he was very happy to come to Prague because here we really had a great tradition in physics. In the 2nd half of the 19th century the very famous Ernst Mach was working here, who really came to the edge of Einstein's conception of space-time and Einstein during his Prague visit really in fact already formulated the beginning of his general theory of relativity."

In the Prague scientific community, Albert Einstein found people who were able to understand his ideas. The first articles by Czech physicists elaborating on his special theory of relativity were published already in 1912. Stefan Zajac says that was a reason why Einstein paid Prague another visit, at a time when it was already the capital of a new independent Czechoslovak Republic.

"Einstein returned to Switzerland, to Zurich after one year and three months in Prague but in 1921 he came back to Prague, just in the year of his Nobel Prize, and he was very happy here and he was visiting all our good Czech professors of physics of that time."

Albert Einstein inspired a whole school of thought in Czechoslovakia. Books on relativity were published in the 1920s by physicists Frantisek Nachtikal and Frantisek Zaviska. And the list continues:

"Later, the very famous Professor Vaclav Hlavaty who left for the United States, worked with Einstein and formulated many new results of Einstein's theory. Here in Prague, Professor Vaclav Votruba continued the work, as well as Karel Kuchar, who also came to United States and now works there. After them came younger people who in fact founded very good relativistic physics, astrophysics and cosmology schools in Prague. So generally, we can say that Prague physics is really very well connected with Albert Einstein - for which we are happy."

More information on the International Year of Physics: www.wyp2005.org and the Union of Czech Mathematicians and Physicists: www.jcmf.cz

15-02-2005