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Modest Einstein

One day in 1905, the prestigious Annalen der Physik (Annals of Physics) published three separate papers by the 26-year old Albert Einstein. The first proposed wave-particle duality, an update of Max Planck's quantum theory of radiation; light, Einstein declared, travels simultaneously as a wave and as particles called quanta. The second explained the complexities of Brownian motion (ping pong motion at the molecular level). And the third, Einstein matter-of-factly explained in a letter to a friend, "modifies the theory of space and time." It was Einstein's special theory of relativity.

Incredibly Einstein, then working as a Swiss patent clerk, had produced the papers in his spare time and modestly sent them to the journal for publication -- "if there is room."

[The physicist Louis de Broglie called Einstein's contributions "blazing rockets which in the dark of the night suddenly cast a brief but powerful illumination over an immense unknown region." Indeed, his work in that single year led to the discovery of (among other things) X-ray crystallography, DNA, the photoelectric effect, vacuum tubes, transistors, and nuclear energy.]

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