On the eve of what would be Albert Einstein’s 140th birthday, a collection of more than 100 letters written by the genius have been gifted to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU), of which Einstein was a founding member. Included in the documents are original manuscript pages – some of which had never been seen before – and personal letters that offer a window into the man behind the science.
The pages have now been digitized, providing greater accessibility to his work. Of the 110 sheets, 84 are mathematical derivations and unedited research notes dating between 1944 and 1948. The scientific context of many of these are not yet clear, but scientists are hard at work to decipher what implications they could have for future research. Of most interest is an eight-page handwritten, unpublished appendix to a scientific article describing the unfruitful Unified Theory uniting electromagnetism and gravity that Einstein spent the last 30 years of his life trying to prove. Until now, the appendix had never been seen and was believed to have been lost.
The documents also reveal Einstein’s personal side. In a 1935 letter written to his son Hans Einstein, who was living in Switzerland at the time, the Nobel winner expressed concerns about the state of European affairs and the rise of the Nazi party in Germany.
"I read with some apprehension that there is quite a movement in Switzerland, instigated by the German bandits. But I believe that even in Germany, things are slowly starting to change. Let's just hope we won't have a Europe war first… the rest of Europe is now starting to finally take the thing seriously, especially the British. If they would have come down hard a year and a half ago, it would have been better and easier,” he wrote.
Personal correspondence between Einstein and his lifelong friend and fellow scientist Michele Besso show his more humanistic side. Three letters from 1916 talk about his work on the absorption and emission of light by atoms, which would later become the basis for laser technology. In a letter dated 50 years later, he expresses that he still does not understand the quantum nature of light (I mean, do any of us, really?). He also talks about his Jewish identity, teasing Besso about his conversion to Christianity.
"You will certainly not go to hell, even if you had yourself baptized," joked Einstein.
Researchers are currently preserving and digitizing the new documents, after which they will work to pick through the scientific and mathematical meanings for the calculations found within their margins. HU Einstein Archives contains more than 80,000 items, including photographs, manuscripts, and letters, making it the most extensive collection of Einstein documents.
"Einstein was also a colorful person, besides being a top-notch scientist. That's rare in scientific persona," said curator Roni Grosz in a statement.