Einstein’s Empty Office

Albert Einstein died 55 years ago today, on April 18, 1955. For all celebrity he received during his life, his funeral and cremation were intensely private affairs, and only one photographer was there: Life magazine’s Ralph Morse. However, Einstein’s family requested that its privacy be respected, Life never published the pictures, aside from the famous photo above of Einstein’s empty office.

Morse remembers: “I grabbed my cameras and drove the ninety miles to Princeton. Einstein died at the Princeton Hospital, so I headed there first. But it was chaos — so many journalists, photographers, onlookers milling around outside what, back then, was a really small hospital. ‘Forget this,’ I said, and headed over to the building where Einstein’s office was. On the way there, I stopped and bought a case of scotch. I knew people might be reluctant to talk to me, and I knew that most people were happy to accept a bottle of scotch instead of money if you offered it in exchange for their help. So, I get to the building and nobody’s there. I find the superintendent, give him a fifth of scotch, and he opens up Einstein’s office so I can take some photos.”

For 55 years Morse’s photographs lay unseen and forgotten until they were published this morning online.

The Solvay Conference

In 1911, Ernest Solvay, the Belgian chemist and industrialist founded Conseil Solvay, the world’s first physics conference. Initially aimed at solving problems in physics and chemistry, the conferences are held every three years.

The above group photo was taken at the end of the October 1927 Fifth Solvay International Conference. The tensions were high: Einstein sparred with Heisenberg over the latter’s Uncertainty Principle. The attendees disagreed on the Copenhagen interpretation of atom, was promoted by a faction led by Niels Bohr, and opposed by more conservative faction lead by Albert Einstein. By the end of the conference, Bohr’s faction had prevailed.

First Row (l to r): Irving Langmuir, Max Planck, Marie Curie, Hendrik Lorentz, Albert Einstein, Pierre Langevin, Charles Eugene Guye, C. T. R. Wilson, Owen W. Richardson

Second Row (l to r): Peter Debye, Martin Knudson, W. Lawrence Bragg, Hans Kramer, Paul Dirac, Arthur Compton, Louis de Broglie, Max Born, Niels Bohr

Third Row (l to r): Auguste Piccard, Émile Henriot, Paul Ehrenfest, Edouard Herzen,Théophile de Donder, Erwin Schrodinger, Jules-Emile Vershaffelt, Wolfgang Pauli, Werner Heisenberg, Ralph Howard Fowler, Leon Brillouin.

Seventeen of the twenty-nine attendees were or became Nobel Prize winners.