Albert Einstein

Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director and Leon Levy Professor, Institute for Advanced Study:

Albert Einstein was one of the Institute’s first Faculty members, serving from 1933 until his death in 1955. He played a significant role in the Institute’s early development and its ongoing legacy as a lifeboat for scholars and world-leading center for intellectual inquiry.

Einstein once mused, “How I wish that somewhere there existed an island for those who are wise and of goodwill! In such a place even I would be an ardent patriot.” In many ways, the Institute strives to be such a place. Since opening its doors, the Institute has convened the brightest minds from around the world to pursue their diverse research interests in the sciences and humanities. While speaking with the Institute’s founding Director Abraham Flexner about an appointment to the Faculty, Einstein is recorded as responding with the words: Ich bin Flamme und Feuer dafür (I am flame and fire for this).

At the Institute, Einstein sought to develop a unified field theory, and did so at a time when the goal of unifying the fundamental forces of nature—gravity, electromagnetism, and the nuclear forces—had been set aside by the majority of working physicists. Able to follow his own curiosity at the Institute, Einstein conceived of many novel ideas to inspire the future of fundamental physics. The famous EPR paper for one arose during an IAS teatime conversation between Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen and introduced the concept of quantum entanglement, now used in quantum computers, and the familiar phrase, “spooky action at a distance.”

Einstein’s contributions however went far beyond physics. He was a staunch advocate for human rights, working to provide sanctuary to countless refugees and lending his voice to the civil rights movement. He was a dedicated pacifist, though realized the need to speak up at a critical moment given fascist Germany’s nuclear ambitions.

With the arrival of Einstein, John von Neumann, Kurt Gödel, Erwin Panofsky, and Hermann Weyl, Institute scholars played a definitive role in America becoming the world center of scientific research. Today’s scholars continue to build upon the Institute’s remarkable history, setting a standard for intellectual exchange, excellence, and inclusion across the globe.