Scientists and the Great War

Henry Gwyn Jeffreys Moseley

Born in Weymouth on 23 November 1887, he was an English physicist. In 1910 he received a degree in physics at Trinity College, Oxford. After receiving his degree, he moved to Manchester and joined the research team of Ernest Rutherford, the father of nuclear physics and winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1908, with whom he worked until 1913. In the same year he enunciated what would go down in history as "Moseley's law", the result of his experiments in the field of X-ray spectroscopy. With the outbreak of World War I, Moseley entered the armed forces and lost his life in the battle of Gallipoli on 10 August 1915.

(For more information: J. L. Heilbron (editor), H. G. J. Moseley: the life and letters of an English physicist, 1887-1915, University of California Press Berkeley and Los Angeles, California, 1974).


Albert Einstein

He was born in Ulm in 1879. He spent his childhood in Munich and in Italy, then moved with his family to Switzerland. In 1900 he received a degree and obtained certification to teach mathematics and physics, and in 1905 he obtained a doctorate. Four years later Einstein obtained his first academic position at the University of Zurich, where he worked until 1914, when he moved to Berlin to become a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences, director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institut, and professor. Two years after moving to Berlin, he published “The fundamentals of the general theory of relativity”, the result of ten years of study. This work was considered by Einstein himself as his greatest scientific contribution and included his research aimed to geometrise physics. Due to a solar eclipse in 1919, Einstein’s theories found some confirmation and their fame was also affirmed outside of the academic and scientific world. In 1921 he received the Nobel Prize for physics.

Despite the increasing climate of tension and increasingly widespread anti-Semitic ideas, Einstein remained in Berlin until 1933, the year he moved to Princeton, where he remained for the rest of his life. With the outbreak of World War II, the physicist became actively involved in the United States war effort, contributing to the construction of the atomic bomb. Despite his efforts during the war, after 1945 Einstein took a firm stand against the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

In the last years of his life, he was dedicated to research the unification of gravity and electromagnetism. In 1950 he published the results of his research in the journal Scientific American.

On 17 April 1955, Einstein suffered from an aneurysm of the abdominal aorta; he died in the emergency room in the early hours of the morning of 18 April. The scientist had arranged for his body to be donated for science. The pathologist in charge of performing the autopsy removed his brain and kept it in a jar hidden in his own room for approximately 30 years. After the return of the brain, the physicist’s descendants agreed for it to be divided in several parts and donated to important researchers, the largest part being kept in Princeton.

(For more information: A. Pais, Einstein è vissuto qui, Bollati Boringhieri, Torino, 1994; Id. La scienza e la vita di Albert Einstein, Bollati Boringhieri, Torino, 1986)


Karl Schwarzschild

An important mathematician, astronomer and astrophysicist, he was born in Frankfurt am Mein on 9 October 1873. In 1893 he obtained a degree in astronomy at the University of Strasburg and in 1896 obtained his doctorate from the University of Munich. In the following three years he worked in Vienna as an assistant at the Kuffner Observatory. In 1901, he obtained the post of Director of the Astronomic Observatory of Göttingen. In these years Schwarzschild entered into contact with many scientists, such as David Hilbert and Hermann Minkowski. This is the period in which his research led him to discover what became famous as “the Schwarzschild effect,” a photometric method used even now to identify and photograph even the most distant stars. Following his scientific successes, he became Director of the Astrophysics Observatory of Potsdam. In 1915 Albert Einstein discovered the field equations of general relativity: after their publication by the Prussian School of the Sciences, Schwarzschild sent Einstein an article containing the solution of an earlier equation. It was 16 January 1916.

After the outbreak of World War I Schwarzschild enlisted as a volunteer; in the first months of war he was stationed in occupied Belgium, but in 1916 he was sent to the Eastern Front. After a few weeks in the trenches he became seriously ill, and was transferred to Potsdam where he died on 11 May 1916.

(For more information: The Abraham Zelmanov Journal. The Journal for General Relativity, Gravitation and Cosmology, Vol. 1, 2008.)