Did Albert Einstein steal the Theory of Relativity from his wife? That’s a bold claim, but some scholars believe that the true genius behind Einstein’s theories of light, space, and time may have been his first wife.
The assertion is based primarily on a collection of recently published letters between Einstein and his first wife, Mileva Einstein-Maric. Maric was a well-educated mathematician and physicist who was familiar with her husband’s work—and might have been a significant contributor to it. Of course, traditional Einstein scholars quickly dismiss this claim, calling it “pure fantasy.”
“She may have been a sounding board for his ideas, but she was not a collaborator,” John Stachel, director of the Center for Einstein Studies at Boston University, says.
Still, Evan Harris Walker, a research physicist at the United States Army Ballistic Research Laboratory, is determined to campaign on Maric’s behalf. To support his claims, he highlights key phrased from correspondence between Einstein and his former wife in the years before he published his three papers in 1905. One of the papers concerned light and energy—an area Maric had a background in. Einstein ultimately won the Nobel Prize for it.
“How happy and proud I will be when the two of us together will have brought our work on the relative motion to a victorious conclusion,” Einstein wrote to Maric in 1901. Before 1903, there are more than 10 other instances when Einstein and Maric refer to “our work” or to their collaboration.
Maric and Einstein were married for 15 years, beginning in 1904. Upon their divorce, Einstein and Maric agreed that she would receive the proceeds of any Nobel Prize he might win. Per the agreement, Einstein handed her the proceeds in 1921.
“My point is to say that the king had no clothes,” Dr. Walker notes. “I’m not saying that Albert didn’t do anything, but because [Maric] was older and was initially the leader, she was probably the source of some of the ideas.”
Senta Troemel-Ploetz, a research linguist at the German Research Society in Bonn, supports Mr. Walker’s interpretation. Troemel-Ploetz notes that the original manuscripts of Einstein’s 1905 papers had Miss Maric’s name listed as a co-author. A Russian physicist named Abram Joffe saw the originals and was quoted in a little-known book written more than 30 years ago. The original manuscript has been lost, and the papers were eventually published with Einstein’s name alone.
Still, Stachel is not convinced.
“It is based on a story for which there is no other evidence,” he argues. He dismisses the letters by arguing that they were written by “a young man, deeply in love, who relaxed his own ego boundaries to include Maric within them.” He also notes that in more than a dozen instances, Einstein refers to the work as his own in the letters.
With so little concrete evidence, it’s nearly impossible to conclude whether Maric was involved one way or the other. But if new evidence is brought to the table, it will be important to give Maric the credit she is due.
Source: Forbes, New York Times, Inverse