1905: the annus mirabilis

Texts by Dr. Antonio Moreno González

Max Born (1882-1970), one of the leading figures behind quantum mechanics, wrote in Volume 17 of Annalen der Physik in which three of Albert Einstein's famous articles were published: "This is one of the most remarkable volumes in scientific literature". These articles which, together with Planck's theories, helped show the way out of the predicament of fin-de-siècle physics, were:

  • "On a Heuristic Point of View Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light", which introduced the theory of the photon or light quantum.
  • "On the movement of small particles suspended in stationary liquids required by the molecular-kinetic theory of heat", related to Brownian movement, which provided sufficient arguments to leave the atomic theory of matter definitively settled.
  • "On the electrodynamics of moving bodies", where he established the bases for the special theory of relativity.

Another article was published the same year, in Vol. 18:

  • "Does the inertia of a body depend on its energy content?", in which he devised the formula which would later come to be written as E = mc2 .

And finally, in 1906, two other articles were published, complementing the ones Einstein had published in Annalen in 1905:      

  • "A new determination of molecular dimensions"
  • "On the theory of Brownian motion"

The impact these articles have had on the subsequent course of physics amply justify the fact that 1905 is referred to as Einstein's "annus mirabilis". At the time, this 26-year old was, to use his own term, a "venerable federal penpusher", working as a third-class technical expert assistant at the patent office in Berne, with a yearly salary of 3500 francs, enough to allow him to live decorously but without excesses. Until he got the job, the Einsteins (he had married his fellow student at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule in Zurich, Mileva Maric (1875-1948) lived off the income they gained by giving private classes.


 Patent Office in Bern