Einstein — Genius or Thief?

What contribution did Mileva Maric make to Einstein’s work?

The idea that a female helped write Einstein’s papers has been growing in strength. It is a concept that some of the greatest minds today find hard to contemplate.

Recently, I read The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict and it made me think. I know the book is a novel and many parts are not factual. However, there was enough for me to research further.

Mileva Maric was the first wife of Albert Einstein. It is suggested she was a contributory writer for some of his biggest theories. Did Einstein plagiarise his wife’s work to reach success?

Who is Mileva Maric?

Maric was a Serbian physicist and mathematician. She was also the only woman at the Zurich Polytechnic, the same year as Einstein. She was only the fifth woman ever to be accepted to the Mathematics and Physics department.

As a child, she showed an exceptional talent for her studies, especially mathematics. Due to her high intellect, she was granted special permission to enter the Royal Classical School in Zagreb, an all-male school. When she qualified to enter the Zurich Polytechnic, she moved to the city, a woman on her own, in a man’s world.

She entered Einstein’s class and fell for him. Love letters of the time sent between the two, show the intense relationship they had. She went on to have his first child out of wedlock. A girl named Lieserl. Mystery surrounds what became of this child, some say she died of Scarlet Fever, some that she was adopted. After marriage, the couple went on to have two sons, Hans Albert and Educard. The couple divorced in 1919.

Did Maric Contribute?

Whilst studying in Zurich, Maric took a term off to study in Heidelberg. In a letter dated 20th October 1897, she wrote about her fascination with the relationship between the velocity of a molecule and the distance between them. This topic is very relevant to Einstein’s studies of Brownian motion. One of the three papers he published in 1905.

Questions are raised on whether Maric helped Einstein write the four papers, he published in Annalen der Physik. The fourth of these papers was the basis of his Theory of Relativity. Within the articles, Einstein pays credit to his friends from the Olympic Academy. This was a small group of forward-thinking minds that met regularly to debate and discuss theories. Along with Einstein, Mileva Maric is mentioned as a member of this Academy.

The Evidence

There are many minds, in recent times, that have debated the contribution that Maric had on the theories. It is clear, that at the time, theories from a man would be better received than from a woman. Especially a woman who failed to graduate. Maric was pregnant during her finals and failed to reach the academic achievement she should have. Even though in previous years she had scores equal to Einstein.

A recent documentary, claims to have uncovered an original copy of The Theory of Relativity. The paper is signed by both Einstein and Marity. Is Marity a misspelling of Maric? If it isn’t, no other person by this name has ever been identified. Abraham Joffe, alumni of Zurich Polytechnic Institute, claims to have also viewed this original.

Letters exist between Maric and a Serbian friend where she claims that they had just finished important work, that would make her husband famous.

John Stachel, a well-known physicist, argues the letters, that refer to this collaboration, were written during Einstein’s student days. Long before the papers were published. He also argues that Einstein rarely used the pronoun ‘I’ instead of preferring ‘our’ when speaking. This he claims is proof that Maric had nothing to do with the theories.

Stachel went on to suggest that letters from Marić survive that directly respond to those from Einstein. When he speaks of his latest ideas, she gives no response at all. Her letters, only contain personal matters or comments related to her Polytechnic coursework.

Stachel writes“In her case, we have no published papers, no letters with serious scientific content, either to Einstein or to anyone else; nor any objective evidence of her supposed creative talents. We do not even have hearsay accounts of conversations she had with anyone else that has a specific, scientific content, let alone claiming to report her ideas.”

In contrast to Stachel’s view, both Maric’s eldest son and relatives remember her working on papers with her husband.

One of the biggest clues to the claims may be that Einstein put all the money he made from his Nobel Prize in a fund for Maric and his two sons. Was he a father providing for his family or was he paying due to a co-author?

Whether Maric, contributed to some of Einstein’s theories remains to be proven. Einstein was a genius in his own right. Whether he refused to acknowledge his wife’s contribution or not, does not make him a thief. It may be that his wife inspired him, through their lively dinner conversations. The papers that have been left, by both parties, are compulsive reading.

The major issue remains, that Mileva Maric, has been eliminated from history. Very few people know the name of one of the most amazing female physicians of her time.