Einstein wins 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics, November 9, 1922

-November 09, 2016

Albert Einstein, born March 14, 1879, in Ulm, Germany, was one of the most well-known and influential physicists of the 20th century. On November 9, 1922, he was named the winner of the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics "for his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect."

The photoelectric effect is a phenomenon in which electrons are emitted from the surface of matter (usually metals) when light shines on it. Einstein explained the effect by proposing that light consists of small particles, or quanta, called photons, which carry energy that is proportional to the frequency of light. The electrons in the matter that absorb the energy of the photon get ejected. He published these findings in 1905 in the paper "On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light." Einstein's observations that the photoelectric effect could be explained only if light behaves like a particle, not a wave, was instrumental in establishing the hypothesis that light can behave both like a wave and a particle.

The photoelectric effect is the basis for photosynthesis. It also forms the basis for a variety of devices such as photodiodes, which are used in light detection within fiber optics, telecommunications networks, solar cells, imaging, and many other applications.

An interesting note: Records show the Nobel Prize Awarding Institution, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, decided to reserve the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921, and therefore awarded no Physics prize that year. According to the statutes, a reserved prize can be awarded the year after, and Albert Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize for 1921 one year later, in 1922.

Einstein was unable to attend the December 10 Nobel Prize Award Ceremony in Stockholm. He presented his Nobel speech on July 11, 1923, in Gothenburg.

Einstein died on April 18, 1955, in Princeton, NJ.

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Editor's note: This article was originally posted on November 9, 2012 and edited on November 9, 2016.

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