60
EINSTEIN AS PHYSICS STUDENT
EINSTEIN
AS
A
STUDENT
OF PHYSICS,
AND
HIS NOTES ON
H. F.
WEBER'S COURSE
I
Physics
instruction and research
at
the ETH took
place
in
the Institut
für
Physik,
which
was
built
in 1890
and housed
some
of
the
best-equipped
laboratories
in
Europe
for
teaching
and for research
in
physics
and
electrotechnology.[1]
The institute had
two chairs,
one
for Mathematical and Technical
Physics,
held
by
Heinrich Friedrich
Weber,
and the other for
Experimental Physics,
held
by
Jean Pernet
(1845-1902).
Poor attendance earned Einstein the lowest
possible grade
and
a
reprimand
for
"Unfleiss"
in
the
only
course
he
ever
took with
Pernet,
an
introductory
laboratory
course
in
the winter
semester
of 1898-1899
(see
Doc.
28).[2]
Einstein's
relationship
with
Weber,
on
the other
hand,
was quite
good,
at least
initially.
Weber had
given en-
couragement
to
Einstein after the
failure
of
his first
attempt
to enter
the ETH
in
1895;[3]
once
he
did become
a
student
there,
Einstein
registered
for
all
of
Weber's
lecture and
laboratory
courses
that
he
could
take, receiving high
marks in those
that
were
graded
(see
Doc.
28).
Weber
was
considered
an
outstanding lecturer,
whose
elegant
and
precise
style
impressed
his listeners.[4]
During
his
second
year
at
the
ETH,
Einstein took
Weber's
two-semester
physics course,
which consisted of four hours of lectures and
one
hour
of
review
sessions
(Repetitorien) per
week.[5]
He
was
evidently impressed;
in
a
letter
to
Maric
he wrote:
"Weber
las
über die Wärme
...
mit
großer
Meisterschaft. Ich
freue
mich
bei
ihm
von
einem
Kolleg
aufs
andere"
(Doc.
39).
Despite
his
enthusiasm for Weber's
lectures,
Einstein
was
disappointed
by
the
neglect
of
contemporary topics,
such
as
Maxwell's
theory,
in
his ETH
courses.[6] As
a
result,
Einstein
stopped attending many
lectures: "So
lernte ich allmählich mit einem
einigermaßen
schlechten Gewissen
in
Frieden
zu
leben und mir das Studium
so
einzurichten, wie
es
meinem intellektuellen
Magen
und meinen Interessen
entsprach.
[1]
Descriptions
of the institute and of
its
laboratories include
Oechsli
1905, p. 346,
and
Ganz
et
al.
1905,
pp.
336-339. McCormmach
1976,
p.
xvi,
cites
an
enthusiastic
contempo-
rary
account
of the laboratories
by a
visiting
American
physicist.
[2]
Several
anecdotes
attest to
Einstein's
dif-
ficulties
with Pernet.
See, e.g.,
Joseph
Sauter
to
Carl
Seelig,
28
February
1952
(SzZE
Biblio-
thek,
Hs
304:
965),
and
Seelig 1960, p.
65.
[3] Einstein
1955,
pp.
145-146.
[4]
"Sein
gleichzeitig eleganter
und
präziser
Vortrag
übte auf
alle,
die ihn
genossen
hatten,
einen
unvergesslichen
Eindruck
aus.
Für
einen,
der
bei
Weber
gehört hatte,
war
die
Physik Gegenstand
einer
Offenbarung"
(Weiss
1912,
p.
50).
Einstein himself
later
remembered:
"Ich schätzte Weber sehr
als
begabten
Lehrer,
der das Wesentliche
gab
unter
ökonomischer
Beschränkung
der
Mannigfaltigkeit" (Einstein
to
Walter
Leich,
24
April 1950).
[5]
Einstein
received
grades
of
51/2
for
the
first semester
and
5
for the
second,
6
being
the
highest grade
(see
Doc.
28).
[6]
Kollros
1955,
p.
170.
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