Professor explores perception of Einstein

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Craig McConnell, Ph.D., associate professor of liberal studies at CSUF, will present a lecture on Albert Einstein in Langsdorf Hall Room 321 on Thursday. (Courtesy of Craig McConnell)
Craig McConnell, Ph.D., associate professor of liberal studies at CSUF, will present a lecture on Albert Einstein in Langsdorf Hall Room 321 on Thursday. (Courtesy of Craig McConnell)

A Cal State Fullerton professor will give a lecture Thursday to address the different personas of Albert Einstein.

The lecture will begin at 5:30 p.m. in Langsdorf Hall Room 321.

Craig McConnell, Ph.D., an associate professor of liberal studies, will present “The Nine Lives of Albert Einstein,” an exploration of public perceptions people had of the iconic physicist and how they have survived over time.

McConnell, who is also the director of the Center for the History and Philosophy of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHPSTM), said this exploration is completed by examining various biographies about Einstein.

He said many early biographies were written with help from Einstein and other biographies were written by people who knew and worked with him. There have also been biographies written by people who have had access to Einstein’s papers.

Obscure biographies dating back to the ‘20s and ‘30s often illustrated the public’s fascination with Einstein’s origin and development, according to McConnell.

McConnell said most people automatically recognize Einstein as a genius; it is the first word on people’s minds when his name is uttered. However, Einstein was not always looked at from this perspective.

Einstein has also been seen as a pacifist, a philosopher and a “cuddly avuncular (person) … a guy who was nice to kids,” said McConnell.

He became interested in the subject because of his background knowledge of the history of modern physics and because of his personal interest in Einstein biographies.

The title of his lecture was inspired by Jan Sapp’s “Nine Lives of Gregor Mendel.”

McConnell said he discovered the article during his time in graduate school.

“The first thought I had was, maybe someone ought to write something like that about Einstein. And 15 years later, I decided maybe I better write something,” he said.

He said he hopes his lecture will shed light on how physicists’ personalities affect their work.

“One of the things I think is really important about this is the way we tell stories about Einstein shapes the way we tell stories about every other physicist in the world,” McConnell said. “I think maybe hearing this talk will make people a little more critical of the stories they hear about science and how it gets done and who’s best suited to do it.”

This research is a new project for McConnell. He added that he hopes to eventually turn his work into an article.

Andrea Patterson, a CSUF assistant professor of liberal studies, said McConnell has given talks on Einstein in the past in a different context.

She said McConnell’s other research interests include cosmology from the ‘50s to the ‘70s, science in literature and science in popular culture.

Patterson, who will introduce McConnell at the event, said she is looking forward to hearing what he has to say.

She said the lecture should be interesting for everyone and students from all majors should able to understand what McConnell presents.

“I think this event and events like these sponsored by CHPSTM are so interdisciplinary that they really reach everyone … this talk in particular talks about the popular images, it talks about perceptions, psychology (and) about culture,” said Patterson.

She added that students will be able to find a way to connect with the subject matter, regardless of their majors.

“The Nine Lives of Albert Einstein” will be the eighth lecture in CHPSTM’s colloquium series, which has included multiple interdisciplinary discussions throughout the year.

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