Photographer's Note


Founded in 1930-'31 by the Bamberger family (of the department store fame), the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, has been one of the great think tanks of America. Abraham Flexner, who had earlier been a driving force in elevating the Johns Hopkins University Medical Center into a preeminent institution, was visiting the University of Oxford in the late 1920s. Oxford is a federation of thirty-odd colleges, and Flexner had come upon one college—All Souls (founded in the fifteenth century)—that had scholars but no students. He was impressed by the notion that cutting-edge scholarship could be carried out by scholars who were unencumbered by the need to teach classes, hold office-hours, and otherwise perform routine academic tasks. Upon his return to the United States Flexner convinced the Bambergers of the benefits of establishing a similar institution in America. The Bambergers became enthusiastic, granting Flexner five million dollars for the enterprise and purchasing seven hundred acres of choice Princeton landscape.

Flexner was appointed the first director of the Institute, and one of his initial projects would be to try to recruit Albert Einstein, recognized already as the most famous living scientist. Flexner immediately journeyed back to Oxford, where he found Einstein “hanging out between jobs,” and offered him a position at the new institution. Einstein responded that he “had offers from Princeton University, Oxford University and Caltech to join their faculties, but was still undecided.” He added, “however, [he] was leaning toward the offer from Princeton University.” (Princeton was the first academic institution to accept relativity.) “But then,” he asked, “at your place (also to be located in the town of Princeton) I would not have to teach?” Assured that he would have no classes (Einstein was a notoriously poor lecturer), he accepted the job. Then the question of salary became an issue. “How much do you think you would require for a salary?” Flexner asked. Einstein, with his considerable mathematical prowess, answered, “Three thousand dollars a year would be just right.” “That cannot be,” countered Flexner, “we are paying everyone else $16,000. We should pay you at least as much.” Einstein protested, “$3000 would be satisfactory.” Flexner, reluctantly agreed to pay Einstein only $3,000 a year. But fortunately for the Einstein family, Mrs. Einstein renegotiated, and Einstein started receiving the standard $16,000.

As a theoretical physicist I’ve had several stints at the Institute for Advanced Study, beginning in 1974, nineteen years after Einstein had passed away in 1955. I even had an office one summer located next to the one Albert Einstein had used. When I had an especially difficult problem, I would put my head against the wall, but there was no help. The vibrations had long since attenuated. Nonetheless, the place was one of inspiration.

I shot the photo in 1986, using a Nikon F camera loaded with Kodachrome 25 slide film, and only recently scanned it for posting on TE.

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Additional Photos by Bulent Atalay (batalay) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 6774 W: 470 N: 12149] (41261)
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