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Funkstown – Oppenheimer and Foggy Bottom’s Einstein

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

By Frank Leone

This summer’s hit film Oppenheimer gives us an excuse to talk about not only Edward Teller, but also about one of our favorite D.C. statues – Albert Einstein. His oversized sculpture sits in an elm and holly grove on the grounds of the National Academy of Sciences (2101 Constitution Ave). The classical NAS building was constructed in 1924 and the statue was unveiled in 1979. The statue was sculpted by Robert Berks, who also created the portrait bust of John F. Kennedy in the lobby of the Kennedy Center (also in Foggy Bottom) and the Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial in Lincoln Park (D.C.).

Einstein statue, NAS (F. Leone, May 2021)

Einstein (1877-1955), a theoretical physicist is acknowledged as the greatest scientist of the twentieth century. He revolutionized scientific thought with new theories of space, time, mass, motion, and gravitation. Born in Ulm, Germany, he was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics for a paper suggesting that light be thought of as discrete packets, or quanta, of energy particles. He later formulated his special theory of relativity, containing the equation E = mc2. This equation, which showed that energy and matter are interchangeable, provided the key to the development of atomic energy. When Hitler and the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, Einstein emigrated to the United States. He became a U.S. citizen in 1940.

The bronze figure of an approachable, relaxed, seated Einstein, weighing approximately 4 tons, is 12 feet in height. In his left hand, he holds a paper with mathematical equations summarizing three of Einstein's most important scientific contributions: the photoelectric effect, the theory of general relativity, and the equivalence of energy and matter. Quotations from Einstein are engraved on the bench where the figure is seated including: “As long as I have any choice in the matter, I shall live only in a country where civil liberty, tolerance, and equality of all citizens before the law prevail.”

The base of the statute features a star map, a 28-foot field of emerald pearl granite embedded with more than 2,700 metal studs representing the planets, sun, moon, stars, and other celestial objects accurately positioned by astronomers from the U.S. Naval Observatory (formerly located in Foggy Bottom) as they were on the dedication date of the statue.

The monument is constructed with seating on each side of the statue and is a popular visitor photo op. The NAS encourages visitors to share your #PhotosWithAlbert.

Sources: National Academy of Sciences, The Einstein Memorial; Smithsonian Art Inventory Catalog, Albert Einstein; NCPC, Albert Einstein; Foggy Bottom History Project.



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