Image of the Albert Einstein Memorial in D.C.

His genius will rub off on you

Melinda Gormley
Dec 15, 2015

“If you rub his nose some of his genius will rub off on you.”

“Have you?” I asked before taking a sip of my overly salty margarita.

“I’ve been told to before I defend the dissertation,” Frazier said barely speaking loud enough to be heard over the din of happy hour, “but I haven’t yet.”

I could hear the Minnesotan in her voice. “You’ve got a week.”

“Yeah, I should probably make my way there soon.” I could tell she wouldn’t.

I asked Frazier for directions before we said goodbye. I was headed to rub Albert Einstein’s nose.


I climbed into Einstein’s lap because I was too short, even on tippy-toes, to rub his nose. At 21 feet and 7,000 pounds the memorial is huge, much larger than I expected. It took ten months and 25 crew members to weld together the 19 pieces of bronze. The sculpture has the appearance of rough tree bark. It is brownish-grey and bumpy.

As I sat on Einstein’s lap I heard a deep voice say, “She’s writing something,” and looked up to see a man and woman approaching. “What is on his papers?,” a middle-aged man in glasses, a blue collared shirt, and jeans asked me.

Thankfully, I had just finished reading the plaques and knew what Einstein held in his left hand. “His three most important contributions to science – the equations for the photoelectric effect, theory of general relativity, and the equivalence of mass and energy,” I rattled off while thinking how much the equations looked like an eye exam chart.

“He looks sad,” his mother remarked with what sounded like an Irish lilt. Her hair was pulled back in a messy pony tail and I found myself turning away from her to see if the Einstein sculpture depicted him with his trademark wild hair. It did and I noticed the lines on his brow and the sadness in his downcast eyes.

“Perhaps he’s depicted that way to show you his other sides, his concerns.” The son paused. “It makes you wonder why he’s sad. It makes me want to learn more about him.”

Einstein’s sadness could have been a number of things. He was forced out of Germany in 1933 by Hitler and the Nazis. He was a pacifist and the world was at war. He, like many, feared that Germany might win the war. He signed a letter urging President Roosevelt to support research that led to the Manhattan Project and the development of nuclear weapons.

“How could someone so smart abandon his children?” she said. “You know that he had a relationship with a woman who was a mathematician. She was a mathematician and he the physicist. They worked together on some of his problems. They married. They had kids. He abandoned them.”

It was now dark. Crickets chirped. A car on Constitution Avenue honked.


“You can see his toes,” a man with a Nikon in hand and strapped to his neck said before preparing to take some shots. As he did, the woman with him walked closer. “Oh, you can! He’s in sandals.”

“If you rub his nose some of his genius will rub off on you,” I offered.

“Is that why it’s so shiny?” said the woman after lowering her point and shoot. “I’ll rub it. I need all the help that I can get.”

I had been distracted but I wouldn’t be derailed. I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity. As they left I climbed back onto Einstein’s lap and reached up my hand to rub Einstein’s nose.


(His Genius Will Rub Off On You describes events on the evening of October 4, 2012 in Washington DC at the Einstein Memorial.) 

Image Courtesy of Public Domain Photo via


Melinda Gormley

Melinda Gormley is Research Development Officer of the Francisco J. Ayala School of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. She has a PhD in history of science and her work has focused on the role of scientists in public policy and life sciences in 20th century America. She was a 2015-2016 AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow with the Environmental Protection Agency working in the Office of the Science Advisor and contributing to the Scientific Integrity and Human Subjects Research programs. 



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