Where would any of us be without Capurnicus? Thanks to his study of planetary movement and radical idea that the Sun, rather than the Earth, is at the center of our solar system, scores of scientists for centuries have been able to build on his groundwork. He essentially restructured man's place in the universe, suggesting that our centrist belief is a mere matter of perspective. Hundreds of years later, Einstein used that perspective to hypothesize that everything, including our place in the universe, is a matter of relativity.
Described as a "natural philosopher" in his day, Newton is considered the grandfather of physics as we know it. Einstein admired the 18th century mathematician so much, he kept a framed portrait of him above his desk, along with pictures of Michael Faraday and James Clark Maxwell. Without Newton's equivalence principle, which basically states that gravitational and inertial mass were equal, Einstein could've never postulated his theory of relativity.
Leibniz's theories of metaphysics seemed completely outlandish in his time. But they laid the foundation for Einstein's theory of time dilation in space. Leibniz essentially posited that every event that has ever taken place and will take place is a frozen entity, because beings across the entire universe experience them at relatively different times. Essentially, Einstein vindicated this radical theory by explaining that the dilation and contraction of time is not merely a matter of perspective, but actually experienced and quantifiable.
The second of Einstein's three favorite theorists, Michael Faraday is best known for his discovery of electromagnetic induction and ultimately field theory. His discoveries in magnetism and electricity proved to the scientific community that all energy is connected, a brave idea that would inspire Einstein's incredible contributions to physics.
James Clerk Maxwell built upon Faraday's ideas by theorizing electromagnetic radiation, which connected electricity, magnetism, and light through energy. On Maxwell's 100th birthday, Einstein described his work as the "most profound and the most fruitful that physics has experienced since the time of Newton."
Mach's critique of Newton's laws of physics heavily influenced Einstein's writings on space and time. However, Mach's reluctance to accept the reality of atoms led to a rift in the scientific community. At the Imperial Science Academy in 1897, Mach dramatically announced, "I don't believe that atoms exist!"It wasn't until Einstein posited that fluctuations of atoms could allow us to measure or identify them that the scientific community began generally accepting atomic theory. Mach retired just three years after Einstein published his findings, and died in his brother's home at 78 years old. Without Mach's and the rest of the scientific community's skepticism, Einstein might not have been driven to prove his theories so meticulously.
Samuel Tolver Preston was known to correspond with many scientists in his day, most notably Charles Darwin in 1880. He was also probably the first to recognize the redundancy in Michael Faraday's explanation of electromagnetic induction in 1885, a small note that became a major cornerstone in Einstein's 1905 papers on special relativity. Still, Preston and Einstein varied in their understanding of relativity since Preston could never seem to let go of classical, more conservative theories of physics.
The 1902 Nobel Prize winner was instrumental in Einstein's teachings, undoubtedly inspiring his understanding of space and time. Lorentz's Transformation Equation explains how the speed of light can be observed independently of its reference frame. Einstein directly references his mentor's findings in his principles of relativity.
This French theoretical physicist was sure there was an inextricable link between mass and energy, but he found multiple paradoxes in concepts of the time. Publishing a short paper in 1905 just months before Einstein's famous theory of relativity, Poincaré couldn't negotiate the non-conservation of mass implied by Lorentz ether theory and Marie Curie's non-conservation of energy in her radium experiments. Einstein's theory of mass-energy equivalence resolved that paradox.
De Pretto is most famous for coming up with an energy formula strikingly similar to Einstein's. Both recognized mass as an integral figure in the energy formula. Einstein was undoubtedly influenced by De Pretto's theories, as he published his theory of relativity papers in 1905, just two years after De Pretto published his own.
A close friend of Einstein's, Max Planck is widely celebrated as the key figure in quantum physics. Planck was among the first to recognize the brilliance of Einstein's 1905 papers, bringing them to the attention of scientists across the globe. The only detail Planck couldn't agree with was Einstein's theory of light photons, which essentially contradicted more classical understandings of light. Thanks to Planck's disapproval, Einstein studied and proved how the surprising behavior of specific heat at low temperatures is another example of accepted hypotheses that defied classical physics, and in 1911, Planck finally accepted that detail in Einstein's papers as theoretically true.
This German-born mathematician was known for using geometrical methods to study mathematical physics and early theories of relativity. As Einstein's professor at the Eidgenössische Polytechnikum, Minkowski eventually showed how his student's theory of relativity could be applied to an understanding of 4-dimensional space-time, a topic that remains mysterious to physicists even today.
Marie Curie's research on radioactivity caught national attention, as did her historic Nobel Prize win in two categories. Her scientific technique for isolating radioactive isotopes would inform nuclear physicists for years to come, and Einstein's amazement with her knew no bounds. When she was publicly derided for marrying another man after her husband's death, Einstein wrote a letter to her suggesting she ignore the hate, because she's too brilliant to worry about anything but her work.
A peer of Albert himself, Mr. Sutherland published a 1904 paper on Brownian motion and diffusion, subjects that Einstein would focus on one year later during his "Year of Miracles." His research on Brownian motion probably helped Einstein greatly in publishing his two theories on the same topic, which analyze the random movement of particles while suspended in liquid. Many cite Sutherland's and Einstein's research when analyzing the seemingly-random fluctuations in the stock market.