Albert Einstein—Refrigerator Technician?

Asis Kumar Chaudhuri has delved into the great theorist’s less successful life as an engineer

3 min read
Photo of a rebuilt version of Einstein and Szilard’s 1920s refrigerator.
Cold Start: In 2005, a group at the Carl von Ossietzky University presented a rebuilt version of Einstein and Szilard’s 1920s refrigerator.
Photo: Ingo Wagner/dpa/AP

Albert Einstein is a legend for his breakthroughs in theoretical physics, but sometimes even the most abstract theorists have a practical side. In collaboration with other scientists and technologists throughout his career, Einstein also filed patents and promoted practical inventions that included a refrigerator, a hearing aid, and a camera.

One retired research scientist has taken a particular interest in Einstein’s forays into engineering: Asis Kumar Chaudhuri, who had worked at the Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre, in Kolkata, India. He’s not the first to note Einstein’s rather mixed record as an inventor, and Chaudhuri acknowledges that none of Einstein’s contributions to technology ranks with E = mc2, but he believes the man’s brilliance—and humanity—still shines through and his inventions deserve to be remembered.

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From WinZips to Cat GIFs, Jacob Ziv’s Algorithms Have Powered Decades of Compression

The lossless-compression pioneer received the 2021 IEEE Medal of Honor

11 min read
Photo of Jacob Ziv
Photo: Rami Shlush

Lossless data compression seems a bit like a magic trick. Its cousin, lossy compression, is easier to comprehend. Lossy algorithms are used to get music into the popular MP3 format and turn a digital image into a standard JPEG file. They do this by selectively removing bits, taking what scientists know about the way we see and hear to determine which bits we'd least miss. But no one can make the case that the resulting file is a perfect replica of the original.

Not so with lossless data compression. Bits do disappear, making the data file dramatically smaller and thus easier to store and transmit. The important difference is that the bits reappear on command. It's as if the bits are rabbits in a magician's act, disappearing and then reappearing from inside a hat at the wave of a wand.

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