Gullstrand’s Schematic Einstein

Many of us will recall learning about Gullstrand’s Schematic Eye in graduate school – a model for identifying the refractive properties of the various parts of the eye.


Swedish born, and writing mostly in Swedish and German, Allvar Gullstrand’s work on the dioptrics of the eye was widely recognized and praised, earning him the Nobel Prize in 1911.  Gullstrand’s many contributions to ophthalmoscopy and biomicroscopy are detailed in an historical paper in Acta Ophthalmologica.  What you didn’t learn in school was that Gullstrand was a member of the Nobel Committee for Physics, who argued vigorously against Einstein receiving the Nobel Prize.

A new book covers the controversy over Gullstrand’s rejection of Einstein’s theories in significant detail.


In Einstein: His Space and Time, author Steve Gimbel details the overwhelming chorus of physicists, including Max Planck, who lobbied hard for Einstein to receive the Nobel Prize for his Theory of Relativity and for his work on the Photoelectric Effect that paved the way for quantum mechanics.  The pressure grew so intense in 1921 that the Swedish Academy of Sciences decided to form a special task force to examine “The Einstein Question”.  The report on Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was written by Gullstrand, who asserted that the theory was a passing fad without scientific substance that would soon be forgotten.  Gullstrand dug his heels in, insisting that the Theory of Relativity was incomplete and had merely caught the public’s fancy, and it was not until the following year that the Committee agreed to award Einstein the Nobel Prize, but only for the Photoelectric Effect and not for the Therory of Relativity.

Transcendence, a new play, supports the perception that Gullstrand was scheming against Einstein.  Whatever the truth, there is apparently much more going on behind the scenes in scientific discovery than meets the eye.

3 thoughts on “Gullstrand’s Schematic Einstein

  1. Thank you, I didn’t know that!
    I’ve always wondered why Einstein didn’t win the Nobel for his Theory of Relativity, although any of the six papers he published during his Annus Mirabilis (1905) could have earned him the prize!
    The truth is, he needed the money he had promised his ex wife in exchange for freedom 🙂

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