Just steps away from the Vietnam Memorial, Federal Reserve and State Department, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has some of the most respectable real estate in Washington, D.C. It also has one of the District’s most beloved statues, unveiled in 1979 to celebrate the 100th birthday of Albert Einstein.
The statue is triple-sized, cast in bronze, and oh so inviting to sit on. Created by sculptor Robert Berks, the head is modeled on a bust that the artist sculpted at the scientist’s home in Princeton in the 1950s. The giant bronze genius is relaxed, holding a tablet that sketches out three of his most important scientific contributions: the photoelectric effect, the theory of general relativity, and the equivalence of energy and matter.
Einstein was elected to the NAS in 1922, a year after he won the Nobel Prize in physics. His citizenship at the time is a little complicated (he was naturalized Swiss but German-born, and also claimed by the Weimar Republic), and since only U.S. citizens can be elected as full members, he entered as a “Foreign Associate.” In 1940 he became a citizen of the United States, and two years later was elected as a full member, serving the NAS mission until his death in 1955.
The NAS is a private, nonprofit organization of scientists, engineers, and doctors, created to provide “independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology.” It’s fitting that it is also within sight of the Lincoln Memorial—the agency was created by Congress in the middle of the Civil War, in an act signed by President Lincoln himself.
Rumor has it if you rub Einstein’s nose some of his genius will rub off on you.