In my ongoing collection of evidence that Mileva either did or did not contribute to Einstein’s theories, I come upon two passages in Highfield and Carter’s The Private Lives of Albert Einstein which would indicate that she did not.
Mileva is in Heidelberg, writing to Albert about a lecture by Phillipp Lenard, professor of experimental physics. Highfield and Carter say this, (complete with British spellings):
“The professor had been describing the kinetic theory of gases, which explains their properties by the behaviour of their constituent molecules. This was just the kind of problem that would be central to much of Einstein’s work in 1905, but Mileva’s account suggests a certain scientific naivity [sic]. She wrote, . . . ‘It seems that oxygen molecules travel at a speed of over 400 metres per second, and after calculating and calculating, the good professor set up equations, differentiated, integrated, substituted and finally showed that the molecules in question actually do move at such a velocity, but that they only travel the distance of 1/100 of a hair’s breadth.’ This irreverent tone is appealing, but it seems that Mileva had missed the key points of what Lenard was saying. The mathematics that apparently dazzled her would not have been directed at determining the velocity of molecules–since this can be obtained quite simply–and the tiny distance they travelled [sic] between collisions should hardly have come as a surprise to her. It depends on how many collisions each molecule experiences with others within a given time interval. Although this was only a light-hearted anecdote, it suggests that Mileva lacked Einstein’s intuitive grasp of physics.” (Highfield, 41-42)
While I am dependent on Mr. Allen Esterson to confirm that Highfield and Carter are correct in their analysis of the math, this kind of evidence–the documentation that she does not have Einstein’s understanding–is much more compelling to me than a statistical analysis of the reliability of witnesses a number of years after the fact.
The second point I find compelling in Highfield and Carter is that when the two were separated–Albert in Milan applying for jobs and Mileva in Zurich studying to resit the exams she had failed, Albert is immensely productive. Again, from Highfield and Carter:
“A great spate of ideas continued to flow out of him in her absence. There was a flash of insight about heat and energy that struck him during the train journey to Italy; fundamental doubts about radiation that arose as he read an article by Max Planck; a ‘wonderful idea’ he had arrived at for applying ‘our theory of molecular forces’ to gases. His mind was in flux as he announced a series of revisions and extensions to his previous views. This creative flow hardly suggested that Mileva’s presence was necessary to his inspiration. ” (Highfield, 70)
Einstein, in one letter goes on to ask her to look up data in the library and suggests some experiments they can conduct together to develop his new notion. (Highfield, 70)
This then seems to be convincing documentation of her contribution. She clearly could understand what he was saying and was able to participate on that level–as someone like his previous love interest, Marie Winteler would not have–but the idea that she did the work seems revisionist.