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New Book Conveys Engineering Contributions of Einstein's Son

June 9, 2014
Hans Albert Einstein by Robert Ettema and Cornelia F. Mutel
This book, co-written by University of Wyoming Professor Robert Ettema, offers new insights documented with personal letters and other original materials never before shared outside the Einstein family. (ASCE Photo)

A new book describes Hans Albert Einstein’s pioneering work in the field of river engineering and sheds light on his often tense and complex relationships with his iconic father, Albert, the world’s most famous scientist.

Published by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the book, “Hans Albert Einstein: His Life as a Pioneering Engineer,” was written by Robert Ettema, University of Wyoming professor of civil engineering, and Cornelia F. Mutel, a senior science writer at IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering at the University of Iowa’s College of Engineering. The book offers new insights documented with personal letters and other original materials never before shared outside the Einstein family.

The authors wanted to convey both themes -- Hans Albert’s contributions to river engineering and his relationship to his father -- in a readable format to be enjoyed by not only professional engineers, but by students and the public as well.

The book describes how Hans Albert Einstein was single-minded in his efforts to understand and quantify the relationships between alluvial sediment transport and water flow in rivers. He was, for example, the first to develop a mathematical formulation describing sediment transport in rivers -- a tremendous achievement that, to this day, stands as an important component to understanding river flow dynamics. His work extensively aided major river engineering projects in the United States, including those along the Missouri and Arkansas rivers.

Hans Albert’s life span was a dynamic time in the field of engineering, Ettema says.

“Recall that in the 1930s, with a backdrop of the Nazis’ rise in Germany, we were becoming aware of all the problems that sediment was creating, such as the Dust Bowl years and the consequences of sedimentation resulting from the construction of large dams such as the Hoover Dam,” Ettema says. “There was some remarkable physics contributing to all of this and, after World War II, Hans Albert was the leading engineer in the field.”

Hans Albert’s career was shaped by his early life and formal education in Switzerland, his move to the United States in the 1930s, and growing U.S. concerns about an array of sediment problems.

“The dynamic relationship with his famous father was played out against a backdrop of family quarrels and illness and political tensions,” according to the ASCE. “Though working in different fields of science, both men stood at a scientific frontier. This shared circumstance enriched their relationship.”

For more information and to purchase the book, visit

Ettema served six years as dean of the UW College of Engineering and Applied Science. In addition to research and teaching activities, he extensively consults for agencies and industry, and has served as editor of ASCE's Journal of Hydraulic Engineering.

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