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Albert Einstein’s Matriculation Examination in Physics 1896
with commentary

Walter Pfeifer retired grammar school teacher of physics at the Alte Kantonsschule Aarau
2004, revised 2008
Dr. Walter Pfeifer: Stapfenackerweg 9, CH 5034 Suhr, Switzerland


On the 19th September, 1896, Albert Einstein took the written matriculation examination in physics. It was held at the Gewerbeschule (Trade School) of the Kantonsschule Aarau, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. (Matura Programm 1896). According to a note of the examiner August Tuchschmid on the exam sheet, Einstein began at 2.30 p.m. and stopped at 3.45 p.m. He wrote the work in the German gothic handwriting, which was common at that time.


Examination Question

Albert Einstein and three other candidates chose the subject "Tangent Galvanometer and Galvanometer". The remaining six examinees handled with "Reflection of Light by Spherical Mirrors".


Examination Paper of Albert Einstein in Physics

(Representation of the translated text and the figures of Albert Einstein)

Albert Einstein


Tangent galvanometer and galvanometer.

Every electric current is surrounded by circular, concentric magnetic lines of force, which lie in planes being perpendicular to the direction of the current path. The magnetic force existing in any point whatever of the surroundings is inversely proportional to the quadrate of the distance to the (rectilinear) conductor; it is directly proportional to the current intensity in the conductor.

This latter proportionality is used to determine the current intensity in a conductor relatively, since in two different measurements the current intensities have the same ratio as the magnetic forces. This is done by means of the tangent galvanometer.     

The arrangement is as follows: To a stand a metallic ring is fastened, the plane of which is vertical and which rotates around a vertical axis. Around it an isolated wire is fixed, which can be connected by two clamp screws with electric power generators. In the centre of the ring a magnetic needle dangles on a very fine thread.




The needle can move free in the horizontal plane. Of course, instead of a magnetic needle, other forms of magnets can be used (e.g. a small mirror of magnetized steel as it is used for the reading by means of telescope and scale). Around the movable magnet there are two copper, movable hulls, which serve for damping its oscillating motions.

            To apply the apparatus, it is put so that the metallic frame lies in the plane of the meridian. If one leads a current through the metallic hoop, two forces act on the poles of the magnetic needle.

     1)    the horizontal component  of the terrestrial magnetic force in the direction of the meridian    

     2)    perpendicularly to it the magnetic force of the current path being proportional to the current intensity , i.e.
equalling (a constant quantity of the instrument).


             The diagonal of the parallelogram of forces represents the resulting magnetic force with regard to magnitude and direction. The needle will take its direction. If we name  the deflection angle (angle of the needle to the magnetic meridian), from the figure follows directly


A second measurement supplies us with an analogue equation :




This is only an excerpt. The whole publication can be ordered from the category order for free in this site.


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