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Albert Einstein spent 7 years of his adult life trying to improve home refrigeration technology, he invented a refrigerator with no moving parts

Stefan Andrews

The German-born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein is widely recognized for developing the general theory of relativity; there is no school textbook about physics which would not mention his E = mc2 formula; moreover, the overall work he delivered, made the pivotal step in the evolution of quantum theory.

It is quite hard to imagine then that one of the greatest minds in science that humanity has ever seen, actually dealt with problems like inventing better refrigerators. But it’s true, you can also add that one onto the list of Einstein’s accomplishments.

Albert Einstein during a lecture in Vienna in 1921, photo credit

The Einstein-Szilard refrigerator, also known as the Einstein refrigerator, was an absorption refrigerator that does not have any moving parts; it operates at constant pressure and requires only a heat source to function.

Einstein worked on the invention along with his former student Leo Szilard from 1926 until 1933.

Szilard was of Jewish-Hungarian prominence, and the absorption refrigerator was also not his major lifetime’s achievement, though he patented the invention in the US in 1930.

What’s more significant in Szilard’s career is that he conceived the nuclear chain reaction in 1933, the process that releases several million times more energy per reaction than any other chemical reaction.


Einstein’s and Szilárd’s patent application

Aside from patenting the idea of the refrigerator, Leo Szilard also patented the idea of the nuclear reactor, along with Enrico Fermi, and in late 1939, wrote the letter for Einstein’s signature, eventually leading to the Manhattan Project and the building of the first atomic bomb.

Clarified and annotated version of original Einstein Refrigerator drawing with colors showing phases

The Einstein-Szilard refrigerator came out as an alternative design to the original invention of 1922 by Swedish inventors Baltazar von Platen and Carl Munters. Einstein and Szilard took on the challenge to improve home refrigeration technology after they learned about a Berlin-based family who had been killed after a seal in their refrigerator failed and leaked toxic fumes into their home.

Some evidence even suggests that the majority of the invention work was done by Szilard and that Einstein only acted out as an adviser, helping with the patent-related paperwork as he already had a lot of experience from his days at the Swiss Patent Office.

Physicist Leo Szilard. Probably circa 1960, Credit: DOE Photo

The Einstien-Szilard refrigerator was not put into commercial production at once; there were dozens of patents they released and the most promising one was purchased by the Swedish company Electrolux.

Read another story from us: Five inventions that have revolutionised the world

The same company was already selling the gas absorption refrigerators invented by Carl Georg Munters and Baltazar von Platen.