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Max Planck Biography

Max Planck and Albert Einstein
Max Planck Biography

Max Planck was the first scientist to suggest the quantum mechanical theory of a quanta of energy in his research about BlackBody Radiation. He also is remembered by the quantum amount of energy, Planck's Constant.

Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck is considered to be the founder of quantum mechanics and is well known in science for his many outstanding achievements. Max Planck was born in Kiel, Germany, on April 23, 1858 to a Professor of Constitutional Law and his second wife. Planck's early life was traditional for the time, with 5 younger siblings. He had an interest in music, mathematics, astronomy and mechanics in school, graduating early when he was just 16 years old. He learned to sing and play the piano, organ and cello, which could have lead to a life as a musician. Instead, he chose to study physics, against the advice of a professor Philipp von Jolly who suggested that physicists of the day had already discovered everything of importance.

Being at the University of Munich in 1874, Max Planck performed just a few experiments before switching to studying theoretical physics. In 1877, he traveled to Berlin to study under Gustav Kirchoff, Karl Weierstrass and the famous physicist Hermann von Helmholtz. He ended up becoming interested in the theoretical field of thermodynamics.

In 1879 Max Planck finished his dissertation, Über den zweiten Hauptsatz der mechanischen Wärmetheorie (on the second fundamental theorem of the mechanical heat theory), and received his doctorate of philosophy.

He was Privatdozent in Munich from 1880 to 1885, then Associate Professor of Theoretical Physics at Kiel until 1889, in which year he succeeded Kirchhoff as Professor at Berlin University, where he remained until his retirement in 1926.

Max Planck's Career

Max Planck's career started off slowly. He spent his time waiting in Munich for an academic position as a Privatdozent or free speaker. The University of Keil hired him to the post of Associate Professor of Theoretical Physics in 1885 where we proposed a thermodynamic explanation for electrolytic dissociation explaining the equilibrium states of an isotropic body at different temperatures. Several years later he took a professorship position, replacing Kirchhoff at the University of Berlin . There he became a full professor in 1892. In 1926, Planck retired, being replaced by Erwin Schrodinger.

Family

In March 1887, Max Planck married Marie Merck a fellow student's sister and moved in with her in Kiev. They had 5 children, Karl, Emma, Grete, and Erwin before Marie died in 1909. A couple of years later Planck married Marga von Hoesslin and had another son Herrmann soon after. His son Karl died in action in WWI and Erwin was taken prisoner by the French. Grete died in 1917 during childbirth. In 1945, Erwin was executed by the Nazis due to his participation in a failed attempt to assassinate Hitler.

Max Planck's Research

Max Planck was a member of the local Physical Society and taught Theoretical Physics. During his early years, he researched entropy, later turning his attention to the problem of black-body radiation. His theory on the black body radiation phenomenon, was an explanation and prediction of the color of a solid when it goes from red hot to orange, yellow and finally white hot.

His solution, although amazingly accurate, was quite unique in that it did not fully support conventional thinking. He theorized correctly that the radiation was electromagnetic in nature. Controversially, he suggested that the energy was not radiated in a continuously variable amount, but instead in discrete quanta of energy now understood as photons. Stated another way, Planck found that energy could only be radiated in whole blocks of energy that we'll call quanta. It was impossible for 1/2 or 2 1/4 quantas of energy to be radiated, but only whole numbers of quantas of energy. The amount of energy in one quanta of energy is related to a constant known as "Plank's Constant."

Only through working closely with Albert Einstein, and the other prominent physicists over the years was the field of quantum physics born.

WWI

Although he supported his nation at first by signing the "Manifesto of the 93 intellectuals," a war propaganda pamphlet, he changed his mind and signed a declaration against German annexionism in 1916.

In the years between the wars when Planck became a premier physicist in Germany, he tried to help his fellow scientists while avoiding political intrigue. He even asked his fellow scientists to "persevere and continue working," a slogan that was popularized. In 1920, he co-founded with Fritz Haber the Notgemeinschaft der Deutschen Wissenschaft, an emergency organization of German science with the goal of supporting destitute German scientists.

As time went by, Max Planck was elevated to leading positions at the Berlin University, the Prussian Academy of Sciences, the German Physical Society and the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft or KWG which took more and more time away from his research. He also became a member of the German People's Party or Deutsche Volks-Partei. This activity let him play a significant role in the development of the new field of quantum mechanics and wave mechanics, although he was frustrated by opposing scientists who would not accept the new field, once saying: "A new scientific truth does not establish itself by its enemies being convinced and expressing their change of opinion, but rather by its enemies gradually dying out and the younger generation being taught the truth from the beginning."

Read more about Max Planck.


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