Max Planck: biography
Max Planck was one of the leaders in the German scientific circles for a long time; he is known as a creator of quantum theory and the founder of modern quantum physics. Planck also studied thermodynamics, the theory of quanta, and thermal radiation. The man was one of the few who dared advocate the Jewish when the Nazi ideas invaded Germany; he was loyal to science until his last days and worked as much as his health allowed him.
Childhood and youth
Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck was born on April 23, 1858, in Kiel. The future researcher’s ancestors were noble; the great-grandfather Gottlieb Jakob Planck and grandfather Heinrich Ludwig Planck taught theology at The University of Göttingen.
The boy’s father, Wilhelm Planck, worked as a lawyer and professor of law at The University of Kiel; he had two children in the first marriage. Max’s mother, Emma Patzig, was his second wife; they had five kids together. Emma came from a pastor’s family and lived in Greifswald before she met her future husband.
Max Planck lived in Kiel until he turned ten. In 1867, the father was invited to The University of Munich, and the family moved to the capital of Bavaria. The boy attended the Maximilians gymnasium school and topped the class soon thanks to his brilliant academic performance.
The teacher of mathematic Hermann Müller impressed young Planck greatly; he taught the would-be Nobel prize winner what the energy conservation law was about. Max’s mathematical talents were excellent, and studies strengthened his interest in science, particularly, laws of nature.
The boy was also fond of music and sang in a boys’ choir; he played several musical instruments and loved the grand piano. The theory of music occupied his mind for some time; he tried himself as a composer but realized soon he would not achieve much success there. The young man dreamed of becoming a pianist and philologist, but physics and mathematics were equally exciting for him.
Max selected the sciences and entered The University of Munich. However, the student did not give up music and sometimes played the organ in a student church; he headed a small choir and conducted an orchestra, too.
The father recommended his son to meet with Professor Philipp von Jolly, who would help him study theoretical physics. However, von Jolly tried to persuade the student to give up the idea, for there was nothing promising in this direction, in his opinion.
Planck did not listen to him – he wanted a profound knowledge of physics, not discoveries. The student attended Wilhelm von Beetz’s lectures on experimental physics and explored heated platinum transmittivity for hydrogen with Philipp von Jolly. In addition, Max was frequently seen at Ludwig von Seidel’s and Gustav Conrad Bauer’s mathematical classes.
When Planck met the famous physicist Hermann von Helmholtz, he went to Berlin and entered the Friedrich Wilhelms University; he had the opportunity to attend Karl Weierstrass’s lectures. Helmholtz’s and Gustav Kirchhoff’s works became the example of skillful enunciating of complicated materials for Max. As long as the young scientist got acquainted with Rudolf Clausius’s publications on the theory of heat, he chose a new direction in his scientific quest – thermodynamics.
In 1879, Planck successfully defended his thesis on the second law of thermodynamics and gained his doctor’s degree. The physicist proved that heat did not pass from a colder object to a warmer one in an isolated system. The next year, he delivered another work on thermodynamics and became a junior assistant at the physical faculty of The University of Munich.
In 1885, Planck received the position of the adjunct professor at The University of Kiel; his research gave him some international recognition. Three years later, the Friedrich Wilhelms University invited him for the same assignment, and Max also became the director of the institute of theoretical physics. In 1892, he became a full-fledged professor.
Four years later, the scientist drew his attention to heat signatures. According to Planck’s theory, electromagnetic emission could not be continuous; it was going via separate quanta, and their number depended on the frequency. The researcher created a formula to find energy distribution in an ideal black body specter.
In December 1900, Planck reported his discovery at The German Physical Society; the new branch of science, quantum theory, was born. The next year, Boltzmann’s constant was found via Planck’s formula; the scientist figured out the Avogadro constant – the number of atoms in a mole. The electron charge was calculated to high precision.
Later, Albert Einstein strengthened the quantum theory.
In 1919, Max Planck’s contribution to the development of science was awarded: he won the Nobel Prize for his remarkable discovery of energy quanta.
The man resigned in 1928 but continued to collaborate with the Kaiser Wilhelm Society; two years later, he was appointed its president.
Religion and philosophy
Max was brought up according to the Lutheran traditions; religious values were primary for him. The physicist always prayed at lunch. In 1920, he became a presbyter and remained one until his last days.
Planck stood against the union of science and religion; he criticized astrology, theosophy, spiritualism, and other fashionable movements. At the same time, he believed that both religion and science were equally significant.
The lecture “Religion and Science” (1937) was pretty popular and survived several publications. The text reflected the events of the country suffering from the fascist burden. The name of Christ was never mentioned in the lecture; Planck had to deny the rumors about his conversion all the time. The man emphasized he did not believe in a human-like God, which did not prevent him from being a religious person.
Max Planck married his first wife, the childhood friend Marie Merck, in 1885. Four children were born in this union: two sons and twin daughters. The scientist loved his family and proved to be a caring husband and father.
Marie died in 1909. Two years later, the man proposed to the deceased woman’s niece, Marga von Hoesslin, who gave birth to another son.
Dark days came to the physicist’s life. The eldest son died during the First World War, in 1916; both daughters passed away during childbirth in 1917 and 1918. The second son from the first marriage was executed at the beginning of 1945 for plotting against Hitler, despite the famous father’s appeal for pardon.
The Nazis knew about Max Planck’s opinions. When the physicist was the leader of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society, he asked Hitler to stop chasing the Jewish; the Fuhrer told him everything he thought about them. From that time, Planck tried to be silent and reserved in his statements.
In winter 1944, following an air strike, the scientist’s house burned to ashes; his manuscripts, diaries, and books were destroyed by fire. The man moved to his friend to Rogätz, near Magdeburg.
In 1945, when the professor was delivering a lecture in Kassel, he almost died during the bombing. In April, the temporary residence was also destroyed; Max and his wife went to the forest and stayed with a milk seller for a while. The man’s health condition was deteriorating: spinal arthritis got worse, and he could hardly walk.
Professor Robert Pohl asked to help the Nobel Prize winner; the Americans found him and delivered him to safe Göttingen. Planck spent five weeks in a hospital and returned to work.
In July 1946, Max Planck went to England to celebrate Isaac Newton’s 300th anniversary; he was the only German there.
Not long before the man’s death, Kaiser Wilhelm Society was renamed to The Max Planck Society to honor his contribution to physics.
The old man kept delivering lectures as long as he could. When he was in Bonn, he had double pneumonia but managed to overcome the disease. March 1947 brought the last speech for students.
In October, Planck’s condition suddenly worsened; he died of a heart attack and did not survive six months until his 90th birthday. He was buried at the City Cemetery in Göttingen.
The scientist’s heritage includes many valuable manuscripts, books, and photographs; thus, he continues to serve to science after his death.
- 1914 – The Helmholtz Medal
- 1915 - Order of Merit
- 1918 – The Nobel Prize in Physics
- 1927 – The Lorentz Medal
- 1927 – The Franklin Medal
- 1928 - Adlerschild des Deutschen Reiches
- 1929 - The Max Planck Medal
- 1929 – The Copley Medal
- 1932 - Guthrie Medal and Prize
- 1933 – The Harnack Medal
- 1945 - The Goethe Prize of the City of Frankfurt