Max Planck - Biographical Profile

Max Planck in 1918, the year that he received his Nobel Prize. PUblic Domain - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Max_Planck_(Nobel_1918).jpg

General Information:

 

Birth date: April 23, 1858
Birthplace: Kiel, Holstein (Germany)

Death date: October 5, 1947

1918 Nobel Prize in Physics: "in recognition of the services he rendered to the advancement of Physics by his discovery of energy quanta".

 

On Studying Physics:

 

An interesting story has arisen around Planck's decision to study physics. As the story goes, Planck was advised by Philipp von Jolly in Munich against going into physics because "in this field, almost everything is already discovered, and all that remains is to fill a few holes." This was in 1874, so the quote is a particular example of the absolutely unexpected status the revolutions of quantum physics - revolutions that Planck himself would unexpectedly lead 20-30 years later.

While studying under von Jolly in Munich, Planck conducted experimental research in the diffusion of hydrogen through heated platinum. This was the only experimental research he conducted in his career and he transferred into work in theoretical physics, which is where he made his greatest contributions.

 

Blackbody Radiation Problem, Quantum Physics, & the Nobel Prize:

 

In 1874, Max Planck turned his attention to the ultraviolet catastrophe, a problem in understanding the behavior of experiments in blackbody radiation. In resolving this catastrophe, he introduced the idea that light could be treated as existing in discrete packets of energy, which he called "quanta." He does not seem to have particularly believed that these "quanta" were really a physical requirement of the situation, but instead viewed it as a mathematical artifact that happened to resolve the situation and allowed the equations to fit with reality.

Despite that, Planck's work in resolving blackbody radiation established the fundamental concept that became the foundation for all of quantum physics: of treating energy as existing in discrete packets, which cannot be broken down any further. Einstein would later adapt this concept in his 1905 explanation of the photoelectric effect, which helped establish the concept of the photon and earn him the Nobel Prize in physics "in recognition of the services he rendered to the advancement of Physics by his discovery of energy quanta." Despite his role as a founder of quantum theory, though, he (like Einstein) assumed that the Copenhagen interpretation was flawed and that quantum theory, as understood at the time, could not possibly be a correct representation of reality, and would likely be replaced by a different conceptual framework that did not require the troublesome aspects of quantum theory, such as wave particle duality.

 

Planck's Support of Relativity:

 

Max Planck was one of the physicists who seems to have immediately recognized the theoretical importance of Albert Einstein's theory of special relativity almost immediately upon its initial publication in 1905. He helped contribute much to the thinking behind relativity. His support of Einstein's work was one major reason why the controversial new theory became relatively widely accepted early on in Germany. As the dean of Berlin University, Planck was in a position to establish a professorship position for Einstein in 1914, even before Einstein had completed his work modifying these ideas into the more comprehensive general theory of relativity.

 

Planck Quotes:

"A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it." - quoted by philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions