Know the scientist: Max Planck

Max Planck, the man who changed the course of Physics.   | Photo Credit: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Max Planck (1858 - 1947) was a German theoretical physicist who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1918 for his work on the quantum theory, which revolutionised human understanding of atomic and subatomic processes.

Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck was born in Kiel, Germany, to Julius Wilhelm and Emma Planck. Planck studied physics at the Universities of Munich and Berlin, and received his doctorate of philosophy at Munich in 1879 after completing his paper detailing his research and theory of thermodynamics, an interest he acquired from his studies under physicist Gustav Robert Kirchhoff, whom he greatly admired. His dissertation in the second law of thermodynamics laid the ground for his future researches, which eventually led him to discover the quantum of action, now known as Planck’s constant h.

In 1885, the University of Kiel appointed Planck as associate professor of theoretical physics. In 1892, he became a professor at the University of Berlin.

In 1894, he turned his attention to the problem of black-body radiation. In 1859–60 Kirchhoff had defined a black body as an emitter and absorber of radiation. But there was a mismatch between the wavelengths radiated by black body and the wavelengths predicted by classical theories of thermodynamics. When a black body is heated, electromagnetic radiation is emitted with a spectrum corresponding to the temperature of the body, and not to its composition. This led Planck to propose the concept of quanta.

In 1900, he suggested that light and other electromagnetic waves were emitted in discrete units of energy, which he called "quanta", (multiples of a certain constant, which now bears the name “Planck’s constant”). The discovery of Planck's constant enabled him to define a new universal set of physical units such as the Planck length and the Planck mass. Planck’s concept of energy quanta was accepted only years later but is considered one of the scientific breakthroughs that most contributed to modern physics.

During World War Two, his home was completely destroyed by bombings in 1944 and he lost all of his papers. Did you know Max Planck was talented musically? He composed classical music and played the cello and the piano.

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Printable version | Apr 22, 2021 5:57:54 PM |

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