Nov 29, 2022 • 5M

Max Planck: The Man Who Rewrote Classical Physics

 
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Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck was born on April 23, 1858, in Kiel, Germany, as the sixth child of Julius Wilhelm, a professor, and Emma Patzig Planck. When Planck was nine years old, the family moved to Munich, where his father received an appointment at the University of Munich. Planck joined the renowned Maximilian Gymnasium, where he excelled in every subject, especially physics and mathematics. In addition, he was an excellent pianist and possessed the gift of absolute pitch. After completing primary education, Planck pursued physics and kept music as his hobby. He studied at the Universities of Munich and Berlin and received his doctoral degree from Munich in July 1879 at the very young age of 21.


Planck's research on the phenomenon of black body radiation made him better understand how black bodies absorb radiation and a way to calculate the amount of energy emitted.


From 1880 to 1885, Planck was a Privatdozent in Munich. Later he joined Kiel University as an Associate Professor of Theoretical Physics and continued working there until 1889. The same year, he joined Berlin University, succeeding his former teacher and renowned German physicist Gustav Kirchhoff as Professor. Planck started his research in thermodynamics and the problems of radiation along with a full-time professorship.

Planck's research on the phenomenon of black body radiation made him better understand how black bodies absorb radiation and a way to calculate the amount of energy emitted. He found that black bodies emitted only a certain amount of energy and called each tiny packet of energy a quantum of energy. He later derived Planck's Law, a vital equation relating the frequency of radiation to the amount of energy emitted, which rewrote the domain of physics. 


The science world recognised Planck's contribution by honouring him with the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1918.


The discovery that energy was only released from atoms in small, discrete amounts changed the previous understandings and initiated a new branch of study called quantum physics. In addition, it led to the development of a new atom model and an ongoing field of study. In the paper published in 1900, at the age of 42, Planck announced his derivation that changed the physics world forever. This marked end of classical physics and the beginning of modern physics. He also introduced a constant h, a fundamental universal constant that defines the quantum nature of energy and relates the energy of a photon to its frequency, today known as Planck's constant. Though Planck's Theory didn't initially receive enough recognition, it was widely accepted later, in which Einstein played a significant role. Niels Bohr's quantum theory of the hydrogen atom, derived in 1913, also contributed to the establishment of Planck's Theory.

The science world recognised Planck's contribution by honouring him with the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1918. Planck's work on quantum theory was published in the physics journal Annalen der Physik. In addition, his works were summarised in two books; Thermodynamics, published in 1897 and Theory of heat radiation, published in 1906. Planck remained at Berlin university until his retirement in 1926. He served as the President of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society for the Promotion of Science until 1937. In 1894 he was appointed a member of The Prussian Academy of Sciences and later became its Permanent Secretary in 1912. In 1926, he was elected to Foreign Membership of the Royal Society and received the Society's Copley Medal in 1928.

Planck's personal life was filled with tragedies. He was married twice. His first wife, Marie Merck, died of tuberculosis in 1909 after 22 years of happy marriage. Karl, their elder son, was killed in action in 1916 during World War I. One of their daughters, Margarete, died from childbirth in 1917. Two years later, the same fate took away Planck's second daughter, Emma. The second world war brought further tragedies. Planck's house in Berlin was completely destroyed in the bombing. In 1945, his younger son, Erwin, was caught and killed by the Nazis in an attempt to execute Hitler. Max Planck died at Göttingen on October 4, 1947, at 89.

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