On April 23, 1858 Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck was born in Kiel, Germany.  He was the sixth child of a law professor at the University of Kiel.  At the age of nine his interest in physics and mathematics was developed by his teacher Hermann Muller.  When he graduated at the age of seventeen he decided to choose physics over music for his career.  Although he is known for physics he was an exceptional pianist who had acquired the gift of being able to hear absolute pitch.  His favorite works of music were known to be Schubert and Brahms.  Entering the University of Munich in 1874 he got little inspiration and was unimpressed at the University of Berlin which was between the years of 1877 and 1878.  He in turn did independent studies primarily on Rudolf Clausius’ writings of thermodynamics which inspired him and in July 1879 he received his doctoral degree at the age of twenty-one.  He became a lecturer at the University of Munich.  His father helped him be promoted to associate professor at Kiel by means of professional connections.  At the age of thirty he was promoted to full professor at the University of Berlin.

After he decided to become a theoretical physicist he started a quest for absolute laws.  His favorite absolute law was the law of the conservation of energy which was the first law of thermodynamics that stated that you could take any equal amount of energy and transform it into the same equal amount of energy ideally, meaning no energy was lost.  The second law of thermodynamics led him to discover the quantum of action or Planck’s constant h.  How he came upon his formula for quantum mechanics well be explained as follows.  Planck saw that blackbody radiation acted in an absolute sense because it was defined by Kirchhoff as a substance that could absorb almost all radiating energy and emit all that it had absorbed perfectly which is associated with the first law of thermodynamics.  By using various experiments and theoretical failures many scientists tried to find the spectral energy distribution to try and draw a diagram of a curve that showed the amount of radiation given off at different frequencies for a blackbody with a given temperature.  Then using Wien’s law which worked out for high frequencies but didn’t work for low, he saw a relationship with the mathematics of the entropy of the radiation in the high-frequency waves in correlation to the low frequency waves and he guessed if he combined the two in the simplest way that he would get a formula that related to the amount of radiation to a blackbody’s frequency.  Although Planck’s formula was accepted to be correct without argue, he was not satisfied and he tried to relate his formula with the absolute laws which he loved so much.  In order to make sense of his formula he had to kick the second law of thermodynamics out the door and accepted it as a statistical law, as it was interpreted by Ludwig Boltzmann.  He also had to accept that the blackbody could not absorb energy continuously but in separate amounts of energy spread over time like pulses.  Planck called this quanta of energy.  To prove his formula even further he used it to find Planck’s constant h, which turned out to be a very small number(six and fifty-five hundredths times ten to the negative twenty-seventh power).  The fact that Planck’s constant was not zero and it was in fact a number made the unseen physical world indescribable by classical methods which sparked a revolution in physical theory.

When Planck discovered the theory of quantum he was forty-two and then later won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1918.  After his discovery he still contributed to physics increasingly.  Planck was the first physicist to back up Einstein’s theory of relativity.  After he retired as a physicist which was around the time Hitler rose to power Planck focused on philosophical and questions of faith in his writings.  During the World War I he stayed in Germany to preserve as much as he could of German physics.  The later part of Max Planck’s life is filled with sadness.  In 1909 his first wife died after twenty-two years of marriage.  He later married another women in which he had one child.  His children from his first wife which was Marie Merek included twin sisters and two sons who managed to all die before he did.  His first son Karl was killed in action in 1916 and then one year later Margarete one of his daughters died in child birth.  Two years later, Emma his other twin daughter died the same death as her sister.  As if the first war hadn’t damaged him enough; World War II destroyed his house completely and his younger son was painfully killed by the Gestapo for trying to assassinate Hitler in 1944.  By the time the war ended Max Planck lost the will to live and died of natural causes on October 4, 1947 when he was eighty-nine.

Plack’s contributions to the modern world are vast.  He led Albert Einstein towards the theory of relativity which led to the construction of the atom bomb.  That is one huge example of the things Max Plank made possible by discovering quantum theory.

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William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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