Max Planck, Initial Founder of Quantum Theory

Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - 10:32

The German theoretical physicist Max Planck (1858-1947) was as important as Einstetin, Bohr, Heisenberg, and other physicists and in some ways surpassed the significance of most.

It was Planck, working in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918 for originating quantum theory, the model on which all modern physics rests today. He was also among the first to recognize the importance of Einstein’s special theory of relativity (published in 1905), which laid out the most widely accepted concept of the relationship between space and time.

Around the turn of the 20th century, he realized that light and other electromagnetic waves were emitted in discrete packets of energy that he called "quanta" - "quantum" in the singlular - which could only take on certain discrete values (multiples of a certain constant, which now bears the name the “Planck constant”).

This is generally regarded as the first essential stepping stone in the development of quantum theory, which has revolutionized the way we see and understand the sub-atomic world.

Planck was well-schooled in science, and was also something of a musical prodigy. When he chose physics over music, a teacher warned him that in physics, “almost everything is already discovered, and all that remains is to fill a few holes.” Planck replied that he wasn’t as interested in making discoveries as in understanding the world we lived in.

Planck was the sixth child born to his father (and the fourth to his mother, his father’s second wife). His father was a lawyer, and his grandfather and great-grandfather theology professors, so he grew up in an intellectual household.

Today, Planck’s name is associated with broader studies. In 1948, the former Kaiser Wilhelm Society was renamed the Max Planck Society, which “supports fundamental research in the natural, life and social sciences, the arts and humanities” in its 83 institutes. Nobel-winning members have included Konrad Lorenz, Werner Heisenberg, Albert Einstein, and Planck himself.

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