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Max Planck

Max Planck Photo

Credited with the discovery of energy quanta and massive contributions to the world of Quantum mechanics; pioneer founder of the quantum theory – a theory governing the nature and behavior of matter as independent units as opposed to a single constant, Max Planck, one of the most prominent scientific minds of the 20th century, was born in Kiel, Holstein as Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck to an eminent jurist and professor of law – his father – Johann Julius Wilhelm Planck and his second wife Emma Patzig.

From an early age, Planck presented signs of a cultured individual who enjoyed civilization, nature, spirituality and possessed an undying love for music. At the age of nine, when his father was appointed to teach at the University of Munich, which also marked the family’s move from Kiel to Munich, Planck received his first quad of education in sciences when his tutor Hermann Müller, a mathematician, introduced him to the world of Astronomy, Mechanics and Mathematics.  This marked his first encounter and understanding of the depth of physics and quantitative knowledge. While he did well in all subjects, he didn’t show signs of remarkable performance in either mathematics or science, with the exception of the subject of music, to indicate a clear choice of a scientific career. At age 16, as he passed his school with distinction, Planck did toy with the idea of pursuing a musical career which he dropped as soon as he had considered it.

Upon enrolling at the University of Munich in 1874, Planck experienced quite a disappointing stretch of studies where his knack for physics and sciences didn’t receive quite the encouragement, to which he resorted to pursue independent studies of physics, particularly those of thermodynamics.

During his life, Planck served various roles in the field of academia as well as science. His first teaching stint was at Munich as a private lecturer, which followed suit upon completion of his doctorate along with a thesis on the second law of thermodynamics in 1879. He then went on to serve his position as Associate Professor of Theoretical Physics at Kiel in 1885 which eventually led to a distinguished appointment at the University of Berlin as professor of theoretical physics in 1888. Planck’s association with the University of Berlin lasted until his retirement 1927.

Planck’s time as professor at the University of Berlin served as a catalyst for his future scientific discoveries.  His lectures left an impact far and wide and word of his genius started to dispel. He continued his studies in thermodynamics, which led him to raise questions about the relationship between energy and the frequency and temperature of radiation. Max Planck further found that empirical observations of this energy distribution dynamic were at odds with the theories at hand. This conundrum led Planck to consider his colleague Wilhelm Wien’s formula, also known as Wein’s law, which addressed the short wavelength (high frequency) spectrum of thermal emission from objects, but failed to account for the experimental data for long wavelengths (low frequency) emissions.  When Planck learnt of the partiality that entailed with Wein’s law, he surmised that if experimental data for short wavelength (high frequency) were to be combined with long wavelength (low frequency) at a point where it allowed him to reproduce experimental results, it would help obtain the desired association.

In doing so, Planck had to disregard the approach of the second law of thermodynamics as an absolute one, and acknowledge the statistical factor to thermodynamics initiated by Ludwig Boltzmann. Despite the cost of the bearings, towards the end of 1900, Planck had succeeded in declaring his studies towards what we today identify as Planck’s radiation law.

As Planck’s work eventually started gaining recognition for its contribution to the world of physics and its far reaching repercussion became apparent, Planck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1918. Max Planck’s success was gradual and the real impact of his work became apparent with Einstein’s independent approach towards energy and matter. Einstein proposed that matter existed within radiation – referred to as photons – an idea that Planck did not reckon with. The eventual release of papers by Einstein and the discussions that stemmed from both scientists added great value to Einstein’s theory of relativity and Planck’s Quantum Theory and to the world of science in common.

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