Physics School

Max Planck Biography and a Look at Quantum Mechanics

Max Planck Biography

Max Planck was a German physicist who is known today for originating the quantum theory. He got the Nobel Prize in 1918 and he is considered as one of the legendary scientists who introduced modern physics to the world of science.

When and Where was Max Planck Born?

Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck, who is more commonly known today as Max Planck, was born on April 23, 1858 in Kiel, Germany. His father, Johann Julius Wilhelm Planck, was a Constitutional Law Professor at the University of Kiel and his mother, Emma Planck, was the second wife of his father.

Max Planck came from a line of an intellectual family. Both his great-grandfather and grandfather were theology professors in Göttingen, Germany. He studied elementary in Kiel but he spent his secondary at the Maximillian Gymnasium in Munich after his family moved in 1867 when his father got appointed as a professor in Munich. He excelled in music rather than in mathematics to the extent that he even considered becoming a musician.

Max Planck and Physics

His interest in physics started when he got impressed by the law of conservation of energy through his mentor Hermann Müller. After choosing to study physics instead of pursuing music, he eventually studied at the University of Munich in October 21, 1874. In October 1877, he moved to study at the University of Berlin and on the course of his study he got impressed by the second law of thermodynamics. In July 1879, he got his doctorate degree at the University of Munich with a distinction award of summa cum laude and his thesis was entitled “On the Second Law of the Mechanical Theory of Heat” which was about the second law of thermodynamics.

In 1880, he became a lecturer at the University of Munich. In 1885, he became a theoretical physics professor at the University of Kiel. In 1889, he became a professor at the University of Berlin. It did not take him long to become the President of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society until he became a permanent secretary at the Prussian Academy of Sciences in 1912.

Max Planck Quantum Theory of Radiation (Planck Postulate)

In 1900, he publicized his quantum theory of radiation or radiation law which is interchangeably known today as Planck Postulate, quantum theory, or Planck’s radiation formula thorough study on the second law of thermodynamics and black-body radiation. He formulated a mathematical solution to describe his law which states that electromagnetic energy can only be transmitted in quantized form and that it is absorbed in discreet packets having absolute sizes of what is known today as Planck’s constant. Though his work did not get accepted and appreciated immediately until Albert Einstein acknowledged and studied more of his important discovery.
In 1926, he became a foreign member of the Royal Society and he retired at the University of Berlin in this same year.

Max Planck's Married Life

Max Planck was married twice. In March 1887, he was married to Marie Merck and he had four children with her. In March 1911, he got married again to Marga von Hoesslin and he had one son with her. One of his sons to Marie Merck was unfortunately executed in 1944 after having been associated to an unsuccessful plot against Adolf Hitler.

Max Planck died on October 4, 1947 in Göttingen, Germany leaving the world his influential quantum theory and being a significant scientist in developing modern physics.

Quantum Mechanics

Quantum mechanics is a branch of physics that deals with the description of the behavior and interaction of the particles that compose matter. It was Max Planck who started the idea of quantum mechanics when he hypothesized in 1900 that everything around us is composed of packets called quanta.

Definition of Quantum Mechanics

The word quanta is the plural form for quantum. Quantum mechanics is also known as a mathematical mechanism that is used to describe the behavior of particles of matter in the microscopic and macroscopic level.

Principles of Quantum Mechanics

The basic principle of quantum mechanics is that it describes the behavior of matter particles as that both of a wave and of a particle and this is more commonly known as wave-particle duality. This simply states that particles behave like waves as they move from one point to another. Quantum mechanics is associated not only with matter but also with light, that is, quantum mechanics also describes light as both a particle and a wave.

The difference between waves and particles is that waves carry energy and mass as they move from one point to another while particles carry only energy as they move from one point to another.

Waves are characterized by repeating regular vibrations. The highest point of a wave is called its crest and the lowest point of a wave is called its trough. A trough is followed by a crest, or a crest is followed by a trough, in a periodic sequence. A wavelength is the distance between one crest and the trough after it or the distance between one trough and the crest after it. The wave frequency is the number of wavelengths passing through one point at a certain time.

Classification of Particles

Particles that compose matter fall into two categories: fermions or real particles and bosons or force particles. Quantum mechanics deals on the small scale of describing matter. Electrons, neutrons, and protons that compose an atom, which is the basic unit of matter, are all fermions. A photon, which is the basic unit of light, is a boson.

Max Planck and Quantum Theory

Max Planck stated in his quantum theory that the energy that is emitted by the radiating black-body is an integer multiple of the product of Planck’s constant and the frequency of light and this product is associated with the fundamental frequency of each of the radiating body’s oscillators. This is described by the formula E = nhf where E is the emitted energy, h is Planck’s constant, f is the frequency of light, and n = 1, 2, 3, …

Other Scientists in the Quantum Field

There were many scientists after Max Planck who discovered and did great works that contributed to the development of quantum mechanics. It was Albert Einstein in 1905 who hypothesized that light also consists of quanta after he studied Max Planck’s quantum theory. Their theories led other scientists such as Niels Bohr, Johann Balmer, Johannes Rydberg, and many others to study, analyze, and experiment on the behavior of light and atomic and subatomic particles of matter and the principles that comprise the whole of quantum mechanics were theorized and confirmed with high accuracy.

Quantum mechanics is an important area in physics as it is applied today. In comparison to classical physics, quantum mechanics gives an accurate description of the behavior of matter and energy in different systems and classical physics is an approximation of the laws and principles set in quantum mechanics.