Max Planck – Biography of Max Planck

Remembered as one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century, Max Karl Ernest Ludwig Planck He was responsible for some far-reaching conceptual revolutions, which still influence contemporary physics today. In fact, he is considered the father of quantum theory.

Born on April 23, 1858 in Kiel (Germany), he came from a very rich and cultured family, among his ancestors there are eminent Protestant jurists and ministers versed in theology; in particular, his father was a highly respected law professor.

In 1867 he moved with his family to Munich, shortly before the unification of Germany; The already small genius first attended the Munich Gymnasium, where he was lucky enough to meet an excellent physics teacher who instilled in him, among other things, the principle of conservation of energy; then he studied at the Universities of Munich and Berlin.

Thanks to his skills, he obtained the chair of physics at the University of Kiel in 1885, with only twenty-eight years of age. Later, from 1889 to 1928 he worked at the University of Berlin continuing with teaching and research.
In the course of time, Planck became one of the most important German physicists. In 1900, during his research on the radiation emitted by black bodies, an ideal surface that absorbs all the incident energy, he advanced on the hypothesis that the energy was not radiated, as suggested by classical physics, that is, in the form of continuous waves, but in discrete quantities, in “packets”, which the physicist called “how many“.

Soon, Planck he became secretary of the Berlin Academy of Sciences and one of the greatest exponents of official German science. However, despite his fame, very few of his students followed him, although it can be said with certainty that almost all of them became prominent scientists.

It must be said, in any case, that in the light of what we know today, Planck’s theory did not really have the success or the importance it deserved. Although revolutionary, the theory was formulated on an empirical and mathematical basis and, therefore, it is considered primarily a useful hypothesis to explain difficult-to-interpret phenomena. The value of Planck’s hypothesis was made quite clear a few years later, by the activity of Albert Einstein, who with his work was able to highlight its importance in the proper physical sense.

In any case, it is also undeniable that the theory of Planck, produced at least a conceptual revolution in studies on nature, introducing the concept of “discontinuity” in many fields of physics, by imposing a radical change in the description of phenomena. And we must not forget that, for this theory, in 1918, Planck won the Nobel Prize.

If the professional successes of Planck They were amazing, the life of the scientist was much more miserable and darkened by very painful family duels. He lost his first wife in 1909 and three of his four children died during the First World War. Later he remarried and had another son. The last surviving son from his first marriage, he was assassinated by the Nazis for having participated in the conspiracy against Hitler in 1944 and, being very old, lost his home in an air raid. At the end of the war he was taken to Göttingen, where he died on October 4, 1947.