Max Planck: Greatest Achievements of the German Physicist

German Physicist Max Planck (1858-1947)

The famous German physicist, Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck was a theoretical physicist who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918. The prestigious honor was for his work on the establishment and development of the theory of elementary quanta. Due to his research and findings, a new branch of physics known as quantum theory was born, superseding traditional physics forever.

Aside from winning the Nobel Prize in 1918 what was Planck most famous for? The following are some major achievements of the German physicist, including his contribution to atomic theory:

Planck’s Discovery of Quantum Theory

The concept of energy quanta was first proposed by Max Planck, who derived his theory in 1900 from black body radiation. The smallest measure of energy taken in or given out as electromagnetic radiation is called a “quantum” in Max Planck’s theory of quantum mechanics.

His suggestion that the energy of electromagnetic waves is quantized and not continuous was another way he described the electromagnetic phenomenon. Energy is gained or lost in multiples of the smallest energy unit known as the quantum, rather than following a smooth curve for a rise in temperature as suggested by classical physics. From this came forth three fundamental Planck’s constants, which are Planck’s length, time and energy.

This theory was applied by famous scientists such as Albert Einstein, Neils Bohr, and Werner Heisenberg. The practicality of the Quantum Theory in science ranged from the production of light emitting diodes to the creation of the optical amplifier and the laser and the manufactory of the transistor and semiconductors such as the microprocessor.

Max Planck

Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck was heavily influenced by German physicists Gustav Kirchhoff and Hermann von Helmholtz

Coining of Planck’s Equation

Planck described his equation as a radiation at a given wavelength from a thermally neutral black body. He also used the formula E=hv, to determine that a photon’s energy (E) is directly proportional to its frequency.

A “photon” is the fundamental unit of light. Photons are massless elementary particles that carry a fixed quantity of energy that is proportional to the wavelength of the light they carry. Low-frequency electromagnetic radiation, such as radio waves, have low-energy photons as predicted by Planck’s equation. However, high-frequency photons, like x-rays, are particularly filled with a lot of energy

Similarly, taking Planck’s equation into account, a higher frequency will result in a greater energy. Furthermore, the energy content of different colors of the visible spectrum increases as we move from red to violet. Since there are only seven visible colors, the energy of each color increases from red to orange to yellow to green to blue to indigo to violet.

Planck’s equation aided scientists and manufacturers to understand the relationship between spectral emissivity, temperature, and radiant energy, which is considered a core foundation in Infrared (IR) imaging. IR imaging is deployed to measure the electromagnetic radiation (i.e. temperature) emitted by objects.

Discovery of the Planck Scale

Maximilian Planck, the renowned German theoretical physicist, created a system of units in the late 1890s to shorten the lengths scientists had to go through to convey physical laws.

Everyone could calculate these Planck units using just five universal constants, which are the speed of light in vacuum, c; the Planck constant, h; the elementary charge, e; the Avogadro constant, Na; and the Boltzmann constant, kB.

The strength of gravity is expected to become similar with the other forces at the Planck length scale, and it has been proposed that all the fundamental forces are combined at that scale, although the specific mechanism of this unification remains unknown.

Max Planck

Planck’s work showed that a relationship existed between the energy and the frequency of radiation

He created one of modern physics pillars

Modern physics employs two different ideas to describe the universe. In addition to relativity (Einstein’s contribution), there is also quantum theory (Planck’s). His work on thermal radiation, which led to the discovery of the black-body radiation formula that would become Planck’s Law, began in the late 1890s.

When asked to explain the validity of his formula, he proposed the concept of “quanta,” or discrete bundles of energy. This led to the development of quantum physics, a body of science on which many scientists, including Einstein, built on.

Planck’s work revolutionized classical physics, ushering in new applications and development. Image: From left to right: W. Nernst, A. Einstein, Planck, R.A. Millikan and von Laue at a dinner in Berlin on 11 November 1931

Other interesting facts about Max Planck

Planck’s law, Planck’s constant, and Planck units are all scientific concepts that bear his name in honor of his achievements. The Big Bang’s first phase, the Planck period, the Planck particle (a miniature black hole), a crater on the Moon named after him, and a spacecraft of the European Space Agency all bear his name. That’s not even mentioning the Max Planck Institutes or the Max Planck Society.

Below are other interesting facts about the life and contributions of Planck:

  • His interest in physics and mathematics was lit up by Hermann Müller, a tutor at the Maximilian Gymnasium in Munich. While in school, he enjoyed studying the works of Rudolf Clausius on thermodynamics.
  • In October of 1877, Planck transferred from the University of Munich to the University of Berlin. Many notable scientists, including Weierstrass, Helmholtz, and Kirchhoff, served as his mentors. Planck went back to Munich in July 1879, when he was 21 years old, to earn his PhD.
  • Planck married Marie Merck in 1887 but lost her due to tuberculosis in 1909. He later married Marga von Hösslin in 1911. All in all, he fathered five children.
  • Planck was one of the earliest and most influential people to champion Einstein’s theories of general relativity.
  • The German physicist was almost a professional pianist instead of a physicist because of his talent. Many prominent scientists, professors, and musicians were invited to his house for musical sessions, which he hosted personally. A lover of music, to be specific the piano, he often played the works of Brahms and Schubert.
  • The physicist was just 16 years old when physics professor Philipp von Jolly sought to steer him away from a career in theoretical physics shortly after he enrolled at the University of Munich in 1874. Jolly believed that everyone else in the scientific community had already found out the majority of the relevant information. However, Planck disregarded his warnings.
  • He served as the president of the German Physical Society (Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft, DPG) from 1905 to 1909.
  • The German scientist was elected to Foreign Membership of the Royal Society in 1926. Two years later, he received the Society’s Copley Medal.
  • He also served as the president of the Max Planck Society (formerly the Kaiser Wilhelm Society) from 1930 to 1937.
  • Even though he resigned from political life in 1933, after the Nazis came to power, Erwin Planck, who was the son of Max Planck secretly helped draft a constitution for a post-Nazi administration. In 1944, he was imprisoned on suspicion of participating in the failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler led by Claus Stauffenberg, in which the Nazi leader was wounded by an exploding briefcase. For his resistance against the Nazi regime, Erwin was arrested in 1944 and was unfortunately executed a year later.
  • Autopsy reports showed that the Max Planck died of a heart attack in Göttingen in 1947. He spent his last few years mourning the death of his son, Erwin.
Max Planck achievements

Considered one of the greatest scientists of the modern era, German physicist Max Planck is famed for being the originator of the quantum theory. This theory revolutionized our understanding of atomic and subatomic processes.

Max Planck: Fast Facts

Born: April 23, 1858

Place of birth: Kiel, Germany

Death: October 4, 1947; Göttingen

Siblings: five

Spouses: Marie Merck, Marga von Hösslin

Children: five, including Erwin Planck

Most famous for: Developing quantum theory

Education: Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich

Scientists he influenced: Albert Einstein, Max von Laue, Max Abraham, Erich Kretschmann

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