Max Planck and Quantum Physics

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Scientific Laws are based on observations or else they result from theoretical assumptions concerning the particular phenomenon. So called classical physics was founded on these principles. Light was the major scientific debate in 1700s. Isaac Newton in 1704 postulated that light is made of particles. Christiaan Huygens, by contrast, declared that light consists of waves. Newton’s view of light was accepted until the English Physicist Thomas Young was able to prove the opposite. By doing some experiments, Thomas Young was able to prove that light spreads out in the similar ways as the disturbance in water in the form of waves.

Max Planck was born in the Northern German City of Kiel in 1858. In 1874 he went to Munich University to study Physics.  One of his teacher in Munich University tried to dissuade him that there is nothing left to discover in this field. Max Planck after three years transferred to another university in Berlin. He went there to attend lectures by Hermann von Helmholtz and Gustav Kirchhoff, two of the leading physicists of the age. Planck was especially interested in thermodynamics. In late 19 century, electric lighting was becoming a mass market. In order to develop the high quality and standard of light bulb, physicists were interested in the laws by which heated bodies emitted radiation in the form of heat and light.

Classical physics assumed that as the body gets hotter, its radiation in the form of heat, light must also increase, but closer examination revealed that this assumption was wrong or inadequate. If steel is heated it glows in different colors according to the different temperatures. According to the notion of classical physics, the steel should emit more and more light energy as its temperature increases until finally it starts emitting ultraviolet radiation, which is invisible to the human eye. In other words steel should become invisible. This assumption of classical physics was not confirmed experimentally and steel always remained visible. Planck was one of the many scientists who tried to explain this radiation. He spent 5 years in explaining the phenomenon using classical physics, but he found no satisfactory solution. He then assumed that the radiation was not emitted continuously, but in the form of discrete packets known as quanta. Planck’s law states that the radiation energy is the product of constant “h” and the frequency of the radiation. Planck was a theoretical physicist, so he relied on the results obtain by experimentally in order to test his theory. Experimentalist came up with the figure which was quite small for the constant “h”. Planck later on in December 1900 announced his law of radiation referring to the constant that was later named as Planck’s constant in his honor. This was the birthday of quantum physics and new age of science. After the First World War, Planck was awarded Nobel Prize for his discovery of energy quanta.

Albert Einstein and Max Planck were good friends. In 1905 Einstein used Planck’s Laws to explain the photoelectric effect. He was the first to interpret and apply the Planck’s constant correctly. Einstein won the Nobel Prize for Photoelectric effect. Einstein’s discovery showed that the light acted both as a wave and a particle. In 1913, Niels Bohr used what had recently been discovered about energy by Max Planck and proposed his planetary model of the atom. Bohr’s explanation meant that the quantum theory has finally established its credentials. Max Planck laid the foundation stone for the new kind of physics underpin by Albert Einstein and Neils Bohr. It was their research that ultimately created the basics for the developments of quantum physics, which explain the processes in atoms and even smaller particles. We owe many achievements of modern everyday life to quantum theory. For example computer, laser and its different application. Today’s medical technology is a result of this quantum theory. If you look around right now then you must find something that is a result of quantum theory within the room, even the computer or mobile you are using to read this article is a result of quantum theory.

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