Planck’s career until 1900

When Max Planck presented his radiation law in 1900, the 43-year-old was already an established authority in physics and a highly-regarded member of the scientific community. It was his work on thermodynamics in particular that had made him famous.

However, Planck was faced with a difficult decision in choosing his degree subject and later on his field of specialization, theoretical physics. After completing his school-leaving qualifications, he wavered between music, philology and physics, but opted to study mathematics and physics. His professor in Munich was Philipp von Jolly, but lectures by Hermann von Helmholtz and Gustav Kirchhoff, which he attended while studying in Berlin, also influenced him. He received his doctorate in the summer of 1879, defending his dissertation “Über den zweiten Hauptsatz der mechanischen Wärmetheorie [On the second fundamental theorem of the mechanical theory of heat]”. A year later, he presented his habilitation thesis on “Gleichgewichtszustände isotroper Körper in verschiedenen Temperaturen [Equilibrium states of isotropic bodies at different temperatures]”. Planck had discovered his main field of research: thermodynamics.

He spent the next five years working as an unpaid private lecturer in Munich, until he was finally offered a professorship in 1885 in Kiel, his birthplace. In 1889, he succeeded Gustav Kirchhoff at the University of Berlin, and in 1892 was appointed professor of theoretical physics. In 1894, he was elected as a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences, and between 1912 and 1938 he was one of its four permanent secretaries. In Berlin, he began his work on heat radiation, which led him to his quantum theory.

Curriculum vitae:

1874                    German school-leaving qualification at Maximilians-Gymnasium in Munich

1874 to 1878     Academic studies in physics in Munich and Berlin

1878                   Degree from the University of Munich, qualifying him as a lecturer

1879                   Doctorate „Über den zweiten Hauptsatz der Wärmetheorie [On the second fundamental theorem of the mechanical theory of heat]” from the University of Munich

1880                   Habilitation thesis on “Gleichgewichtszustände isotroper Körper in verschiedenen Temperaturen [Equilibrium states of isotropic bodies at different temperatures]”

1880 to 1885     Private lecturer in Munich

1885                   Appointed associate professor of theoretical physics at the Christian Albrecht University in Kiel

1889                   Appointed associate professor of theoretical physics at Friedrich Wilhelms University in Berlin

1892                   Appointed full professor

1894                   Acceptance into the Prussian Academy of Sciences

1897                   First publication of his “lectures on thermodynamics”

1899                   Discovery of the constant “h”

1900                   Publication of the quantum theory

1908                   Appointment as a privy councillor

1912 to 1938    Permanent secretary of the Prussian Academy of Sciences

1913/1914        Appointed dean of Berlin University

1918                   Nobel Prize for Physics, received in 1920

1926                   Emeritus professor of University of Berlin

1930 to 1937    President of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society

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