Theoretical physicist


  In the 1920s Planck published his lectures as a five-volume "Introduction to Theoretical Physics". These volumes are a part of the standard world literature on physics.
  When Max Planck accepted the chair for theoretical physics at the University of Berlin in 1889, the field was overshadowed by its sister, experimental physics. Many physicists thought that his field was "actually quite superfluous". A half century later, the situation had changed completely. Theory had become the leading discipline in physical research whereas experimental physicists were complaining about a lack of social prestige and scientific recognition.

Max Planck witnessed this change from a tolerated subject of private lecturers to the science of the century. Indeed, his work was instrumental in determining it. Besides his research on thermodynamics and radiation theory, his contribution to the special theory of relativity deserves particular mention. Citing Einstein's papers, Planck provided the first complete relativistic description of the principles in mechanics and became an active supporter of the young Einstein.

Beyond his excellent achievements in research, Planck's efforts as a science politician and teacher also enhanced the development and general recognition of theoretical physics. His multi-semester course lecture, for example, became a part of the canon of basic education in physics.

Planck was a successful, albeit not a particularly charismatic academic teacher. His students praised the clarity of his presentations but often complained about a lack of vibrancy. In contrast to other leading figures of theoretical physics-such as Arnold Sommerfeld in Munich-Planck did not come to head an important school of physicists. The number of students who wrote their doctoral theses under his direct guidance also remained astonishingly small. However, what they lacked in terms of quantity they recovered in quality-they include the Nobel laureates Walther Bothe and Max von Laue.

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  "Theoretical physics is a very fine subject, of course, ... but it is unlikely that you will be able to add anything new of fundamental importance in it."
P. von Jolly to M. Planck, 1874