Representative of science


  M. Planck with his secretary colleagues W. von Waldeyer, G. Roethe, and H. Diels (from right to left) in 1914 during a regular meeting of the Academy's presiding committee.
  Despite his extraordinary productivity as a scientist, Max Planck was always ready to take on administrative and political functions for his field. This not only agreed with his professional ethos and his sense of duty, but also with the conviction that modern science functions optimally only when the researchers themselves do not shy away from such responsibilities. For more than a quarter of a century-from 1912 to 1938 - Planck served as permanent secretary of the Prussian Academy of Sciences. Thus he shared with the other three secretaries, in alternating quarterly terms, the office of president of the academy and thus was vested in one of the most powerful offices in science policy that a scientist could assume without changing over completely to government service. In this capacity and as rector of the University of Berlin (1913/14) or within the framework of a funding institution for German research, the Notgemeinschaft, which later was renamed the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Planck was able to foster and represent the high international reputation that German science had acquired.

In 1930 the 72-year old accepted the office of president of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society. Thus Planck headed Germany's primary research institution, on whose council he had already been serving since 1916. His two terms of office (1930-1937) were colored by the seizure of power by the National Socialists. His leadership was notable for his efforts to prevent the Nazis from engulfing the society, keeping its institutes as free as possible from political and state intervention, and maintaining high scientific standards. In the face of political reality, however, and owing to Planck's naive trust in the state, this attempt was doomed to fail. During his presidency Nazi realignment of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society could be delayed, but not deflected. Likewise, as progress was made in developing the society, nothing stood in the way of increased deployment of science toward National Socialist ends.

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  " ... my husband now has the atrocious task of `realigning' the Academy. It is being reorganized, henceforth will have only one president instead of the 4 secretaries. That again involved much work and hour-long meetings-the least to be expected-but above all, conflicting emotions. My husband will decline becoming president of this new academy."
Marga Planck to L. Meitner, 19 December 1938

Max Planck directly after his election as president of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society on 18 July 1930 at the portal of the palace building in Berlin, the seat of the society.