Science in the lecture hall

Max Planck

1858 Kiel (Germany) – 1947 Göttingen (Germany)
Physicist, Nobel Prize in Physics 1918
Country: Germany
Max Planck Zoom Image
Max Planck

Max Planck’s discovery of Planck’s constant in 1900 laid the foundations for investigating the laws of the micro-world and opened up a new field of research to physics beyond that of traditional mechanics. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for his achievement in 1918. Berlin-Dahlem also became a centre for the new branch of physics.

Planck nevertheless increasingly focused on science management in the 1920s. From 1912 he determined the direction of the Berlin Academy of Sciences as the organization’s Permanent Secretary. In 1930, he was appointed President of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society and invited eminent guests from the fields of science, politics and business to attend banquets at Harnack House. He also gave important lectures there on his specialist subject of theoretical physics and remained one of the brightest minds in the network of physicists who met for scientific events at Harnack House.

Planck is President of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society from 1930. After Hitler comes to power in 1933, the Society enters difficult waters and Planck endeavours to protect the autonomy of research against increasing pressure of ideologisation. He only partially succeeds, and Planck makes many compromises as President. He bows to the Nazi laws on the dismissal of employees who are Jews or of Jewish origin. Planck’s term of office comes to an end in 1936, but it takes until 1937 before a successor is found in Carl Bosch.

Max Planck photographed by Hugo Erfurth. Subject from the portrait series of 1936. Zoom Image
Max Planck photographed by Hugo Erfurth. Subject from the portrait series of 1936.

Hugo Erfurth photographed the famous scientist in 1936 at the end of Planck’s term in office as President of the KWG. The portrait series is unique amongst Erfurth’s work as the photographer specialized in theatrical subjects and the portraits of artists. His portraits include those of famous artists such as Lovis Corinth, Otto Dix and Oskar Kokoschka. It was Erfurth himself who had requested to photograph Planck.

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