A museum for the Nobel Prize winner from Kiel
With his quantum theory, Max Planck created the basis for computers and smartphones. Born in Kiel, he received the Nobel Prize for Physics a hundred years ago. Both he and the field of quantum physics are now to be given a dedicated museum in his home city.
When a car drives at constant speed, it is possible to predict when it will arrive at a certain point. "However, this does not work in the micro-world of atoms. Indeed, completely different laws apply here. Electrons can, for example, be in multiple locations at the same time," comments physics professor Michael Bonitz, explaining why he is so fascinated by quantum theory. Yet things initially looked quite different for their founder, Max Planck. He came from a middle-class Kiel family, had been brought conservatively and was fascinated by the established physical theories at the end of the 19th century. Although Planck's intention was certainly not to revolutionise these, it was simply not possible to explain the experimental facts any other way: it was with a particularly heavy heart that he made the discovery that radiation is not emitted continuously – as most believed – but rather released in energy packages, so-called quanta.
It then took almost 20 years for the experts to accept his theory, and he was ultimately presented with the Nobel Prize in 1919. "We can truly learn the merits of perseverance and thoroughness from Planck," comments Bonitz. The same is also true of openness to results that are contrary to previous experience. "Being a scientist also means throwing established ideas overboard.” The physicist is campaigning for a museum in Kiel that is not only dedicated to the life of Planck and the beginnings of quantum theory. The aim is also to convey modern developments in the field of quantum physics and the fact-based working methods employed in science.
Planck, who was born in Kiel in 1858, returned to the city at the age of 27 to assume the position of professor after completing his studies in Munich and Berlin. In 1889, he then relocated to Berlin. However, he maintained connections with Schleswig-Holstein and his home city throughout his whole life. The objective of an initiative launched by Bonitz is to increase awareness of Kiel's honorary citizen in the city with a dedicated museum. Some initial exhibits have already been on show since 2013 in the Physics Centre at the CAU, including a copy of his Nobel Prize document, letters from his childhood and his hiking gear, as Planck was an avid mountaineer. The initiative is keen to redesign and extend the collection with support from various partners, including the Muthesius Academy of Fine Arts and Design.
"A museum of this kind would allow our city to present its only native Nobel Prize winner and his work with a sense of confidence," comments Bonitz. It would not just be aimed at those visiting the city, but also act as a showcase for science that brings the university and the city closer together. Hands-on experiments and computer simulations will also help schoolchildren understand the quantum world. "Our plans go beyond teaching and plain old textbooks." Indeed, interactive elements are to be used to illustrate how Planck's discovery continues to shape both nanosciences and everyday microelectronics, such as those found in smartphones, to this day.
Working together with the university and the city, Bonitz is confident that this concept can be realised and that suitable premises can be found. Anyone looking to support this initiative is more than welcome to get in touch at any time.
Author: Julia Siekmann
Public collection on the life and work of Max Planck. Physics Centre, Leibnizstraße 13-19. Opening hours: Monday to Friday 9am to 4pm and by arrangement. Guided tours for school groups and anyone interested are also available on request. Free admission