Math in the Physical Sciences

Modern Physics and Mathematics

Why was Max Planck important to quantum theory?

Quantum theory (or physics) entails the emission and absorption of energy by matter and the motion of material particles; it is a special situation in which very small quantities are involved. When added to the theory of relativity—in which great speeds are involved—both form the theoretical basis of modern physics.

One of the most important aspects of quantum theory is the quanta. In 1900 German physicist Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck (1858–1947) proposed that all forms of radiation—such as light and heat—come in bundles called quanta. These bundles are further emitted and absorbed in small, discrete amounts, thus behaving in some situations like particles of matter. For example, a bundle of light energy is known as light quanta or photons. Planck devised the equation: E = hv, in which E is the amount of energy in a single particle, v is the frequency of the wave, and h is the constant now known as Planck’s constant.

It is interesting to note that some people divide physics using Planck’s discovery: The term classical physics is often referred to as “before Planck”; while the term for modern physics is often referred to as “after Planck.”


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