As a young student Planck had shown great promise in music, but a remarkable mathematics teacher turned his interest toward science. After gaining degrees from the Universities of Berlin and Munich, he focused on thermodynamics, the study of heat and energy. He was especially interested in the nature of radiation from hot materials. In 1901, he hypothesized a theory that perfectly described the experimental evidence, but part of it was a radical new idea: energy did not flow in a steady continuum, but was delivered in discrete packets Planck later called quanta. This conclusion was the first enunciation of the quantum theory. According to Planck, the energy of a quantum of light is equal to the frequency of the light multiplied by a constant. His original theory has since had abundant experimental verification, and the growth of the quantum theory has brought about a fundamental change in the physicist’s concept of light and matter, both of which are now thought to combine the properties of waves and particles. That explained why, for example, a hot iron poker glows distinctly red and white. Planck, a conservative man, was not trying to revolutionize physics at all, just to explain the particular phenomenon he was studying. He had tried to reconcile the facts with classical physics, but that hadn't worked. Planck was an extremely successful physicist, receiving the Nobel Prize in 1919.
- Planck's Constant. Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia. 1p. 1, 2016.