Max Born

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Max Born

Max Born (born December 11, 1882 in Breslau ; † January 5, 1970 in Göttingen ) was a German mathematician and physicist who later took on British citizenship in exile before persecution by the National Socialists. For fundamental contributions to quantum mechanics , he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1954 .

life and work


Max Born grew up in Breslau. He came from a bourgeois, German-Jewish family. His father Gustav Born was a professor of anatomy and embryology at the University of Breslau , his grandfather Marcus Born the first Jewish district doctor in Prussia. His mother Margarete Kaufmann came from a family in the textile industry in Breslau and was interested in music, but she died when Born was four years old. In 1890 the father married again. The parents' house was culturally open and his father's friends included Albert Neisser and Paul Ehrlich . Born had a younger sister Käthe (1883–1953) and a half-brother Wolfgang (1893–1949) from his father's second marriage to Bertha Lipstein, who later became professor of art history at the City College of New York. As a student he was a frequent guest at Neisser's, where many well-known musicians frequented ( Ferruccio Busoni , Artur Schnabel , Edwin Fischer , Carl Flesch ) and writers like Gerhart Hauptmann .


After attending the humanistic König-Wilhelm-Gymnasium , Max Born studied law and moral philosophy from 1901 in Breslau (where the mathematicians Otto Toeplitz and Ernst Hellinger were fellow students), Heidelberg (where he met James Franck and became friends with him), Zurich and Göttingen , later mathematics , physics and astronomy . He received his doctorate in 1906 under Carl Runge in Göttingen ( investigations into the stability of the elastic line in plane and space, under different boundary conditions ). During his studies, he had aroused the displeasure of the very influential mathematician Felix Klein when he initially refused to submit his thesis on the elastic line as a prize paper to the university - he finally gave in and won the prize in 1906. Shortly after the illness of the student, who was originally supposed to speak about it, Born jumped in at Klein and Runge's seminar to deal with the topic. Klein was so impressed by the result that he announced a prize with the ulterior motive that Born should receive it. In his doctoral examination he avoided Klein as an examiner and chose astronomy as a minor under Karl Schwarzschild , his other examiner was Woldemar Voigt . He was examined in mathematics by David Hilbert . Before the exam, Born asked Hilbert which topics would be dealt with, Hilbert asked the counter-question about which topic he knew least about. Born answered ideal theory, to which Hilbert only asked questions about it (he later explained that he wanted to find out what he knew about a topic that he said he didn't know about). Then he was physical assistant (unpaid private assistant) to David Hilbert, where he also worked closely with Minkowski. He did his military service, which was shortened by his asthma, after completing his doctorate. Half a year later he stayed in Cambridge with Joseph Larmor and JJ Thomson . In 1908/09 he studied experimental physics with Otto Lummer and Ernst Pringsheim senior in Breslau (since a cooling hose that flooded the laboratory during his internship experiment, however, Lummer advised him not to pursue a further career in this field), but also dealt with the theory of relativity (and specifically the theory of rigid bodies in the theory of relativity and the theory of the electron). At the end of 1908 he returned to Hermann Minkowski in Göttingen, with whom he worked on the theory of relativity from December 1908 until his sudden death after an appendectomy in January 1909.

Habilitation, research

He completed his habilitation in Göttingen in 1909 with a thesis on the theory of the rigid body in the theory of relativity. His trial lecture was on Thomson's atomic model.

After Minkowski's death, Born released his physical work from the estate. Another field of research was the theory of atomic crystal lattices . About this he published the book Dynamics of Crystal Lattices in 1915 . With Theodore von Kármán he developed the Born von Kármán theory of the specific heat of solids.

Time of the First World War

At the beginning of the First World War he shared the general enthusiasm for war , but was not suitable for the front because of his asthma . In 1915 he joined the army as a radio operator and became a member of a group of technicians and physicists under the direction of Max Wien . During this time he was part of the artillery testing commission in a group under the direction of Rudolf Ladenburg with sound location tests. During this time he tried to pull other physicists and mathematicians away from the front line and thus save them from the war.

His employees included B. Alfred Landé , Erwin Madelung , Fritz Reiche .

After completing his habilitation, Born was a private lecturer in Göttingen from 1912, was an associate professor at the University of Frankfurt in 1914/1915 and then became an associate professor for theoretical physics at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Berlin , where he worked with Max Planck , Albert Einstein and Walther Nernst worked together. In 1919 he received his first chair (full professor) in Frankfurt am Main (where he swapped his chair with that of Max von Laue , who went to Berlin).

Franck Celebration 1923 in Göttingen - The "bigwigs":
Max Reich , Max Born, James Franck and Robert Wichard Pohl

Professor in Göttingen

Born was a professor in Göttingen from 1921 to 1933. Here he developed large parts of modern quantum mechanics with Wolfgang Pauli , Werner Heisenberg , Pascual Jordan and Friedrich Hund, among others . Methods named after him such as the Born-Oppenheimer approximation in molecular physics (1928) and the Born approximation in scattering theory are reminiscent of his pioneering achievements.

He developed the statistical interpretation of the wave function , later known as the Copenhagen Interpretation , for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1954 .

He was awarded the Max Planck Medal in 1948 and the Hughes Medal in 1950 .

Max Born also dealt with theoretical optics , about which he and Emil Wolf wrote a textbook that is still important today.

Born had a lifelong close friendship with Albert Einstein, even if Einstein viewed Born's work on quantum theory with skepticism. His correspondence with Einstein, which is interesting for the history of the interpretation of quantum mechanics, has been published in book form.

In 1934, with Leopold Infeld , he developed the Born-Infeld theory, a relativistic, non-linear generalization of electrodynamics, which was supposed to make the electromagnetic self-energy of the electron (or point charges in general) finite. It later found new application in string theory (gauge fields on D-branes).

Above all, Born is thanks to the development of a fertile school of theoretical physicists in Göttingen at the beginning of the 20th century, to which many foreign physicists also came. His doctoral students include Maria Goeppert-Mayer , Victor Weisskopf , Robert Oppenheimer , Siegfried Flügge , Friedrich Hund , Pascual Jordan , Maurice Pryce (in Cambridge), Herbert S. Green (in Edinburgh).

Time of National Socialism / emigration

In 1933, after gaining power of the Nazis , Max Born was because of his Jewish ancestry and his pacifist forced leave adjustment, due to the professional Civil Service Law of the Hitler government. In 1936 his German citizenship was revoked. He emigrated to England (he became a British citizen in 1939) and initially held a lectureship in Cambridge from 1933, then a professorship at the University of Edinburgh from 1936 , where he stayed until his return to Germany in 1953.

In 1936 Max Born was offered a position at the Indian Institute of Sciences in Bangalore . His host, CV Raman , tried to create a permanent position for him. It failed because the administration was of the opinion that theoretical physics was speculative and useless for industry. Born left India after about 6 months.

In Great Britain Born got involved in the emergency community of German scientists abroad in order to find jobs for other persecuted academics.

In Germany again

Grave of Max Born in the city cemetery in Göttingen.

On June 28, 1953, he was made an honorary citizen of Göttingen, where a street was later named after him. His grave is in the Göttingen city ​​cemetery , although he did not last live in Göttingen itself, but in Bad Pyrmont , 68 km away .

Social Commitment

In addition to his physical investigations, Max Born repeatedly tried to make himself heard with speeches on philosophical and socio-political topics. In 1957 he was one of 18 signatories of the Göttingen Manifesto , which opposed the planned nuclear armament of the Bundeswehr .

In this context he has repeatedly pointed out the important role his wife Hedwig played in the formation and verification of his own positions. Together with her he wrote the book The Luxury of Conscience - Experiences and Insights in the Atomic Age (1958).

Friedrich Hund and Max Born, 1966


He had been with since 1913 Hedwig (Hedi) Martha Ehrenberg (1891–1972) married, a daughter of the lawyer Victor Ehrenberg , with whom he had three children: Irene (1914–2003), Gritli and Gustav Victor Rudolf Born , a well-known British pharmacologist. The singer and actress Olivia Newton-John is a daughter of his daughter Irene. The social scientist and musician Georgina Born is also a granddaughter of Max Born. For the sake of his wife Hedi, he converted to the Lutheran faith in 1914.

Awards and memberships

Göttingen-Weende, Max-Born-Ring


Memorial plaque for Max Born on the house where he was born in Breslau

selected Writings

  • Investigations into the stability of the elastic line in plane and space, under different boundary conditions (dissertation 1906).
  • Dynamics of the crystal lattice (1915)
  • Einstein's Theory of Relativity (1920), Springer, ISBN 3-540-04540-6 .
  • Solid state atomic theory (dynamics of crystal lattices) . In: Encyclopedia of Mathematical Sciences, including its applications . Leipzig 1922, p. 35ff. ( online ).
  • Lectures on atomic mechanics (1925), MIT Press, ISBN 0-262-52019-2 .
  • (with Pascual Jordan): On quantum mechanics . In: Zeitschrift für Physik 34, 1925, p. 858 ff. (English translation in: Sources of Quantum Mechanics . Ed. By BL van der Waerden, Amsterdam 1967, p. 277 ff .; online ( Memento from April 20, 2008 in Internet Archive ), PDF, 184 kB).
  • (with Werner Heisenberg and Pascual Jordan): On Quantum Mechanics II . In: Zeitschrift für Physik 35, 1926, p. 557 ff. (English translation in: Sources of Quantum Mechanics . Ed. By BL van der Waerden, Amsterdam 1967, p. 321 ff .; online ( Memento from April 20, 2008 in Internet Archive ), PDF, 310 kB).
  • On the wave mechanics of the impact processes . In: Nachrichten von der Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, Mathematisch-Physikalische Klasse , 1926, pp. 290 ff. (January 14, 1927; online ).
  • Optics. A textbook on electromagnetic light theory (1933), Reprint Springer 1972.
  • Experiment and theory in physics (1943).
  • Natural philosophy of cause and chance (1949).
  • with Kun Huang Dynamical Theory of Crystal Lattices , Clarendon Press, Oxford 1954.
  • Physics through the ages (1957).
  • The luxury of conscience (co-author of Hedwig Born) (1958).
  • Principles of Optics (together with Emil Wolf ) (1959)
  • Selected treatises , 2 volumes, Göttingen, Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht (1963)
  • On the responsibility of the natural scientist (1965).
  • Max Born: My life. The memories of the Nobel Prize winner . Nymphenburger Verlag, 1975, ISBN 3-485-00204-6 .
    • English edition: My life and my views , New York: Scribners 1968 and My Life: Recollections of a Nobel Laureate , Scribners 1978
  • Max Born, Albert Einstein: Albert Einstein, Hedwig and Max Born Correspondence: 1916–1955 / commented by Max Born, foreword by Bertrand Russell, foreword by Werner Heisenberg . Nymphenburger Verlag, Munich 1969, ISBN 3-499-11478-X .

Festive Colloquium 1962/1963

In the winter semester of 1962/63, on the occasion of Max Born's eightieth birthday, a celebratory colloquium was held at the physics department of the University of Göttingen, at which Werner Heisenberg gave a lecture on what was then known as the “ universal formula ” and Friedrich Hund was also present (both of Max Born's assistants in the twenties). During the discussion after the lecture, Max Born, who had sat in the middle of the first bench, jumped over the parapet like a young athlete and, after just a few words, painted his own formulas on the blackboard. The formulas associated with the so-called Born-Infeld theory from the thirties were only understood by very few listeners at the time, but that was not intended: “For the young people” he (the eighty-year-old [!]) Only wanted a few Give suggestions .

See also


Web links

Commons : Max Born  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Obituary for Max Born, published on January 16, 1970 by Hans-Heinrich Voigt , Rector of the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen.
  2. Kemmer, Schlapp: Max Born, Biogr. Memoirs Fellows Royal Society 1971, p. 42
  3. Jagdish Mehra, Helmut Rechenberg, The Historical Development of Quantum Theory, Volume 1-1, Springer 1982, p. 297
  4. Jagdish Mehra, Helmut Rechenberg, The Historical Development of Quantum Theory, Volume 1-1, Springer 1982, p. 299.Born published this as The Theory of the Rigid Body in the Kinematics of the Relativity Principle , Annalen der Physik, Volume 30, 1909, Pp. 1-56
  5. Arne Schirrmacher: Physics in the Great War , Physics Journal 13 (2014), No. 7, pp. 43–48.
  6. Nancy Greenspan Max Born , p. 83. His efforts came too late with the former Göttingen mathematics student Herbert Herkner, whom he classified as a promising mathematical genius. But he couldn't publish anything before his death. Shortly before his recall, Herkner fell on November 22, 1917 in Cambrai in a British offensive. Born published an obituary in the natural sciences, Volume 15, 1918, p. 179.
  7. Biography, Max Born , Humboldt University Berlin, accessed on May 24, 2019
  8. ^ Born, Infeld Foundations of the New Field Theory Proc. R. Soc. Lond., Vol. 144, 1934, pp. 425-451
  9. Singh Rajinder: Nobel Laureate CV Raman's Work on Light Scattering . Logos Verlag, Berlin 2004, ISBN 3-8325-0567-9 , p. 119-146 .
  10. Singh Rajinder: Max Born's Role in Lattice Dynamics Controversy . In: Centaurus . tape 43 , October 1, 2008, p. 260-277 .
  11. ^ The Göttingen Declaration 1957 at
  12. ^ Foreign members of the Russian Academy of Sciences since 1724: Born, Max. Russian Academy of Sciences, accessed on October 10, 2019 (Russian).
  13. ^ Biographical Index: Former RSE Fellows 1783–2002. Royal Society of Edinburgh, accessed October 10, 2019 .
  14. Member entry of Max Born (with picture and CV) at the German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina , accessed on September 22, 2016.
  15. Biography of Max Born of the Nobel Foundation at the award ceremony in 1954 .
  16. ^ Expulsion, return, reparation by Anikó Szabó .
  17. Singh Rajinder, Riess Falk: Nobel Prize. (PDF) In: Indian Journal of History of Science. 2013, accessed January 7, 2016 .
  18. Jens Minor: Google-Doodle: Max Born - for the 135th birthday of the German physicist and Nobel Prize winner - GWB. In: January 24, 2018, accessed December 16, 2019 .