Max Born (1882-1970)

Max Born was born in Breslau, Germany, on December 11, 1882. He was awarded the Prize of the Philosophical Faculty of the University of Göttingen for his work on the stability of elastic wires and tapes in 1906, and graduated from this university a year later on the basis of this work, earning a Ph.D in physics.

Born went on to Cambridge briefly to study under Larmor and J.J. Thomson. He became academic lecturer at Göttingen in recognition of his work on the relativistic electron and later lectured on relativity in Chicago in 1912, doing some experiments with the Michelson grating spectrograph while there.

In 1913, Born married Hedwig Ehrenberg, with whom he went on to have three children. In 1915, he joined the German Armed Forces and, during World War I, worked on the theory of sound ranging in a scientific office of the army. He also studied the theory of crystals and published his first book, Dynamik of Kristallgitter (Dynamics of Crystal Lattices), which summarized a series of investigations he had started at Göttingen.

In 1921, Born was appointed Professor at Göttingen and remained there for 12 years, during which time he did a series of studies on the quantum theory. He produced a very precise definition of quantity of heat, the most satisfactory mathematical statement of the first law of thermodynamics. In 1926, after his student Werner Heisenberg had formulated the first laws of a new quantum theory, Born collaborated with him to develop the mathematical formulation that would adequately describe it. Later, when Erwin Schrödinger put forward his quantum mechanical wave equation, Born showed that the solution of the equation has a statistical meaning of physical significance. His interpretation of the wave equation proved to be of fundamental importance in the new theory of quantum mechanics. Born also introduced the Born approximation, a useful technique for solving problems concerning the scattering of atomic particles. He and J. Robert Oppenheimer initiated a widely used simplification of the calculations dealing with electronic structures of molecules.

A Jew, Born fled the Nazis in 1933 and became Stokes lecturer at the University of Cambridge, focusing on the field of nonlinear electrodynamics, which he developed in collaboration with Infeld. In 1936, he was appointed Tait Professor of Natural Philosophy in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he worked until his retirement in 1953, a year before being winning the Nobel Prize for Physics for his statistical formulation of the behavior of subatomic particles. His studies of the wave function led to the replacement of the original quantum theory, which regarded electrons as particles, with an essentially mathematical description representing their observed behavior more accurately. He lived at the small German spa town, Bad Pyrmont, until his death on January 5, 1970.

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