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The Origin and Development of the Quantum Theory   By:

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THE ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE QUANTUM THEORY BY MAX PLANCK TRANSLATED BY H. T. CLARKE AND L. SILBERSTEIN BEING THE NOBEL PRIZE ADDRESS DELIVERED BEFORE THE ROYAL SWEDISH ACADEMY OF SCIENCES AT STOCKHOLM, 2 JUNE, 1920 OXFORD AT THE CLARENDON PRESS 1922 OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS London Edinburgh Glasgow Copenhagen New York Toronto Melbourne Cape Town Bombay Calcutta Madras Shanghai HUMPHREY MILFORD Publisher to the University Produced by Roger Frank and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (3) THE ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE QUANTUM THEORY My task this day is to present an address dealing with the subjects of my publications. I feel I can best discharge this duty, the significance of which is deeply impressed upon me by my debt of gratitude to the generous founder of this Institute, by attempting to sketch in outline the history of the origin of the Quantum Theory and to give a brief account of the development of this theory and its influence on the Physics of the present day. When I recall the days of twenty years ago, when the conception of the physical quantum of ‘action’ was first beginning to disentangle itself from the surrounding mass of available experimental facts, and when I look back upon the long and tortuous road which finally led to its disclosure, this development strikes me at times as a new illustration of Goethe’s saying, that ‘man errs, so long as he is striving.’ And all the mental effort of an assiduous investigator must indeed appear vain and hopeless, if he does not occasionally run across striking facts which form incontrovertible proof of the truth he seeks, and show him that after all he has moved at least one step nearer to his objective. The pursuit of a goal, the brightness of which is undimmed by initial failure, is an indispensable condition, though by no means a guarantee, of final success. In my own case such a goal has been for many years the solution of the question of the distribution of energy in the normal spectrum of radiant heat. The discovery by Gustav Kirchhoff that the quality of the heat radiation produced in an enclosure surrounded by any emitting or absorbing bodies whatsoever, all at the same temperature, is entirely independent of the nature of such bodies(1)1, established the existence of a universal function, which depends only upon the temperature and the wave length, and is entirely independent of the particular properties of the substance. And the discovery of this remarkable function promised a deeper insight into the relation between energy and temperature, which is the principal problem of thermodynamics and therefore also of the entire field of molecular physics. The only road to this function was to search among all the different bodies occurring in nature, to select one of which the emissive and absorptive powers were known, and to calculate the energy distribution in the heat radiation in equilibrium with that body. This distribution should then, according to Kirchhoff’s law, be independent of the nature of the body. A most suitable body for this purpose seemed H. Hertz’s rectilinear oscillator (dipole) whose laws of emission for a given frequency he had just then fully developed(2). If a number of such oscillators be distributed in an enclosure surrounded by reflecting walls, there would take place, in analogy with sources and resonators in the case of sound, an exchange of energy by means of the emission and reception of electro magnetic waves, and finally what is known as black body radiation corresponding to Kirchhoff’s law should establish itself in the vacuum enclosure. I expected, in a way which certainly seems at 1The numbers in brackets refer to the notes at the end of the article. (4) the present day somewhat naïve, that the laws of classical electrodynamics would suffice, if one adhered sufficiently to generalities and avoided too special hypotheses, to account in the main for the expected phenomena and thus lead to the desired goal... Continue reading book >>

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