Max Born

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Max Born
Max Born.jpg
Born circa 1930–1940
Born(1882-12-11)11 December 1882
Died5 January 1970(1970-01-05) (aged 87)
Resting place Stadtfriedhof Göttingen
Lower Saxony, Germany
ResidenceGöttingen, West Germany
CitizenshipGerman, British
Alma mater University of Göttingen
Known for Born–Haber cycle
Born rigidity
Born coordinates
Born approximation
Born series
Born probability
Born–Infeld theory
Born–Oppenheimer approximation
Born rule
Born–Landé equation
Born–Huang approximation
Born–von Karman boundary condition
Born equation
Spouse(s)Hedwig (Hedi) Ehrenberg
(m. 1913–1970; his death)
Children2 daughters, 1 son Gustav Victor Rudolf Born
eldest (Irene, 1914–2003) was mother of Olivia Newton-John
Awards Nobel Prize in Physics (1954)
Hughes Medal (1950)
Max Planck Medal (1948)
Fellow of the Royal Society (1939)
Scientific career
Fields Theoretical physics
Institutions University of Frankfurt am Main
University of Göttingen
University of Edinburgh
University of Cambridge
Thesis Untersuchungen über die Stabilität der elastischen Linie in Ebene und Raum unter verschiedenen Grenzbedingungen ("Investigations on the stability of the elastic line in plane and space under different boundary conditions") (1906)
Doctoral advisor Carl Runge
Other academic advisors
Doctoral students
Other notable students
Max Born signature.svg

Max Born (German: [ˈmaks ˈbɔɐ̯n] ; [2] [3] 11 December 1882 – 5 January 1970) was a German-Jewish physicist and mathematician who was instrumental in the development of quantum mechanics. He also made contributions to solid-state physics and optics and supervised the work of a number of notable physicists in the 1920s and 1930s. Born won the 1954 Nobel Prize in Physics for his "fundamental research in quantum mechanics, especially in the statistical interpretation of the wave function". [4] [5] [6] [7]

Physicist scientist who does research in physics

A physicist is a scientist who specializes in the field of physics, which encompasses the interactions of matter and energy at all length and time scales in the physical universe. Physicists generally are interested in the root or ultimate causes of phenomena, and usually frame their understanding in mathematical terms. Physicists work across a wide range of research fields, spanning all length scales: from sub-atomic and particle physics, through biological physics, to cosmological length scales encompassing the universe as a whole. The field generally includes two types of physicists: experimental physicists who specialize in the observation of physical phenomena and the analysis of experiments, and theoretical physicists who specialize in mathematical modeling of physical systems to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena. Physicists can apply their knowledge towards solving practical problems or to developing new technologies.

Mathematician person with an extensive knowledge of mathematics

A mathematician is someone who uses an extensive knowledge of mathematics in his or her work, typically to solve mathematical problems.

Quantum mechanics branch of physics dealing with phenomena at scales of the order of the Planck constant

Quantum mechanics, including quantum field theory, is a fundamental theory in physics which describes nature at the smallest scales of energy levels of atoms and subatomic particles.


Born entered the University of Göttingen in 1904, where he found the three renowned mathematicians Felix Klein, David Hilbert, and Hermann Minkowski. He wrote his Ph.D. thesis on the subject of "Stability of Elastica in a Plane and Space", winning the University's Philosophy Faculty Prize. In 1905, he began researching special relativity with Minkowski, and subsequently wrote his habilitation thesis on the Thomson model of the atom. A chance meeting with Fritz Haber in Berlin in 1918 led to discussion of the manner in which an ionic compound is formed when a metal reacts with a halogen, which is today known as the Born–Haber cycle.

University of Göttingen university in the city of Göttingen, Germany

The University of Göttingen is a public research university in the city of Göttingen, Germany. Founded in 1734 by George II, King of Great Britain and Elector of Hanover, and starting classes in 1737, the Georgia Augusta was conceived to promote the ideals of the Enlightenment. It is the oldest university in the state of Lower Saxony and the largest in student enrollment, which stands at around 31,500.

Felix Klein German mathematician, author of the Erlangen Program

Christian Felix Klein was a German mathematician and mathematics educator, known for his work with group theory, complex analysis, non-Euclidean geometry, and on the associations between geometry and group theory. His 1872 Erlangen Program, classifying geometries by their basic symmetry groups, was an influential synthesis of much of the mathematics of the time.

David Hilbert German mathematician

David Hilbert was a German mathematician and one of the most influential and universal mathematicians of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Hilbert discovered and developed a broad range of fundamental ideas in many areas, including invariant theory, calculus of variations, commutative algebra, algebraic number theory, the foundations of geometry, spectral theory of operators and its application to integral equations, mathematical physics, and foundations of mathematics.

In the First World War, after originally being placed as a radio operator, he was moved to research duties regarding sound ranging due to his specialist knowledge. In 1921, Born returned to Göttingen, arranging another chair for his long-time friend and colleague James Franck. Under Born, Göttingen became one of the world's foremost centres for physics. In 1925, Born and Werner Heisenberg formulated the matrix mechanics representation of quantum mechanics. The following year, he formulated the now-standard interpretation of the probability density function for ψ*ψ in the Schrödinger equation, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1954. His influence extended far beyond his own research. Max Delbrück, Siegfried Flügge, Friedrich Hund, Pascual Jordan, Maria Goeppert-Mayer, Lothar Wolfgang Nordheim, Robert Oppenheimer, and Victor Weisskopf all received their Ph.D. degrees under Born at Göttingen, and his assistants included Enrico Fermi, Werner Heisenberg, Gerhard Herzberg, Friedrich Hund, Pascual Jordan, Wolfgang Pauli, Léon Rosenfeld, Edward Teller, and Eugene Wigner.

James Franck German physicist

James Franck was a German physicist who won the 1925 Nobel Prize for Physics with Gustav Hertz "for their discovery of the laws governing the impact of an electron upon an atom". He completed his doctorate in 1906 and his habilitation in 1911 at the Frederick William University in Berlin, where he lectured and taught until 1918, having reached the position of professor extraordinarius. He served as a volunteer in the German Army during World War I. He was seriously injured in 1917 in a gas attack and was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class.

Werner Heisenberg German theoretical physicist

Werner Karl Heisenberg was a German theoretical physicist and one of the key pioneers of quantum mechanics. He published his work in 1925 in a breakthrough paper. In the subsequent series of papers with Max Born and Pascual Jordan, during the same year, this matrix formulation of quantum mechanics was substantially elaborated. He is known for the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which he published in 1927. Heisenberg was awarded the 1932 Nobel Prize in Physics "for the creation of quantum mechanics".

Matrix mechanics is a formulation of quantum mechanics created by Werner Heisenberg, Max Born, and Pascual Jordan in 1925.

In January 1933, the Nazi Party came to power in Germany, and Born, who was Jewish, was suspended from his professorship at the University of Göttingen. He emigrated to the United Kingdom, where he took a job at St John's College, Cambridge, and wrote a popular science book, The Restless Universe, as well as Atomic Physics, which soon became a standard textbook. In October 1936, he became the Tait Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, where, working with German-born assistants E. Walter Kellermann and Klaus Fuchs, he continued his research into physics. Born became a naturalised British subject on 31 August 1939, one day before World War II broke out in Europe. He remained at Edinburgh until 1952. He retired to Bad Pyrmont, in West Germany, and died in hospital in Göttingen on 5 January 1970. [8]

Nazi Party Fascist political party in Germany (1920-1945)

The National Socialist German Workers' Party, commonly referred to in English as the Nazi Party, was a far-right political party in Germany that was active between 1920 and 1945, that created and supported the ideology of National Socialism. Its precursor, the German Workers' Party, existed from 1919 to 1920.

St Johns College, Cambridge college of the University of Cambridge

St John's College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge. The college was founded by Lady Margaret Beaufort. In constitutional terms, the college is a charitable corporation established by a charter dated 9 April 1511. The aims of the college, as specified by its statutes, are the promotion of education, religion, learning and research.

Natural philosophy ancient philosophical study of nature and physical universe that was dominant before the development of modern science. It is considered to be the precursor of natural science

Natural philosophy or philosophy of nature was the philosophical study of nature and the physical universe that was dominant before the development of modern science. It is considered to be the precursor of natural science.

Early life

Max Born was born on 11 December 1882 in Breslau, which at the time of Born's birth was part of the Prussian Province of Silesia in the German Empire, to a family of Jewish descent. [9] He was one of two children born to Gustav Born, an anatomist and embryologist, who was a professor of embryology at the University of Breslau, [10] and his wife Margarethe (Gretchen) née Kauffmann, from a Silesian family of industrialists. She died when Max was four years old, on 29 August 1886. [11] Max had a sister, Käthe, who was born in 1884, and a half-brother, Wolfgang, from his father's second marriage, to Bertha Lipstein. Wolfgang later became Professor of Art History at the City College of New York. [12]

Kingdom of Prussia Former German state (1701–1918)

The Kingdom of Prussia was a German kingdom that constituted the state of Prussia between 1701 and 1918. It was the driving force behind the unification of Germany in 1871 and was the leading state of the German Empire until its dissolution in 1918. Although it took its name from the region called Prussia, it was based in the Margraviate of Brandenburg, where its capital was Berlin.

Province of Silesia province

The Province of Silesia was a province of Prussia from 1815 to 1919. The Silesia region was part of the Prussian realm since 1740 and established as an official province in 1815, then became part of the German Empire in 1871. In 1919, as part of the Free State of Prussia within Weimar Germany, Silesia was divided into the provinces of Upper Silesia and Lower Silesia. Silesia was reunified briefly from 1938 to 1941 as a province of Nazi Germany before being divided back into Upper Silesia and Lower Silesia.

German Empire empire in Central Europe between 1871–1918

The German Empire, also known as Imperial Germany, was the German nation state that existed from the unification of Germany in 1871 until the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1918.

Initially educated at the König-Wilhelm-Gymnasium in Breslau, Born entered the University of Breslau in 1901. The German university system allowed students to move easily from one university to another, so he spent summer semesters at Heidelberg University in 1902 and the University of Zurich in 1903. Fellow students at Breslau, Otto Toeplitz and Ernst Hellinger, told Born about the University of Göttingen, [13] and Born went there in April 1904. At Göttingen he found three renowned mathematicians: Felix Klein, David Hilbert and Hermann Minkowski. Very soon after his arrival, Born formed close ties to the latter two men. From the first class he took with Hilbert, Hilbert identified Born as having exceptional abilities and selected him as the lecture scribe, whose function was to write up the class notes for the students' mathematics reading room at the University of Göttingen. Being class scribe put Born into regular, invaluable contact with Hilbert. Hilbert became Born's mentor after selecting him to be the first to hold the unpaid, semi-official position of assistant. Born's introduction to Minkowski came through Born's stepmother, Bertha, as she knew Minkowski from dancing classes in Königsberg. The introduction netted Born invitations to the Minkowski household for Sunday dinners. In addition, while performing his duties as scribe and assistant, Born often saw Minkowski at Hilbert's house. [14] [15]

Gymnasium (school) type of school providing advanced secondary education in Europe

A gymnasium is a type of school with a strong emphasis on academic learning, and providing advanced secondary education in some parts of Europe comparable to British grammar schools, sixth form colleges and US preparatory high schools. In its current meaning, it usually refers to secondary schools focused on preparing students to enter a university for advanced academic study. Before the 20th century, the system of gymnasiums was a widespread feature of educational system throughout many countries of central, north, eastern and southern Europe.

Heidelberg University public research university in Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany

Heidelberg University is a public research university in Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Founded in 1386 on instruction of Pope Urban VI, Heidelberg is Germany's oldest university and one of the world's oldest surviving universities. It was the third university established in the Holy Roman Empire.

University of Zurich university in Switzerland

The University of Zurich, located in the city of Zürich, is the largest university in Switzerland, with over 25,000 students. It was founded in 1833 from the existing colleges of theology, law, medicine and a new faculty of philosophy.

Born's relationship with Klein was more problematic. Born attended a seminar conducted by Klein and professors of applied mathematics, Carl Runge and Ludwig Prandtl, on the subject of elasticity. Although not particularly interested in the subject, Born was obliged to present a paper. Using Hilbert's calculus of variations, he presented one in which, using a curved configuration of a wire with both ends fixed, he demonstrated would be the most stable. Klein was impressed, and invited Born to submit a thesis on the subject of "Stability of Elastica in a Plane and Space" – a subject near and dear to Klein – which Klein had arranged to be the subject for the prestigious annual Philosophy Faculty Prize offered by the University. Entries could also qualify as doctoral dissertations. Born responded by turning down the offer, as applied mathematics was not his preferred area of study. Klein was greatly offended. [16] [17]

Klein had the power to make or break academic careers, so Born felt compelled to atone by submitting an entry for the prize. Because Klein refused to supervise him, Born arranged for Carl Runge to be his supervisor. Woldemar Voigt and Karl Schwarzschild became his other examiners. Starting from his paper, Born developed the equations for the stability conditions. As he became more interested in the topic, he had an apparatus constructed that could test his predictions experimentally. On 13 June 1906, the rector announced that Born had won the prize. A month later, he passed his oral examination and was awarded his PhD in mathematics magna cum laude . [18]

On graduation, Born was obliged to perform his military service, which he had deferred while a student. He found himself drafted into the German army, and posted to the 2nd Guards Dragoons "Empress Alexandra of Russia", which was stationed in Berlin. His service was brief, as he was discharged early after an asthma attack in January 1907. He then travelled to England, where he was admitted to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and studied physics for six months at the Cavendish Laboratory under J. J. Thomson, George Searle and Joseph Larmor. After Born returned to Germany, the Army re-inducted him, and he served with the elite 1st (Silesian) Life Cuirassiers "Great Elector" until he was again medically discharged after just six weeks' service. He then returned to Breslau, where he worked under the supervision of Otto Lummer and Ernst Pringsheim, hoping to do his habilitation in physics. A minor accident involving Born's black body experiment, a ruptured cooling water hose, and a flooded laboratory, led to Lummer telling him that he would never become a physicist. [19]

In 1905, Albert Einstein published his paper On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies about special relativity. Born was intrigued, and began researching the subject. He was devastated to discover that Minkowski was also researching special relativity along the same lines, but when he wrote to Minkowski about his results, Minkowski asked him to return to Göttingen and do his habilitation there. Born accepted. Toeplitz helped Born brush up on his matrix algebra so he could work with the four-dimensional Minkowski space matrices used in the latter's project to reconcile relativity with electrodynamics. Born and Minkowski got along well, and their work made good progress, but Minkowski died suddenly of appendicitis on 12 January 1909. The mathematics students had Born speak on their behalf at the funeral. [20]

A few weeks later, Born attempted to present their results at a meeting of the Göttingen Mathematics Society. He did not get far before he was publicly challenged by Klein and Max Abraham, who rejected relativity, forcing him to terminate the lecture. However, Hilbert and Runge were interested in Born's work, and, after some discussion with Born, they became convinced of the veracity of his results and persuaded him to give the lecture again. This time he was not interrupted, and Voigt offered to sponsor Born's habilitation thesis. [21] Born subsequently published his talk as an article on "The Theory of Rigid Bodies in the Kinematics of the Relativity Principle" (German : Die Theorie des starren Elektrons in der Kinematik des Relativitätsprinzips), [22] which introduced the concept of Born rigidity. On 23 October Born presented his habilitation lecture on the Thomson model of the atom. [21]


Berlin and Frankfurt

Born settled in as a young academic at Göttingen as a privatdozent. In Göttingen, Born stayed at a boarding house run by Sister Annie at Dahlmannstraße 17, known as El BoKaReBo. The name was derived from the first letters of the last names of its boarders: "El" for Ella Philipson (a medical student), "Bo" for Born and Hans Bolza (a physics student), "Ka" for Theodore von Kármán (a Privatdozent), and "Re" for Albrecht Renner (another medical student). A frequent visitor to the boarding house was Paul Peter Ewald, a doctoral student of Arnold Sommerfeld on loan to Hilbert at Göttingen as a special assistant for physics. Richard Courant, a mathematician and Privatdozent, called these people the "in group." [23]

In 1912, Born met Hedwig (Hedi) Ehrenberg, the daughter of a Leipzig University law professor, and a friend of Carl Runge's daughter Iris. She was of Jewish background on her father's side, although he had become a practising Lutheran when he got married, as did Max's sister Käthe. Despite never practising his religion, Born refused to convert, and his wedding on 2 August 1913 was a garden ceremony. However, he was baptised as a Lutheran in March 1914 by the same pastor who had performed his wedding ceremony. Born regarded "religious professions and churches as a matter of no importance". [24] His decision to be baptised was made partly in deference to his wife, and partly due to his desire to assimilate into German society. [24] The marriage produced three children: two daughters, Irene, born in 1914, and Margarethe (Gritli), born in 1915, and a son, Gustav, born in 1921. [25] Through marriage, Born is related to jurists Victor Ehrenberg, his father-in-law, and Rudolf von Jhering, his wife's maternal grandfather, as well as Hans Ehrenberg, and is a great uncle of British comedian Ben Elton. [26]

By the end of 1913, Born had published 27 papers, including important work on relativity and the dynamics of crystal lattices (3 with Theodore von Karman), [27] which became a book. [28] In 1914, received a letter from Max Planck explaining that a new professor extraordinarius chair of theoretical physics had been created at the University of Berlin. The chair had been offered to Max von Laue, but he had turned it down. Born accepted. [29] The First World War was now raging. Soon after arriving in Berlin in 1915, he enlisted in an Army signals unit. In October, he joined the Artillerie-Prüfungs-Kommission, the Army's Berlin-based artillery research and development organisation, under Rudolf Ladenburg, who had established a special unit dedicated to the new technology of sound ranging. In Berlin, Born formed a lifelong friendship with Einstein, who became a frequent visitor to Born's home. [30] Within days of the armistice in November 1918, Planck had the Army release Born. A chance meeting with Fritz Haber that month led to discussion of the manner in which an ionic compound is formed when a metal reacts with a halogen, which is today known as the Born–Haber cycle. [31]

Even before Born had taken up the chair in Berlin, von Laue had changed his mind, and decided that he wanted it after all. [29] He arranged with Born and the faculties concerned for them to exchange jobs. In April 1919, Born became professor ordinarius and Director of the Institute of Theoretical Physics on the science faculty at the University of Frankfurt am Main. [28] While there, he was approached by the University of Göttingen, which was looking for a replacement for Peter Debye as Director of the Physical Institute. [32] "Theoretical physics," Einstein advised him, "will flourish wherever you happen to be; there is no other Born to be found in Germany today." [33] In negotiating for the position with the education ministry, Born arranged for another chair, of experimental physics, at Göttingen for his long-time friend and colleague James Franck. [32]


Solvay Conference, 1927. Born is second from the right in the second row, between Louis de Broglie and Niels Bohr. Solvay conference 1927.jpg
Solvay Conference, 1927. Born is second from the right in the second row, between Louis de Broglie and Niels Bohr.

For the 12 years Born and Franck were at Göttingen, from 1921 to 1933, Born had a collaborator with shared views on basic scientific concepts — a benefit for teaching and research. Born's collaborative approach with experimental physicists was similar to that of Arnold Sommerfeld at the University of Munich, who was ordinarius professor of theoretical physics and Director of the Institute of Theoretical Physics — also a prime mover in the development of quantum theory. Born and Sommerfeld collaborated with experimental physicists to test and advance their theories. In 1922, when lecturing in the United States at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Sommerfeld sent his student Werner Heisenberg to be Born's assistant. Heisenberg returned to Göttingen in 1923, where he completed his habilitation under Born in 1924, and became a privatdozent at Göttingen. [34] [35]

In 1925, Born and Heisenberg formulated the matrix mechanics representation of quantum mechanics. On 9 July, Heisenberg gave Born a paper entitled Über quantentheoretische Umdeutung kinematischer und mechanischer Beziehungen ("Quantum-Theoretical Re-interpretation of Kinematic and Mechanical Relations") to review, and submit for publication. In the paper, Heisenberg formulated quantum theory, avoiding the concrete, but unobservable, representations of electron orbits by using parameters such as transition probabilities for quantum jumps, which necessitated using two indexes corresponding to the initial and final states. [36] [37] When Born read the paper, he recognized the formulation as one which could be transcribed and extended to the systematic language of matrices, [38] which he had learned from his study under Jakob Rosanes at Breslau University. [39]

Up until this time, matrices were seldom used by physicists; they were considered to belong to the realm of pure mathematics. Gustav Mie had used them in a paper on electrodynamics in 1912, and Born had used them in his work on the lattices theory of crystals in 1921. While matrices were used in these cases, the algebra of matrices with their multiplication did not enter the picture as they did in the matrix formulation of quantum mechanics. [40] With the help of his assistant and former student Pascual Jordan, Born began immediately to make a transcription and extension, and they submitted their results for publication; the paper was received for publication just 60 days after Heisenberg's paper. [41] A follow-on paper was submitted for publication before the end of the year by all three authors. [42] The result was a surprising formulation:

where p and q were matrices for location and momentum, and I is the identity matrix. Note that the left hand side of the equation is not zero because matrix multiplication is not commutative. [39] This formulation was entirely attributable to Born, who also established that all the elements not on the diagonal of the matrix were zero. Born considered that his paper with Jordan contained "the most important principles of quantum mechanics including its extension to electrodynamics." [39] The paper put Heisenberg's approach on a solid mathematical basis. [43]

Born was surprised to discover that Paul Dirac had been thinking along the same lines as Heisenberg. Soon, Wolfgang Pauli used the matrix method to calculate the energy values of the hydrogen atom and found that they agreed with the Bohr model. Another important contribution was made by Erwin Schrödinger, who looked at the problem using wave mechanics. This had a great deal of appeal to many at the time, as it offered the possibility of returning to deterministic classical physics. Born would have none of this, as it ran counter to facts determined by experiment. [39] He formulated the now-standard interpretation of the probability density function for ψ*ψ in the Schrödinger equation, which he published in July 1926. [44] [43]

In a letter to Born on 4 December 1926, Einstein made his famous remark regarding quantum mechanics:

Quantum mechanics is certainly imposing. But an inner voice tells me that it is not yet the real thing. The theory says a lot, but does not really bring us any closer to the secret of the 'old one'. I, at any rate, am convinced that He is not playing at dice. [45]

This quotation is often paraphrased as 'God does not play dice'. [46]

In 1928, Einstein nominated Heisenberg, Born, and Jordan for the Nobel Prize in Physics, [47] [48] but Heisenberg alone won the 1932 Prize "for the creation of quantum mechanics, the application of which has led to the discovery of the allotropic forms of hydrogen", [49] while Schrödinger and Dirac shared the 1933 Prize "for the discovery of new productive forms of atomic theory". [49] On 25 November 1933, Born received a letter from Heisenberg in which he said he had been delayed in writing due to a "bad conscience" that he alone had received the Prize "for work done in Göttingen in collaboration — you, Jordan and I." [50] Heisenberg went on to say that Born and Jordan's contribution to quantum mechanics cannot be changed by "a wrong decision from the outside." [50] In 1954, Heisenberg wrote an article honouring Planck for his insight in 1900, in which he credited Born and Jordan for the final mathematical formulation of matrix mechanics and Heisenberg went on to stress how great their contributions were to quantum mechanics, which were not "adequately acknowledged in the public eye." [51]

Those who received their Ph.D. degrees under Born at Göttingen included Max Delbrück, Siegfried Flügge, Friedrich Hund, Pascual Jordan, Maria Goeppert-Mayer, Lothar Wolfgang Nordheim, Robert Oppenheimer, and Victor Weisskopf. [1] [52] Born's assistants at the University of Göttingen's Institute for Theoretical Physics included Enrico Fermi, Werner Heisenberg, Gerhard Herzberg, Friedrich Hund, Pascual Jordan, Wolfgang Pauli, Léon Rosenfeld, Edward Teller, and Eugene Wigner. [53] Walter Heitler became an assistant to Born in 1928, and completed his habilitation under him in 1929. Born not only recognised talent to work with him, but he "let his superstars stretch past him; to those less gifted, he patiently handed out respectable but doable assignments." [54] Delbrück, and Goeppert-Mayer went on to win Nobel Prizes. [55] [56]

Later life

Born's gravestone in Gottingen is inscribed with the uncertainty principle, which he put on rigid mathematical footing. Grave of Max Born at Stadtfriedhof Gottingen 2017 01.jpg
Born's gravestone in Göttingen is inscribed with the uncertainty principle, which he put on rigid mathematical footing.

In January 1933, the Nazi Party came to power in Germany. In May, Born became one of six Jewish professors at Göttingen who were suspended with pay; Franck had already resigned. In twelve years they had built Göttingen into one of the world's foremost centres for physics. [57] Born began looking for a new job, writing to Maria Göppert-Mayer at Johns Hopkins University and Rudi Ladenburg at Princeton University. He accepted an offer from St John's College, Cambridge. [58] At Cambridge, he wrote a popular science book, The Restless Universe, and a textbook, Atomic Physics, that soon became a standard text, going through seven editions. His family soon settled into life in England, with his daughters Irene and Gritli becoming engaged to Welshman Brinley (Bryn) Newton-John (Olivia Newton-John's parents; Born is Olivia's grandfather and Irene is her mother) [59] and Englishman Maurice Pryce respectively. [60] [61]

Born's position at Cambridge was only a temporary one, and his tenure at Göttingen was terminated in May 1935. He therefore accepted an offer from C. V. Raman to go to Bangalore in 1935. [62] Born considered taking a permanent position there, but the Indian Institute of Science did not create an additional chair for him. [63] In November 1935, the Born family had their German citizenship revoked, rendering them stateless. A few weeks later Göttingen cancelled Born's doctorate. [64] Born considered an offer from Pyotr Kapitsa in Moscow, and started taking Russian lessons from Rudolf Peierls's Russian-born wife Genia. But then Charles Galton Darwin asked Born if he would consider becoming his successor as Tait Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, an offer that Born promptly accepted, [65] assuming the chair in October 1936. [60]

In Edinburgh, Born promoted the teaching of mathematical physics. He had two German assistants, E. Walter Kellermann and Klaus Fuchs, and one Scottish assistant, Robert Schlapp, [66] and together they continued to investigate the mysterious behaviour of electrons. [67] Born became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1937, and of the Royal Society of London in March 1939. During 1939, he got as many of his remaining friends and relatives still in Germany as he could out of the country, including his sister Käthe, in-laws Kurt and Marga, and the daughters of his friend Heinrich Rausch von Traubenberg. Hedi ran a domestic bureau, placing young Jewish women in jobs. Born received his certificate of naturalisation as a British subject on 31 August 1939, one day before the Second World War broke out in Europe. [68]

Born remained at Edinburgh until he reached the retirement age of 70 in 1952. He retired to Bad Pyrmont, in West Germany, in 1954. [69] In October, he received word that he was being awarded the Nobel Prize. His fellow physicists had never stopped nominating him. Franck and Fermi had nominated him in 1947 and 1948 for his work on crystal lattices, and over the years, he had also been nominated for his work on solid state physics, quantum mechanics and other topics. [70] In 1954, he received the prize for "fundamental research in Quantum Mechanics, especially in the statistical interpretation of the wave function" [6] — something that he had worked on alone. [70] In his Nobel lecture he reflected on the philosophical implications of his work:

I believe that ideas such as absolute certitude, absolute exactness, final truth, etc. are figments of the imagination which should not be admissible in any field of science. On the other hand, any assertion of probability is either right or wrong from the standpoint of the theory on which it is based. This loosening of thinking (Lockerung des Denkens) seems to me to be the greatest blessing which modern science has given to us. For the belief in a single truth and in being the possessor thereof is the root cause of all evil in the world. [71]

In retirement, he continued scientific work, and produced new editions of his books. In 1955 he became one of signatories to the Russell-Einstein Manifesto. He died at age 87 in hospital in Göttingen on 5 January 1970, [8] and is buried in the Stadtfriedhof there, in the same cemetery as Walther Nernst, Wilhelm Weber, Max von Laue, Otto Hahn, Max Planck, and David Hilbert. [72]

Personal life

Born's wife Hedwig (Hedi) Martha Ehrenberg (1891–1972) was a daughter of the jurist Victor Ehrenberg and Elise von Jhering (a daughter of the jurist Rudolf von Jhering). Born was survived by his wife Hedi and their children Irene, Gritli and Gustav. [69] Singer Olivia Newton-John is a daughter of Irene (1914-2003). The actor Max Born (Fellini Satyricon) is his grandson. His great-grandchildren include songwriter Brett Goldsmith, singer Tottie Goldsmith, racing car driver Emerson Newton-John, [73] and singer Chloe Rose Lattanzi. [74]

Awards and honors


During his life, Born wrote several semi-popular and technical books. His volumes on topics like atomic physics and optics were very well received. They are considered classics in their fields, and are still in print. The following is a chronological listing of his major works:

For a full list of his published papers, see HistCite. For his published works, see Published Works – Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften Akademiebibliothek.

See also


  1. 1 2 Max Born at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  2. Dudenredaktion; Kleiner, Stefan; Knöbl, Ralf (2015) [First published 1962]. Das Aussprachewörterbuch [The Pronunciation Dictionary] (in German) (7th ed.). Berlin: Dudenverlag. pp. 244, 588. ISBN   978-3-411-04067-4.
  3. Krech, Eva-Maria; Stock, Eberhard; Hirschfeld, Ursula; Anders, Lutz Christian (2009). Deutsches Aussprachewörterbuch [German Pronunciation Dictionary] (in German). Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. pp. 382, 732. ISBN   978-3-11-018202-6.
  4. Born, M.; Jordan, P. (1925). "Zur Quantenmechanik". Zeitschrift für Physik. 34 (1): 858–888. Bibcode:1925ZPhy...34..858B. doi:10.1007/BF01328531.
  5. Born, M. (1926). "Zur Quantenmechanik der Stoßvorgänge". Zeitschrift für Physik. 37 (12): 863–867. Bibcode:1926ZPhy...37..863B. doi:10.1007/BF01397477.
  6. 1 2 "The Nobel Prize in Physics 1954". The Official Web Site of the Nobel Prize. Retrieved 10 March 2013.
  7. O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "Max Born", MacTutor History of Mathematics archive , University of St Andrews .
  8. 1 2 "Nobel prize winner dies". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. (Pennsylvania, U.S.). Associated Press. 6 January 1970. p. 26.
  9. Born, G. V. R. (2002). "The wide-ranging family history of Max Born". Notes and Records of the Royal Society. 56 (2): 219–262. doi:10.1098/rsnr.2002.0180.
  10. Kemmer & Schlapp 1971, p. 17.
  11. Greenspan 2005, pp. 5–7.
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  14. Greenspan 2005, pp. 22–28.
  15. Max Born's Life, Max Born Realschule, archived from the original on 13 November 2013, retrieved 5 March 2013
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  22. Born, M. (1909). "Die Theorie des starren Elektrons in der Kinematik des Relativitätsprinzips". Annalen der Physik. 335 (11): 1–56. Bibcode:1909AnP...335....1B. doi:10.1002/andp.19093351102.
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  77. The award was presented for research on quantum mechanics of fields and shared with Born's collaborator H. W. Peng. See Greenspan, 2005, p. 257 and Born Biographic Data.
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  84. James Franck und Max Born in Göttingen: Reden zur akademischen Feier aus Anlass der 100. Wiederkehr ihres Geburtsjahres. (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1983). Speeches by Norbert Kamp, Peter Haasen, Gerhart W. Rathenau, and Friedrich Hund. Franck was Director of the Second Institute for Experimental Physics at Göttingen, while Born was Director of the Institute of Theoretical Physics.
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  89. Einstein's Theory of Relativity, Dover Publications, 1962 edition, ISBN   0-486-60769-0.
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  93. Problems of Atomic Dynamics is available from MIT Press, ISBN   0-262-52019-2, and Dover Publications, ISBN   0-486-43873-2.
  94. AIP Niels Bohr Library and AbeBooks: Search on Mechanics of the Atom.
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  98. The eighth edition was published in 1969, including revisions by R. J. Blin-Stoyle & J. M. Radcliffe. The 8th edition of Atomic Physics is available from Dover Publications in paper cover, ISBN   0-486-65984-4.
  99. The Restless Universe was last published by Dover Publications, 1951, ISBN   0-486-20412-X, but it is no longer in print.
  100. Greenspan, 2005, 245–246
  101. Citations for Max Born Based on the Library of Congress – See the entry for Natural Philosophy of Cause and Chance. Also see Greenspan, 2005, p. 352.
  102. A new edition of Dynamical Theory of Crystal Lattices is available from Oxford University Press in hard cover ISBN   978-0-19-850369-9 and in soft cover ISBN   0-19-850369-5.
  103. Physics in My Generation (Springer, 1969), ISBN   0-387-90008-X.
  104. Principles of Optics is now in its 7th revised printing, ISBN   0-521-64222-1. The first 5 revised editions were done by Pergamon Press (1959–1975). The last 2 were done by Cambridge University Press in 1980 and 1999.
  105. Paul Rosbaud, a former editor at Springer who remained in Germany during World War II and spied for the allies, was initially involved with Born and the endeavor to publish Optik in English, as Rosbaud was organizing a publishing company in England after the war. The publishing company did not materialize, and Rosbaud eventually joined Pergamon Press. (Greenspan, 2005, pp. 292–294.)
  106. Greenspan, 2005, pp. 174, 292–294.
  107. AIP Niels Bohr Library
  108. AIP Niels Bohr Library
  109. The Born–Einstein Letters, Macmillan Publishers, 2004, ISBN   1-4039-4496-2.
  110. My Life: Recollections of a Nobel Laureate was also published by Taylor and Francis/Charles Scribner's Sons, ISBN   0-85066-174-9. No longer in print.

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