Max von Laue

Biography

On October 9, 1879, Max von Laue is born in Pfaffendorf near Coblenz. In 1898, he leaves school with his certificate of eligibility for university entrance, serving a one-year term with the military from 1898 to 1899, which enables him to attend lectures by Ferdinand Braun at Strasbourg. From 1899 to 1902 he continues his studies at Göttingen and at Munich, with Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen. In 1902, he moves on to Berlin, where Max Planck becomes his adviser for the doctoral degree he completes in 1904. In 1906, he habilitates with a thesis on "The Thermodynamics of Interference Phenomena." From 1909 to 1912, von Laue is a Private Lecturer at the Institute of Theoretical Physics headed by Professor Sommerfeld, before he is appointed Full Professor of Physics at the University of Frankfurt/Main.

In the same year, Max von Laue is awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics, "for his discovery of the diffraction of X-rays during their passage through crystal lattices."

From 1916 to 1918, Max von Laue is granted a sabbatical from his teaching responsibilities, in order to join Wilhelm Wien in research on amplifier tubes at the Physical Institute of the University of Würzburg.

In 1923, he becomes Director of the Institute for Theoretical Physics at Frankfurt.

After the National Socialists' rise to power, von Laue supports endangered scientists, and after 1945, he is instrumental in re-building the German scientific community. In 1951, von Laue is appointed Director of the Fritz Haber Institute for Chemistry and Electrochemistry in Berlin-Dahlen.

On April 24, 1960, Max von Laue dies in a traffic accident in Berlin.

Research/Nobel Prize

In 1912, 17 years had gone by since the discovery of X-rays, with the true nature of the rays as unclear as before. Why did they pass through opaque substances and through the human body? Inspired by a student's question about the diffraction of light, young Professor Laue hypothesized: If X-rays are extremely short-wave electric oscillations, and the atoms in a crystal are arranged regularly, then the penetration of a crystal by radiation must produce diffraction images. He developed an array to test his idea. And the experiment confirmed the theory!
Two fundamental questions of physics had been decided. X-rays are extremely short-wave transversal electromagnetic waves, and the spatial arrangement of atoms in crystals is regular. Their pattern can be determined by X-ray diffraction. The process contributed to a dramatic advance in Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Living and Working in Würzburg

During World War I, von Laue was granted a sabbatical from his Frankfurt professorship, in order to collaborate with Wilhelm Wien at the Physical Institute in Würzburg in joint research on spark telegraphy, which was then classified as being of strategic importance. Up until 1920, Max von Laue lived in an apartment at Mergentheimer Strasse 40. His daughter Hildegard was born in Würzburg.