Max Planck didn't set out to start a scientific revolution. In fact, at first he didn't even believe his own results. Yet Planck's insight into how the universe works has made possible everything from digital computers to the physics of black holes.
Planck was born 150 years ago today, the son of a German lawyer and college professor. He finished his education in record time, and decided to pursue a career in physics.
Planck spent most of his career at the University of Berlin. He was particularly interested in problems involving electromagnetic radiation -- visible light, infrared and ultraviolet energy, and so on.
In 1900, he was studying how objects absorb energy and radiate it back into space when he realized that energy must consist of particles, which he called "quanta." And the size and energy level of a quantum particle were related to the frequency of the radiation.
Planck's revelation formed the basis of quantum physics. It helped scientists understand how atoms are put together, plus much more. Today, quantum physics helps scientists study matter at the smallest scales, and in the most extreme environments -- like the interiors of black holes.
It took Planck a while to accept his own discovery. But others were much quicker. Albert Einstein, for example, was an early champion of the theory, and used it in work that eventually won him his only Nobel Prize. Planck won a Nobel for his creation of quantum theory in 1918.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.