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- 1811 - 2009
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Biographical / Historical
Max became lecturer (‘Privatdozent’) at Göttingen in 1909, where he pursued his ground-breaking work on crystal lattices. In 1913 he married Hedwig (‘Hedi’) Ehrenberg. They had three children: Irene, Margarete (‘Gritli’), and Gustav. In 1915 Max was made Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Berlin. Here he and Hedi met Albert Einstein and they began a life-long friendship. After the First World War, Max took a professorship at Frankfurt, before returning to Göttingen in 1921. Here he created a school of theoretical physics, making Göttingen one of the most important international centres of the new ‘quantum mechanics’ which he named in 1924. In 1925 he recognized that a new formulation his former assistant Werner Heisenberg had proposed could be expressed in terms of matrix operations, leading to the development of matrix mechanics. He also initiated the statistical interpretation of Schrödinger's wave function, which contradicted the determinism of classical physics. Max’s description of particle scattering, which became known as the Born approximation, has become important in high energy physics.
Anti-semitic laws forced Max and his family to leave Göttingen in 1933. He accepted the position of Stokes Lecturer of Applied Mathematics at Cambridge, then worked in India, at the Indian Institute of Physics in Bangalore. In 1936 moved to Edinburgh to take up the post of Tait Professor of Natural Philosophy, and built up a school of research physicists, concentrating in particular on the physics of the solid and liquid states. Max remained in Edinburgh until his retirement in 1953, following which he and Hedi returned to Germany to live in Bad Pyrmont.
In 1954, Max Born was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for his work on the interpretation of Schrödinger's wave function.
Deeply interested in the relationship between science and society, Max was consistently opposed to the development of nuclear weapons and was involved in the foundation of the Pugwash movement.
He died on 5th January 1970.
His publications include: ‘Dynamik der Kristallgitter’ (1915); ‘Optik’ (1933); Moderne Physik (1933), translated as Atomic Physics (1935); The Restless Universe (1935); Natural Philosophy of Cause and Chance (1949); Dynamical Theory of Crystal Lattices (with Kun Huang) (1954); Physics in my Generation (1956); Principles of Optics (with Emil Wolf) (1959); My Life and my Views (1968); Briefwechsel 1916-1955, kommentiert von Max Born (with Hedwig Born and Albert Einstein) (1969), translated as The Born-Einstein Letters: Correspondence between Albert Einstein and Max and Hedwig Born from 1916–1955, with commentaries by Max Born (1971); Mein Leben: Die Erinnerungen des Nobelpreisträgers (1975), translated as My Life: Recollections of a Nobel Laureate (1978).
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