Skip to main content
Year
1900
Month Day
December 14

The birth of quantum theory

German physicist Max Planck publishes his groundbreaking study of the effect of radiation on a “blackbody” substance, and the quantum theory of modern physics is born.

Through physical experiments, Planck demonstrated that energy, in certain situations, can exhibit characteristics of physical matter. According to theories of classical physics, energy is solely a continuous wave-like phenomenon, independent of the characteristics of physical matter. Planck’s theory held that radiant energy is made up of particle-like components, known as “quanta.” The theory helped to resolve previously unexplained natural phenomena such as the behavior of heat in solids and the nature of light absorption on an atomic level. In 1918, Planck was rewarded the Nobel Prize in physics for his work on blackbody radiation.

Other scientists, such as Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Louis de Broglie, Erwin Schrodinger and Paul M. Dirac, advanced Planck’s theory and made possible the development of quantum mechanics–a mathematical application of the quantum theory that maintains that energy is both matter and a wave, depending on certain variables. Quantum mechanics thus takes a probabilistic view of nature, sharply contrasting with classical mechanics, in which all precise properties of objects are, in principle, calculable. Today, the combination of quantum mechanics with Einstein’s theory of relativity is the basis of modern physics.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

George Washington dies

George Washington, the American revolutionary leader and first president of the United States, dies at his estate in Mount Vernon, Virginia. He was 67 years old. George Washington was born in 1732 to a farm family in Westmoreland County, Virginia. His first direct military ...read more

Sandy Hook school shooting

On December 14, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Adam Lanza kills 20 first graders and six school employees before turning a gun on himself. Earlier that day, he killed his mother at the home they shared. The Sandy Hook shooting was, at the time, the ...read more

Indy “Brickyard” is completed

On December 14, 1909, workers place the last of the 3.2 million 10-pound bricks that pave the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana (a town surrounded by the city of Indianapolis). Since then, most of that brick has been buried under asphalt, but one yard remains ...read more

Roald Amundsen becomes first explorer to reach the South Pole

Norwegian Roald Amundsen becomes the first explorer to reach the South Pole, beating his British rival, Robert Falcon Scott. Amundsen, born in Borge, near Oslo, in 1872, was one of the great figures in polar exploration. In 1897, he was first mate on a Belgian expedition that was ...read more

President Kennedy announces intent to increase aid to South Vietnam

In a public exchange of letters with South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, President John F. Kennedy formally announces that the United States will increase aid to South Vietnam, which would include the expansion of the U.S. troop commitment. Kennedy, concerned with the ...read more

“Saturday Night Fever” premieres in LA

In a 2008 interview on BBC Radio 4, Robin Gibb confessed to making it through only the first 30 minutes of the world premiere, and to never having seen the rest of the picture in the decades that followed. Millions of Americans did, however, make it through the film that made a ...read more

Burglar confesses to high-profile kidnapping case

A botched burglary attempt further clouds one of the earliest kidnap-for-ransom cases. As he was about to go to bed, wealthy New Yorker Holmes Van Brunt heard burglars breaking into his brother’s house next door. After rounding up three other men to help him surprise the ...read more

President Lincoln pardons his sister-in-law

President Abraham Lincoln announces a grant of amnesty for Emilie Todd Helm, his wife Mary Lincoln’s half sister and the widow of a Confederate general. The pardon was one of the first under Lincoln’s Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, which he had announced less than a ...read more

USSR expelled from the League of Nations

On December 14, 1939, the League of Nations, the international peacekeeping organization formed at the end of World War I, expels the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in response to the Soviets’ invasion of Finland on November 30. Although the League of Nations was more or ...read more