The Life of Max Born

For his statistical interpretation of quantum mechanics as well as for his lattice theory of crystals Max Born received the Nobelprize in Physics in the year 1954 (together with W. Bothe). His life's work comprises in addition a wealth of ground breaking studies to describe atomic processes in quantum mechanical terms, key contributions towards the development of the formalism of quantum mechanics (together with his assistants W. Heisenberg and P. Jordan) as well as on modern optics which are documented in “Born und Wolf: Optics”, still a standard textbook even today. The name Max Born represents thus symbolically the research programme of the Max Born Institute which in this sense concentrates on a field between quantum optics, atomic and molecular physics and the physics of condensed matter. The key stations of his life are briefly summarized below:


born in Breslau (now Wroclaw, in Poland)

1888 - 1901

School and High School in Breslau


begin of academic studies in Breslau, among others Mathematics with J. Rosanes and F. London


Heidelberg, early days of his friendship with James Franck

1903 - 1904

Breslau - Zürich - Berlin



private assistant with David Hilbert

reading special relativity with Hermann Minkowski as well as crystal physics and optics with Waldemar Voigt

seminar with Felix Klein and Carl Runge on the theory of elasticity


Ph. D. examination (magna cum laude) with Hilbert, Runge, Voigt and Schwarzschild


research stay in Cambridge, reading physics with J. Larmor and J. J. Thomson


Goettingen - scientific assistant of Minkowski


Habilitation on the relativistic electron

first interaction with Einstein

1912 - 1913

work on lattice dynamics


marriage to Hedwig Ehrenberg in Berlin - Gruenau


Call at the university of Berlin to support Max Planck in teaching physics

extra ordinarius for theoretical physics, kinetic theory of solids


Call to the University of Frankfurt on the chair of Max von Laue who followed a call to Berlin.

first own institute

two research assistents (one of them being Otto Stern)


Call on a chair in Goettingen simultaneously with James Franck who got a chair in experimental physics


first "Bohr festival" in Goettingen

Wolfgang Pauli and Werner Heisenberg are research assistents of Max Born


fomulation of the "new" quantum mechanics by Werner Heisenberg

probability interpretation of the quantum mechanical description of collisions (Born approximation)

work on applications and extensions of quantum mechanics


Loss of his academic affiliations due to the Nazi regime; emigration

1934 - 1935

work at the Cavendish laboratory in Cambridge, teaching on nonlinear elektrodynamics

1936 - 1954

Tait chair in Edinburgh as successor of Charles Galton Darwin


Nobelprize in Physics (statistical interpretation of quantum mechanics)


return to Germany


initiation of the "proclamation of Mainau" (on the dangers of nuclear arms)


Declaration of the "Goettingen Eighteen", an important and influencial protest of eminent scientists against the then considered armament of the German Federal Army with nuclear weapons

1954 - 1970

Bad Pyrmont / Göttingen

A very detailed recent biography of Max Born "The End of a Certain World" has been written by Nancy Thorndike Greenspan. There is also an informative Webpage connected to with this writing

The Max Born Institute cultivates the memory of Max Born. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the bestowal of the Nobel Prize on 11th December 2004 a two days Symposium was held at the MBI, during which also Prof. Gustav Born, the son of Max Born, delivered a celebration lecture. Out of this event an attractive Broschure "Max Born - A Celebration" emerged. It can be downloaded here (als pdf 3.2MB). Guests of the MBI are welcome to receive a printed version from one of the secretarial offices of the MBI.

On 11th December 2007, the 125th birthday of Max Born, again a Symposium in the honor of the renowned physicist took place. It was organized jointly by the Max Born Institute and the Max Planck Institute for the history of science (Berlin). Several members of the Born Family were among the participants, like Gustav Born and the famous singer and actress Olivia Newton-John, a grand daugther of Max Born.