Max von Laue, Nobel Prize in Physics for his discoveries on X-ray diffraction

Max von Laue

October 9, 1879, in Pfaffendorf (Germany) – April 24, 1960, in Berlin (Germany)

He studied physical sciences at the universities of Strasbourg, Göttingen, and Munich, being his mentor Max Planck.

In 1912, he served as professor of physics at the University of Zurich, and between 1919 and 1943 he was director of Theoretical Physics at the University of Berlin. After retiring in 1943, he received the appointment of honorary professor at the University of Göttingen.

At that time it was believed that the X-rays discovered by Wilhelm Röntgen in 1895 were just electromagnetic waves with a particularly short wavelength and that the atoms were arranged in an orderly way, which had to do with their external structure.

Von Laue investigated a method to measure the wavelength of X-rays, using, for the first time, very fine salt crystals used as a diffraction grating, showing that these rays were of a nature analogous to those of light, but not visible since their wavelength is extremely short. He also studied the patterns (symmetrical images) produced on photographic plates by X-rays that have undergone reflection or refraction in a crystalline material.

His innovation was to suggest that the space between atoms should exceed magnitude 10-10 for X-ray diffraction to be real. This hypothesis was confirmed in 1912.

Estudios de Max von Laue

In 1914, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his discoveries on the diffraction of X-rays through crystals. Thanks to this, a better study of the structure of the crystals (X-ray crystallography) was possible.

Likewise, he was interested in the field of Albert Einstein's theory of relativity looking for points that supported it.

During World War II, Germany invades Denmark and the chemist George de Hevesy dissolves the medals of the Nobel Prize winners Max Von Laue and James Franck in aqua regia (a highly corrosive solution formed by a mixture of concentrated nitric acid and concentrated hydrochloric acid) to avoid that the Nazis stole them, placing this solution on a shelf in his laboratory at the Niels Bohr Institute. After the war, he returned to the laboratory precipitated the gold out of the mixture, and returned it to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the Nobel Foundation remade the medals to give them to their rightful owners, von Laue and Franck.

In 1951, he began to direct the Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society in Berlin.

A crater, an asteroid, and a mineral (laueite) are named after Max von Laue.

He died in 1960 due to a car accident.

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