Max Planck

An Uphill Battle

Germany was in the midst of a political and economic crisis, which left the government with little time and even less money to support the scientific community. What money they did have was spent in support of the applied sciences and their researchers, because it seemed more immediately useful to the economy. This left German theoretical physicists out in the cold–they no longer received funding from their government, and they knew better than to accept aid from still wary foreigners. Popular opinion didn't help matters. Much of the public saw that science and technology were the causes of the overproduction that was plaguing the company, and they weren't about to feel pity for the cause of their own misery.

Realizing no one was left to help them, the scientists, led by Planck, saved themselves. In 1920, they created a new organization, the Notgemeinschaft der deutschen Wissenschaft, or Emergency Society for Science and Scholarship, to raise money for scientific research. Planck served on the executive committee and chaired the Electrophysics Committee, which made him responsible for handing out grants to German physicists. Planck saw this as his chance to support German theoretical physics, which he felt was the most important of the sciences and the one most likely to elevate the scientific community's reputation both inside Germany and out. He offered funds to those scientists whose work he felt was most promising and most significant, and history proved his decisions correct. The beneficiaries of these grants became leaders in the new field of quantum physics, offering undeniable evidence that German physics was still at the top of its game.