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Max von Laue (October 9, 1879 - April 24, 1960) was a German physicist, who studied under Max Planck.

von Laue became professor of physics at the University of Zurich in 1912. He was the first to suggest the use of a crystal to act as a grating for the diffraction of X rays, showing that if a beam of X rays passed through a crystal, diffraction would take place and a pattern would be formed on a photographic plate placed at a right angle to the direction of the rays. The pattern would mark out the symmetrical arrangements of the atoms in the crystal. This was verified experimentally in 1912 by two of von Laue's students working under his direction. This success demonstrated that X rays are electromagnetic radiations similar to light and also provided experimental proof that the atomic structure of crystals is a regularly repeating arrangement.

From 1919 von Laue was a professor of theoretical physics at the University of Berlin and director of the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Berlin. He worked out a method for measuring X-ray wavelengths, in which a crystal (e.g. rock salt) is used, producing diffraction of the rays. For this work, which also made possible a closer study of crystal structure (a method called X-ray crystallography), he received the 1914 Nobel Prize in Physics. His discovery enabled scientists to study the structure of crystals, marking the origin of solid-state physics, an important field in the development of modern electronics.

Max von Laue

When Germany invaded Denmark in World War II, the Hungarian chemist George de Hevesy dissolved the gold Nobel Prizes of Max von Laue and James Franck into aqua regia to prevent the Nazis from stealing them. He placed the resulting solution on a shelf in his laboratory at the Niels Bohr Institute. After the war, he returned to find the solution undisturbed and precipitated the gold out of the acid. The Nobel Society then recast the Nobel Prizes using the original gold.

von Laue championed Albert Einstein's theory of relativity, did research on the quantum theory, the Compton effect (change of wavelength in light under certain conditions), and the disintegration of atoms. He became director of the Max Planck Institute for Research in Physical Chemistry, Berlin, in 1951.

Max von Laue, West Gernany Stamp , 1979

Max von Laue, East Germany Stamp, 1979

Max von Laue (left) with Adolf Scheibe, Image © Dr. Klaus Adelsberger (Source)

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