Max Born was born in Breslau in 1882, the son of Gustav Born, Professor of Anatomy at Breslau University, and of Margarethe Kauffmann. Max's mother died when he was only 5, and his father in 1900, when Max was 17. Max was educated at the König-Wilhelm Gymnasium in Breslau and attended university in Breslau, Heidelberg, Zürich, Göttingen, and Cambridge. At Göttingen, he attended lectures of the mathematician David Hilbert, who made him his assistant with responsibilities including writing up the lectures for the reading room.
Max became lecturer ('Privatdozent') at Göttingen in 1909, where he pursued his ground-breaking work on crystal lattices. In 1913 he married Hedwig ('Hedi') Ehrenberg. They had three children: Irene, Margarete ('Gritli'), and Gustav. In 1915 Max was made Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Berlin. Here he and Hedi met Albert Einstein and they began a life-long friendship. After the First World War, Max took a professorship at Frankfurt, before returning to Göttingen in 1921. Here he created a school of theoretical physics, making Göttingen one of the most important international centres of the new 'quantum mechanics' which he named in 1924. In 1925 he recognized that a new formulation his former assistant Werner Heisenberg had proposed could be expressed in terms of matrix operations, leading to the development of matrix mechanics. He also initiated the statistical interpretation of Schrödinger's wave function, which contradicted the determinism of classical physics. Max's description of particle scattering, which became known as the Born approximation, has become important in high energy physics.
Anti-semitic laws forced Max and his family to leave Göttingen in 1933. He accepted the position of Stokes Lecturer of Applied Mathematics at Cambridge, then worked in India, at the Indian Institute of Physics in Bangalore. In 1936 moved to Edinburgh to take up the post of Tait Professor of Natural Philosophy, and built up a school of research physicists, concentrating in particular on the physics of the solid and liquid states. Max remained in Edinburgh until his retirement in 1953, following which he and Hedi returned to Germany to live in Bad Pyrmont.
In 1954, Max Born was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for his work on the interpretation of Schrödinger's wave function.
Deeply interested in the relationship between science and society, Max was consistently opposed to the development of nuclear weapons and was involved in the foundation of the Pugwash movement.
He died on 5th January 1970.
His publications include: 'Dynamik der Kristallgitter' (1915); 'Optik' (1933); Moderne Physik (1933), translated as Atomic Physics (1935); The Restless Universe (1935); Natural Philosophy of Cause and Chance (1949); Dynamical Theory of Crystal Lattices (with Kun Huang) (1954); Physics in my Generation (1956); Principles of Optics (with Emil Wolf) (1959); My Life and my Views (1968); Briefwechsel 1916-1955, kommentiert von Max Born (with Hedwig Born and Albert Einstein) (1969), translated as The Born-Einstein Letters: Correspondence between Albert Einstein and Max and Hedwig Born from 19161955, with commentaries by Max Born (1971); Mein Leben: Die Erinnerungen des Nobelpreisträgers (1975), translated as My Life: Recollections of a Nobel Laureate (1978).
Papers and correspondence of Professor Max Born, his wife and children, and material concerning their family history. Including photographs and artefacts.
The papers were transferred to the archives in two main tranches. The first tranche was initially deposited in the Centre by Professor Born's family in the early 1970s, before being transferred to Edinburgh University. In the 1980s, some material was sold to the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin. The archives were transferred from Edinburgh back to the Churchill Archives Centre in 2008, along with a second tranche of material from the home and office of Max Born's son, Professor Gustav Born. This second tranche contained material collected and collated by Professor Gustav Born since the death of his parents, including biographical material about Max and many sources for Born family history. It also includes the correspondence between Gustav Born and his sisters, Margarete ('Gritli') and Irene.
The collection incorporates the papers of Max Born's immediate family as well as his family history. The papers have therefore been arranged according to the family member who gathered the material together. Letters which Gustav Born received from his father and kept together have, therefore, been listed as part of Gustav Born's papers. 'Former references' in the catalogue refer to the file references when the papers were first held at the Churchill Archives Centre.
The collection is open for consultation by researchers using Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge. Churchill Archives Centre is open from Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm. A prior appointment and two forms of identification are required. Material in this collection is open to researchers unless otherwise marked in the catalogue.
Researchers wishing to publish excerpts from the papers must obtain prior permission from the copyright holders and should seek advice from Archives Centre staff.
In German, English
Please cite as Churchill Archives Centre, The Papers of Professor Max Born, BORN