Max Von Laue

The Crazy German Physicist

The Fascinating Life of Max Von Laue

Early Life

Max Laue was born on October 9, 1879 at Pfaffendorf, near Koblenz. His father was Julius von Laue, an official in the German military administration. Because of his work, Julius Von Laue was often sent to various towns, so that von Laue spent his youth in Brandenburg, Altona, Posen, Berlin and Strassburg. Von Laue attended school in the three last-named cities.

At a Protestant school at Strassburg Von Laue came under the tutelage of Professor Goering, who introduced him to the exact sciences. The sciences fascinated him, making him question the world around him. However, in 1898 he left school and for a year did his military service.


After fulfilling his duty, Von Laue went to the University of Strassburg where he studied mathematics, physics and chemistry. Soon he moved to the University of Göttingen, where he worked under Professor W. Voigt and Professor W. Abraham, who greatly influenced him. After a semester at the University of Munich he went, in 1902, to the University of Berlin to work under Professor Max Planck. Here he attended lectures by O. Lummer on interference spectroscopy and heat radiation. The influence of his teachers was apparent through his studies and written into his dissertation.

Career & Experiment

Laue became professor of physics at the University of Zürich in 1912. He was the first to suggest the use of a crystal to act as a grating for the diffraction of X rays. This showed 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 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.

Laue diffraction pattern or Laue method deals with the diffraction of X rays through a crystal. The result of the experiment was a regular array of spots on a photographic emulsion. This occurred because X rays were scattered by certain groups of parallel atomic planes within a crystal. When a thin, pencil-like beam of X rays is allowed to impinge on a crystal, those of certain wavelengths will be oriented at just the proper angle to a group of atomic planes so that they will combine in phase to produce intense, regularly spaced spots on a film or plate centered around the central image from the beam.


When Berlin was bombed, this Institute where Laue worked moved to Hechingen, in Württemberg. Von Laue went there as well. He stayed at Hechingen from 1944 until 1945 and here, to distract his thoughts from the war, he wrote a History of Physics, which went into four editions and was translated into seven other languages.

Von Laue welcomed the arrival of the French troops. He was taken by an Anglo-American mission, along with nine other German scientists. They were taken to England where he remained until 1946.

Awards Won

  • Nobel Peace Prize
X-Ray Diffraction

Works Cited

Farber, Gr K, P. Machin, G A Petsko, S C Almo, and J. Hajdu. "X-ray Laue Diffraction from Crystals of Xylose Isomerase." X-ray Laue Diffraction from Crystals of Xylose Isomerase. National Academy of Sciences, 1 Jan. 1988. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. <>.

Kubbinga, Henk. "A Tribute to Max Van Laue." Euro-Physics-News. University of Groningen. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. <>.

"Max Von Laue - Biographical." Nobel Prize. Nobel Foundation, 1 Jan. 1967. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. <>.

"Max Von Laue (German Physicist)." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 29 Oct. 2013. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. <>.

"Max Von Laue." Max Von Laue. Soylent Communications. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.

"Solid State Physics X-ray Scattering II: Transmission Laue Method." Hiram Physics. HIRAM College, 1 Jan. 2013. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. <>.

"The Laue Method." The Laue Method. The University of Liverpool, 25 July 2000. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. <>.