In June of 1900, six months prior to Planck’s historic act of desperation and long before Einstein’s 1906 clarification of its meaning, John William Strutt, Lord and Third Baron Rayleigh, had noticed that something must be wrong with the Wien law. This was the law that was believed to describe blackbody radiation but would soon be found experimentally to fail at long wavelengths.
Lord Rayleigh, a member of the British nobility, had overcome his family’s disapproval of the plebeian study of nature to ascend to the very pinnacle of British science. He had been a sickly youth, bouncing from school to school, and thus did not exhibit his talents early, even being turned down for a minor scholarship at Cambridge. Unexpectedly, ...