• Faithful to my Homeland, the Republic of Poland



    Scholarship knows no boundaries: scholars forgot about them long ago. The best evidence of this comes the large numbers of foreign researchers working in Polish institutions of higher education, and their Polish counterparts who lecture abroad. The success of Polish academics today has its roots in the past. The library catalogue of the Cathedral Chapter of Cracow dating back to 1110 shows that already in the early twelfth century Polish intellectuals had access to the European literature of that period - including the Classics like Ovid, Terence, Statius and Sallust. Polish scholarship has brought many academic achievements and discoveries of global importance.




    Polish people are considered great romantics - star-gazers. The most famous of them to gaze up at the heavens scientifically was (Nicholaus Copernicus (Mikołaj Kopernik)) , who "stopped the Sun and moved the Earth". Joannes Hevelius (Jan Heweliusz) followed in Copernicus' footsteps in his work on the Moon with what was the largest telescope in the world at that time (50 m.) . He gave names to many of the sites on the surface of the Moon, as well as seven constellations. In 1664 Hevelius became a member of the Royal Society of London, the most important scientific institution in Europe at the time, in recognition of his achievements, which had made him famous throughout Europe.

    Adam Prazmowski , who also liked to gaze up at the heavens, discovered the polarsed emission from the sun's corona (1860). Tadeusz Banachiewicz developed a new matrix calculus, known as Trakowian theory, which reduced the number of operations and opportunities for error in astronomical calculations. He was the first to calculate the orbit of Pluto (1930) .


    Research by another Polish astronomer, Michał Kamieński , led to a more precise determination when the events in ancient history occurred, whose exact dates are either unknown or uncertain, such as the destruction of Troy, ca. 1150 BC, or the Atlantis disaster, ca. 9540 BC).


    Polish astronomers have not only been interested in theory, however. Mieczysław G. Bekker was also a specialist in vehicle design. He worked for General Motors in Santa Barbara and was also an advisor to the U.S. and Canadian military authorities. In fact, his interest in space began with his work for the military. He designed the lunar vehicle used by the Apollo 15, Apollo 16 and Apollo 17 moon missions. He held many patents in the field of vehicular construction, including those intended for use on other planets.


    The best known-contemporary Polish astronomer is Aleksander Wolszczan. He was the first to discover planets outside our solar system. In 1992 he discovered three planets revolving around a neutron star, the pulsar PSR B1257+12 in the constellation of Virgo.


    Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) was a true Renaissance man: mathematician, economist, translator, physician, an administrator serving the King of Poland, and, above all, astronomer. He was educated at the Universities of Cracow,  Bologna, Padua and Ferrara, where in 1503, he received a doctorate in Canon Law. He made observations of the Sun in an attempt to determine the obliquity of the ecliptic, duration of the tropical year and location of other celestial bodies. Around the year 1510, in his treatise Commentariolus , he gave a preliminary outline of his new theory of planetary motion, in which he argued that it was in fact the planets that revolved around the Sun, and not vice versa. This study was not published, but copies found their way to various scientific centres across Europe, and his revolutionary theory quickly became known in academic circles outside Poland. Copernicus probably wrote his most important work, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium , during the years 1515-1530. The first edition, published in Nuremburg in 1543, was dedicated to Pope Paul III.


    One of the first Polish scientists, Vitello (Witelo) , was conducting experiments already in the thirteenth century which became the basis for early optics . He described the construction of the eye and attempted to explain how it works. His views continued to be regarded as valid until the sixteenth century, evidenced by the fact an edition of his work was published in Nuremberg in 1535. Polish scholars' work was often ground-breaking, despite the fact that their successes may have been all but forgotten. Americans are considered to be the pioneers of the oil industry, for example, but it was a Pole, Ignacy Łukasiewicz , who constructed the first paraffin lamps to be used for a practical purpose: in July 1853 his lamps lit up a hospital operating theatre, and in 1856 he founded the first oil well, in Bóbrka, while the first oil well in Pennsylvania did not open until five years later.


    To be sure, these accomplishments were minor compared to those of Maria Skłodowska-Curie, the most famous Polish woman scientist, twice awarded the Nobel Prize: once for physics (1903) for her research on radiactivity, and a second time for chemistry (1911), for her discovery of two elements, polonium and radium.

    Many Polish scientists followed in the footsteps of Maria Sklodowska-Curie. One of them was Marian Danysz , a specialist in the field of nuclear physics, who was also one of the team which first obtained the radioactive isotope of fluorine and the double hypernucleus. Another was Józef Rotblat , who did research in nuclear physics and also campaigned to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons as one of the organisers of the Pugwash Conference. He was awarded the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize.


    Poles have often collaborated with the world's greatest scientists. One of them was Leopold Infeld , who worked on the theory of relativity. Together with Max Born, who was later awarded the Nobel Prize, he worked on electromagnetic fields and formulated the Born-Infeld law of electrodynamics. In 1936-1938, he worked with Albert Einstein in the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. Their cooperation resulted in the book The Evolution of Physics (1959), which was intended to make the theory of relativity more accessible to lay people. Mieczysław Wolfke is known for his discovery of two types of liquid helium, of which He II is still the only known superfluid liquid. He did ground-breaking work in holography, an area of optics dealing with the creation and recording of three-dimensional images: in 1920 he divided the process of creating such images into two distinct phases by using two beams of light, each having a different wavelength. Marian Smoluchowski , who described Brownian motion, worked on the kinetic theory at the same time as Albert Einstein. In his work, he presented an equation which became the basis of the theory of stochastic processes. Another Polish scientist, Maksymilian Huber , studied the physical properties of materials. His research led to the presentation of the Huber criterion, which describes the conditions in which materials submitted to a complex load reach a dangerous state in which cracks or irreversible deformation occurs. This has enormous significance in the design of buildings, bridges and other structures that must withstand heavy loads.


     Wojciech Swiętosławski, the father of modern thermochemistry, was nominated twice for the Nobel Prize. He developed a static method of cryometric measurement and a new method of testing coal. Swietosławski was Vice-Chairman of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) and created the foundations for a new branch of physical chemistry,: polyazeotropy.


    Jerzy Pniewski and Marian Danysz made important contributions to the development of physics. In 1952 they discovered the elementary particle known as the  hypernucleus, a special atomic nucleus which contain hyperons in addition to neutrons and protons. This also meant the discovery of material that was in a new state: hypernuclear material. In their time Marian Danysz and Jerzy Pniewski were serious contenders for a Nobel Prize. Witold Nazarewicz also studies atomic nuclei, in particular the nuclei of "exotic" atoms, i.e. those which have formed as a result of collisions between radioactive nuclei. Elements present on Earth are stable, which means that their nuclei do not decompose spontaneously. Studying these exotic nuclei, which are found in exploding supernovae, may help to understand the process by which elements are formed. Witold Nazarewicz is the scientific director of the Joint Institute for Heavy Ion Research of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory at the University of Tennessee, and also works at the University of Warsaw.

    In his research, Professor Jacek Kalinowski exposes objects placed in a very strong magnetic field to radio waves, which makes it possible to distinguish between larger and smaller particles. This research may increase the number of products which can be obtained from mineral sources.


    In school, everyone learns about Mendeleev's (and, more recently, Niels Bohr's) periodic table, but Adam Sobiczewski showed, thanks to the "islands of stability", that the table is not yet complete.


     Maria Skłodowska-Curie (1867-1934) is an unusual figure in the pantheon of Polish scientists. A double Nobel laureate who discovered two new elements, she was a pioneering scientist. She began her education in the "Flying University", underground courses organised in late nineteenth-century Poland for women. In 1891 she left for France, where she studied at the Sorbonne, after which she devoted herself entirely to the study of radioactive substances. She was the first woman to receive a doctorate from the Sorbonne, and also the first woman professor at that institution to head one of its departments. In 1897, Sklodowska searched for a subject for her doctoral dissertation. In the students' library, she found reports by Antoine H. Becquerel, a professor of physics at the Paris Polytechnic, about the discovery of new, mysterious radiation emanating from lumps of ore containing uranium. Sklodowska began to study this phenomenon, which became known as radioactivity.


    During her many years of research and observations, Sklodowska-Curie found that some of the uranium and thorium compounds emit significantly more energy than would be expected given the quantities of the two elements involved. This research put her on the trail of previously unknown elements, the first of which was named radium (from Latin, radius, "ray"); the second was named polonium, in honour of her native country. Maria conducted her scientific studies together with her husband, Pierre Curie. For other scientists to acknowledge their discoveries, the husband-and-wife team would have to extract pure elements from the isolated salts. The only pitchblende mine functioning at the time, in Jachymov, Bohemia, gave them a gift of a ton of debris, the by-product of uranium glass manufacturing. They bought another seven tons, and then refined them in a shed outside Paris which had been converted into a laboratory. Four years later, Maria and Pierre had obtained one-tenth of a gram of radium chloride (RaCl 2 ) from those eight tons of material. Maria succeeded in extracting 0.08 g of pure, metallic radium only after eight more years of work, after the death of her husband. Up to the present day, the total amount of radium which has been extracted, worldwide, is approximately 500 grams. It is used as a source of gamma radiation, (usually in the chloride or bromide form) in the treatment of cancers and some skin diseases.


    In 1903, Maria Sklodowska-Curie, Pierre Curie and Antoine H. Becquerel received the Nobel Prize in physics for their research on radioactivity. After her husband died, in 1906, Maria became director of the Radioactivity Department in Paris. There, she made her most important discoveries on the properties of radium and polonium. The Radium Institute in Paris was also created at her initiative. In 1911, the Swedish Academy of Sciences once again honoured her with a second Nobel Prize, this time in chemistry for her discovery and isolation of two new elements.



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