Jaroslav Heyrovsky

Jaroslav Heyrovsky
(1890 - 1967)

Czech chemist who received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1959 for his discovery and development of polarography.

Jaroslav Heyrovsky was born on 20th December 1890 into the family of Professor JUDr. Leopold Heyrovsky (1852 - 1924), Professor of Roman Law at the Law Faculty of the Czech university in Prague. After completing his secondary school studies in 1909, he enrolled at the Philosophy Faculty of the Czech university, leaving one year later for London, where he continued his studies at University College and graduated as a Bachelor of Science in 1913. At the end of World War I in 1918 he sat the final examination at the Prague university and on 26th September he was awarded a PhD. In 1920, he was awarded a second doctorate as the first reader in Physical Chemistry at Charles University and the following year he was awarded a science doctorate by London University. The most prominent of his professors included Bohuslav Brauner, Frantisek Zaviska and Bohumil Kucera on the Czech side, and Sir W. Ramsay, F. G. Donnan, W. Mc Lewis, F. T. Trouton, A. Porter and L. N. G. Filon in England.

From 1921, Heyrovsky applied himself to the intensive study and interpretation of electrocapillary curves. On 10th February 1922, he used a mercury dropping electrode for electrolysis in his researches, which had been inspired by Prof. B. Kucera back in 1918, and so laid the foundations for a new scientific discipline - polarography. Shortly thereafter, with his Japanese colleague, Masuzo Shikata, he constructed the first instrument for the automatic recording of polarographic curves, which became world famous later as the polarograph.

On 6th April 1922, Jaroslav Heyrovsky was appointed assistant professor and in March 1926 professor ordinarius in Physical Chemistry at Charles University. Concurrently, in 1922 he became Director of the newly established Institute of Physical Chemistry at Charles University and in 1924 he was elected associate and 14 years later full member of the CASA; in 1925 he became member of the CSNRC, in 1926 he acquired associate membership and in 1932 full membership of the RBLS. In 1928, together with his friend, Emil Votocek, he founded "Collection of Czechoslovak Chemical Communications", a magazine published in English and French, which soon became one of the most important platforms for international contacts with Czechoslovak chemists. He also worked as President of the Scientific Section at the American Institute in Prague.

All of this was bound up with and based on in his extremely intensive scientific work, publishing, lecturing and organizational skills which he applied to the field of science, thanks to which his international reputation grew rapidly. In 1926, he worked for six months in Professor G. Urbain's laboratory at the Sorbonne and seven years later he had another six-month study and lecture tour at Ivy League American universities with a grant from the Carnegie Foundation, and for the entire period up to World War II he was an active member of a number of foreign scientific societies and institutes (e.g. American Academy of Arts and Sciences, National Geographic Society, Washington, D. C., Kaiserlich Deutsche Akademie der Naturwissenschaften, Academia scientiarum Germanica Berolinensis, Societas Regia Scientiarum Hauniensis, Regalis Societas Londini pro Scientia Naturali and others).

His scientific work was not even interrupted by the Nazi occupation. Thanks to his friend, the German antifascist professor, Johann Bohm, who made his laboratory available to him at the German University in Prague, he was able to complete his extensive monography on polarography and to start on a new line of research, involving in particular oscillographic polarography. In 1940, the first nomination to award him the Nobel prize was made (later to be repeated in 1947, 1956 and conclusively in 1959).

After the war and the conciliatory end to the affair over allegations of his collaboration with the Germans, Jaroslav Heyrovsky became, inter alia, Director of the newly established Central Institute of Polarography; as a member of the Government Commission for the Construction of the CSAS he had a share in its establishment and on 12th November 1952 he was appointed one of its first full members - or academicians. The aforementioned Central Institute of Polarography then moved into the CSAS under the name of the CSAS Polarographic Institute. Heyrovsky headed this Institute for another 11 years (until 30th September 1963) and frequented it thereafter almost literally until his death on 27th March 1967.

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