Jaroslav Heyrovsky

Welcome to the latest edition of Czechs in History. The Czech Republic - or rather Czechoslovakia - has two Nobel Prize winners in its history. One of them was scientist Jaroslav Heyrovsky, the other was poet Jaroslav Seifert. Today I'll acquaint you with the first of the two, who received this honour for a new invention in the field of chemistry - polarography.

I had the pleasure of meeting Jaroslav Heyrovsky's children, his daughter - Dr. Jitka Cerna and his son, Dr. Michael Heyrovsky, who works at the Jaroslav Heyrovsky Institute of Physical Chemistry at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague. As I myself am not an expert in science, I asked him to explain what polarography - his father's invention - was?

During the First World War Heyrovsky served in a military hospital as a dispensing chemist and radiologist, which enabled him to continue his studies and to take his Ph.D. degree in Prague in 1918 and a D.Sc. in London in 1921. In 1926 he became the first professor of physical chemistry at Charles university in Prague.

His invention of polarographic method dates from 1922. From here on in, Jaroslav Heyrovsky concentrated all of his scientific activities on the development of this new branch of electrochemistry, but as we hear from Dr. Jitka Cerna and Dr. Michael Heyrovsky, he was not just a stuffy old scientist: The Nobel Prize for chemistry came in 1959. So what was the reaction of the family? In 1959, the Communists had an iron grip on life in Czechoslovakia and no one was allowed to travel abroad: Many universities and seats of learning have honoured Professor Heyrovsky and he has been granted honorary membership by many of them. In Czechoslovakia he was warded the State Prize, First Grade in 1951 and in 1955 the Order of the Czechoslovak Republic. He died in 1967. So is his son, Dr. Michael Heyrovsky the only member of the family to follow his father's steps?