The Polish Physical Society

Przemyslaw Deren and Lidia Smentek

Polish Physical Society LogoIt took World War I, with the Central Powers losing to the Western Allies, the chaos of the Russian Revolution and the Treaty of Versailles, that officially ended World War I, to restore Poland's independence. Independence gained again in 1918 gave the impetus for the rapid development of the natural and technical sciences. In 1919 a new era started when the Polish State was emerging after being absent from the political map of Europe since its partitions. In the newly free state the citizens were able to establish new organizations, societies and associations.

In 1913 construction of the building for the Physics Department of the Tsar Warsaw University started, but the beginning of the War World I suspended it. When Polish Warsaw University was reborn, the Physics Department was developing under the leadership of physicist Józef Wierusz-Kowalski, who had returned from Switzerland. He was a student of Roentgen, and previously served as a professor and Rector of the University in Swiss Fryburg. Wierusz-Kowalski was a historical person himself. He was the one who in Paris introduced Piotr Curie to a young physicist Maria Skłodowska, a close friend of his wife from the time she had spent in Warsaw.

In January 1919 Józef Wierusz-Kowalski initiated the organization of the Warsaw Physical Society, although he was a very active member of the Warsaw Scientific Society (WSS) established in 1907, which was a crucial force behind the creation of the Warsaw Technical University (where Wierusz-Kowalski became a professor). The Third Division of WSS devoted to basic science (in contrast to the applied sciences) was the association of outstanding scientists among whom in addition to Wierusz-Kowalski there was a chemist - Józef J. Boguski, a cousin of Maria Skłodowska-Curie and her first teacher of physics and chemistry prior to her travel to Paris - and the mathematician Kazimierz Żórawski. He, while a student of the Jagiellonian University in Cracow, was Maria’s object of innocent affection when she was the governess at his parents’ estate earning money for her future study. Only the negative attitude of the Żórawskis, who disapproved the friendship of their son with Maria, was the reason that she left the estate, went back to Warsaw and in 1891 left for the Sorbonne to complete her education.

On January 13th, 1919 the first meeting of the new Physical Society was held at Warsaw Technical University. A few days later, on the 29th of January, during the next meeting, the bylaws and the board were officially accepted.

On the 11th of April, 1920, on the initiative of the Warsaw Physical Society the first Convention of the Polish Physical Society was held. Four regional chapters were recognized: Vilnius (March 1920), Warsaw (May 1920), Cracow (1920) and Lvov (1921) (at that time Vilnius and Lvov belonged to Poland). The first National Meeting of the Polish Physical Society was organized in April 1923 in Warsaw and was attended by about 200 members. The next meeting was in Cracow in 1924; its participant Professor Aleksander Jabłoński, the author of the famous Jabłoński diagram of luminescence and the founder of the Physics Department of Copernicus University in Toruń (in 1945), and the President of the PPS in (1957-1961), wrote in his Reminiscences of the activities of the Polish Physical Society (presented in Poznań in 1969 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Society):

“I would like to point out that before World War II the majority of the physicists considered the role of the Society of great importance. It was impossible to imagine that somebody could skip volunteer work for the Society. Such an activity was treated as beneficial for Polish Science, and through this, to the benefit of Poland. In national meetings organized by the Society almost every active physicist, with few exceptions, took part, and this participation was the measure of the scientific activity of various institutions”.

These are the roots of the Polish Physical Society, its place in the history of Polish science, its value and sprit. Due to this spirit and strength gained from the camaraderie and unity of the scientists, it was possible for the Society to also function in the underground during the dark period of 1939-1945, the time of the war and the German occupation of Poland. After the war, as mentioned by Professor Jabłoński in the same address cited above, the role of the Society was belittled by the new order in the country. However since 1947 when the leadership was in the hands of the outstanding physicists Professor Wojciech Rubinowicz its pre-war status was again rebuilt.

The first paragraph of the bylaws defines the goal of the Polish Physical Society (PPS) stating that “The objective of the Polish Physical Society is to merge in common work activities of persons, who deal with research in physics or related sciences, or who devote their time in teaching and disseminating these sciences in Poland…” One of the next paragraphs states how the goal should be achieved, i.e. by organizing conferences, lectures, exhibitions and excursions, by international cooperation, by founding libraries and laboratories, and by publishing reports and journals. It is stressed also that the Polish Physical Society should award grants and prizes as well as send memoranda to the authorities, disseminating opinions and information.

The goal and the methods of work of the Polish Physical Society are the same presently as in the past, although the number of the members has changed. At the end of the twenties, when the Society was developing it consisted of two hundred and six members; today there are two thousand fifty six members.
PPS organizes exhibitions, lectures, meetings and conferences. Since 1923 it has published the “Reports”, which in 1932 was changed to “Acta Physica Polonica”. At the beginning the scientific papers where written in Polish with the abstracts in foreign languages, but since 1933, all publications are written in a foreign language (before the WWII with Polish abstracts).

The official journal of the Polish Physical Society is the magazine Advances in Physics (Postępy Fizyki) founded in 1949. This magazine is addressed to the Polish community of physicists and is published bimonthly in Polish with English abstracts. It presents the latest results of the research in physics, as well as reports on important events, and reviews of academic publications and notebooks.

An additional five journals, although not published by PPS, are edited in collaboration with the Polish Physical Society. Delta is a popular natural science journal published monthly since 1974, and it is primarily addressed to high school students; Photon (Foton) has been published since 1991, and it is devoted to science at the level of the secondary school; Physics at School (Fizyka w Szkole), published bimonthly, is addressed to science teachers, while Physics and Nature (Fizyka i Przyroda) and My Physics (Moja Fizyka) are prepared for both students and teachers.

Today the structure of the Polish Physical Society is similar to that from the time when the society was founded. There is a strong Teacher’s Section, which popularizes physics, organizes exhibitions and shows. PPS experts evaluate handbooks and school programs. One of the most interesting initiatives of the Teachers Section is the “Physics Olympiad” organized 57 times since the program started in 1950. The Olympiad is organized for students of high schools; the winners of the competition have guaranteed admission to the best Polish Universities. This idea has spread in the Physics Community, and since 1967 there are International Physics Olympiads organized all over the world. The first international Olympiad took place in Warsaw in 1967, and it was organized in a manner similar to the national one. In this first competition of talented students only representatives from Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Poland took part.

The Polish Physical Society through its Section of the Young, is working with and for university and high school students as well as for young researchers. Since the methods of physics are used in modern times not only in the basic research of physics but also in economy and sociology, the section of “Physics in Economy and Social Sciences” is a chapter working within the Polish Physical Society in addition to the Optics Section, which is devoted to the modern aspects of photonics.

In addition to the Sections there are eleven Committees permanently working within the mission of the Society; there are Committees of Physics Education in Schools, of International Cooperation, Didactic Rewards, Large Research Facilities and History of Physics, among others.

MedalThe most important and most prestigious award presented by the Polish Physical Society is the Marian Smoluchowski Medal. It is named after the outstanding Polish physicist (1917-1972) who is recognized as a pioneer of statistical physics, and whose work Albert Einstein applied in his kinetic theory of Brownian motion.

The Polish Physical Society, in order to recognize the outstanding scientific achievements of various world-renowned scientists, established a list of honorary members; it includes: Maria Skłodowska – Curie, Frederic Joliot – Curie, Alfred Kastler, Aleksander Jabłoński.


Przemysław Dereń
Member of the Executive Board of the PPS
Institute of Low Temerature and Structural Research
Polish Academy of Sciences
Wrocław, Poland

Lidia Smentek
APS, FIP, Member-at-Large