Biography of Jaroslav Heyrovsky


Jaroslav Heyrovsky was the inventor of the polarographic method, father of electroanalytical chemistry, recipient of the Nobel Prize. His contribution to electroanalytical chemistry can not be overestimated. All voltammetry methods used now in electroanalytical chemistry originate from polarography developed by him.

Jaroslav Heyrovsky was born in Prague on 20th December, 1890, in the family of Leopold Heyrovsky (14.11.1852, Ceske Budejovice – 17.2.1924, Prague), professor of Roman Law at Charles Universityin in Prague, then in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The juristic tradition had run in his family since the eighteenth century. Leopold Heyrovsky was an advocate of Czech autonomy, friend of T.G. Masaryk (who later became the first president of Czechoslovak Republic), and the author of the textbook “TheHistory and System of Roman Law”, which had five editions. Leopold’s wife, Klara, nee Hanlova, was the daughter of a state administrative officer.
Leopold Heyrovsky – father of Jaroslav Heyrovsky

Young Jaroslav had three sisters (later married to a painter, a lawyer, and an officer, respectively) and a younger brother (who became one of the leading Czech entomologists). Jaroslav Heyrovsky as a child had great fantasy – together with his brother Leopold he created complex novel fairytales, the action of which took place in the streets of the Old Town quarter of Prague. From early age Jaroslav was keenly interested in nature, music, literature. He loved music and became an accomplished piano player. At high school he participated in chamber music, and his great love was Wagner’s music. As a student, he attended the festival at Bayreuth. In his youth he enjoyed sports, in particular soccer, hiking, skiing, and swimming.

In 1901 Jaroslav entered the Academic secondary school (Akademicke Gymnasium) in Prague, taking courses in Latin for 8 years and Greek for 5 years. His interests first encompassed botany and zoology, mineralogy and astronomy, but later Jaroslav was influenced by professor J. Jenista who directed his attention toward mathematics, physics and chemistry.

Jaroslav Heyrovsky became interested in the newly developing interdisciplinary field of physical chemistry and made up his mind to study this discipline. In 1909 he passed his final examination (called “maturity examination”) at the high school and matriculated in the Faculty ofPhilosophy of the Czech University in Prague. During his freshman year he took courses in chemistry, physics, and mathematics and was strongly influenced by the lectures of B. Brauner on inorganic chemistry, as well as by lectures of Frantisek Zaviska and Bohumil Kucera on physics.

As there was no opportunity to study physical chemistry in Prague, young Heyrovsky became attracted by British educational institutions. He was impressed by the work of Sir William Ramsay and was therefore thankful to his rather strict father (who was at the time Rector of the Czech University in Prague and was rather feared as examiner by the students of law) for the permission to continue his studies in London. In the fall of 1910 he matriculated at University College, part of the University of London, and attended the lectures on general and physical chemistry by Sir William Ramsay and William C. McLewis, on physics by F.T. Trouton and A. Porter, and on mathematics by L.N.G. Filon. In 1913 he received the B.Sc. degree of the University of London.

In that year Sir William Ramsay retired. One wonders how Heyrovsky’s career would have developed, if this had not happened. Ramsay was succeeded by the eminent physical chemist F.G. Donnan whose main research area was electrochemistry. Young Heyrovsky was appointed as demonstrator (teaching assistant) for the school year 1913/14 and started experimental research under Professor Donnan on a project involving determination of the electrode potential of aluminum. The use of the simple Nernst equation for treatment of the potential of this electrodeis prevented by a layer of oxides and other passivity effects. This adsorbed layer hinders the exchange reactions, and the measured potential is not a simple function of aluminum ion concentration.

Moreover, the evolution of hydrogen causes fluctuations of the measured potential. Heyrovsky grasped well several fundamental scientific problems involved and formulated in his laboratory notebook (which he was accustomed to keep carefully into advanced age) the following questions: “What is the mechanism of hydrogen evolution?” “In which way is the potential of an electrode established?”

When experiments with solid aluminum electrodes did not yield satisfactory results, Professor Donnan advised Heyrovsky to use a dilute aluminum amalgam and suggested that he let the amalgam flow slowly out of a glass capillary. This approach was based on the assumption that the continuousrenewal of the surface would prevent passivation phenomena. This was a device similar to that used earlier by Donnan in his study of membrane equilibria. Heyrovsky’s experiments with aluminum amalgam were only slightly better than those with solid aluminum electrodes, as the evolution of hydrogen affected the measurements.

However, even when the results were negative for the solution of the particular problem, these studies strongly influenced Heyrovsky’s future studies. He saw the advantages of liquid metallic electrodes, in particular their periodically renewable surface and he learned how to use capillaryelectrodes. Laboratory notebooks bear witness of that in London as later in Prague, Heyrovsky spent almost all his time carrying out experimental research. Days upon days were spent in the laboratory. The stay in London had a profound effect both on his way of thinking, on his conduct of research, and on his life style. The visible signs were his laboratory notebooks, which until the end of his life were written in English, afternoon teas with his co-workers and a courtly approach to both visitors and subordinates.

The experimental work in London was interrupted in the summer of 1914. Heyrovsky was visiting his parents in Prague when World War I broke out and he was unable to return to London. For a short time he was able to carry out some experiments using facilities made available by Professor J.S. Steba-Bohm at the Chemical Institute of the Czech University at Prague.

In January 1915 Heyrovsky was called up for military service in the Austro-Hungarian Army, but because of his weak physical constitution he was posted as dispensing chemist and radiologist in a hospital at Tabor in South Bohemia. Here he was unable to carry out experiments, but his notebooks indicate that he was able to carry out evaluation and discussion of the experimental data obtained in London. In 1916 the hospital was transferred to Igls (close to Innsbruck in Austria) where Heyrovsky was able to carry out limited experiments in the pharmacy, dealing mainly with dissolution of aluminum in acids and alkali metalhydroxides.

Heyrovsky was also able to prepare his thesis, entitled “The Electro-Affinity of Aluminium”, while still a soldier. He submitted the thesis to the Philosophical Faculty of the Czech University in Prague. At the end of World War I in 1918, Heyrovsky passed his final examinations, and on September 26, 1918 he was granted the Ph.D. degree. Final examinations consisted in a longer oral examination in the major field-chemistry and a shorter examination in the minor field-physics. It was the examination in physics that strongly affected Heyrovsky’s scientific career. The examiner was Bohumil Kucera (1874-1921), Professor of Experimental Physics, who gave him a question dealing with the electrocapillarity of mercury.

Heyrovsky knew that examiners at this level often ask questions that have some relation to their own work, and was prepared for it. Professor Kucera had developed a new experimental technique for the measurementof electrocapillary curves based on weighing the mercury drops fallen from a glass capillary, connected to a mercury reservoir. Such measurements of electrocapillary curves showing the dependence of the surface tension of mercury on its electrochemical potential were alternative to those using a capillary electrometer, introduced in 1873 by G. Lippmann.

As Heyrovsky was knowledgeable of Kucera’s research, the examination became a discussion, during which Professor Kucera described to the candidate some of his results obtained recently. In those experiments, some of the electrocapillary curves obtained with the dropping mercury electrode showed discontinuous maxima that were absent on electrocapillary curves recorded in the same solution using the capillary electrometer. Professor Kucera expressed the view that such anomalies could be explained only by a physical chemist and proposed to the candidate that he should carry on the research of the surface tension of mercury electrodes to which a voltage has been applied. Professor B. Kucera invited Heyrovsky to visit him the following day in his institute and showed him how to construct the dropping mercury electrode, using a glass capillary connected to a mercury reservoir placed so high above the capillary that a drop of mercury would fall from its orifice every few seconds.

He also advised him to collaborate on the tedious weighing of mercury drops with Dr. R. Simunek, who was at that time an assistant of experimental physics. For the next 2 years the two young scientists spent their free hours collecting drops of mercury that had fallen from the capillary electrode at varying voltages, weighing them accurately and plotting the weight as a function of the applied voltage. The electrochemical work proceeded slowly.

This was tedious work. A voltage was applied to a DME and a reference electrode was immersed in a test solution. After 50 drops of mercury were collected, they were dried and weighed. The applied voltage was varied and the experiment repeated. Measured weight was plotted vs. applied voltage to obtain the curve. By its regular dropping from the glass capillary the dropping mercury electrode maintains its pure surface; that guarantees exact reproducibility of measurements.

In January 1919 Heyrovsky was appointed Reader in the Department of Inorganic and Analytical Chemistry. The head of this department was Professor Bohuslav Brauner, a former intimate friend of D.I. Mendeleev and R. Abegg, one of the early proponents of the periodical system and proposer of the use of the value 16.00 for the atomic weight of oxygen. Brauner, who was particularly interested in the chemistry of lanthanides, directed Heyrovsky’s attention to the problems of chemical affinity and valency. The work on aluminic acid, the structure of aluminates and amphotericity, reflecting the influence of the environment in Professor Brauner’s laboratories, was submitted by Heyrovsk’y as a “Habilitation Thesis.” In 1920, Heyrovsky published three papers summarizing his studies on aluminum and submitted them for the D.Sc. to the University of London that conferred the degree on him in 1921. Based on this research, Heyrovsky was appointed on August 2, 1920 as the first Docent (Associate Professor) in Physical Chemistry at the Czech University in Prague, henceforth called Charles University. This new appointment demanded from Heyrovsky organization of a laboratory and a series of lectures on physical chemistry.

Nevertheless, all of his spare time in the Institute of Physical Chemistry was devoted to the study and interpretation of electrocapillary curves. These experiments were rather time-consuming. Heyrovsky developed a modification based on measurement of the drop-time which shortened the time spent by drying and weighing mercury drops. Furthermore, Heyrovsky observed the changes in electrocapillary curves in the presence of some metal ions, such as Zn2+, Cd2+, Mn2+, and Ba2+ and studied the possibility of measuring their deposition voltages using such an approach. He reported his results at a meeting of the Czech Mathematical and Physical Society in the fall of 1920, at which Professor B. Kucera participated, who unfortunately did not live to see the full success of his pupil, because he passed away in 1921. The laboratory notebooks of J. Heyrovsky indicate that during 1921 he came to the conclusion that electrocapillary curves are not suitable for investigation of the processes occurring at the dropping mercury electrode. Sometime toward the end of 1921 the idea to measure the current flowing through the electrolysis cell was developed.

The first experiment to measure such current was carried out on January 1, 1922 but was not fully successful because Heyrovsky did not have a sufficiently sensitive galvanometer. He spent the rest of January remeasuring electrocapillary curves, but at the same time tried to acquire the needed instrumentation. Because limited funds did not allow for the purchase of a galvanometer, he contacted his former teacher of physics, Professor Frantisek Zaviska, who loaned to him a sensitive galvanometer and a potentiometer.

A page from the Heyrovsky’s laboratory journal from February 9, 1922.

On February 10, 1922, J. Heyrovsky built a circuit consisting of a potentiometer, an electrolytic cell and the galvanometer. He placed a solution of 1 M NaOH into the cell, immersed a dropping mercury electrode into this solution and added some metallic mercury to form a mercury pool electrode that was used as a counter electrode. The current flowing between the dropping mercury and mercury pool electrodes was indicated by the galvanometer.

Already, when a small voltage was applied, Heyrovsky observed and recorded that the galvanometer indicated a weak current, the intensity of which oscillated rhythmically with replacement of drops. With stepwise increase in voltage the current increased somewhat and at a more negative voltage increased again. These current increases corresponded to reduction of oxygen, which was understood in detail by Heyrovsky only later. In the region between -1.9 and -2.0 V, Heyrovsky observed on February 10, 1922, a substantial increase in current, corresponding to deposition of alkali metal ions (Na+) forming an amalgam, and that became the center of his interest.

Two pages from the Heyrovsky’s laboratory journal from February 10, 1922.

Thanks to his background in electrochemistry, Heyrovsky clearly recognized that he was on the track of an important scientific discovery. During the following weeks his normally high intensity of work was raised to a feverish pitch. Every page of a 200-page-thick notebook was filled with laboratory notes during a period of 7 weeks. One week after he recorded the first current-voltage curve he restricted his experimental work to obtaining such curves.

Soon he realized that oxygen is reduced at the dropping mercury electrode (DME) in two steps and also that the current due to oxygen reduction interferes with measurements of currents due to other reduction processes. From the beginning of April, Heyrovsky removed the dissolved oxygen (present in solutions in contact with air) by bubbling through the solution in the electrolytic cell a stream of hydrogen that he generated in a Kipp apparatus. Heyrovsky was aware that it is of importance not only to make a discovery, but that it is necessary to make one’s colleagues aware of the results.

He described the results of his first experiments on electrolysis with a dropping mercury cathode in Czech in the October issue of the journal “Chemicke listy”. He nevertheless realized that publication in the Czech language limits the news to a relatively small circle, and so he prepared an English version dealing with electrodeposition of alkali and alkaline earth metals, which was published in Philosophical Magazine. He followed Newton’s motto “A man must resolve either to put out nothing new or to become a slave to defend it.”
On 6th April 1922, Jaroslav Heyrovsky was promoted to extraordinarius (Associate) Professor. He also became the head of the newly established Department of Physical Chemistry at Charles University. The excitement and feverish activity during this period took its toll and Heyrovsky had to take leave on July 12, 1922 from which he returned only on October 27. When Heyrovsky resumed his teaching duties in the fall semester, he was joined by his first five graduate students.

He was also joined by the Japanese physical chemist Masuzo Shikata who came from his research stay in Berlin. Heyrovsky reported on November 26, 1923 in London at the General Discussion of the Faraday Society dealing with electrode reactions and equilibria about his research. In the first of these contributions Heyrovsky recognized that at sufficiently low concentration of the metal ion, a limiting current (that over a range of applied voltage remains practically independent of applied voltage) can be observed. The S-shaped increase of the current followed by the limiting current was denoted as “wave.” He also concluded that at such conditions the ions in the vicinity of the electrode are exhausted by reduction and that the current intensity depends mostly on the number of metal ions transported into this space by diffusion.

He also pointed out that the position of the wave on the potential axis is characteristic of the reduced species and can be used for qualitative analysis. M. Shikata, at the same meeting, reported the possibility of carrying out the reduction at the DME. in a nonaqueous system – in sodium ethoxide. In the following year, the Japanese chemist reported also the first reduction of an organic compound, nitrobenzene.

The progress of the extension of investigation of the electrolysis with the DME by J. Heyrovsky and his research group to other species and systems was limited by the fact that the point-by-point measurements and plotting of current-voltage curves was tedious and time consuming. Considerable improvement was achieved in 1924, when the cooperation of J. Heyrovsky and M. Shikata led to the construction of an apparatus that registered current-voltage curves automatically. The new instrument recorded photographically such a curve in several minutes, whereas manual recording took an hour or longer. Development of an automatic method of recording, a short time after the discovery of the new technique, played an important role in the development and dissemination of methods based on electrolysis with DME. Currently, most physicochemical and analytical methods are carried out using automated techniques, but in the early twenties an automated instrument represented very progressive and advanced instrumentation (e.g., recording spectrophotometers became generally accessible only two decades later). In their joint paper, Heyrovsky and Shikata proposed for the instrument the name “polarograph” and for the studies of electrolysis with the dropping mercury electrode, coined the term “polarography.”

The instrument slowly and continuously increased or decreased mutual polarity of the electrodes and at the same time recorded photographically the current passing through the solution and electrodes as function of voltage applied to the electrodes. On the resulting polarographic curves appear steps of current, so-called waves. The height of the wave is the measure of concentration of the substance dissolved in the solution and its position on the potential axis is characteristic of the substance. According to the name of the instrument that records the course of polarization of the electrodes, the method of electrolysis with dropping mercury electrode has got the name polarography. From this beginning, the measurement of polarographic current was extended to fundamental and theoretical studies of electrode processes, accompanying chemical reactions and analysis.

One more picture of the first polarograph designed by J. Heyrovsky and M. Shikata (1924). This instrument is saved in the museum of J. Heyrovsky Institute of Physical Chemistry.

J. Heyrovsky’s polarograph – one of the first models

Typical polarographic curves (dependence of current I on the voltage E applied to the electrodes; the small oscillations indicate the slow dropping of mercury): lower curve – the supporting solution of ammonium chloride and hydroxide containing small amounts of cadmium, zinc and manganese, upper curve – the same after addition of small amount of thallium.

Heyrovsky’s experimental set-up for measuring current with the dropping mercury electrode: A – source of d.c.voltage, K – variable ohmic resistance as potentiometer, V – voltmeter for checking the d.c.voltage, Rp and Rs – peg resistors for control of sensitivity and damping of the mirror galvanometer G measuring the current, L – lamp for illuminating the mirror of the galvanometer by reflection from which a luminous spot is produced on the scale S, Z – cell containing the examined solution and the mercury electrodes – the dropping and the stationary one which keeps its potential constant.

In 1924 Jaroslav Heyrovsky 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. He also worked as President of the Scientific Section at the American Institute in Prague. Jaroslav Heyrovsky kept scientific and personal contacts with many scientists working in different areas of science.

Jaroslav Heyrovsky (left) and Vaclav Dolejsek in 1926. Prof. Vaclav Dolejsek studied X-ray spectroscopy in the Institute of Spectroscopy of Charles University, Prague.

From a reception by Czechoslovak President Tomas Garrigue Masaryk (seated center) of the French physicists Paul Langevin (seated left) and Pierre Weiss (seated right) along with their Czech hosts Jaroslav Heyrovsky (standing left), Vaclav Posejpal (standing middle) and Vaclav Dolejsek (standing right) at Prague Castle in the Fall of 1925.

Publication activity reflects Heyrovsky’s early recognition of the duty of a creative scientist to share his results and ideas with the scientific community. In accordance with his belief a printed inscription of Faraday’s words “Work, finish, publish” was found on the walls of laboratories in which he worked and followed him wherever he moved.

Heyrovsky’s impressive scientific success 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 March 1926 Heyrovsky was appointed ordinarius (full) Professor of Physical Chemistry at the Charles University. Also, in 1926 Heyrovsky received a Rockefeller Fellowship, which enabled him to work in the laboratory of Professor G. Urbain at the Sorbonne in Paris for 5 months.

In 1926 Jaroslav Heyrovsky married Marie Koranova, the daughter of a brewer, and actually the daughter of a cousin of J. Heyrovsky’s father. They married when Heyrovsky was thirty-six and later he indicated occasionally to his graduate students that this is the right age for a polarographer to marry. His devoted and charming wife Marie supported and encouraged her husband during the remainder of Heyrovsky’s scientific career and lightened his burden by conscientiously taking care of his correspondence and collecting a bibliography of polarography, among other tasks.

She gave him two children, daughter Jitka (Czech for Judith), who became a biochemist and worked in a research institute for food science, and a son Michael (named after Michael Faraday), who received his Ph.D. in Cambridge in 1966 and became an electrochemist working in the institute bearing his father’s name.

Jaroslav Heyrovsky’s son, Michael Heyrovsky, is also an electrochemist. Since 1957 he works in the Polarographic Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, now Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic. He is the author of more than 80 papers in the field of electrochemistry, mainly related to electrochemical reactions at mercury electrodes.

Jaroslav Heyrovsky and his son Michael carrying out experiments in oscillopolarography

Professor Heyrovsky with his students and co-workers (1926)

In a lecture during his tour of US universities in 1933

Heyrovsky introduced a several term course of lectures and practical classes of polarography and with his research students he continued the development of polarographic method. Heyrovsky formed a school of Czech polarographers in the University, and was himself in the forefront of polarographic research. Toward the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s about 40 co-workers were in Heyrovsky’s research group. Among them were four: Rudolf Brdicka, Wiktor Kemula, G. Semerano, and Dionyz Ilkovic, who particularly distinguished themselves in the development of polarography. Of those, W. Kemula started an active center of polarographic research in Poland. The second generation of Kemula’s co-workers contributed to the flourishing of Polish electrochemistry in the 1970s and 1980s. G. Semerano had a similar impact on Italian electrochemistry; he founded a polarographic institute in Padua in the 1930s that had a profound influence on electrochemistry in the Mediterranean region.

In order to make new results obtained in Czech chemical laboratories accessible to the scientific world, Heyrovsky together with his senior colleague, professor of the Prague Technical University Emil Votocek, in 1929 founded the journal “Collection of Czechoslovak Chemical Communications”. In that monthly periodical the papers by Czech authors are being published in foreign languages, at present mostly in English. Thus, the papers on polarography from the Prague group became know abroad.

The dissemination of the knowledge of polarography in the 1930s was in particular influenced by two publications in book form by Heyrovsky and by his two trips abroad. The first Czech book was revised, extended, and translated into Russian, whereas an Italian monograph was published by Semerano. The Heyrovsky chapter in the prestigious monograph on physical methods in analytical chemistry edited by W. Bottger had a strong impact. In 1932, Bottger, a well-known analytical chemist from Leipzig, spent 2 weeks in Heyrovsky’s laboratories to get acquainted with the new technique before asking Heyrovsky for his contribution. Inclusion of polarography in this volume12 represented its official acceptance as an acknowledged analytical method, particularly among German speaking chemists.

A visit to the United States in 1933 contributed substantially to the spread of the knowledge of polarography in the English-speaking world. Heyrovsky was awarded a visiting professorship by the Carnegie Foundation. He crossed the Atlantic on “Europa” and the American continent by rail. He lectured for 6 months at the University of California at Berkeley, where he gave two seminars per week for the physical chemists, and one per week for the biochemists. He also gave talks at Stanford University, at the California Institute of Technology, and at the Universities of Minnesota and Wisconsin, at Ohio State University, and at Princeton and Cornell Universities.

In 1934 Heyrovsky was also in the USSR with lectures. For the entire period up to World War II Heyrovsky 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).

The thriving research spirit of the Department of Physical Chemistry at the Charles University in Prague was broken up by the closing of the Czech Universities by the Nazi German occupants of Czechoslovakia in November 1939. The Czech professors were sent into early retirement; buildings, furnishings, and equipment were confiscated by the German University of Prague.

Thanks to friendly efforts of Heyrovsky’s colleague, a quiet but personally audacious German anti-Nazi Professor, J. Bohm, his laboratory remained at his disposal during World War II. He could carry on his experiments and to start on a new line of research, involving in particular oscillographic polarography, even though he was without students and co-workers. During this period Heyrovsky was able to finish his large textbook on polarography, which was considered of such importance that it was reprinted in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1944. Heyrovsky’s work in the occupied Prague resulted in some allegations of his collaboration with the Germans that later were proved to be wrong.

Industrial development during World War II and immediately afterward resulted in the need for sensitive and rapid methods for analysis of raw materials, intermediates, and products in metallurgy, in the heavy chemical, pharmaceutical, and food industry, in synthetic rubber manufacture and in particular in the development of atomic energy and numerous other areas. Polarography proved in many instances to be better suited to meet such requirements than other analytical methods available during that period and soon was among the five most frequently used analytical methods. The number of publications dealing with polarography was increasing by thousands every year.

The increased use of polarography was facilitated by the availability of commercially produced polarographs. The manufacture of the first such instruments was started by V. and J. Nejedly in Prague in 1929; and the number of instruments produced increased yearly. Since 1939 polarographs have been produced by E.H. Sargent & Co. in the U.S.A.

The adoption of polarography in the English-speaking world was considerably influenced by the interest of the eminent American analytical chemist Izaak Maurits Kolthoff. After a visit in Heyrovsky’s institute he began to publish in the area in 1939, and, together with J.J. Lingane, produced a widely accepted monograph, whose two editions served as an important source of information.

The end of World War II and the liberation of Czechoslovakia from German occupation enabled Charles University to reopen in the summer of 1945. The pent-up energy of young people who had been deprived for 6 years of the opportunity to study resulted in a phenomenal upsurge in activity both in teaching and research. Papers that could not have been published for years, because Nazis did not allow publication of Czech scientific journals, appeared suddenly in print in 1947. The Department of Physical Chemistry again became a center of polarographic research.

The difficult task of the new organization, of teaching, and the reequipment of the department was undertaken by two of Heyrovsky’s prominent coworkers, Professor R. Brdicka and M. Kalousek. After the war, the friendly help of Professor J. Bohm was for some time misrepresented by some of Heyrovsky’s colleagues, yet soon thorough rehabilitation followed and Heyrovsky’s attitude was fully justified. Delicate health due to the privations suffered during World War II forced Professor Heyrovsky to limit his teaching to lectures on polarography.

He, nevertheless, took part actively in seminars, in supervision of graduate students, and in travel to lectures abroad, for example, in England in 1946, Sweden and Denmark in 1947, the People’s Republic of China in 1958, and in U.A.R. (Egypt) in 1960 and 1961. The atmosphere in the department during the period between 1948 and 1950 was the most vigorous in the development of scientific ideas that this author has ever encountered. Weekly seminars were inspiring and scientific discussions continued incessantly throughout the long working days – in the laboratories, in corridors, even in the lavatories. Progress was made by continuous reevaluation of ideas, reinterpretation of experimental results, as well as by carefully planned experiments. In all these activities all members of the group participated as equals, including first year graduate students.

Progress in polarography in this period was demonstrated by the First International Congress of Polarography held in Prague in 1951 and the Second in Cambridge (England) in 1959. In Czechoslovakia, the scientific and practical importance of polarography was well recognized,

Pictures from the Polarographic Conference in Warsaw, 1956

The Chairs of the Conference welcoming Prof. J. Heyrovsky (from left to right): Professors Michal Smialowsky, Jaroslav Heyrovsky, Wiktor Kemula, Wojciech Swietoslawski, Rudolf Brdicka, Janas Proszt, Assen Trifonow.

A fragment of the audience. In the first row (from left): Professors Wojciech Swietoslawski, Michal Smialowski, Jaroslav Heyrovsky, Wiktor Kemula.

In May 1950 the Center for Research and Technological Development founded a Central Polarographic Institute in Prague. As a member of the Government Commission for the Construction of the CSAS (Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences) Heyrovsky had a share in its establishment. It was one of the seven institutes founded as a kernel for the development of the reorganized Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. Heyrovsky became the first Director of this Institute, but he remained an Honorary Professor at the Charles University, where he taught theoretical and practical courses on polarography for another decade. Professor Heyrovsky was accompanied in his move to the Polarographic Institute by twelve of his most recent graduate students.

They were soon joined by some of his older pupils. In this way, one of his ambitions became fulfilled – to see his co-workers, whom he taught and made interested in polarography, able to carry on research in this and related fields of electrochemistry. In 1952 the reorganization of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences was realized and the Institute became the Polarographic Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences.

As the number of the research associates in the Institute increased, the space at the original site at 25 Opletalova Street in Prague became insufficient. New laboratories were established in separate buildings in various, rather distant parts of Prague. This affected the coherence of the group. To minimize effects of geographical separation, seminars were held each Thursday morning (8 to 11 a.m.) at one location. That enabled Professor Heyrovsky to follow the progress of the research in the Institute and to keep in touch with the new work carried out in other parts of the world.

The Central Institute of Polarography later moved into the CSAS under the name of the CSAS Polarographic Institute (now J. Heyrovsky Institute of Physical Chemistry). 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.

In this period J. Heyrovsky received numerous honors. On 12th November 1952 Heyrovsky was appointed one of the first full members (academicians) of CSAS (Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences).

On February 6, 1956, Prof. Heyrovsky recieved a diploma of Doctor honoris causa of the Warsaw University granted to him in 1950. The picture shows the Golden Room of Casimir Palace of the Warsaw where Professor Heyrovsky was delivering a speech. The Rector of the Warsaw University Prof. Stanislaw Turski (left) and the Decane of the Science Department Prof. Wiktor Kemula (right) are siting at the table.

Many universities and scientific organizations have honoured Professor Heyrovsky. He was elected Fellow of University College, London, in 1927, and received honorary doctorates of the Technical University, Dresden, in 1955, the University of Warsaw in 1956, the University Aix-Marseille in 1959, and the University of Paris in 1960.

He was granted honorary membership of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Boston, Mass., in 1933; of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1955; the Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore, in 1955; the Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, in 1962; was elected Corresponding Member of the German Academy of Sciences, Berlin, in 1955; member of the German Academy of Natural Scientists, Leopoldina (Halle-Saale) in 1956; Foreign Member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences, Copenhagen, in 1962; Vice-President of the International Union of Physics from 1951 to 1957; President and first honorary member of the Polarographic Society, London; honorary member of the Polarographic Society of Japan; honorary member of the Chemical Societies of Czechoslovakia, Austria, Poland, England and India. In Czechoslovakia he was awarded the State Prize, First Grade, in 1951, and in 1955 the Order of the Czechoslovak Republic.

The scientific impact of Heyrovsky’s work was such that he was nominated several times for the Nobel Prize. At several occasions (1938, 1939, 1948) the nomination was unsuccessful because of geopolitical factors (actually because of allegations of his collaboration with the Germans during the WWII).

Finally, Jaroslav Heyrovsky received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1959, “for his discovery and development of the polarographic methods of analysis”. On 27th October 1959, Professor Jaroslav Heyrovsky received a telegram from Stockholm which read as follows: “Swedish Academy of Science today decided to award you for your polarographic method the 1959 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Letter follows – Rudberg, Secretary.” This was the first and so far the only Nobel prize awarded for the sciences to this small country in the centre of Europe.

On September 26, 1959 it was officially announced by the Czechoslovak radio that the Royal Academy of Science in Stockholm awarded Jaroslav Heyrovsky the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. The vice-president of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, V. Laufberger (a physiologist), and the Chairman of the Chemistry Division of the Academy, R. Brdicka, congratulated Professor Heyrovsky.

Professors (from left) R. Brdicka and V. Laufberger congratulating J. Heyrovsky at the occasion of the announcement of the awarding of Nobel Prize

On December 10 in Stockholm, J. Heyrovsky received the Prize from the hands of the King of Sweden. Professor Heyrovsky was naturally very happy about the appreciation of his life’s work as manifested by the Nobel Prize.

Swedish king Gustav Adolf VI hands over the Nobel Prize to Heyrovsky in Stockholm on 10.12.1959

Unfortunately, the recognition came late in his life when poor health (circulatory and digestive problems) limited his creativity and energy, even though his reasoning remained logical and piercing. He demonstrated his capability repeatedly by his provoking questions at seminars, leading often to the heart of a complex problem. The Nobel Prize award was very well deserved.

Heyrovsky was a discoverer who was scientifically well trained at the time when the opportunity of the discovery occurred. His power of observation and detection of new phenomena was remarkable, and he had the ability to sort out fundamental from peripheral information. One of his collaborators compared him to an extraordinary mushroom picker who is able to find a fine mushroom even on a highway.

He soon realized both the theoretical and practical possibilities offered by the discovered technique and with all his energy tried to make these a reality. He found collaborators who were able to deal with the mathematical aspects, but he considered the theory useful only when it was shown to be in agreement with experiments and that it could lead to the design of new experiments. He mistrusted abstract theorizing, which to him seemed distant from experiments. He always favored the application of polarography in analysis, for solution of practical problems.

He spent all his adult life fostering the growth of polarography in all its aspects. He did this by lectures, participation at meetings, visits to foreign centers of research, invitation of guest-workers from all over the world into his laboratories, and by publication of original papers, reviews and monographs. He was an outstanding teacher, predominantly at the graduate level. His personality made a deep impression on students in spite of his quiet voice and he could generate great enthusiasm about polarography. He was a conscientious supervisor who visited all the research laboratories at least once a day and showed keen interest in the work in progress.

Professor Heyrovsky always worked very intensely. His working day in the laboratory always was from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., followed in his younger years by working at home during the evening. In his late years he allowed himself a short nap after lunch. He always spent weekends in the laboratories and he insisted that weekends were the only time when he could be certain not to be disturbed during work. Not only did he work hard, but he expected his co-workers to follow suit.

At the University, discussion of research projects was sometimes arranged on Saturday afternoon; at the Institute Heyrovsky could be seen with his pocketwatch in hand, standing a few minutes past 8 on the staircase and watching the late-comers arrive. He had the belief that the daytime in the laboratory is for experimental work and the evaluation and reading should be done in the evenings.

Professor Heyrovsky hated dust on the instruments (“you have to brush it every morning, like your teeth”), reading of newspapers in the laboratory, and in particular smoking. The smokers in the Institute had to go out of the building, into the garden, to smoke. Even then occasionally they had to bear some sarcastic remarks. However, while Professor Heyrovsky expected some sacrifice from his co-workers, he was himself ready to give up most of his early interests for polarography.

Once a pianist and a member of a student chamber orchestra, later he was only able to listen to music. He was fond of attending the opera and knew lengthy parts of many of the operas by heart. At one time a wellknown reviewer of books, when he became enchanted with polarography he hardly found time to read novels. Only when he wished to brush-up his knowledge of languages, such as before a trip abroad, did he read crime stories. However, during the 1960s he again found more time for reading and often returned to the books, which impressed him in childhood.

Jaroslav Heyrovsky wrote many important books on electrochemistry and particularly polarography.

This photo has been donated for my web site by Dr. Jiri Barek, Department of Analytical Chemistry, Charles University, Czech Republic.

In his youth Jaroslav Heyrovsky had, with his father, made several unforgettable tours in the high Alps. Always interested in sports, a soccer and tennis player, skier and swimmer, Heyrovsk’y never missed making the kick-off at the traditional soccer matches between the Institute of Polarography and the Institute of Physical Chemistry (in the early days at the Charles University these matches took place between his students and those of the physicist Professor Dolejsek). In the garden of the Institute in Vlasska Street he rarely forgot to feed the squirrels.

Heyrovsky’s life was possibly unique in the single-minded devotion with which he pursued the subject of polarography and later applied it to numerous problems in pure and applied chemistry. Although this method attracted the attention of a large number of workers in many countries, he remained the center of these developments and continued to exert a profound influence on them, not only because of his scientific eminence but by the force of his personality, which made an unforgettable impression on the many scientists who had the good fortune to be in contact or to work with him at some time in their careers. He taught his students and coworkers by example more than most of them realized – mainly that the goal of research is not in pursuing a career, but in seeking the scientific truth.

Professor Jaroslav Heyrovsky died on March 27, 1967, Prague, Czechoslovakya, and was buried in the family grave on the Cemetery of Vysehrad in Prague.

Heyrovsky family grave, Cemetery of Vysehrad, Prague (Vysehradsky hrbitov)

Established in 1869 the Vysehrad cemetery is the final resting place of many composers, artists, sculptors, writers, and those from the world of science and politics. The centrepiece of the cemetery is the Slavin Monument designed by Antonin Wiehl and the cemetery is sometimes referred to as the Slavin cemetery.

Bust of Jaroslav Heyrovsky in the Pantheon of the Narodhy Museum, Prague.

Heyrovsky possibly made the most powerful influence on the development of electroanalytical science in the twentieth century. Jaroslav Heyrovsky died in 1967.

A big part of the text in this web page is based on the paper of Prof. Petr Zuman entitled “Electrolysis with a Dropping Mercury Electrode: J. Heyrovsky’s Contribution to Electrochemistry” published in Critical Reviews in Analytical Chemistry 2001, 31, No. 4 (Memorial issue devoted to Professor Jaroslav Heyrovsky).


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