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Famous abroad, Unknown at home
April 26, 2012   
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Paweł Baran, a pioneer in the development of the internet, and Jan Czochralski, the father of silicon-based electronics, are the first luminaries to be inducted into the Pantheon of Polish Inventors and Discoverers by a committee headed by Prof. Michał Kleiber, president of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN).

The Pantheon was set up in Warsaw in 2011 during the Fourth Intellectual Property Forum. Its standard-bearers are Nicolaus Copernicus, Maria Skłodowska-Curie, Ignacy Łukasiewicz and Stanisław Staszic.

Baran’s candidature was proposed by Prof. Józef Modelski, director of the Institute of Radio Electronics of the Warsaw University of Technology and former president of the international Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). The motion to induct Jan Czochralski into the Pantheon was submitted by Prof. Bogusław Smólski.

Speaking about the two outstanding scientists, Kleiber said it was incomprehensible that they are almost completely unknown in Poland.

Born in 1926 in the Polish city of Grodno, now in Belarus, Baran and his family emigrated in 1928 to the United States where he earned a degree in electrical engineering. He developed his internet ideas while working for RAND Corp. in Santa Monica, outside Los Angeles. An inventor and visionary, he developed a concept to base communications systems on distributed network links and was a co-inventor of the accompanying packet-switching technology, which made it possible to send data in chunks over a network. He assumed that the network should be decentralized and operate like neurons in the brain.

Baran died in Palo Alto, California, on March 26, 2011, at the age of 84. In his eulogy for Baran, Prof. Andrzej Targowski said that, in the 1960s, Americans regarded a nuclear war as a real threat and were preparing for it. In this connection, RAND—which was set up by the United States Army Air Forces—was asked to design a telecommunications system that would be resistant to nuclear damage and would continue to operate and maintain communication between people and the authorities. The task was assigned to Paul Baran, who started to consider the conditions that had to be met for the communications system to survive a nuclear attack. He calculated that the American radio network would be able to operate if a digital logic system was installed in every node. The system would be controlling the “travel” of a message, which would find its way because it would know the address of the end point.

The distributed network would not have a central point and as a result would be able to function irrespective of its damaged subregions. The Department of Defense applied Baran’s concept in the 1960s in its Arpanet (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network). In 1972, Baran set up a private company, Cabledata Associates, to advise on Arpanet. That same year, Baran recommended that the Department of Defense divide Arpanet into Milinet for military purposes and Internet for civilian purposes. The authorities acted on his recommendation in 1983.

In 2008, the internet pioneer received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation from U.S. President George W. Bush; the previous year he was inducted onto the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Although he was a U.S. citizen, he never forgot his Polish heritage. Bogusław Węgliński of the Intellectual Property Management association, the initiator of the Pantheon of Polish Inventors and Discoverers, described the inventor as a man with exceptional imagination, a visionary. His son, David Baran, says his father predicted in the 1960s that by 2000 people would be using online networks for shopping and reading news.

Jan Czochralski, who was born in 1885 in the western Polish region of Wielkopolska, was a chemist, metallurgist and the inventor of a process to grow single crystal silicon, a method that is still widely used. The scientist was educated in Germany and worked there for many years. It is said that in 1916, while he was working at a metallurgical lab in Berlin, Czochralski absent-mindedly dipped his pen in a container of liquid tin that he had melted instead of a nearby inkwell. A thin metal filament appeared on the nib. Czochralski examined it using X rays and found that he had obtained a tin monocrystal.

The method invented by Czochralski enabled the development of the contemporary electronics industry. The Czochralski process is used to produce silicon, gallium arsenide and germanium monocrystals, which are used in the production of electronic components: integrated circuits, diodes, transistors and processors.

From 1917 Czochralski worked in Frankfurt am Main, where he revolutionized the railways by developing and patenting in 1924 a tin-free alloy for bearings. Czochralski made a fortune from licensing the alloy, which was widely used until the 1960s.

Today the Czochralski process is used industrially to grow huge single crystals, mainly monocrystalline silicon, weighing up to half a ton. This requires a very precise control of the crystal growth process. The parameters are controlled with the use of electronic components made from materials obtained by the same method. Czochralski had extensive scientific and technological knowledge, which he mainly acquired at German universities, research institutes and industrial plants. He worked on highly resistant aluminum alloys, conducted research into the anisotropy of single crystals, and was interested in the corrosion of metals and alloys in various gaseous environments. He built a prototype of the scanning microscope for examining surface inclusions in metallic samples. He also conducted basic research in metallurgy, materials engineering and empirical research methodology. He published over 100 scientific works, including Modern Metallurgy in Theory and Practice.

Karolina Olszewska
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