Hungarian Contribution to Universal Science

World-famous creations, Hungarian-origin creators

Absolute geometry, torsion balance the carburetor, transformer, electric bulbs with tungsten filaments and krypton charge, radioactive tracing, the nuclear power plant, thermonuclear fusion, the cooling tower, the electric engine, supersonic flight, radar astronomy, the new metric standard based on light, the ball-point pen, holography, radio television, electronic computer, the first computer language: Basic, unleaded petrol, Vitamin C, or the theory of games assisting in making rational decisions and conduct; these are all outstanding creations of universal science. Instrumental in discovering or developing these major achievements were contributions by people to whom Hungary was their homeland, who took their best knowledge and humanity from Hungarian schools, or to whom this country provided shelter and room for their creations.

A sign of just where Hungary stood by the 20th century is amply displayed by a quotation from a biography of Neumann, published in 1992 by Norman Macrea, former editor-in-chief of The Economist, and researcher of the Japanese economic miracle. Describing the Hungarian capital at the beginning of the 20th century, he stated that "Budapest was the fastest developing metropolis in Europe. This city produced a legion of scientists, artists and would-be millionaires in numbers only comparable with the renaissance city states of Italy."

The progress achieved from the Magyar Conquest to the first millennium is well indicated by the fact that the Budapest population could travel through the city to the Millennium Monument on the first underground to be constructed on the Continent.

If we were to proceed along the path of our history on board a symbolic train or by car, we would come across many persons who had enriched universal human culture over the past two centuries.

Alexander Csoma de Kõrõs (1784-1842) bridged the sciences of East and West. He searched for the ancient land of the Hungarians and became a pioneer researcher into Tibetan studies. His fundamental works, a dictionary and grammar, were published in Calcutta in 1834. A century later, in 1933, he was inaugurated Bodhisattva at a ceremony in Tokyo, and today we respect him as a man who connected the heart and spirit of East and West.

On the great historical tableau of scientists and their creations are Ányos Jedlik (1800-1895), a pioneer of experimental physics and electrical engineering, discoverer of the principle of self-induction, creator of the dynamo, the first electro-magnetic motor;

János Irínyi (1817-1895) inventor of the safety lighter, the noiseless match;

Ignác Semmelweis (1818-1865), obstetrician, the ‘savior of mothers', who recognized that childbed fever was a consequence of infection and found during gynecological examinations that it could be prevented by washing hands in chloride water;

András Mechwart (1834-1907) who created the cold cast-iron roller frame operating with notched steel cylinders, a great advancement in the industry;

Tivadar Puskás (1844-1893) who established the first European telephone exchange in Paris in 1879 and the first telephonograph, precursor 10 the radio, in Budapest in 1893;

Károly Zipernowsky (1853-1942) who in 1882 had the self-induction alternating current generator patented, and together with Miksa Déri (1854-1938) invented in 1884 a rotating transformer installed on a joint axis, and made up of two machines; and together with Titusz Ottó Bláthy (1860-1939) and Miksa Déri invented the alternating current transformer;

Donát Bánki (1859-1922) and János Csonka (1852-1939) cooperated in developing the Bánki-Csonka engine and as part of that the carburetor, and Bánki by himself invented a water turbine suitable for utilizing the energry of small and medium size waterfalls;

Kálmán Kandó (1869-1931) is associated with the phase switch electric motor;

Lipót Fejér(1880-1959) is the school-making figure of Hungarian mathematics, his greatest discovery

the Fejér tenet named after him -referring to the summarizing of the Fourier lines;

József Galamb (1881-1955), designer of the famous Model T the first mass-produced car in the world;

Zoltán Magyary (1888-1945) who laid the foundations of Hungarian scientific policy, and together with Kuno Klebelsberg reorganized scientific activity, higher education and their international relations in the country after World War One, an outstanding representative of the science of public administration;

Imre Bródy (1891-1944), inventor of the krypton electric bulb;

Dénes Mihály (1894-1953); in 1929, the radio station Berlin-Witzleben was the first in the world to give a mobile television broadcast with transmitting equipment invented and further developed by Mihály;

Ferenc Okolicsányi (1894-1954). who created a mirror screw for television purposes;

Kálmán Tihanyi (1897-1947), inventor of the screen tube, in whose English and French patent he described the storing of charge and the application of a supplementary tube for picture receiving tubes to scan on both sides, a basic requirement for the modern iconoscope;

Ladislao Jose Biró (1899-1985), inventor of the ball point pen and whose name - as in the Biro pen - has gone into history;

Peter C. Goldmark (1906-1977), who in 1940 invented the 343-line color television system, the first to be used in practice and with which CBS TV network started test transmissions later that year, and the microwave record patented in 1948;

László Heller (1907-1980), who is associated with inventing the cooling tower, the Heller system, which cools power plants by means of air and without water;

László Forgó (1907-1985) who developed a small flange aluminum thermotactic unit, which at low cost and on a relatively low scale can transfer heat from hot water to the cooling air, also called the Heller-Forgó system after the two;

John G. Kemeny (1926-1994) who together with his mathematician colleague Thomas E. Kurtz developed the Basic computer language, and the Dartmouth Time Sharing System, the synchronous use of computers.

A still longer list of successful Hungarians or Hungarian-born scientists who have enriched science and technological progress could be drawn up. However there are two persons and two spheres of creators - even among the great - who deserve special attention.

János (John) Bolyai (1802-1860), mathematician and philosopher, is the greatest Hungarian scientist His first mathematics tutor was his father Farkas Bolyai (1775-1856), who during his studies in Gottinga was accepted by Gauss, the 'prince of mathematics', as a friend, and who introduced his son to the problem of parallels, a concept that had remained unsolved for more than 2000 years. On discovering a solution to this mathematical problem János Bolyai wrote from Temesvár: "From nothing I have created a whole new world".

His work, which revolutionized geometry, was published in 1831. The content is summarized in the title: 'The absolutely true science of space. Discussion of the 11th Euclidean axiom (never decidable a priori) regardless of its appropriate or erroneous being: in the event of its erroneous being, by turning the circle into a geometric quadrangle.'

The new geometry discovered by Bolyai - and Lobachevsky - marks a turning point greater than that of Copernicus, quite an extraordinary revolution in thinking, said T. Bell in a major work on the history of mathematics. "We have recalled one of the major revolutions in thought. To exhibit another comparable to it in far-reaching significance, we have to go back to Copernicus; and even this comparison is inadequate in some respects Bolyai's mathematical work was not limited to his geometric examinations, and his scientific work to mathematics. He recognized the close connection between geometric configuration and the gravitational field.

Bolyai's name is immortalized by a crater on the Moon, and right next to him there is a crater named after Eötvös too, a fine symbol.

The most famous invention of Loránd (Roland) Eötvös (1848-1919) is the torsion balance (the Eötvös balance), developed by him in 1891 to measure changes caused by gravitational force. In tests, he proved that gravitational force only depends on the mass of a body and not on its substance; which implies that a gravitating and an inert mass are equal or proportionate to one another. Apart from his scientific activities, his organizational skills in science and education were also considerable. In 1891, the Mathematics and Physics Society was formed at his initiative; he was subsequently elected its president.

In the wake of the example set by Bolyai, Eötvös also created something world-famous, and launched such accomplishments through secondary school contests and by improving schools and scientific life that a legion of talented youths - among them scientists who would win Nobel prizes later - developed.

Nobel Prize winners of Hungarian origin

In science, the Nobel Prize is the most coveted award presented in recognition of outstanding achievements. The person after whom the award was named, Alfred Nobel, was born in Stockholm in 1833, and died in San Remo in 1896. The centenary provides an opportunity to survey those who won the prize from early this century to its end.

They include a remarkable line of persons who - either loosely or through close bonds -can be regarded as of Hungarian origin. By proving the international character of the science they created in several countries, several nations are proud of their performance. For instance, memorial stamps in memory of Robert Bárány have been issued in Austria, Sweden and Hungary. The spirit of the Nobel Prize encourages us to build bridges over the walls that separate.

Fülöp (Philipp von) Lenard (1862-1947) was the first scientist born in Hungary to win the Nobel Prize. His scientific career started under Eötvös in Budapest, but he later moved to Germany where he died. He was honored in physics in 1905 "for his work in connection with cathode rays". His principal sphere of research covered the phenomenon of phosphorescence and cathode rays. He established the first simple nuclear model. The Hungarian Academy of Sciences elected him a corresponding member in 1897, and an honorary member in 1907.

Robert Bárány (1876-1936) was honored with the 1914 Nobel prize for physiology or medical science "for his work on the physiology and pathology of the vestibular apparatus". In a speech he delivered upon receiving the Nobel prize in the discipline of otology, Botany's professional line, half a century later, Georg von Békésy spoke about the historical continuity: 'As you may know, the first recipient of the Nobel prize in othology, Robert Bárány, also came from Hungary. I do not think that this is pure accident. Otology in Hungary had very high standards and there was a genuine interest in it.' Békésy referred to Endre Hõgyes as their common precursor.

Richard Zsigmondy (1865-1929) was a recipient of the 1925 Nobel Prize in chemistry "for his demonstration of the heterogeneous nature of colloid solutions and for the methods he used which have since become of fundamental importance in modern colloid chemistry". Zsigmondy was born in Vienna, but came from a famous Hungarian family both on his father's and mother's side.

Albert Szent-Györgyi (1893-1986) was recipient of the 1937 Nobel Prize in physiology or medical science "for his discoveries in connection with the biological combustion processes, with special reference to Vitamin C and the catalysis of fumaric acid." Together with his associates he made pioneering discoveries in the field of muscle research.

György (George) de Hevesy (1885-1966) was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1943 "for his work on the use of isotopes as tracers in the study of chemical processes". He discovered hafnium, chemical element No. 72.

György (Georg von) Békésy (1899-1972) was recipient of the 1961 Nobel Prize in physiology or medical science 'for his discoveries concerning the physical mechanism of stimulation within the cochlea". The key element of Békésy's life work was to observe and describe mechanical-physical processes in the internal ear, and create a new theory related to the nature of hearing. He was the first to make an instrument that functioned similarly to the internal ear.

Jenõ (Eugene P.) Wigner (1902-1995) received the 1963 Nobel Prize in physics together with Maria Goeppert-Mayer and Hans David Jensen "for his contributions to the theory of the atomic nucleus and the elementary particles particularly through the discovery and application of fundamental symmetry principles". Wigner played an oustanding role in the peaceful and safe utilization of nuclear energy. He was the first reactor engineer in the world.

Dénes (Dennis) Gabor (1900-1979) ranks as one of the pioneers of the theory of communication. His study Theory of Communication came out in 1946. He was recipient of the 1971 Nobel Prize in physics "for his invention and development of the holographic method". After discovering the principle on which laser beams function, a new and multifaceted possibility opened up for a holographic procedure. The result: three-dimensional, stereoscopic pictures.

John C. Polanyi (1929-). He shared the 1986 Nobel Prize for chemistry together with Dudley R. Herschbach and Yuan Tseh Lee "for contributions to the development of a new field of reasearch in chemistry-reaction dynamics" Polanyi was born in Berlin, son of Mihály (Michael) Polányi, a world-famous chemist and philosopher, offspring of a family of intellectuals who played a major role in Hungarian cultural life.

Elie Wiesel (1928-). Recipient of the 1986 Nobel Prize for Peace "because he was one of the leading intellectual figures in an age when the world was inflicted by violence, oppression and racism". In 1989 a book was published in Tel Aviv on persons regarded as contributing the most to their culture in Hungary and Israel alike. The front page includes a picture of Elie Wiesel, who contributed a foreword to the edition in Hungarian.

György (George A.) Oláh (1927-). In the field of modern organic chemistry his works overthrew the dogmas of the quattro chemical valency of carbon, opening new opportunities for the manufacture of hydrocarbons. Unleaded petrol is one of the most recognized. He was awarded the 1994 Nobel Prize in chemistry "for his contributions to carbocation chemistry".

János (John C.) Harsányi (1920-) shared the 1994 Nobel Prize in economics together with John Nash and Reinhard Selten "for their pioneering analysis of equilibria in the theory of non-cooperative games". Harsányi showed how social games can be analyzed even when in possession of faulty information. He thus laid the groundwork for a fast developing research sector, the economics of information, taking note of strategic situations where individual participants are unaware of each other's intentions.

The decisive role played by Hungarian schools in achieving such high per formances is clearly shown by a list of Nobel Prize recipients, right up to those lately honored. Wigner, when receiving the Nobel Prize, recalled the Lutheran grammar school in Budapest's Fasor "My own history begins in the high school in Hungary where my mathematics teacher, [László] Rátz gave me books to read and evoked in me a sense of the beauty of his subject "

The father of holography, Dénes Gabor, when asked about the memories he held of his teachers and school, said: "My memories of the secondary school are the best ever. At that time Hungary was a very poor country, but very rich in talent. At least three of our grammar school teachers taught to genuine university standards..." He knew the assets of the alma mater, and asked with worrying care in a letter in 1960: "Has the fine Hungarian secondary school, which hardly had a rival in the world, survived?"

Asked what role a good secondary school plays in scientific successes, Harsányi said: "It plays an absolutely important role. My experience shows that the university was not that excellent. That is why I am grateful to my grammar school. Several of our teachers would have become university professors abroad, but university seats were few and far between in our country. It was to my great delight that together with my excellent associates we pursued major debates from philosophy to politics and sociology."

Oláh also recalls that in his secondary school years he was given an excellent basis on which to build stressing its international aspects and looking toward the future of the Hungarian school system with optimism: "For eight years I attended the Budapest Piarist school, and it proved to be very good and tough training. It is certain that the grammar school provided a fine base... good basic training is a precondition to scientific achievement. From this point of view the Hungarian school system was excellent, and I hope that it will remain so in the future...

Pioneers of the atomic age, the space age and the information age

Receiving the Nobel Prize is a recognized yardstick of scientific performance. But there are Hungarian-born scientists who, though not awarded the Nobel prize, have a place among the greats.

The giant consortium Westinghouse published a calendar of scientists for the year 1996. Twelve persons could be selected for the 12 months of the year from representatives of various professions and the history of nations looking back many centuries. Those who start and close the year are granted a special place among the 12.

The year is opened with János (John von) Neumann, closed by Zoltán Bay, and a portrait of Tódor (Theodore von) Kármán is to be found in the month of June. The American publication makes clear that Hungary gave these scientists to America, and the world.

Kármán, Leo Szilárd, Ede (Edward) Teller, a number of pioneers from the atomic age the space age and the information age, also left Hungary to travel to the New World.

Nobel Prize recipient Leon Lederman, as he jocularly put it, revealed the secret of Hungarians with help from Sherlock Holmes and his associate Dr Watson. Neumann and others are creatures from outer space who established their first base in our planet in Budapest, and then disguising themselves as Hungarian emigrants spread out, and infiltrated the best universities and research nstitutes in the world in the first half of the 20th century.

Let us find out more about the ‘Martians’ who through their work have exerted such a decisive influence on the culture and history of mankind globally. They reveal their secret themselves. They do not come from outer space; rather Hungarian schooling and basic training - including the spirits of Bolyai and Eötvös - played a decisive role in their careers.

Tódor (Theodore von) Kármán (1881-1963) is the ‘father’ of modern aerodynamics and supersonic airplanes and missiles. He was instrumental in obtaining the air superiority necessary to win World War II. Barely had the war ended when Kármán was preoccupied with issues of the post-victory era. He rallied a group of experts and in summing up their work, in 1945 he worded, under the title Toward New Horizons, the guidelines on which aviation technology was developed after the war. Kármán’s spirit is equivalent to constant innovation. Less expensively, more safety, farther, faster and higher. Out into the space right up to the stars. Sic itur ,ad astra ! He was the first to receive the National Medal of Science, the most prestigious American scientific decoration. Craters on the far side of the Moon and on Mars preserve his name.

Leó (Leo) Szilárd (1898-1964) clarified the connection between the role played by reason in producing information and the second main tenet of energetics, one of the points of departure to informatics and brain research, in an essay called Reducing entropy in thermodynamic systems upon the impact of intelligent creatures (1926). He discovered the possibility of nuclear chain reactions and proved the case for neutron multiplication for uranium fission. Enrico Fermi and Szilárd were in charge of planning and putting into practice the first atomic pile. The names of both scientists are featured an the patent of the nuclear reactor. 'I believe that a single man is capable of changing the course of history. I dedicate this book to the memory of a man who never yearned for power, nor did he attain it, but who started the atomic age,’ writes Teller in a book dedicated to the memory of Leo Szilárd. (Better the Shield than the Sword)

Ede (Edward) Teller (1908-) was also instrumental in releasing the second kindling of fire, nuclear energy. He was among the first to study thermonuclear reactions and played a key role in producing the American hydrogen bomb. A Committee for the Safety of Reactors was established after World War II and Teller was selected as its first chairman. He won the Fermi Prize with his activity for the safe operation of American atomic reactors. Several important physics and chemistry inventions carry his name (in the BET equation the letter T refers to him, Jahn-Teller effect).

Zoltán Bay (1900-1992) was the founder of radar astronomy. He worked out a new metric standard which at his proposal was accepted by the International Conference on Weights and Measures in 1983. Accordingly, one meter is defined as the distance that light covers in 1/299792458th of a second in a vacuum. He was the first European fifty years ago to send radar signals to the moon from Budapest.

The first symbolic steps into outer space through signals were taken - simultaneously but independently of one another - by DeWitt and G. Valley in America, and Zoltán Bay and his team in Budapest. On February 6, 1946, Zoltán Bay and his associates received on a locator set up in the research laboratory of the Tungsram factory a radar signal bounced off the Moon using the informatics-oriented method of sign repetition and sign integration.

This successful lunar radar test opened up not only possibilities for space research and, in the long term, space flight to planets. What is already of direct significance in the space age is not future space travel between planets, but the exchange of information on earth, a breakthrough to global satellite communication, and a revolution in space telecommunications.

János (John von) Neumann (1903-1957) is associated with cultivating a number of areas in mathematics from an axiomatic build-up of a general theory of sets to that of ergodicity. His classic work is the mathematical foundation of quantum mechanics. Neumann was a decisive figure in the American atomic program. He founded the gaming theory, which was honored with a Nobel Prize in 1994, and which lays economic and political thinking on new foundations.

The name of John von Neumann was made world-famous by the role he played in informatics, notably that he is the 'father of computers'. His study on the development of the modern high speed electronic computer entitled First Draft on the report of EDVAC came out more than 50 years ago, on June 30, 1945. He was engaged until his death in the issue of a new symbiosis encompassing technology and biology. His posthumous book published under the title The Computer and the Brain also dealt with this subject.

However, as early as in his initiative called Memorandum on the Program of the High-Speed Computer published on November 8, 1945, Neumann worded a program pointing beyond the construction of a computer: 'Further investigations will have to be carried out in parallel with the development and construction of the machine. However, the main work will have to be done when the machine is completed and available, by using the machine itself as an experimental tool.'

He then did the lion's share of the work after successfully completing the project, the creation of a computer based on the Neumann principle. He placed into the focus of further research an analysis of the impact exerted by information technology and generally technological progress on society and the future impact of progress dependent thereupon.

How can we survive technological progress?

''The great globe itself' in a rapidly maturing crisis" said Neumann about the gist of the matter in his strategic study published under the title 'Can we survive technology?' published in 1955. He pointed out that the crisis affecting the whole of mankind "does not arise from accidental events or human errors. It is inherent in technology's relation to geography on the one hand and to political organization on the other."

The technology that is now developing and that will dominate the next decades seems to be in total conflict with traditional and, in the main, momentarily still valid, geographical and political units and concepts. This is the maturing crisis of technology."

'It will, therefore, be necessary to develop suitable new political forms and procedures. All experience shows that even smaller technological changes than those now on the cards profoundly transform political and social relationships." "For progress there is no cure" establishes Neumann, and he draws the final conclusion: "To ask in advance for a complete recipe would be unreasonable. We can specify only human qualities required: patience, flexibility, intelligence."

There is no remedy against progress, as technological progress cannot be stopped. One can leave the crisis behind and live through scientific and technological progress only if it combines with a streamlining of the public administration and state activity, as well as social political progress. Only if scientists, engineers and politicians mutually understand one another and cooperate. This was understood by Bolyai and later by Kármán, Neumann and their great fellow scientists when they helped the state leaderships with their advice, and this was understood by those heads of state who presented the highest decorations to the Hungarian pioneers of a new world era.

Just one volume would be too little for us to present all those from the sphere of Hungarian culture who contributed throughout the centuries to the progress of universal human culture. Here by presenting just a few outstanding personalities and accomplishments, we aim to show that Hungary and those Hungarians who moved to other countries greatly enriched universal culture.

Source: Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Back to History Main Page