Talking About History of Chemistry in the Land of Azulejo

Photo taken from this site.

I attended 10th International Conference on the History of Chemistry 2015 in Portugal (9-12 September, The University of Aveiro). I had a wonderful time there. It was a great opportunity to meet colleagues from all over the world, a very refreshing and intelectually inspiring event. The conference theme was: biographies as an important genre in the history of chemistry.

I presented a paper entitled Ludwik Werstenstein (1887-1945) as Chemist and Physical Chemist in the Light of His Memoirs.

L. Wertenstein, born in Warszawa, was an asistant to Maria Skłodowska-Curie (1867-1934), and later the on-site manager of the Mirosław Kernbaum Radiological Laboratory, established in Warszawa in 1913. Maria Skłodowska-Curie was the formal director of this institution.

Wertenstein was a Polish man of Jewish descent, so in 1944 he fled from the occupied country to Hungary. Prof. Wertenstein died accidentally due to a mine explosion on 18 January 1945, during the battle for Budapest.

The Radiological Laboratory was almost totally destroyed during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. Only the radium remained safe, secured by prof. Wertenstein in 1941 in a lead brick, and hidden in a wall of the basement in the house of a physicist Wacław Werner in Brwinów near Warsaw. Wertenstein informed about this fact only his wife. What is also interesting about the story, L. Werner was of German descent, but he refused to sign the Volksliste. In 1947 Werner returned this valuable object to the Warsaw Scientific Society. The story is like from the James Bond series.

Some impressions from the journey: Portuguese are very hospitable and friendly, and not so laud as many people in the other countries of southern Europe. A striking feature of many Portuguese is a subtle form of melancholy which found its artistic expresion i.a. in the Fado music.

I was suprised by the similarity of Portuguese pronunciation to that of Polish. I had the feeling that I heard Polish all around. It was peculiar, because Portuguese is a romance language, and Polish is a slavic one.

Only one thing frustrated me in the elegant town of Aveiro. The names of streets was so sparsely given that it would be easier to find money on a street that the name of it.

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Sunset over the Atlantic Ocean.

The famous ceramic tiles, Azulejo, often blue, could be found almost everywhere: on the churches, homes, railroad stations etc., often also inside them. They beautifully reflect sun rays and are pretty easy to clean. I was astonished by the fact that those fragile elements remained complete in most cases, and usually are in a pretty good shape.

Due to location of the country, far from the center of Europe, Portuguese people had for centuries an extraordinary luck to participate in many turmoils of the European and World history mainly to the extent they had chosen themselves. The country was occupied for the last time by the Napoleon`s army.

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The author in front of the Art Nouveau Museum in Aveiro.

And a reflection at the end: while I observed an ocean of clouds below me out of the window of a plane, I thought that such a view could inspire Stanisław Lem (1921-2006) to develop the concept of the conscious ocean (in his novel Solaris), with fantastic, complicated structures lasting for days or even weeks.

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