Professor Jan Czochralski


Professor Jan Czochralski

(born on October 23rd 1885 in Kcynia - died on April 22nd 1953 in Poznań)


Jan Czochralski was born on October 23rd 1885 in Kcynia in the Wielkopolska region, which was then under Prussian domination. He was the eight child of Franciszek Czochralski and Marta nee Suchomska, who both came from large craftsmen families. The family declared Polish origin, which can be seen from the spelling of his father's names in his birth act: next to the obligatory German versions they were also spelled in Polish. Young Jan studied first in the local primary school that was the only education facility in Kcynia and belonged to a teachers' seminar; then he probably attended the Royal Gymnasium in Krotoszyn and continiued working and training in a drugstore in Krotoszyn. His education was conducted in the German language. Jan showed interest in chemistry already during his life in Kcynia and had an opportunity to carry out several experiments in his home laboratory, one of which ended with an explosion.

In 1904 Jan Czochralski went to Berlin to work in a drugstore and further his study of chemistry. In 1906 he started to work as a laboratory analyst in the chemical plant Kunhein u. Co., and in 1907 he transferred to the cable factory Kabelwerk Oberspree. He passed a competition entry exam to the Chemistry Department in Technische Hochschule in Berlin Charlottenburg, where he later specialised in metallurgy. Probably in 1908 he obtained his chemistry engineer diploma after an examination he had taken as an extramural student. In the cable factory of the AEG concern Jan Czochralski was given a very responsible position and a task of introducing aluminium in electronics. He studied aluminium and its alloys, developed new alloys and improved their mechanical properties. His work was pionieering, and he published numerous studies, including Technological conclusions from metal crystallography, written together with Wichard von Moellendorff and issued in 1913. Jan Czochralski worked for AEG until 1917. He created the German word for physical metallurgy - "Metallkunde". In 1916 the 31- year- old Czochralski developed a method that revolutionised the testing of metal crystallisation and that has ever since been used for the production of single crystals. Its discovery was purely accidental... Czochralski continuously improved it. In Berlin Jan Czochralski married Marguerite F. E. Hasse, daughter of a rich Dutch construction entrepreneur, whom he had met at a concert when she- then a student- was performing F. Chopin's piecies. After the wedding his wife adopted his surname with the Polish ending "-ska". In 1917 the couple moved to Frankfurt on Main where Jan became head of one of the most modern industrial laboratories in Germany which combined scientific research with industrial experiments. He worked there until 1928, and developed the majority of his patents, among others a tin-free bearing alloy known as metal B, which proved very useful in the railway industry.

Czochralski was a member of the German Society for Metal Science; in 1919 he became its tresurer, in 1924 its deputy president, and its deputy president, and in 1925 its president. Being head of a German organisation he never hid the fact he considered himself Polish. An extraordinarily active person, Jan Czochralski was engaged in various fields: he organised scientific expositions and press conferences, was interested in art and architectore and helped Polish students and immigrants.

His fame reached as far as the United States - Henry Ford, owner of the Ford factory, invited him in 1923 to his estate and offered him the position of director general of the factory. Even though the proposal was very interesting and financially promising, Czochralski refused because it would require settling down in the US.

Jan Czochralski and his family lived in Frankfurt on Main until July 1928, and in October they left for Warsaw. In January 1929 he renounced the position of president of the German Society for Metal Science, having earlier given up his work for Metallbank und Metallurgische Gesellschaft AG.

He found himself in Warsaw at the invitation of another chemist, Professor Ignacy Mościcki, President of Poland, who saw him as technical advisor in the Ministry of Military Affairs. Jan Czochralski became also contract professor at the Chemistry Department of the Warsaw Technical University. Czochralski had dreamt of coming to Warsaw, to independent Poland; as he wrote: I was inclined to return to Poland (...) owing to the fact the my children were growing up and I wanted to send them to school to prevent them from germanisation.

Beside his professional work, Czochralski financially supported Polish industry, was active in the social field and participated in the work of scientific organisations such as The Polish Chemical Society, The Polish Steelworks Society, The Military and Technical Association, The Polish Society for the Exploration of Materials or The Society of Polish Mechanics. He was patron of the arts, supported students and museums, contributed financially to archaeological works in Biskupin and was a member of the editorial board of Przegląd Mechaniczny (Journal of Mechanics). He cooperated with foreign companies, e.g. with Skoda factory, and was a member of many foreign scientific associations.

In 1929 he was awarded an honorary doctorate of the Warsaw Technical University, which allowed him to also adopt Polish citizenship.

His home was open for artists and scientists and remained so even after the outbreak of the war.

The life of Jan Czochralski, his dual citizenship, perfect knowledge of the German language and reality, his work for the Ministry of Military Affairs, relationships with the intelligence services, professional and social activity during the war and the mystery surrounding it became grounds for a trial for collaboration with the Nazis that was launched in April 1945. He was apprehended together with his daughter and son-in-law and placed, after the first hearing, in the former Russian prison in Piotrków Trybunalski. On the basis of testimonies of many witnesses the charges were dismissed and the investigation closed due to the lack of evidence; in August 1945 Jan Czochralski was set free. However, the Senate of the Warsaw University of Technology refused to return him to his position, despite being aware of the court judgement. Only in 2011, after many efforts, did the Senate of the Warsaw University of Technology reinstate him and acknowledge his role in the history of Polish science.

In 1945 Jan Czochralski returned to his hometown Kcynia, finally within the Polish borders. He died in Poznań on April 22nd 1953 and was buried in the parish cementary in Kcynia.

The biography of Professor Jan Czochralski contains many gaps, numerous facts mentioned in the literature find no confirmation in documents. Therefore there are so many uncertainties- which is sad, because his rich biography would be enough for more then one lifetime.