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07-15-2010

Clarkson University Professor Named Honorary Chair of Conference to Celebrate Nobel Prize Anniversary

[A photograph for media use is available at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/zuman.jpg]

A Clarkson University professor was named honorary chairman of a conference to celebrate the 50th anniversary of when his mentor was awarded the Nobel Prize.

Jaroslav Heyrovsky was awarded the prize for inventing polarography, an electrochemical technique for determining the composition of solutions using electrical currents. Clarkson University Professor Named Honorary Chair of Conference to Celebrate Nobel Prize AnniversaryAt the time, Petr Zuman, now a distinguished emeritus research professor at Clarkson, was his collaborator.

"In 1959, the Nobel Prize was given to my teacher with whom I worked for 18 years," said Zuman. It was the only Nobel Prize given to a Czech chemist, he said.

"To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the awarding of the Nobel Prize, there was a meeting in Prague (in the Czech Republic) to celebrate it. I was supposed to be honorary chairman of the meeting and unfortunately I was not able to travel," said Zuman.

Instead, he published three articles in a special two-volume edition of the journal "Collection of Czechoslovak Chemical Communications" in honor of the anniversary.

When the Czech Academy of Sciences was formed in 1950, Zuman said, part of it was the Institute of Polarography and Heyrovsky was named its director. "I was one of the six people who came with him from the Charles University to the Institute of the Academy."

"He was a very, very interesting person," Zuman said of his mentor. To explain, Zuman tells this story: "The Czechs are fanatic about picking wild mushrooms. There is a road on which over the day several hundred people walk and don’t see anything. He walks there and picks up his mushrooms. He was able to see things, which nobody else was able."

Every Thursday morning, members of the institute would meet to discuss their research "and the questions which Prof. Heyrovsky asked went immediately always to the real point of the whole story," said Zuman.

"He was a very quiet man. He was not a strong lecturer. He was speaking with a reluctant voice, but he had some personal magnetism that attracted young people to him. There was always a great number of people working within his institute," said Zuman.

"When I was leaving in ’66," Zuman said, "there were 72 people in the institute. He attracted people from all over the world. He had people coming to spend research time with him from all over Europe, Italy, Germany, France, Poland -- you name it."

"There were people coming to the institute and trying to learn from him. He was really a very, very unusual personality. "

At the time Zuman left the institute, the Communist regime was weakening and he accepted an invitation to become a Senior Visiting Fellow at the University of Birmingham, England. After that, he made a trip around the world visiting places where he was offered a teaching position. He eventually decided on Clarkson "and hasn’t regretted a minute of it."

"I was teaching 28 different courses during 30 years at Clarkson, and enjoying it," he said. "I’m a lucky man -- I realize it. For most of my life, I was able to enjoy what I am doing.

Zuman, now 84, still spends three to four hours every day in his lab at Clarkson.

Clarkson University launches leaders into the global economy. One in six alumni already leads as a CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. Located just outside the Adirondack Park in Potsdam, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university for undergraduates with select graduate programs in signature areas of academic excellence directed toward the world’s pressing issues. Through 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, sciences and health sciences, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and engineering innovation with enterprise.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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