Adalbert Silvester Peter Rubinowicz (Wojciech Sylwester Piotr Rubinowicz) was born in Sadagóra, near Czernowitz,which was at the time, like Lwów, a significant cultural centre in the eastern part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A variety of ethnic groups lived in Czernowitz, including the Poles, Germans, German speaking Austrians, Jews (who characterised themselves as German speaking, but of mosaic belief), Ukrainians (known at the time as Ruthenians), Rumanians and Polish speaking Armenians who belonged to the Armenian-Catholic rite.
Wojciech's father, Damian Rubinowicz, had been a Polish resistance fighter against the Czarist regime in the 1863 uprising. He was a pharmacist and owned a pharmacy in Sadagóra and later in Czernowitz. He was twice elected mayor of Sadagóra. He devoted himself to the establishment of the Polish Reading Room and promoted the introduction of instruction in the Polish language in Primary School. Wojciech's mother, Małgorzata (Margaret) née Brodowska, was the daughter of a landowner. Wojciech was born as the second of six children. Unfortunately, four of them died early of tuberculosis. Wojciech also suffered from tuberculosis of the hip joint, which handicapped him for the whole of his life. He underwent treatment in the Health Resort of Zakopanein the Sanatorium run by Dr Dłuski, the husband of Madame Curie's sister.
In accordance with his father's wishes it was originally intended that he study Pharmacy and take over the family pharmacy. Since Rubinowicz, however, did not expect to live long, he decided not to pursue a practical profession and, instead, after completing his secondary-school education in 1908took up studies in experimental Physics at Czernowitz University with Prof. Joseph von Geitler, theoretical Physics with Prof. Michael Radaković and Mathematics with Prof. Josef Plemelj. In 1912, he became Prof. Geitler's assistant.During his studies, he met the Physics' student, Else Norst, and following a lenghty engagement, she became his wife in 1921.Else was the daughter of Dr. Anton Norst, Secretary of the Czernowitz University and editor of the “Czernowitzer Zeitung“ (Czernowitz Newspaper). During the first months of World War I, Norst was the Commander of the beleaguered city. On 7. July, 1914, three weeks before the outbreak of war, Wojciech Rubinowicz was awarded the PhD for his thesis entitled „Zur Frage der strengen Lösungen einiger Beugungsprobleme am Keil und Winkelspiegel“ (“Concerning the Question of a rigorous solution to some Diffraction Problems in the Case of Wedge and Angled Mirrors“).His Doctoral Supervisor was Prof. Geitler.
The entry of the Russian troops, however put an end to further Physics Studies and Rubinowicz moved to Grödig near Salzburg, where his sister, Seweryna, was already living. In Grödig he was posted to the garrison headquarters of the St. Leonhard refugee camp.In order to continue his work, Rubinowicz went to Munich where he was awarded the Anschütz-Kaempfe Foundation Scholarship, which enabled him to further his studies under Prof. Arnold Sommerfeld (1868-1951).It was here that his first scientific papers appeared including „Die Beugungswelle in der Kirchhoffschen Theorie der Beugungserscheinungen“ (“The Bending Wave in Kirchhoff's Theory of Bending Phenomena“)
and „Bohrsche Frequenzbedingungen und Erhaltung des Impulsmomentes“ (“Bohr's Frequency Conditions and Maintenance of the Impulse Momentum“).
When the War ended in 1918, Rubinowicz returned briefly to Czernowitz which now belonged to Rumania. Since the new authorities insisted on Rumanian as the language of instruction, Rubinowicz together with many other Czernowitz scientists decided to leave Czernowitz permanently and he chose to move to Vienna where the Norst family was already living.
Wojciech Rubinowicz applied for a position with Marie Curie-Skłodowska at the Radium Institute in Paris but before he had received a reply, an invitation arrived from the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen.Here he spent two periods, each lasting several months – first in 1920 as a scholarship holder of the Rask-Ørsted Foundation and then in 1922 when he was awarded a scholarship by the Carlsberg Foundation.At the suggestion of Prof. Plemelj who, at the end of the World War I, had returned home from Czernowitz to Ljubljana where he set up the new Slovenian University, Rubinowicz was invited to take up the Chair of Theoretical Physics there. In 1921 he married Dr. Elisabeth Norst.
As early as the beginning of 1918, Wojciech Rubinowicz had considered moving to Poland. He wrote to Cracow Physics Professor Władysław Natanson and received a polite but non-committal reply. He also corresponded with Prof. Casimir Fajans after 1919 but the latter advised him against moving to Poland. Not till 1922 did Rubinowicz decide to leave Ljubljana and accept the Chair in Physics in the General Faculty of the Technical University in Lwów in Eastern Poland. The University offer included the use of an official residence on the third floor of 22 Nabielaka Street. The young Professor with his considerable experience in Vienna, Munich and Copenhagen faced vehement opposition from the other Professors. He was the object of vexatious attacks with the usual anti-Semitic undertone. Rubinowicz had to provide the Faculty with witnesses and documents to refute the allegations as unfounded. Then the attacks were directed against his wife who had been appointed Senior Assistant to the Chair of Physics at the same University. As a form of protest, Rubinowicz refused to give his lectures and only the intervention of the mathematician, Professor Kazimierz Bartel,a Member of Parliament and later Prime Minister of Poland, finally ended the conflict.
In 1928 Rubinowicz considered moving to the Jan-Kazimierz-University in Lwów, but since this would have meant relinquishing the comfortable official residence, he decided to refuse the offer. In the same year he succeeded in discovering the principle which operated in the selection of green spectral lines in the quadrupolar radiation of the Northern Lights.Many years later, this enabled Professor Alfred Kastler to discover optic pumping (Nobel Prize, 1966) which in turn contributed to the creation of the laser.
Among Rubinowicz's assistants, Dr. Jan Blaton (1907-1948) deserves special mention.Because of his radical left leanings, he was found guilty and fired but later allowed to resume his research work. In 1936, he was made Director of the Government Weather Bureau while still continuing with his scientific research till the outbreak of World War II. At the end of the war he helped to found the Marie-Curie-Skłodowska-University in Lublin, and then became Professor at the Cracow Jagellonian University. In 1948, he was killed in a mountaineering accident in the Tatra Mountains.
In 1931, Wojciech and Else Rubinowicz became parents when their only son Jan was born. A year later the family acquired a residence in Lwów in 95 (now 91) Zielona Street.In 1937 the General Faculty of the Lwów Technical University was closed. At the same time, the Chair of Theoretical Physics at the Lwów Jan-Kazimierz-University became vacant when Professor Szczeniowski moved to Wilno (now Vilnius, Lithuania). Rubinowicz was made Head of the Department which was located in 8 Długosza Street. Dr Wasyl Miliańczuk (1904-1958),a Ukrainian, became his assistant and succeeded him in the Lwów Chair after 1945. Rubinowicz also found the time to participate in the public lecture series held by the Polish Physical Society.
On the 20. September, 1939 in the wake of the secret Hitler-Stalin Pact, the Soviet soldiers marched into Lwów. The citizens of Lwów were forced to become Soviet citizens. On the 15. September, 1940, the Polish Jan-Kazimierz-University was renamed the Soviet-Ukrainian Ivan-Franko-University. Rubinowicz like the majority of the Polish Professors retained his Chair but the Physics Institute was moved to 4 Św. Mikołaja Street.After the entry of Nazi troops in June 1941, the University like all tertiary institutes was closed. Rubinowicz taught at the Technical College of Chemistry and helped with Further Education Courses that were secretly held for Polish students. He also occupied a “virtual“ position in Professor Weigel's biological laboratory that produced typhoid serum for the German Wehrmacht. The laboratory identity card was meant to protect him from difficulties with the German officials in case of arrest. Rubinowicz also helped a number of persecuted Jews, among them the famous mathematician, Professor Julius Schauder, who was, however, later murdered by the Nazis. In the cellar of the villa in Zielona Street a radio receiver was kept hidden during the Nazi occupation and Rubinowicz's wifeworked there for the Polish Underground press listening to the BBC news reports from London. Ownership of a radio receiver was at the time an offence to which the death penalty applied.
On the 27. July, 1944 Lwów came under Soviet control again. The Polish citizens of Lwów hoped at first that the city would belong to Poland but in accordance with the Yalta Agreement the Eastern Polish territory remained within the Soviet border. In 1945 when their last hope had gone, the Rubinowicz family decided to leave Lwów and move to the territory that still belonged to Poland. Many Polish universities offered positions:
• Lublin at 14.07.1945
• Poznań at 31.07.1945
• Łódź at 8.09.1945
• Warszawa (Warsaw) at 9.09.1945
• Wrocław at 26.09.1945.
The majority of the Lwów Professors moved as a group to Wrocław (the former German town Breslau, now Polish) in order to found a Polish University there. Rubinowicz however decided to accept the Warsaw offer. In December 1945, the Rubinowicz family drove to Cracow in a lorry as a part of the “Professorial Convoy“. Then in March 1946 they continued on to Warsaw. They were provided with accommodation in a University House in 74 Hoża Street,quite close to the Physics Institute. In May, 1946, Rubinowicz began his lectures in Theoretical Physics for the students.He became the Head of the Department of Theoretical Mechanics, since the Chair in Theoretical Physics was filled by Professor Białobrzeski. When Professor Leopold Infeld (1898-1968)returned from Canada in 1950, an Institute for Theoretical Physics was established. The Chair in Theoretical Mechanics became the Chair of Theoretical Physics II and was later renamed the Chair in Mechanics and Optics. From 1950-1953 Rubinowicz also held lectures in the mathematics Institute in Warsaw. Rubinowicz's associates in Warsaw included among others Roman Stanisław Ingarden, Marian Günther, Jerzy Rayski and later Bolesław Fabiański, Kazimierz Gniadek, Bogdan Karczewski, Jerzy Krebs, Tadeusz Kripiec, Adam Kujawski and Jan Petykiewicz.
Rubinowicz enjoyed a lively correspondence with Physicists all over the world, even during the Cold War when all contact with the West was eyed with great suspicion by the Secret Police. Amongst the most significant correspondents were his old Munich “Master“ Professor Arnold Sommerfeld (1868-1951),the Nobel Prize Winners, Niels Bohr (1885-1962)and Albert Kastler (1902-1984).He met them frequently during his visits abroad and in Poland. After receiving the Nobel Prize, Kastler said that Rubinowicz's research had contributed to his discovery of the optical pumping. On the occasion of Rubinowicz's 80th birthday in 1969, Kastler dedicated a witty poem to him.
Rubinowicz retired in 1960 at the age of 71. He continued to work on his research projects and invited young colleagues to his home. In 1969 after 48 years of marriage his wife died.Rubinowicz's health gradually declined. Rather reluctantly he agreed to move into his son's apartment where he could be better cared for and where he continued his research work and the meetings with his young associates.He lived long enough to see the birth of his granddaughters, Anna and Barbara.In 1970 he underwent a serious operation but, after a long recuperation period, was able to carry on with his work. He died on 13. October, 1974 at the age of 86 and was buried in the family grave in the Powązki cemetery.
In 1931 he was made a Corresponding Member and in 1947 an Active Member of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Cracow and in 1952 he became an Ordinary Member of the new Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw.
He was awarded Honorary Degrees by 3 Universities: 1960 East Berlin Humboldt University; 1964 Cracow Jagiellonian University;1970 Wrocław University.
The Science Library of the Institute of Theoretical Physics bears his name. A memorial tablet marks the house where he lived.
Note: In his German and English publications Rubinowicz used the latinised form of his given name Wojciech, which is Adalbert.
He published about 90 scientific papers. Speaking about his most important discoveries in an interview on Polish Radio in 1962 he said:
My interest in Physics focused on 3 main areas: above all Quantum Theory; Light Diffraction and finally mathematical problems relating to Theoretical Physics.
My first success in the field of Quantum Theory was the discovery of the selection rules that I published in 1918. These are based on the fact that I proposed rules that the atoms have to follow when emitting light. These rules are natural laws that apply without exception and that were recognised as such by all Physicists.
It caused a sensation in 1928 when Ira Sprague Bowen who later became Director of the world famous Mount Wilson Observatory, discovered several spectral lines in the nebula clouds that he termed as “forbidden“ because they contradicted the selection rules. For a time some Physicists maintained that the selection rules only represented a physical law and only applied approximately. In the same year, that is 1928, I succeeded in proving that the mechanism which operates in the creation of these lines is quite different from that in the case of normally observed spectral lines. They are governed by different selection rules. I provided a complete theory of these spectral lines and by means of the famous green spectral line of the Polar Lights showed that my theoretical predictions could be proven. The experiments that were carried out in the USA using this line as well as those done in the famous laboratory of Professor Pieter Zeeman in Amsterdam using other spectral lines, demonstrated that my theoretical assumptions were correct.
Among my papers dealing with light diffraction theory, the main ones are those that decided the hundred years old battle between the theories of Young and Fresnel concerning the light diffraction phenomena. The first theory relating to these phenomena was enunciated by the English Physicist Thomas Young as early as 1801. The theory assumed that the light that falls onto an opening is dispersed at the edge and this produces the diffraction phenomenon. A few years later, in 1816, the French Physicist, August Fresnel, provided arguments that contradicted Young's views, so that eventually in 1819 Young wrote to Fresnel and refuted his own theory. In 1882 the German Physicist Gustav Robert Kirchhoff showed how one could formulate Fresnel's theory more precisely. Since that time Physicists have been of the opinion that only Fresnel's theory should be accepted as correct. Feeling intuitively that Young's theory contained a kernel of truth, I turned my attention to this question in 1917 with youthful vigour and proved that using Kirchhoff's equation describing the wave motion one can transform it mathematically so that it exactly describes the diffraction phenomenon from Young's perspective, that is through dispersal at the edge of the opening. He thus proved that Young's and Fresnel's views were, in fact, absolutely equal in value. Last year (1961) I noted with great satisfaction that professor Wolf in the USA has greatly extended my theory.
I don't want to speak about my mathematical papers as they deal with problems that cannot be explained briefly.
A detailed description of Rubinowicz's scientific work can be found in the autobiography included in “Selected Papers“ (1975).
Rubinowicz published 17 books including 8 revised editions among them:
1957 Die Beugungswelle in der Kirchhoffschen Theorie der Beugung, PWN Warsaw
1957 Quantentheorie des Atoms, Joh. Amb. Barth, Leipzig
1965 The Miyamoto-Wolf Diffraction Wave in: Progress in Optics Vol. IV, North Holland Publishing Company, Amsterdam
1966 Die Beugungswelle in der Kirchhoffschen Theorie der Beugung, 2. Aufl., PWN and Springer-Verlag
1968 Quantum Mechanics, PWN u. Elsevier Publishing Company
1973 Sommerfeldsche Polynommethode, PWN u. Springer-Verlag
Adalbert Rubinowicz: Selected Papers, PWN – Polish Scientific Publishers, Warszawa 1975
Physical Faculty of Warsaw University
Sources for History of Quantum Physics (→ Author Catalog)
The Mathematics Genealogy Project
A. Rubinowicz: Die Beugungswelle in der Kirchhoffschen Theorie der Beugungserscheinungen
A. Rubinowicz: Bohrsche Frequenzbedingungen und Erhaltung des Impulsmomentes
A. Rubinowicz: Zum Zeemaneffekt der grünen Nordlichtlinie
Bibliography Wojciech Rubinowicz
An Amateur Film about 1937 (0,662 MB)
An Amateur Film about 1972 (1,488 MB)
Translated by Dr. Marlene J. Norst