The life of Loránd Eötvös

Loránd Eötvös was born in Buda on July 27th 1848, the year of the Hungarian revolution and fight for independence. His father József Eötvös came from an impoverished noble family.

Student years, early studies

Eotvos L. Loránd Eötvös was educated by private tutor and also at the Piarists where he obtained his final examinations in 1865. In those days it was assumed that boys of aristocratic families who wished to receive higher education had to enter some branch of the law. The law studies failed to satisfy Eötvös, but he always managed to find time to attend lectures in natural sciences.

Despite the fact that he completed his law studies, his dearest wish was to "study at a university abroad under the guidance of enlightened teachers" in order to fully understand the natural forces at work in the scientific field. In 1867 having obtained his father's consent, he took the final decision to follow a career in natural sciences, and to this end entered the university in Heidelberg. There he became the pupil of Kirchhoff, Bunsen and Helmholtz. First of all he studied physics, mathematics and chemistry. The following six months he spent at the university of Koenigsberg, but found the lectures too abstract and returned to Heidelberg. During his university years he kept up a regular correspondence with his father. These letters reveal the depth of understanding and sincerity in the relationship between father and son.

In 1869 the young Eötvös, thirsty for adventure, plans to join Petermann the German geographer on his expedition to the Spitzbergen. At his father's request Eötvös gave up the plan to travel and applied all his energy to preparing for his examinations, that he passed with degree "summa com laude".

Shortly after his return home in February, 1871, his father died "the best and truest friend." On his death bed he warned his son once more that his future happiness depended on his devoting himself to science and keeping out of politics.

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University studies

After his father's death, Eötvös successfully applied for the post of lecturer, advertised by the faculty of theoretical physics at the Pest University, which now bears his name. It was characteristic of the social climate of the time that the majority of the audience attending his inaugural lecture did so because they were curious to see a real baron giving a talk at the university.

After a short period of lecturing, in 1872 he was publicly honoured by the king, who awarded him chair of theoretical physics. In 1874 he was allowed to give lectures in experimental physics and four years later he became professor in this field. He was then given the task of uniting the departments of experimental and theoretical physics, and was appointed as director to the newly established physical institute.

In 1873 he became associate member of the Academy, then full member in 1883, and in 1889 he was elected president. Amongst his offices he became minister of religion and education for seven months in 1894. In his inaugural speech as minister he addressed the ministerial staff as follows:

"We must strive, gentlemen, to make the field of public education a true garden of flowers. To achieve this aim we must first create order in the garden, so that every plant has its place. It is also necessary that each one receives the right nourishment, the soil and air that will allow its full development. In short, we have just two things we must do here, to make order and then to help. And gentlemen, I would like us to give more and more assistance and show more tolerance in our regulations."

Eötvös was a modest scientist who shunned the limelight. He disliked noisy ceremonies and did not seek moral or financial reward. In spite of this he was acclaimed and received awards at home and abroad for his scientific work and skill as an organiser. The most important ones included the French Legion of Honour, the Franz Josef award from the Hungarian king, the Saint Sava award from the king of Serbia. He was also elected honorary member of the Prussian Royal Academy of Sciences in Berlin and was given honorary doctorates from the Jagello University in Cracow and the Norwegian Royal Frederick University in Christiania (now Oslo). In addition to the above he received several major and minor awards during his lifetime and was elected president or a leading member of various social and scientific societies.

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Traveller and Sportman

Eötvös was a well balanced individual. Besides his intensive mental work he always found time for relaxation and sport. He often went riding and regularly made the eleven kilometre journey from his home to the university on horseback. Eotvos on horseback In the summer he often cycled and indulged in his passion for rock climbing. In the classic time of mountaineering he ranked among the best. As an enthusiastic photographer, he took hundreds of pictures during his mountaineering excursions. In his latter years his daughters accompanied him on his expeditions, and also became keen alpinists. Eötvös' climbing achievements in the southern Tirol made the "Hungarian professor's" name so well-known that in 1902 one peak of 2837 metres high in the Dolomites (Italy) was named after him Cima di Eötvös (Eötvös summit). In the company of friends he often jokingly said that he was prouder of his mountaineering successes than his discovery of the torsion balance. For many years as president of the Hungarian Touring Society, he achieved a great deal in the popularization of tourism in Hungary.

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The old scientist

With the advancing years, he strove to avoid prestigious appointments in order to devote himself entirely to his research. This prompted him to give up his position as president of the Academy in 1905. Eotvos L. The last years of his life were clouded by a severe illness, but he continued to lecture at the university as long as it was humanly possible. Until the last moments of his life he followed torsion balance field work with great interest. In the beginning he asked his colleagues to inform him of the daily results of their survey by telegram because he was very anxious to know how far the results of the survey supported his theories. He had never been able to tear himself away from his research, even during his summer excursions to the Mountains. When on holiday he always kept up a regular correspondence with his co-workers. He continued his scientific work from his sick bed and sent his last paper to be published only a few days before he died on April 8th 1919.

International scientific life and the whole of Hungarian society mourned his death. Hungary had said farewell to one of the last great representatives of classical physics and to the country's greatest natural scientist. Through his work, however, his name will live forever in the history of physics and geophysics.

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