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  • Physics in Serbia:From Personal Achievements to Institutions
  • Marko M. Popović


1. Introduction

Physics in Serbia has developed over several periods in which physicists and society have had different influences on each other. This study examines those documented periods which characterize that evolution. There are three necessary conditions that need to be fulfilled for any success in scientific work, particularly in physics. They are:

  1. a. requisite level of knowledge of individuals or a group of scientists who are dealing with a specific scientific problem or issue;

  2. b. ability of those scientists to use their knowledge, to solve the problem which is being investigated;

  3. c. necessary working conditions provided by the state (funds for basic or other investigations), industry, universities or any other partner interested in investment in that knowledge to be realized by scientists, something like a market of knowledge which needs to be activated.1

Through the history of physics in Serbia, fulfillment of all those three conditions, together with proper adjustment to them, has resulted in a success, at times remarkable. Characteristic periods in the development of physics in Serbia can be divided into the following:

  1. 1. Period of individual efforts, from 1801 until World War II;

  2. 2. Nuclear program from 1947 until 1960;

  3. 3. Period of founding and development of different institutions for physics, from 1960-90; [End Page 255]

  4. 4. Period of stagnation and isolation, 1990-2000;

  5. 5. Current Status and Outlook for Research—Revival of Research in Physics.

This study will try to describe briefly, but not completely, those periods in the science of physics and its development in Serbia. The duration of those periods varies, as can be seen from the above (1-5), but in our opinion they most appropriately illustrate the development of physics in Serbia.

2. Period of Outstanding Individuals

The period of outstanding individuals is the longest era during the slow process of introduction and development of the study of physics in Serbia. It ended with the outbreak of World War II on April 7, 1941. During this period, the study of physics is mainly connected with the development of the Great School and later on with the establishment of the University of Belgrade and the teaching of physics at those institutions.

It is not the purpose of this article to enumerate all those who participated in organizing the study of physics, but only to name those who were the most important. They have been selected on the basis of their efforts to introduce instruction of physics in the school curriculum, or to write textbooks on that subject in Serbian. Furthermore, attention will be paid to people whose works were great scholarly contributions in the field of physics. However, it is important to acknowledge that none among those scholars left behind them that which is most important for the discipline: a research laboratory or an institute.

The second period can be divided in two sub-periods. The first sub-period was (2.1.) from the time when the physics was first mentioned in Serbia to the formation of the University in Belgrade (1904); the second sub-period (2.2.) continued till WWII.

2.1. From the First Mention of the Word "Physics" in Serbia to the Formation of the University in Belgrade

The author's effort to determine whether or not the word physics was ever mentioned in Serbian mediaeval written sources yielded no result. According to S. Koički,2 the word physics was used for the first time at the end of the [End Page 256] 18th century3 when Dositej Obradović (1739-1811) mentioned it in one of his fables4: "... to find whichever Serb who would publish PHYSICS for his people and in his language."5 Surprisingly or not, such a person was found almost immediately. Atanasije Stojković (1773-1832), physics professor in Harkov, Russia6 provided the response to Obradović's aspiration "revealed in his didactic fables" (Fig. P-1 in the graphic insert following p. 200 of this issue).7 With the help of a newly-opened printing University press in Budim (Hungary), Stojković published during three consecutive years, 1801, 1802 and 1803, three volumes of his book Fisika (Fig. P-2).8...


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