Jan Czochralski (1885–1953) – Famous Inventor of Rhinitis Medicine
Kcynia near Bydgoszcz was the birthplace of a Pole whose achievements would revolutionise the modern-day electronic industry. The man himself did not suspect what a great impact he would have on industrial development.
Jan Czochralski was born in a tiny town of Kcynia in the Prussian partition zone. He was a restless soul. He set up a chemical laboratory in the basement of his family home. One day an experiment of his went wrong, stirring up his father's anger. The Young Jan was ambitious and proud. After receiving his certificate of secondary education, he tore it up in front of his stunned teachers. After his final secondary school exams he declared: "I’m leaving Kcynia. I will come back once I get famous!" Soon, he left for Berlin to study chemistry. He also attended art lectures, where he met his future wife, Margarethe Haase. And the coveted fame? He learned the ropes as a researcher in the AEG labs. He specialised in metal crystallography. He measured the rate of metal solidification, which was of key importance to Germany’s fast-growing heavy industry at the time. He devised a method for measuring the rate of metal solidification. It was put into use half a century later to produce silicone single crystals, which nowadays are used to produce integrated circuits of modern-day laptops, TV sets and smartphones. Silicone is a staple of the electronic industry, from LED lightbulbs to supercomputers controlling the flow of information on the Internet.
He gained worldly fame and fortune by inventing the so-called B metal (German: Bahnmetal). Jan Czochralski developed and patented an alloy used to make high-quality elements of bearings for the railway industry. It was cheap, very durable, and most importantly did not contain tin, which was expensive and hard to get at the time. In 1928, now famous and wealthy thanks to his income from patents, Czochralski returned to Poland. He took up a position at the Warsaw Technical University, where he later received a professor’s title.
After World War Two, the situation changed. The post-war authorities accused Czochralski of collaboration with the occupier. Under pressure, he withdrew from academic life and moved with his family back to Kcynia. He fulfilled his vow to return rich and famous but he remained restless. Soon, he set up a company under the name “BION Chemical Plant,” which produced household chemicals and cosmetics. His biggest success was the dove-themed medicine for rhinitis, made according to Czochralski’s own recipe. This invention was Czochralski’s symbolic return to his experience as pharmacy apprentice as a 16-year old in Krotoszyn.
Jan Czochralski died in 1953. Despite inventor’s fame, his grave for many years was marked only with a small plaque with his name.
Jan Czochralski was active in scientific societies, sponsored historical research and supported artists. He co-organised the pre-war Museum of Technology and Industry set up in Warsaw in 1929.
A popular anecdote has it that Professor Czochralski discovered the method for growing single crystals by dipping a pen nib in molten tin. While it is unlikely to be true, it perfectly illustrates the romantic side of scientist’s work.
Apart from the Czochralski process, there are other methods of growing single crystals. However, only his method involving dipping a seed crystal into molten material and then pulling it upwards results in single crystal blocks that have nearly perfect structure and weigh hundreds of kilogrammes.
Thanks to Jan Czochralski’s idea of using a tin-free alloy to produce bearing shells for the railway industry, the production and repair cost of train car axles could be lowered. The trains could also move faster. The professor accidentally helped revolutionise train timetables.
Professor Czochralski led a lavish lifestyle. The fortune made from patents allowed him to buy a sumptuous palace in Warsaw. He also built a summer residence in his hometown of Kcynia, which he named Margowo, after his wife’s given name.
As a lecturer at the Warsaw University of Technology he awarded outstanding students. He funded scholarships for excelling students to encourage them to study even harder.
Despite being in a technical profession, Jan Czochralski had a romantic soul. He wrote narrative poetry and poems under the pen name of Jan Pałucki. A collection of his lyric poems titled “Maja. Powieść miłosna” [Maja. A Love Story] was even republished in 2012. But it is good that Czochralski focused most of his energy on metallurgy and crystallography.