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chair of the Scientific Council at the Central Laboratory for Radiological Protection in Warsaw, and former chair of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation


There were probably innate factors (some of my relatives were scientists), and also memes (transferred via school, family and lecture) that inspired me to take up science. When the Second World War started, I was 12 years old. Germans closed all of the secondary schools and universities in Poland, and imposed a death penalty for continuation of education at that level. Therefore, between the ages of 14 and 17, I was mostly a self-taught and private clandestine student.

At that time, I learned several modern languages, Greek, Latin and a bit of Sanskrit. I read indiscriminately – literary classics, science, history, poetry, and international and Polish popular science literature. The latter was available in an excellent pre-war Polish series entitled ‘Library of Learning’, with such authors as Gilbert Beebe, WH Boulton, Paul de Kruif, James Jeans and James Kendall.

At that time, I became familiar with ancient and modern philosophy, but quickly discovered that it was not my vein. I was rather propelled by Rudyard Kipling’s 1898 poem ‘The Explorer’, in which a voice says: ‘Go and find it. Go and look behind the ranges.’ This filled a strong drive for practical activity, and for understanding the world by results of observation and experiment. Wishing to be useful, I found a niche in nuclear sciences – a mixture of medicine, biology, chemistry, physics and geophysics. Intellectual freedom was its great appeal.