Professor Michał Życzkowski –

a scientist of international stature


Professor Michał Życzkowski undoubtedly belonged to these persons who contributed with their winning personality and immense work for the scientific milieu to high respect gained by Polish science in the uniting Europe. In the substantial majority of European research centres that dealt with the theory of plasticity, stability phenomena or structure optimization algorithms, the professor was a well known and commonly respected figure. Even in the circles with the profile of interest related particle physics, such as the European Organization for Nuclear Research CERN in Geneva that used knowledge acquired through technical sciences for the construction of highly sophisticated modern instruments for scientific research, the professor's publications and books occupied an important place. For he was a man of great imagination and intuition who was ahead of his time and who reached out with his vision to places that his contemporaries did not dare to reach. He brought Polish science to European standards long before the moment, when Europe opened up to Poland. In recognition of these merits, as one of very few researchers in the world, he was selected foreign member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in 1997.

With his life, the professor set an unattainable model of scientific career. When he was 24, in 1954, he completed his university studies at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering of the Cracow University of Technology. Two years before, he started to work at the Faculty as an assistant lecturer and in 1953, professor Wacław Olszak offered him a permanent job at the Institute of Fundamental Technological Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. In 1955, he got the degree of a doctor of technical science. His doctoral dissertation was supervised by professor Izydor Stella-Sawicki, who was the founding father of the Cracow University of Technology after the World War II.

The doctoral dissertation concerned elastic and plastic buckling of columns and contained elements of parametric optimization. Then, the young doctor went on a placement at the Imperial College in London, where he had a chance to cooperate for a year with such big names as professor Hugh Ford and professor John M. Alexander. Under their influence and due to their inspiration, he started to work on creeping buckling. The work on this subject resulted in a postdoctoral dissertation presented in 1960. Thus, as a 30 years old researcher, he became the first person with a post-doctoral degree at the Cracow University of Technology. He was granted the title of an associate professor at the age of 32 and the title of a full professor at the age of 39. As a 43 years old researcher, he was selected corresponding member of the Polish Academy of Sciences. At the age of 59, he became a regular member of this institution. During the period of intensive scientific research, he promoted 29 doctors and 11 researchers with post-doctoral degrees, 5 of which became professors in Poland or abroad. For 23 years (1973 - 1996), he performed the function of the director of the Institute of Mechanics and Machine Construction in the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering of the Cracow University of Technology.

The most important domains of the professor’s interests focused on the theory of plasticity, rheology, structure stability as well as optimum design. At the later stage of his creative work, undoubtedly under the impact of a health crisis, he also started to work on biomechanics. His scientific research resulted in three books, co-authoring of thirteen others and in the publication of over 260 articles in reputed periodicals and conference proceedings. In 1986, he became the chairman of the Editorial Committee of a monumental work, namely the encyclopaedia entitled „Mechanika Techniczna” [Technical Mechanics]. Finally, he was a member of editorial committees of such periodicals as: Solid Mechanics Archives, International Journal of Mechanical Sciences, International Journal of Plasticity, Structural Optimization, Acta Mechanica Sinica, Zeitschrift fur Angewandte Mathematik und Mechanik as well as Applied Mechanics.

Above all, however, professor Michał Życzkowski was a great teacher and tutor of young people. He was an embodiment of a moral authority for many generations of engineers graduating at the Cracow University of Technology. He was an exceptional personal model in the difficult times when everyday conduct and independence in thinking were necessary to hew the paths to freedom of the future independent Poland. He was a friend of pope John Paul II and a great advocate of the implementation of the teachings of the Holy Father in personal life and professional career. He was gifted with the rare ability to listen raptly to another man. His judgements were impartial, balanced and to the point. He encouraged others to work and aim every time higher. Above all, however, he helped wherever the enthusiasm of youth required support of deep knowledge and experience.

The professor was truly a man of the world. In the period 1971-72, he was a visiting professor at the University of Massachussets, USA; in 1980, he stayed at the Universitaet Bochum, Germany; in 1983, he stayed at the University of Liverpool, UK, and then, in the period 1988-91, he went to the Joint Research Centre Varese, Italy. He maintained very close contacts with the International Centre for Mechanical Sciences (CISM) in Udine, where he lectured and readily sent young researchers for training within the so-called summer school. Finally, he traced out the paths of cooperation with such laboratories of world renown as CERN in Geneva. He was deeply convinced that exchange of researchers with centres in Europe and in the world may bring only profits to the Polish science.

A special mutual understanding and cooperation bound the Professor with the Vienna University of Technology and professor Herbert Mang, the President of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. Intense cooperation lasted for many years and led to rapprochement of the research milieus of the Universities of Technology in Cracow and Vienna. Thanks to the professor’s efforts, lively contacts were also established between the Cracow University of Technology and the TU Berlin. Thus, the professor was an unremitting advocate of international cooperation and iner-civilisation exchange before Poland acquired the status of a member state of the European Union.

Professor Michał Życzkowski undoubtedly has two families: the natural one consisting of four children and numerous grandchildren, and the scientific one, where he educated and brought up engineers, university teachers and outstanding scientists. As a symbol of appreciation, the Cracow University of Technology granted him a doctoral degree honoris causa of the University. Most importantly, however, professor Michał Życzkowski shall remain alive in the memory of those who had the honour of communing with him and developing under his wing.


Kazimierz Furtak