Olszewski, Karol Stanislaw

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(b. Broniszow, Poland, 29 January 1846; d. Cracow, Poland, 24 March 1915)

chemistry, physics.

Olszewski was a pioneer in the field of low-temperature phenomena who became famous, along with Z. von Wroblewski, for achieving the liquefaction of air. His father, a Polish landowner, was killed during a peasants’ uprising a few months after the birth of his son; and Olszewski was brought up by relatives. From 1866 to 1872 he studied natural science at Cracow and at Heidelberg, from which he received the doctorate in 1872. He then became assistant to Emil Czyrnianski, professor of chemistry at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow; in 1891 he was appointed professor of chemistry there, a post he held until his death. Olszewski was a member of the Cracow Academy of Sciences.

In 1883 Olszewski and Wroblewski liquefied air, oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon monoxide. Their successes owed much to Olszewski’s previous work on the liquefaction of carbon dioxide. After Wroblewski’s death Olszewski was the only expert in Poland on the liquefaction of gases. He determined the inversion temperatures of oxygen and nitrogen and, in 1902, that of hydrogen. He also liquefied argon and fluorine. Olszewski and Wroblewski were able to liquefy hydrogen only in its dynamic state; it appeared as a cloud of fog in the midst of escaping hydrogen gas. Olszewski attempted to liquefy hydrogen in its static state, but the first to do so was James Dewar (1898), who used the new procedure of air liquefaction developed by Linde and Hampson: the cooling of gases by means of their internal efficiency, using the counterflow principle. Olszewski, however, improved Dewar’s methods and adapted them to practical laboratory work.

Olszewski worked on the liquefaction of helium as early as 1895, but without success; the existing methods were not applicable because of the low critical temperature of helium, and Linde’s process was unavailable to him because of its high cost. (The liquefaction of helium was achieved in 1908 by H. Kamerlingh Onnes.) Olszewski was a thorough researcher with great manual dexterity and experimental intuition. His devices for air and hydrogen liquefaction were very highly regarded and were manufactured under license by the Cracow mechanic L. Grodzicki.


I. Original Works. Olszewski’s numerous scientific papers include “Ueber die Verflüssigung des Sauerstoffs, Stickstoffs und Kohlenoxyds” in Annalen der Physik und Chemie, n.s, 20 (1883), 243–257, written with Z. von Wroblewski; “Ucbcr die Dichte des flussigen Methans, sowie des verflüssigten Sauerstoffs und Stickstoffs,” ibid., 31 (1887), 58–74; “Ueber das Absorptionsspectrum des flüssigen Sauerstoffs und der verflüssigten Luft,” ibid., 33 (1888), 570–575; “Bestimmung des Siedepunkts des Ozons und der Ersiarrungstemperatur des Aethylens,” ibid,, 37 (1889), 337–340; “Bestimmung der kritischen- und der Siedetemperatur des Wasserstoffs,” ibid., 56 (1895), 133–143; “Liquefaction of Gases,” in Philosophical Magazine, 5th sen, 39 (1895), 188–213; “Ein Versuch, das Helium zu verfliissigen,” in Annalen der Physik und Chemie, n.s. 59 (1896), 184–192; “Expcrimentellc Bestimmung der In-versionstemperatur der Kelvinschen Erscheinung,” in Annalen der Physik, 4th ser., 7 (1902), 818–823; “Apparate zur Verfüssigung von Luft und Wasserstoff,” ibid., 10 (1903), 768–782; “Ein neuer Apparat zur Verflüssigung des Wasserstoffs,” ibid;12 (1903), 196–201; “Ein Beitrag zur Bestimmung des kritischen Punktes des Wasserstoffs,” ibid., 17 (1905), 986–993; “Weitere Versuche, das Helium zu verflüssigen,” ibid., 994–998; and “On the Temperature of Inversion of the Joule-Kelvin Effect for Air and Nitrogen,” in Philosophical Magazine, 6th ser., 13 (1907), 722–724.

Bibliographies of Olszewski’s writings are in Academy of Sciences, Cracow, Katalog der Akademischen Publikationen seit 1873 bis 1909 (Cracow, 1910); and Poggendorff IV 1095; and V, 922–923

II. Secondary Literature. M. von Smoluchowski, “Karl Olszewski—ein Gelehrtenleben,” in Naturwissenschaften, 5 (1971), 738–740, includes a biographical note on Wroblewski; see also H. Kamerlingh Onnes, “Karol Olszewski,” in Chemikerzeitung, 39 (1915), 517–519.

A chronological list of publications in Polish—courtesy of Dr. I. Stroński, Cracow—includes the following: Kronika Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego 1864–1887 (Cracow, 1887), 83–86, 184; E. Kurzniec, “O pierxzeństwie Skroplenia wodoru w stanie dynamicznym” (“On the Priority of the Liquefaction of Hydrogen in the Dynamic State”), in in Prace Komisji historü medycyny, 3 (1953), 303–315; K. Adwentowski, A. Pasternak, and Z. Wojtaszek, “Dewar czy Olsewski?”), in Kwartalnik historii nauki …, 1 (1956), 539–561, including letters from M. Pattison Muir and Sir William Ramsay to Olszewski; A. Pasternak “Karol Olszewski (1846–1915) i Zygmunt Wroblewski (1845–1888),” in Polscy badacze przyrody (“Polish Investigators of Nature” Warsaw, 1959) 174–203; K. Adwentowski, A. Pasternak, and Z. Wojtaszek, “Karol Olszewski jako uczony i nauczyciel” (“Karol Olszewski as Teacher and Scientist”), in Studia i materialy z dziejow nauki polskiej, ser. C, 3 (1959), 193–229, including a report on Olsezewski’s laboratory by his former co-worker K. Adwentowski; and Z. Wojtaszek, “O Dzialalnosci naukowej Karola Olszewskiego poza dziedzina kriogeniki” (“On Olszewiki’ Scientific Work Outside Cryogenics”), ibid., 9 (1964), 135–173 (which includes Olszewski’s researches on the chemistry of water and a bibliography of these papers): and “Zarys historii katedr chemicznych Uniwersytetu Jagiellonskiego” (“Compendium of the History of the Chairs of Chemistry in the Jagiellonian University of Cracow”), in Studia ad universitatis Iagellonicae Cracoviensis facultatis mathematicae, physicae, chemiae cathedrarum historiam pertinentia (Cracow, 1964), 133–219.

Hans-Günther Körber