Tribute to Pavel Kratochvil
by Michael Robert Hess and Máximo Barón
Who is Professor Pavel Kratochvil? To those who have worked with him and shared many hours of heated and fruitful discussions and conversations he is simply Pavel, the “memory” of the IUPAC Commission on Macromolecular Nomenclature, the man with an elephant-like memory, and our good and highly esteemed friend and colleague.
It was late in the year of 1990 and one of us (MB) had been National Representative for Argentina to the IUPAC Commission of Macromolecular Nomenclature since 1987, when he received a letter from Pavel Kratochvil inviting him to attend the coming meeting to be held in Hamburg in mid 1991. This came as a surprise because the letter, although formal, had an intense personal touch and it raised in his mind the idea that it was written with the intention that it be used as support for a travel fund application.
Fortunately the idea did work in that direction and the National Research Council of Argentina (CONICET) approved MB's request and he could go to Hamburg. Once there, during the customary coffee breaks he thanked Pavel for his letter and told him that it was exactly what he needed to get the travel funds. Pavel looked at him with that faint and most friendly smile, so typical of him, and said: WELL, THAT WAS EXACTLY MY INTENTION. (We can almost hear him saying that in his typical intonation!)
This attitude, we feel, paints Pavel in his truest colours as a warm, serious and empatic human being who knows exactly how to act when a decision by him can make an important difference to the benefit of a colleague. Regardless of the fact that he may or not may know him well.
But this brings us to the main question we would like to answer today. Who is this Professor Dr. Pavel Kratochvil? This sounds quite formal, but to us, that have worked with him and shared many hours of heated and most fruitful discussions and conversations he is simply Pavel, the memory' of the Commission, the man with an elephant-like memory. Therefore, we hope that we will be forgiven if in the following lines we mention him just as Pavel, our good and highly esteemed friend and colleague.
Pavel is a 'very private' person, and it was not easy for us to find information about him that goes beyond personal experience, so we might miss quite some characteristics and our tribute might give the impression of a rather formal summary which it is not supposed to be. After all it shall reflect the full life of our respected friend, splendid scientist, and best ambassador for his part of the world. He was born in Prague in 1930, at that time the Capital of the Czechoslovak Republic. In 1949 he finished his studies at the Vancura Grammar School there, in the centre of Europe. From 1949 to 1953 he studied at the Prague Chemical Technological College (VSCHT) and in 1960 he was awarded his PhD at the Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry (ÚMCH) of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences (CSAV). In 1968, he attained the degree of Dr. Sc. (ÚMCH); in 1991, he was habilitated in the field of macromolecular chemistry at the Chemical Technological College (VSCHT) and in 1992 he received the title of Professor of Macromolecular Science.
This is only a description of his formal education and all those who know him are well aware that there is a great lot of productive and devoted work during this lengthy period.
In 1953 he started working as a technologist in the East-Bohemian Chemical Factory in Pardubice - Rybitví. Between 1953 and 1957 he worked as an Assistant and a Specialist Assistant at the Chemical Technological College (VSCHT) in Pardubice. In 1957 he joined the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences and since 1959 he has been working in the Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry of the Czechoslovak (later Czech) Academy of Sciences (ÚMCH CAV). From 1990 to 1998 he was the Director of this institute.
However, all this is just a minor enumeration of Pavel's scientific activities, because he is a man of many interests and endeavours. So it is only fair to take a careful look, at least of some of them.
His main field of activity is the physical chemistry of polymers, particularly the characterization and determination of molecular parameters of polymers and copolymers, and light scattering from polymer solutions.
Pavel Kratochvil is the author of more than 190 original communications in international journals, ten reviews, one monograph, and five contributions to monographs. He has presented about 250 invited lectures and communications at international scientific meetings and lectures at foreign universities and research institutions.
He is the author of the book "Classical Light Scattering from Polymer Solutions", Elsevier, 1987.
Pavel is a member of the Czech Commission for UNESCO, a member of the Permanent Working Party for Chemistry of Accrediting Commission, a member of the Scientific Councils of various universities and of many other Scientific Boards; further, he is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (London), Society of Chemical Industry UK, International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, International Symposia on Polymer Analysis and Characterization.
He was, and still is, a member of a great number of Councils and Commissions, of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, UNESCO, European Academies, the European Science Foundation, and other organisations.
He is also involved in many Editorial Boards of international journals. Since 2002 he has been a member of the Commission for the Ethics of Scientific Research of the Czech Academy of Sciences, up to 2005, he was the Chairman.
His scientific and professional merits have been recognized through many awards and distinctions, such as:
He is holder of the Czechoslovak National Prize for Science in 1970, the Prize of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences in 1977, the J. Heyrovský Honorary Medal of the Czech Academy of Sciences for his contribution to the Chemical Sciences, the Gold Medal of the High Technical Learning Institution in Brno, the Gold Commemorative Medal of the Chemical Department of the High Technical Learning Institution in Brno. In 2002 he was awarded an honorary doctorate of the university of Pardubice.
In 2006 he was awarded, by the Rector (equivalent to a Vice-Chancellor) of VSCHT (Chemical Technology College) in Prague, the Emil Votocek Medal for the Promotion and Development of Science and Technology. In 2007 he was awarded an Honorary Medal of the Learned Society for the Promotion and Development of Science: "De Scientia et Humanitate Optime Meritis".
His achievements were also appreciated through the State Award, the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences Award, a Silver Medal of the Natural History Faculty of the Charles University , a medal of the High Technical Learning Institution (University) in Brno .
However, both of us know him best through his service in IUPAC. He started his activities as an observer in the Commission on Macromolecular Nomenclature in 1977. He was elected a titular member of this Commission in 1979 and served as its chairman from 1985 to 1991. In the years from 1985 to 1995, he was a member of the Interdivisional Committee on Nomenclature and Symbols. He became a member of the Macromolecular Division Committee in 1994. He has been closely involved in various IUPAC-sponsored meetings in Prague, including the International Symposia on Macromolecules in 1965 and 1992 (he was chairman of the 1992 Symposium) and most of the Prague Meetings on Macromolecules (Microsymposia and Discussion Conferences) over the last 32 years. He acted as the IUPAC official representative at about ten meetings. Prof. Kratochvil is currently serving his second term as the chairman of the Czech National Committee for Chemistry, the IUPAC National Adhering Organization of the Czech Republic.
All this is very impressive but we feel that it is mainly informative about the personality, but the man is not visible so, perhaps a few personal recollections of people that know and appreciate him seem to be adequate.
One such instance is the following:
One day in September 1966, the people on board a shaky Caravelle flying from Hong-Kong to Tokyo were tossed about by a strong typhoon (that's what this is called in that part of the world). Among them was a delegation of Czechoslovak macromolecular chemists on the way to a symposium in Tokyo. As the complexion of travellers was losing its natural colour, one of the chemists quipped: "Maybe the problem with finding jobs in the institute for all the chemists will be soon solved" . The problem was not solved as all the travelling chemists reached Tokyo - and managed the return journey to Prague - unharmed. If my memory does not deceive me, the author of this little one-liner was, who else but our Pavel Kratochvíl.
This is one of Pavel´s very typical attitudes, namely to be able to keep his head under almost any circumstances as we often saw in the IUPAC Commission meetings when he was able to blend careful and rigorous argumentation with clearly formulated suggestions, and even objections, with often a touch of humor to avoid unnecessary tensions. Those that know him in his natural surroundings can testify to this observation.
It has also been said of him that "he would never leave anything to improvisation trying to evaluate critically every aspect of the work of others and his own, so that he could then negotiate, publish, lecture, teach, edit, represent and manage". Retaining this attitude to the level of a credo that he applied since his very early days as a student.
This has also influenced intensely in his feelings towards the younger generations, both at the Institute and elsewhere leading him to stimulate with appropriate guidance and mentoring to instil the high standards both in work and personal ethics. In this sense he is the organizer of the very successful UNESCO/IUPAC Postgraduate Course Macromolecular Chemistry in Praha ( http://www.imc.cas.cz/en/imc/unesco.html ) for advanced students from foreign countries.
Those of us that know him and pride ourselves with the idea that he considers us his friends are more than happy and pleased to see Pavel in full bloom at the time of his eightieth birthday.
*A short version is published in print.
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Published Online: 2011-03-01
Published in Print: 2011-03-01