Jan Czochralski

Author: Anna Musiał

A father of today's technology



Jan Czochralski was a Polish scientist, who discovered a method of growing single crystals, which is commonly used nowadays in the production of microprocessors. Without this invention, such devices as smartphones and laptops couldn’t exist. Despite the fact that his achievements are as important for contemporary science, as those of Maria Skłodowska-Curie and Mikołaj Kopernik, his name remained forgotten for many years.


Jan Czochralski was born on 23 October 1885, the eighth child of Franciszek Czochralski and his wife, Marta. He graduated from Teacher’s Seminary in Kcynia, but he felt that his abilities were unappreciated there. He was utterly unsatisfied with his marks and, as a result, he tore up his final certificate. Without this document he had no chance to get into university. Regardless of his view that an injustice was done to him, he decided not to give up with his academic ambitions. He left his hometown and promised to come back only if he became notable.


Jan Czochralski was only 16 when he decided to take matters into his own hands. He left his home and moved to Trzemeszno, where his brother lived. He got a job in a pharmacy, but it wasn’t enough for him. He knew that he was meant to achieve something bigger. This led him to take a big step in his life and move to Berlin in 1904. In the capital. the  lack of a school certificate was not an obstacle for him. At first he got a job in a small pharmacy, but soon afterwards he received an offer from a very famous company AEG- Kabelwerk Oberspree. This episode was a turning point in Czochralski’s career. At the beginning he was responsible for the control of purity of metals, oils and lubricants, but thanks to his talent in chemistry, he became a director of his laboratory quickly after he started the job. He was only 22 years old.


In the meantime, he felt the need to improve his knowledge, so he attempted Chemistry lectures at the University of Technology in Charlottenburg as an auditor. But science was not his only passion. Simultaneously he was visiting the Art department at Berlin University where he met Marguerite Haase, a very talented Dutch pianist and... his future wife. They got married in 1910.  


Jan Czochralski with his family

As the famous anecdote goes, Czochralski’s most significant discovery, the method of growing single crystals, happened by accident. Presumably, instead of dipping his pen into an inkwell, he put it into a crucible of molten tin. He quickly pulled his pen out and noticed that a thin thread of crystallized metal was hanging from the nib. After this, he realised that the solidified metal was a single crystal - a discovery that proved to be extremely important for modern technology. However, in Czochralski’s time it was another invention that brought him acclaim and money- metal B. This was an alloy which contributed to the development of German railroad, as it didn’t contain tin, a substance which was embargoed against Germany. This discovery was such a revolution that many other countries, including France, Great Britain, USA, Czechoslovakia and USSR wanted to use it in their own communication systems. The name of Czochralski became well known and his invention provided him financial stability. Afterwards he worked even more on the development of other alloys which could be used in electrotechnology.


Czochralski was a pioneer in metallurgy and in 1925 he became a leader of the German Society of Metals Science. As his fame was rising he started receiving more and more interesting offers. Even Henry Ford, the founder of the famous car company, offered him a job as a director of a new duraluminium factory in the USA. Nevertheless Czochralski rejected this offer, because he had different plans. He decided to return to his reborn homeland, when the president of Poland, Ignacy Mościcki, persuaded him to do. He started to work at Warsaw University of Technology where he took charge of a newly created department of Metallurgy. In 1928 he received the title of doctor honoris causa.


Jan Czochralski at Warsaw University of Technology

Apart from his influence in Polish Chemistry, Czochralski had also an input in rebuilding Polish culture. He helped to create The Museum of Industry and Technology and supported financially many projects such as the reconstructing of Frederic Chopin’s manor house in Żelazowa Wola. He also established many scholarships for talented Polish students.


How could it happen that such an important and influential person has remained forgotten for so many years?


Czochralski’s troubles began when another scientist, Witold Broniewski, accused him of providing bad quality materials to Polish institutions, allegedly to sabotage Polish industry on Germany's recommendation. The lawsuit was long and tedious. Czochralski wanted to renounce German citizenship, but numerous contracts made it very difficult for him. Eventually, with the statements from officers of the secret service, he won the case. Nevertheless the doubts about his good intentions did not die away.


After the break out of the Second world war Jan Czochralski and his family remained in Warsaw. He used his numerous contacts to organise the Department of Materials Research. This was very important for the Polish resistance movement. It kept Polish scientists and apparatus safe from transport to Germany, simultaneously producing parts of armaments for the Home Army. Czochralski saved the lives of many people, but his accomplishments were not appreciated, quite the contrary. After the war  the professor was accused of cooperation with Germany and was arrested. He spent 4 months in prison and, even though he was released, the suspicion about his contacts with Germany made the University Council forbid him from returning to his duties.


In 1945 Jan Czochralski came back to where he had started - to Kcynia, and after a year he opened a chemical plant BION where chemicals and cosmetics were produced. Developing this company was Czochralski’s employment for the last years of his life. In 1953 Jan Czochralski had a heart attack and died in hospital in Poznań. He was buried on an small cemetery in his hometown in an anonymous grave. Eventually, in 1998, a gravestone with his name was set.  


The year after Czochralski’s death, the Texas Instruments engineered the first transistor made from silicon crystals created by the use of Czochralski process. Afterwards this method has been used on a world-wide scale to the present day. Nevertheless, for many years, the name of the inventor was forgotten by Polish reference books.


Eventually in 2011, after 58 years of oblivion, the senate on Warsaw University of Technology took a decision of total rehabilitation of the name of Jan Czochralski.




Photos have been used from the following sources (from the beginning to the end of the article):