Simonyi, Károly

(Egyházasfalu, October 18th, 1916 – Budapest, October 9th 2001)

Simonyi, Károly

An outstanding scholar-educator whose brilliant lectures, and the trilogy of his great books The Foundations of Electrical Engineering, The Physics of Electronics and Electromagnetic Theory founded an international “invisible college” in electrical and electronic engineering. His book The Cultural History of Physics bridges the gap between the “two cultures”, contributing to a new enlightenment.

Károly Simonyi was born on a small village in western Hungary, as the seventh child of a farming family of ten children. The local priest soon recognized the exceptional talent of the bright boy, and brought him to the notice of a distant member of the Simonyi family, a well-known scholar who, for a few months in 1920, was Hungary's Prime Minister. This relative agreed to sponsor the education of the young Simonyi.

In 1940 Károly Simonyi obtained the Dipl. Eng. Degree with full distinction from the Technical University of Budapest, Web link and gained the L.L.D. degree in law from the University Web link of Pécs.Web link

After graduation he became assistant professor of the newly established Department of Atomic Physics at the Technical University of Budapest, and research associate at the Tungsram Laboratory directed by Zoltán Bay. He spent the war years working in electromagnetics. Near the end of the war he was called into military service and spent the last months in Russia and Polandas a prisoner of war. Returning home in 1946, he re-joined Zoltán Bay's research team, working on radar systems. His contributions to the first radar-astronomy Moon Echo experiment were fundamental.

In 1948 he became professor of electrical engineering at the University Web link of Sopron, Web link where he designed and built a nuclear particle accelerator.

In 1952 Simonyi returned to Budapest, taking up a post as full professor and founding a new chair at the Technical University. At the same time, he became one of the founders of the National Research Institute for Physics, Web link leading the Department of Atomic Physics. He led nuclear physics experiments, designed and built a series of particle accelerators, and pioneered experimental techniques; for example, his team was the first to study a “star-like fusion reactor”.

Among his many major contributions to the field was a paper on the steady state of a deuterium tritium plasma mixture under constant pressure in a spherical container, attracting worldwide attention.

During the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Károly Simonyi was elected chairman of the Revolutionary Council of the National Research Institute for Physics. However, after the revolution he was dismissed from his post at the National Research Institute for Physics, and had to give up his research. Some years later he was also forced to leave the chair he founded at the Technical University of Budapest.

The students lost most. He had always been an inspired teacher. “The writer of a textbook is akin to a concert performer: not the composer, but a creative interpreter.” Truly, he had been an exceptional teacher, offering to his audience a memorable creative performance at each lecture. Aggrieved by his absence from the University, the students invited him to give classes at their halls of residence.

So, in 1970, he decided to devote his attention to the history of physics, to the integration of human knowledge, to filling the gap between the “two cultures”. He was convinced that there is one single human culture, to which every branch of science and art contributes. He started lecturing on the history of the sciences, and working on a new book: The Cultural History of Physics, published in 1976. His lectures were attented by his students of electrical engineering and by students of all faculties, by colleagues, scholars, and high-school teachers. In a decade, 64,000 copies of the book were sold. In 1990 the book was first published in German, and the second revised edition appeared in 1995.

At a difficult time of the history of Central and Eastern Europe, Professor Simonyi's teaching and personal example radiated hope among be his students and work as young scientists under his direction. Many of them became leading researchers as Árpád Csurgay and Tamás Roska.

Memberships: Correspondent member of Hungarian Academy of Science (1993),

Awards: Prometheus Medal of Roland Eötvös Physical Society (1980), Golden award of Work (1982), First Degree of Award of State (1985), Doctor honoris causa of Technical University of Budapest (together with Ede Teller ) (1991), Scientist of the Year (1996) (Since then a star unvisible by eyes at the forefinger of constellation Andromeda has borne his name.), Flag Order of Hungarian Republic, a Magyar Köztársasági Érdemrend Középkeresztje.(1997), Prize of Hungarian Heritage (1998), Golden Medal of Hungarian Academy of Science (2000)