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Published: Kem. Ind. 61 (5-6) (2012) 281–288
Paper reference number: KUI-18/2011
Paper type: Review / History of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering
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Historic Essay on the Popularization of Chemistry in Croatia

N. Raos


The first book on popular chemistry, Lučba za svakoga ili popularna kemija (Chem for Everybody or Popular Chemistry) was written in 1881 by Croatian polyhistor of Slovak origin Bogoslav (Bohuslav) Šulek (1816–1895). The book was intended primarily for poorly educated peasants to help them in their trade; at that time chemistry had been taught for no more than 20 years at high schools and five years at the University of Zagreb. The popularization of science in Croatia was aided by the foundation of Hrvatsko prirodoslovno društvo (Croatian Society for Natural Sciences) in 1885, and its magazine for popularizing science Priroda (Nature) in 1911. However, there were not many articles on chemistry in the magazine; the authors as well as editors were mostly astronomers, biologists, geologists, and paleontologists, thus chemistry was mostly presented in the context of these disciplines. However, the Croatian Society for Natural Sciences published 123 booklets on popular science, but only 18 in chemistry. After World War I, the leading popular chemistry author was Fran Bubanović (1883–1956), former student of Svante Arrhenius and first chemistry professor at the Zagreb School of Medicine. His books primarily intended to explain to the general public, presumably young people, the role of chemistry and chemical technology in the modern industrial world. His books deal mostly with the life and achievements of famous chemists (D. I. Mendeleev, W. Ramsay, S. Arrhenius, L. Pasteur, E. Fischer, M. Bertholet). His books, Slike iz kemije (Sketches from Chemistry, 1917), Kemija živih bića (Chemistry of Living Beings, 1918) and Iz moderne kemije (From Modern Chemistry, 1927) were very popular in his time. The first author after World War II was Drago Grdenić (b. 1919), professor at Zagreb Faculty of Science and leading Croatian crystallographer, as well as expert in the history of chemistry. His books deal mostly with the new achievements in chemistry (atomic and molecular structure, X-ray analysis, polymers). The most profluent author of popular science, and especially chemistry, nowadays is Nenad Raos (b. 1951), theoretical chemist from Zagreb; he has written six popular books and authored five exhibitions in chemistry, among others books and exhibitions in other fields of science. He wrote about the history of chemistry, Deset kemijskih pokusa koji su promijenili svijet (Ten Chemical Experiments that Changed the World, 2000), alchemy, Zlatni san (The Golden Dream, 1999), water, Što je voda? (kako za koga) (What is Water? (Depends on the individual), 1996), and also wrote a popular chemical lexicon with about 200 cartoons, Kemijski leksikon u stripu (Chemical Lexicon in Strip Fashion, 2010). In the last few years, young chemists (Nenad Judaš, Tomislav Portada, Vladimir Stilinović) organize scientific events for school and preschool children. International manifestations like FameLab and Science Festival are also organized in which Croatian chemists also participate.

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Bogoslav Šulek, Fran Bubanović, Drago Grdenić, Nenad Raos