Борис Бурда
Author: Boris Burda
Journalist, writer, bard. Winner of the "Diamond Owl" intellectual game "What? Where? When?"
Liberal ArtsNomina
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ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Ivan Pului from Ternopil region – one of the pioneers of X-ray radiation

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Ivan Pului from Ternopil region - one of the pioneers of X-ray radiation
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Do not confuse science with sports. In sports, everything is simple: you were the first to touch the finish line, jump a centimeter higher or further, lift a pound more, score an extra ball – and become a champion. And your rivals didn’t. The criteria are simple, the decisions are clear and objective.

In science, everything is more complicated. Scientists don’t compete side by side in a stadium. Everyone does his job in his laboratory, unaware of the success and failures of colleagues, until he reads their publications or sees patent applications. They seem to perform the role of a photo finish, sometimes materially important.

Who invented the telephone – can you tell right away? Many people will immediately name Alexander Graham Bell. Did you know that Elisha Gray tried to challenge his primacy not without success, claiming that he also filed a patent application for a similar device? The audit showed that Bell’s application was filed on the same day, but several hours earlier than Gray’s application – that was enough.

Interestingly, that’s not all. It has been proven that an Italian Antonio Meucci invented a similar device, called a telelectrophone, five years earlier. In 2002, even the US Congress recognized him as the inventor of the telephone. The Parliament of Canada disagreed with Congress and passed its resolution reaffirming Bell’s priority. Which one is right?




In any Soviet school, students were told that the radio was invented in 1895 by Alexander Stepanovich Popov, a Russian scientist. There is also some Guglielmo Marconi, who is credited with it in the decaying West, but he did everything much later and, in general, stole it from Popov.

So, who invented the radio: Popov or Marconi? In America, they generally believe that not they, but David Hughes back in 1878, in Germany – Heinrich Hertz in 1888, in France – Edouard Branly in 1890, in England – Oliver Lodge in 1894, in India – Jagadish Chandra Bose in 1894, even in Brazil – Landel de Moore in 1893… It is not to mention Tesla in the Balkans, who invented everything…

What is it really? Inventions and fantasies? Not really: all of these people really made their own, and sometimes considerable, contribution to the transmission of signals without wires. It’s just that everyone is rooting for their own people, and they are rooting for them. For domestic discoveries they are all sighted, for foreign ones they are blind.

It just so happened that it was Marconi who received British patent No. 12039 before Popov, moreover, it was his devices that were the first to be widely used. But it is not even the first patent for radio, although it was Marconi who received the Nobel Prize for his work in 1909.

All Soviet textbooks wrote about the “world’s first” use of radio in 1900 to rescue a grounded battleship. And, moreover, 2 years before that, Marconi conveyed to reporters a message about Prime Minister Gladstone’s fatal illness (the wires were cut off by a storm) – not a word!

However, it was the time of a whole campaign of “struggle for Russian priority” in everything in the world, about which the wits of that time, when none of those in power heard them, joked, “Russia is the homeland of elephants”, and in such cases Ehrenburg added, “It is not enough – Russia is the birthplace of mammoths”!




However, the campaign of “struggle for priorities” was not limited to it, sometimes reaching the point of absurdity. He himself taught at school the law of conservation of mass called Lomonosov-Lavoisier law and was surprised. Lavoisier published these works 30 years later than Lomonosov. What does he have to do with it?

It is now easily can be found in the Internet that the law of conservation of mass, in principle, was formulated by Empedocles 2,600 years ago. In the Middle Ages it was proclaimed by both Francis Bacon and the Frenchman Jean Rae, and Lomonosov objected to Robert Boyle who doubted it, considering it the law, which has been known for a long time, but he never called it his discovery and did not test it by experiments.

And Lavoisier was perhaps the first to give an exact quantitative formulation of this law, considering it a long established fact. It is without taking into account the fact that in the general case this law is incorrect. There is the law of conservation of mass-energy, of which it is a particular case.

As a result, they went too far in the other direction. I myself saw publications where it was said that Lomonosov had not discovered anything and information about his discoveries had been so made up. It is a deliberate lie – he definitely opened the atmosphere on Venus, not to mention his poetic gift.

It is the usual ending of all disputes about priority. Most often it turns out that each of the participants in such disputes really discovered something new, and independently, and if the first publication or patent recorded the leadership of one, it did not detract from the merits of the others.




All this protracted introduction will help us better understand the life and affairs of Ivan Pavlovich Pului, who was born in 1845 in the present Ternopil region in a deeply religious Greek Catholic family. He has already known by heart the entire church service at the age of five.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Ivan Pului from Ternopil region - one of the pioneers of X-ray radiation
The house of Ivan Pului in Grimailovo

Parents approved the child’s interest in faith, not forgetting to give him a high-quality secular education – in 1865 he successfully graduated from high school in Ternopil. No one was surprised by his further choice. He entered the theological faculty of the University of Vienna.

But in the last year of his studies at this faculty, he began attending lectures in mathematics, physics and astronomy at the same university. And as a result, an unexpected thing happened – he decided to refuse to be ordained as a priest and to go to study at the Faculty of Physics.

His parents, who greatly approved  his spiritual career, were beside themselves and angry with him all their lives. Definitly this decision was quite difficult for him. But his new hobby turned out to be stronger than the sincere religiosity that had not gone anywhere.




Having successfully graduated from another faculty of the University of Vienna, Ivan begins to work in the physics laboratory of Professor von Liang immediately after graduation, quickly becomes an assistant professor of his native alma mater, and since then has not left his studies in serious science.

Soon he was already teaching physics at the Naval Academy in Fiume (now Rijeka, Croatia). There he creates a device for measuring the mechanical equivalent of heat, which was noticed by colleagues and was awarded a silver medal at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1878.

The Austro-Hungarian Ministry of Education has awarded the talented scientist a scholarship to improve his scientific qualifications at the University of Strasbourg, a recognized scientific centre of worldwide importance, where he worked under the guidance of Professor August Kundt.

There he became interested in the phenomena generated by electric current in a vacuum. For his research, Pului mastered the profession of a glassblower and learned how to blow glass tubes not only for himself, but also for his colleagues – in particular, for Nikola Tesla, who was trained there.

In 1876, he defended his doctorate, and eight years later, at the suggestion of the Ministry of Education, Ivan headed the Department of Physics at the German Higher Technical School in Prague. He had been holding this position for 32 years, and in 1888-1889 he was the rector of a higher school.


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In 1884, Pului finally married Katerina-Joseph-Maria Studzitskaya, his own student. Such marriages in universities are more popular than it is commonly thought, many people remember such an example among their classmates. From whom, then, to learn, if not from a loved one?

There was a scientific component even in their romance – Katerina’s wonderful magnificent hair was used to improve the incandescent filaments in lamps. And the X-rays of her hands, taken by her husband, are still kept in a museum dedicated to him.

Their marriage was not only happy, but also very fertile – they had 15 children. But in those days of high infant mortality, only six of them survived. One of his sons, Alexander-Hans, became a famous Austrian film producer, and before that he fought in the ranks of the UGA.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Ivan Pului from Ternopil region - one of the pioneers of X-ray radiation
Pului with wife and children

Since there were no Ukrainian schools in Prague, where they lived, Pului hired teachers for his children to teach Ukrainian during the summer months, about which he regularly advertised in the Lviv newspaper Dilo. And his children Pavel and Yuriy later studied at the Ukrainian gymnasium.




While dealing with electric discharges in gas-filled tubes, Pului drew attention to the radiation generated by cathode rays. He continued to study it after he returned from Strasbourg to Vienna. In 1880-1882, he described this radiation in details.

He also found practical use for it, creating the so-called “Pului lamp” – in modern terms, a gas-discharge lamp. For some time this lamp was even mass-produced. There is a lamp in the Prague Museum of Technology that is still working.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Ivan Pului from Ternopil region - one of the pioneers of X-ray radiation
Pului’s Lamp

Pului managed to discover an amazing property of the radiation of such lamps: with their help, it was possible to take photographs of a person and his organs, in which soft tissues appeared to be transparent and only bones were visible. He was the first to realize that it would be useful to doctors.

For the first time in the world, he took pictures of the broken arm of a 13-year-old boy, his daughter’s hand with a pin lying under it, and a little later – a picture of the entire human skeleton. The quality of the images was high and made it possible to clearly distinguish pathological changes.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Ivan Pului from Ternopil region - one of the pioneers of X-ray radiation
First X-rays

On February 13, 1896, Pului submitted an article to the Reports of the Vienna Academy of Sciences, in which he described his results. He apparently did not know that less than two months earlier, on December 28, 1895, Wilhelm Konrad Rontgen published his article On a New Type of Rays.




Of course, it is a shame to be late with the publication of many years of work for such a short time. But such is the science – promising directions are studied by many, and someone is published a little earlier. It cannot be replayed, but very often they try to do it. There were such attempts here as well.

There are quite a few Ukrainian publications that consider Pului, and not Rontgen, to be the discoverer of these rays. They write that Pului and Rontgen worked together in Strasbourg, and Rontgen could learn from Pului about his work. What Pului could have learned from Rontgen is not written.

The skillful glassblower Pului shared his glass tubes with Rontgen, and received no reply to a letter in which he was interested in the results of their use. Perhaps he simply did not save it? And Pului himself did not bring any charges against Rontgen.

All these things are very similar to the Soviet campaign of “struggle for priority”, and it is not surprising. It was unrealistic to spend so many years in the USSR and hope that it would not affect in any way. But it is not an influence that should be consolidated and developed, let it go away.

Yes, Rontgen was published earlier, but Pului also has something to be remembered. Many agree that he understood the theoretical basis of the origin of these rays better than Rontgen, who at first put forward clearly erroneous theories on this score. And the use of these rays in medicine was first proposed by Pului – the quality of his images made it possible.




The reaction to this priority dispute of Albert Einstein himself, who lived in Prague in 1911-1912, at the same time with Pului, was in charge of the same Physics Department, which Pului had headed for 32 years, and was in a rather trusting relationship with him, is very interesting.

His words are quoted: “I cannot console you with anything: what happened cannot be changed… But if you think calmly, then everything has logic. Who is behind you, Rusyns – what culture, what shares? It’s a shame for you to listen to it, but where to get away from your fate? And behind the X-ray is the whole of Europe”.

If the quote is accurate, I still want to ask Einstein, “Was he himself in a similar position?” The State of Israel will emerge only in more than three decades, and Einstein was quite satisfied with the status of a Swiss citizen, which he had, to become a Nobelist.

But after all, Pului was a competent and respected citizen of Austria-Hungary, one of the leading powers of the world of that time! In 1916, he was even offered to become the Minister of Education of this country, but he refused for health reasons. Moreover, it was not at all hindered by his well-known Ukrainophile convictions, which on the part of Austria-Hungary is very clever.




Back in the Ternopil gymnasium, Pului founded a secret patriotic circle Hromada, which gathered three times a week to talk about Ukrainian history, literature and poetry. Later in Vienna, he created the legal partnership of Sich students, which Franko held in high esteem.

Together with Panteleimon Kulish and Ivan Nechui-Levytsky, Pului finished the first complete translation of the Bible into Ukrainian, which was published by the British Bible Society in February 1904. The value of creating a translation of such a work cannot be overestimated…

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Ivan Pului from Ternopil region - one of the pioneers of X-ray radiation
The first Ukrainian Bible

He actively supported the opening of a Ukrainian university in Lvov and published articles in support of the Ukrainian language. Later, Pului organized scholarships for Ukrainian students in Austria-Hungary, was a full member of the Shevchenko Scientific Society.

Although the Ukrainian language was not the state language of Austria-Hungary, to which Ivan had been a subject all his life, it was his native language, and he considered it his duty to support and protect it. How will this thesis be treated now? I am afraid that in different ways and with many reservations, and in vain!




Ivan Pului left this world on January 31, 1918 in Prague. He is buried in Prague’s Malvazinky Cemetery. But the scientist left a noticeable mark on the history of world science, he is known and remembered. Much has been done to honor his memory in our country as well – he deserves it.

There are streets and lanes of Ivan Pului in many cities of Ukraine: Kiev, Lvov, Vinnitsa, Ternopil, Ivano-Frankovsk, Drohobych, Brovary. And in  Dnieper there is a street and a lane of Ivan Pului. In his native village of Grimailovo, a secondary school, a street and a square are named after him.

The National Bank of Ukraine issued a commemorative 5 hryvnia coin in his honor. On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of his birthday, a postage stamp of Ukraine was issued. And the International Astronomical Union approved the name Ivan Pului for one of the minor planets under the number 226858.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Ivan Pului from Ternopil region - one of the pioneers of X-ray radiation
Postage stamp of Ukraine

The name of this outstanding scientist is the National Technical University of Ternopil, in addition, there is a museum of Ivan Pului. There is such a museum in the Grimailovo secondary school. There is an All-Ukrainian scholarship program named after Pului, the prize of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine named after Puluy is awarded.

In general, the memory of an outstanding Ukrainian is sufficiently honored in Ukraine, and it is wonderful! It is a pity, of course, that he did not publish his work two months earlier – maybe then he would have received the first Nobel Prize in physics. But making a great discovery is more important than fussing about priorities…


All illustrations are taken from open sources

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