2016 marks the centenary of Ernst Mach’s death. Some five years ago, in anticipation of this anniversary, the Czech physical society proposed to designate the building in Prague where Ernst Mach worked as an EPS historic site. Once accepted, the administrative and design planning for the plaque could begin. Indeed, the historical building, the former Institute of Physics, is located in the UNESCO protected Old Town of Prague, recognised by UNESCO’s cultural heritage programme, where patience and attention to details is required. Fortunately enough, the building is still part of Charles University, which – after initial detailed scrutiny of the project – considerably helped obtain the necessary authorisations.
Eventually, the new EPS Historic Site was ready for the unveiling ceremony of the commemorative plaque. It took place on the 18 February 2016, with about 50 guests to share the solemn moments including the President of the EPS Christophe Rossel, the President of the Czech Academy of Sciences Prof. Jiří Drahoš, the Vice-mayor of the City of Prague Prof. Eva Kislingerová, the Ambassador of Austria Dr Alexander Grubmayr, the vice-rectors of the Charles University Prof. Jan Hála and Prof. Jan Royt, the President of the Austrian Physical Society Prof. Eberhard Widmann, the President of the Slovak Physical Society Prof. Julius Cirák, the Director of the Institute Vienna Circle Prof. Friedrich Stadler as well as Prof. Peter Schuster from the EPS History of Physics Group.
After the unveiling, the author of the sculpture, Mr Jakub Vlček, explained the idea behind the plaque. It was inspired by one of the first photographs of the shock wave, the well-known key experimental result of Ernst Mach. The accompanying plate gives the following information in three languages (Czech, English and German):
Physicist and philosopher Ernst Mach worked in this building from 1867 to 1879 as Director of the University Physics Institute. Here he started his groundbreaking research on shock waves (the Mach number). His criticism of Newtonian mechanics deeply influenced Albert Einstein (Mach’s principle)
In total, Ernst Mach spent 28 years in Prague, the major part of his professional life. He served as dean of the Faculty of philosophy and also as rector of the University. In 1879 Mach moved to the brand new location of the University in Viničná street, the very building where Albert Einstein would later stay (1911-1912). Ernst Mach left Prague in 1895, when he accepted a professorship in Vienna (Austria).
After the ceremony, the work and life of Ernst Mach were presented in a seminar organised by the Czech Physical Society and hosted by the Charles University in the nearby premises of the rectorate. The seminar started with presentation by the President of the EPS, who focused on the EPS activities including the EPS Historic Sites initiative.
The reader may have noticed that the event took place one day before the actual centenary of Ernst Mach’s death. This allowed many of us to participate in both this event and the commemorative programme on the 19 February, which took place in the town hall of the Moravian capital Brno and in Chrlice, where Ernst Mach was born. However, as was well noted in Prague, 18 February is coincidentally the birthday of Ernst Mach. In conclusion, those who do not give a special importance to round numbers could consider the Prague event as a celebration of the 178th anniversary of birth of Ernst Mach. This, and the mild winter sun in the Old Town of Prague, contributed to the amiable spirit of the event.
Here he started his groundbreaking research on shock waves (the Mach number).
The former Physics Institute at Ovocny trh 7
in the Old Town of Prague before the plaque unveiling © Jan Valenta
Unveiling the plaque © Marian Reiffers
Guests from Austria (FLTR): Peter Schuster, Friedrich Stadler, Ambassador Alexander Grubmayr, Eberhard Widmann © Marie Salkova