We are proud to present a biography of a famous Polish professor, scholar, physician and educator Jedrzej Sniadecki (Jędrzej Śniadecki, 1768–1838) who, after studies in Italy and Scotland, settled in Lithuania, and gave almost 40 years of his most active life to Vilnius University.
Sniadecki was born on 30 November 1768 in Żnin, Poland. He was the fourth and youngest son in the family of a brewer and a farmer. The oldest son Jan, in the future a famous mathematician and astronomer, took care of him after the death of parents.
With an interest to exact sciences, Sniadecki at first was interested in mathematical studies, but soon became a student of Medicine at the Krakow Academy.
With the support of two brothers, he continued medical studies at the University of Pavia which he graduated in 1793 at the age of 25. Chemistry was among the priorities of the university in these times, and Sniadecki was glad to “learn enough chemistry to understand the essence of this subject”, as he wrote in a letter to his brother Jan. While studying in Pavia, Sniadecki was greatly impressed by the chemical philosophy of Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743-1794) which made a great commotion in the world of chemistry. Young Sniadecki developed a great desire to meet the famous chemist, but it did not happen.
Throughout his entire life, Sniadecki remained an ardent champion of the chemistry, taught by A.L. Lavoisier. In his papers Sniadecki noted: “the teaching of the great Lavoisier, based mainly on the well-proved theory of combustion and on beautiful truths discovered about heat, is an everlasting and most beautiful act of a genius”.
In 1794, Sniadecki entered the University of Edinburgh, which was also famous as a centre of chemistry. The excellent atmosphere for studies and prominent professors were the conditions, which influenced young Sniadecki to mastermind a philosophical work about chemistry in living bodies. In 1797, as a result of
the reform at the University, the Department of Chemistry was established. It was headed by a young prominent Polish chemist and physician Jedrzej Sniadecki from 1797 till 1822 until he retired. Six years of retirement (1822–1827) turned out to be enough for rest, and the professor returned to the University, as head of the Clinics of Therapy).
Sniadecki was among personalities, who forthcame his epoch, made brave conclusions and opened new horizons for chemistry and biochemistry. A young professor of chemistry undertook the new task with all the zeal.
In a short time he brought chemistry to the number of the most popular subjects at the University. He conducted lectures with the greatest enthusiasm, which was driving the audience into a “chemomania”. Lectures were attended by students of other fields, citizens, “even ladies”.
Sniadecki was neither pleased with the premises nor with the chemical laboratory he inherited from his predecessor. Few years later, the largest hall in the university was designed, new premises for the laboratory, followed by the equipment, were provided to serve the lectures of chemistry. In spite of the tradition of the Latin language the University followed, Sniadecki conducted lectures of chemistry in the Polish language. But the situation in terminology was far from being satisfactory. After three years of work, the manual of chemistry Początki chemii stosownie do teraznieyszego tey umieiętnosci stanu dla pozytku uczniow i słuchaczow ułozone y za wzor lekcyi akademickich słuzyc maiące (Rudiments of Chemistry (…)) in two volumes was published in 1800. The title corresponded to the truth. The book comprised a short outline of chemistry, presented according to the highest standards of the year in which it was published. Sniadecki quoted several scores of contemporary authors, cited their most resent ideas and discoveries, and indicated thereby the information sources that formed the basis for the manual. The manual also included a vocabulary and quoted the input of the count Aleksander Franciszek Chodkiewicz (1776–1838) in the field.
Sniadecki developed the Polish chemical nomenclature; in the vocabulary the account of the latest developments of the chemistry was illustrated. The manual was issued again in 1804 and 1816–1817.
It was the first original university manual in the field of chemistry that ever appeared in the Polish language. After publishing the Manual of Chemistry, Sniadecki was completely involved by the idea of his study times – he was working on the philosophical tractate Teorya jestestw organicznych (The Theory of Organic Beings). The first volume was published in 1804, the first and the second in 1811. Soon after his death, in 1838 all three parts were issued. In The Theory of Organic Beings the author treated the phenomenon of life as a purely material process governed by physical and chemical laws, and defined living and non-living bodies. In the work the phenomenon of photosynthesis was elucidated.
Since the theoretical work on the chemistry of organic bodies was published, Sniadecki experienced himself as an analyst. He investigated the crude platinum. The experiment was presented at the meeting of the University of Vilnius on 28 June 1808 and published: Rozprawa o nowym metallu w surowej platynie odkrytym (On a New Metal in Crude Platinum).
In the study the author analysed a crude platinum ore and the known elements it contained: osmium, iridium, rhodium, palladium and an unknown one, which he named vestium, in honour of the newly discovered planet Vesta. Soon the report about the discovery was sent to the Academy of Sciences in Petersburg and the National Institute in Paris.
The French chemists, members of the Academy – Louis Bernard Guyton de Morveau (1737–1816), Antoine François Fourcroy (1755–1809) and Claude Louis Berthollet (1748–1822) – repeated the analysis of crude platinum ore, but did not find the element vestium in it. The negative answer came from the Russia also, where the vestium topic was analysed by academician Jakov Zacharov (1765–1836). This was sad news to Sniadecki; he did not repeat the experiments for years. Only in 1822 he returned to the experimental work and conducted a thorough analysis of meteorite: O żelazie meteorycznem Rzeczyckiém (On the Iron of the Rzeczyce Meteorite). As a representative of enlighters of the country, Sniadecki participated in the editorial work of the first scientific magazine in Lithuania Dziennik Wileński (Vilnius Daily). He was convicted that science must become accessible to as many people as possible, he published articles on practical chemistry: about linen bleaching, production of alcohol from potatoes, etc.
In 1822 Sniadecki transferred his position to one of his predecessors, Ignacy Fonberg (1801–1891), and retired. Only in 1827 he returned to the University, as head of the Clinics of Therapy.
The order of the Russian Empire was getting more brutal in all fields of life, and education was not an exception. It was closed in 1832, and instead of it the Academy of Medicine and Surgery was established. The Academy was evicted from Vilnius and closed in 1842, after the insurrection against the order. The historical conditions were unrewarding and doomed to dispersing the Scientific School of Chemistry of the old University of Vilnius. Though his pupils and followers spread to other schools and countries, they preserved the knowledge and scientific ideas of their teacher.
- Lectiones Vilnenses Andreae Sniadecki [interaktyvus]. Interneto prieiga: https://www.facebook.com/sniadecki.andrew/
- Sniadeckis, Andrius. Chemijos pradmenys. Vilnius: Vilniaus universiteto leidykla, 2004. Railienė, Birutė. Andrius Sniadeckis. Vilnius: Vilniaus universiteto leidykla, 2005. 269 p.
- Sniadeckis, Andrius. Iš medicinos. Juromanija / vertė Emilija Ivaškevič. Naujoji Romuva, 2009, nr. 2, p. 78–83. – Tas pat: http://www.nromuva.lt/files/2009-2.pdf
- Brukštus, Algirdas; Railienė, Birutė. Andrius Sniadeckis apie chemijos istoriją – paprastai: Nostris temporibus uti rerum ita et verborum simplicitas placet. Lietuvos mokslų akademijos Vrublevskių biblioteka, 2009/2010. Vilnius, 2013, p. 97–123.
- Railienė, Birutė. „Lectiones Vilnenses Andrea Sniadecki“ – jau penktą kartą. Mokslo Lietuva, 2017, sausio 12 d. (Nr. 1), p. 10. – Tas pat: http://mokslolietuva.lt/2017/01/lectiones-vilnenses- andreae-sniadecki- jau-penkta-karta/