Below we present profiles of some of the outstanding figures in the Polish history, who contributed to the breakthroughs in world science or with marvelous achievements in different fields of human activity.
Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) was a Renaissance astronomer and the first European to contend that it is the Sun, not the Earth, that is at the centre of the Solar System.
Karol Olszewski (1846-1915) and Zygmunt Wróblewski (1845-1888)
were the first scholars in the world who liquefied oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in a stable state (1883). Olszewski was also the first to liquefy hydrogen, achieving a record low temperature of -225 °C (1884).
Maria Skłodowska-Curie (1867-1934)
was a physicist-chemist famous for her pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first woman ever to receive the degree of a Doctor of Science and the first female professor appointed at the Sorbonne. To this day, Skłodowska-Curie remains the only woman who received two Nobel Prizes, and the only scientist in history to be awarded two Nobel Prizes in two different fields of study (physics in 1903 and chemistry in 1911).
Henryk Arctowski (1871–1958)
was a Polish scientist, oceanographer and Antarctica’s explorer whose name has been given to a number of geographical features in Antarctica and in Spitsbergen.
Jan Czochralski (1885-1953)
was a chemist who discovered a method of growing single crystals and laid foundations for today’s electronics. Without his invention, today we wouldn’t have computers, television sets, telephones, microwave ovens etc.
Stefan Banach (1892-1945)
was a mathematics prodigy who founded one of the most important mathematical fields – functional analysis. He also founded and led the Lwów School of Mathematics to research this branch of mathematics.
Kazimierz Michałowski (1901-1981)
was an archaeologist and Egyptologist who made many discoveries in Egypt, Sudan and Crimea, and founded Nubiology, an archeological science concerned with the scientific study of Ancient Nubia and its antiquities. Today his work is continued by expeditions of Polish scientists, who have excavated many splendid masterpieces of ancient architecture, art and ceramics, revealing spectacular facts about the ancient reality.
Zbigniew Religa (1938-2009)
was a cardiac surgeon and Minister of Health from 2005 to 2007; he was a pioneer in human heart transplantation in Poland. In 2004 together with his team he obtained a prestigious “Brussels Eureka” award at the World Exhibition of Innovation, Research and Technology for developing an implantable pump for a pneumatic heart assistance system.
Sylwester Porowski (born 1938)
is a physicist who built – with his team – a blue semiconductor laser (2001) with a groundbreaking method, which allows applying the laser in medical diagnostic tests, environmental monitoring and in the production of new generation of televisions, video projectors and various storage media.
Aleksander Wolszczan (born 1946)
is an astronomer who found the first evidence for the existence of an extrasolar planetary system and pulsar planets in 1992 (together with Dale Frail).
Andrzej Udalski (born 1957)
is an astronomer and leader of the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment. This project, run since 1992, has already brought numerous breakthrough discoveries, including discoveries of many planets outside our solar system. In 2009 the team obtained the prestigious Advanced Investigators Grant of 2.5 million Euro from the European Research Council for continuing the project.
Agnieszka Zalewska (born 1948)
is a Professor at the H. Niewodniczański Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Krakow. She has a distinguished career in particle physics and a long association with CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research). From 1th January 2013 she is a President of CERN council.
Andrzej Wajda (1926-2016)
film director, laureate of a Lifetime Achievement Oscar, one of the most prominent representatives of the Central European cinema after World War II. Among his best known films are: “Kanał” (1956), “Ashes and Diamonds” (1958), “Man of Iron” (1981), “Pan Tadeusz” (1998) and “Katyń” (2007).
Krzysztof Kieślowski (1941-1996)
film director and screenwriter, known internationally for his film cycles “The Decalogue” (1988) and “Three Colors” (three films, 1993-94), which received three Oscar nominations.
Agnieszka Holland (born 1948)
film and theatre director and screenwriter, best known for her political contributions to Polish New Wave Cinema. Some of her best known pictures are “Europe, Europe” (1990), “The Secret Garden” (1993), “Washington Square” (1997) and the most recent “In Darkness” (2011).
Zbigniew Rybczyński (born 1949)
cinematographer, director and multimedia artist considered a pioneer in HDTV technology; laureate of the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film for “Tango”. He has created many music videos for artists such as Mick Jagger, Simple Minds and for John Lennon's “Imagine”.
Krystyna Janda (born 1952)
actress; she has starred in many Andrzej Wajda’s films, such as “Man of Marble” (1976) and “Man of Iron” (1981). Currently, she runs her own theatre in Warsaw.
Roman Polański (born 1953)
film director, producer, writer and actor. He is best known for his “Rosemary's Baby” (1968), “Chinatown” (1974), “Tess” (1979) and “The Pianist” (2002), for which he was awarded an Oscar.
Janusz Kamiński (born 1959)
cinematographer who has photographed all of Steven Spielberg's films since 1993 “Schindler's List”. He won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography twice: for “Schindler's List” and “Saving Private Ryan”.
Paweł Pawlikowski (born 1957)
is a Polish BAFTA Award-winning filmmaker. He garnered much acclaim for his BAFTA Award-winning “Last Resort” which he wrote and directed in 2000 and “My Summer of Love”, loosely based on Helen Cross' novel, which also won a BAFTA and a string of other awards at festivals around the world. His latest film, “Ida”, won the 2015 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Polish Oscars (Academy Awards) Winners:
1942 Leopold Stokłowski – Music, Best Original Score – “Fantasie”
1954 Bronisław Kaper – Best Musical – “Lili”
1983 Zbigniew Rybczyński – Best Animated Short Film – “Tango”
1993 Allan Starski & Ewa Braun – Best Art Direction/Set Decoration – “Schindler’s List”
1993 Janusz Kamiński – Best Picture – “Schindler’s List”
1998 Janusz Kamiński – Best Picture – “Saving Private Ryan”
1999 Andrzej Wajda – honorary Oscar for his numerous contributions to cinema
2002 Roman Polański – Best Director – “The Pianist”
2005 Jan A.P. Kaczmarek – Music, Best Original Score – “Finding Neverland”
2014 Paweł Pawlikowski - Best Foreign Language Film – “Ida"
Witold Gombrowicz (1904-1969)
avant-garde novelist, playwright and essayist, whose innovative works are admired for their psychological insight and philosophical meaning, conveyed by means of paradox and absurd.
Czesław Miłosz (1911-2004)
poet, prose writer and translator; for over thirty years he was a professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of California in Berkeley. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980.
Stanisław Lem (1921-2006)
world-famous science fiction writer, philosopher, futurologist and satirist. His works have been translated into 41 languages and sold over 27 million copies. His influence on the science fiction literature is compared to H. G. Wells’s.
Wisława Szymborska (1923-2012)
Polish poet, essayist and translator, awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature for her poetic endeavours. Since 2001 she was an honorary member of the American Academy of Fine Arts and Literature, which is the most important American distinction awarded to renowned artists.
Ryszard Kapuścinski (1932-2007)
prolific writer and reporter who travelled the world in the search of exotic worlds and described what he saw in his books, e.g. in his best-known reportage “The Emperor”. He is the second (after S. Lem) most often translated Polish writer.
Andrzej Sapkowski (born 1948)
a fantasy writer, is the author of a best-selling book series "The Witcher" (Wiedźmin). This cycle and his other works have made him one of the bestknown fantasy authors in Poland. The English translation of his novel Blood of Elves won the David Gemmell Legends Award in 2009, and "The Witcher" cycle inspired a Polish game publisher CD Projekt to create an action-oriented role-playing game under the same title.
Olga Tokarczuk (born 1962)
Polish writer, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2018 which she received "for a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life".
Krzysztof Baranowski (born 1938)
sailor, journalist and teacher. He is the first Pole who has twice single-handed sailed the globe (in 1972-1973 and 1999-2000).
Wanda Rutkiewicz (1943-1992)
Alpine and Himalayan mountain climber. She was the first European woman and the third woman in the world who has reached the summit of Mount Everest.
Irena Szewińska (born 1946)
athlete who won 7 Olympic medals (3 gold) and took part in 5 editions of Olympic Games. In her long career she broke world records ten times. She was also the first woman to ever complete the 400 m race in under 50 seconds.
Marek Kamiński (born 1964)
famous polar explorer. He is the first person ever to reach both poles and the only traveler who has achieved this in a single year without external assistance (in 1995).
Robert Korzeniowski (born 1968)
racewalker who has won four Olympic gold medals (for 50 km and 20 km) and twice won the title of the World 50 km Walking Champion.
Adam Małysz (born 1977)
one of the greatest ski jumpers of all time. He has won 38 World Cup competitions and as one of only two men ever won the overall World Cup four times. He has also gathered more titles in World Championships than any other ski jumper in the world.
Kamil Stoch (born 1987)
Polish ski jumper. He is the 2014 double Olympic champion in the normal hill and large hill as well as the 2013 and 2014 World champion in the large hill. On 26 January 2013 he became the joint Polish ski flying record holder (tying the mark held by Piotr Żyła) with a jump of 232.5.
Justyna Kowalczyk (born 1983)
cross country skier, is a double Olympic Champion and a double World Champion. She is a triple winner of the FIS Cross-Country World Cup and the only skier who won the Tour de Ski four times in a row. Kowalczyk is one of only two female skiers to win the World Cup three times in a row and she holds the all-time record for the most wins in Tour de Ski with 14 competitions won and 29 podiums in total.
Maja Włoszczowska (born 1983)
is a Polish mountain biker. She became world champion in Elite cross-country mountain biking in 2010. In the 2011 world championships Maja looked like she was about to retain the title, but finished in second place after losing over a minute to the eventual winner Catharine Pendrel due to a flat tire.
Agnieszka Radwańska (born 1989)
was a Polish professional tennis player. As of 27 May 2013, she is ranked world no. 4. She is the first Polish player in the Open Era to reach the singles final of a Grand Slam (the 2012 Wimbledon Championships), the first Pole to claim a WTA singles title (the 2007 Nordea Nordic Light Open). She won the WTA Award for Most Impressive Newcomer in 2006, and has been voted the WTA's most popular player for two consecutive years (2011–2012) in polls held by WTATennis.com.
Robert Lewandowski (born 1988)
is a Polish footballer who plays for German Bundesliga club Bayern Munich (before Borussia Dortmund) and the Poland national football team as a striker. Having previously played for Delta Warsaw, Legia Warsaw and Lech Poznan, he joined Dortmund in 2010. He is renowned for his excellent play in Champions League 2013.
Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849)
is the best known Polish composer and virtuoso pianist, one of the great masters of Romantic music who was called “the poet of the piano”. Every five years, Poland as the artist’s birthplace organises the renowned International Chopin Piano Competition, which since 1927 has awarded virtuoso pianists for masterful performances of Chopin’s compositions.
Krzysztof Komeda (1931-1969)
jazz music composer and pianist, considered the precursor of European jazz due to his 1966 album “Astigmatic”; author of music scores to 65 films (e.g. Polański’s “Rosemary’s Baby”).
Wojciech Kilar (1932-2013)
classical and film music composer. He has written music scores for over 100 films by Roman Polański (e.g. “The Pianist”), Francis F. Coppola (“Dracula”), Jane Campion, Andrzej Wajda (e.g. “Pan Tadeusz”), and others.
Krzysztof Penderecki (born 1933)
composer and conductor of classical music. Many of his pieces have been adapted for soundtracks of films such as Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”, William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist”, David Lynch’s “Wild at Heart”, and Andrzej Wajda’s “Katyń”.
Czesław Niemen (1939-2004)
singer and composer, key figure in the history of the Polish rock music. In his 1969 album “Enigmatic” he successfully combined the avant-garde with popular music, which meant the beginning of a new era of the Polish rock.
Urszula Dudziak (born 1943)
jazz vocalist; she has worked with the best contemporary musicians including Gil Evans, Bobby McFerrin, Krzysztof Komeda, Michał Urbaniak (her ex-husband), and Sting.
Basia Trzetrzelewska (born 1954)
pop-jazz singer and songwriter. She established a successful international recording career during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Some of her hit songs were: “Cruising for Bruising” (1988), “Drunk on Love” (1994), “Half a Minute” (1995).
Małgorzata Walewska (born 1965)
opera singer, mezzosoprano who performed in Vienna State Opera e.g. with Luciano Pavarotti. She was recognized as one of ten most famous Poles by the Time Magazine.
Tadeusz Kantor (1915-1990)
revolutionary painter, assemblage artist, set designer and theatre director. He’s one of the most renowned figures in the history of the Polish theatre.
Magdalena Abakanowicz (born 1930)
sculptor, professor at the College of Fine Arts in Poznań, lecturer at the University of California. She has had over 100 solo exhibitions around the globe and received many awards as well as Honoris Causa doctorates from art schools in both America and Europe. Some of her sculptures are designed for open spaces, such as the “Dragon’s space” in the Olympic Park in Seoul.
Igor Mitoraj (born 1944)
famous sculptor and painter; since 1997 he has had 120 solo exhibitions. His (very often gigantic) sculptures of classical inspiration are installed in representative places of many cities, e.g. Paris, Rome, Milan, London, as well as cities in the USA and Japan.
Krzysztof Skórczewski (born 1947)
graphic artist who has mainly worked on copper plating for the last 30 years. He has had over fifty individual and two hundred group exhibitions around the world and is the holder of numerous awards.
Wilhelm Sasnal (born 1972)
famous contemporary painter whose works are held in the greatest museums of modern art, such as Tate Modern in London. He is the winner of the Vincent van Gogh Biennial Award for Contemporary Art in Europe in 2006.
Włodek Pawlik (born 1958)
GRAMMY award winning pianist and composer. He is a graduate of the Frederic Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw as well as Hochschule für Music in Hamburg (Germany). He won many music competition's prizes including the first place in instrumentalist category at the International Jazz Competition in Dunkirk (France, 1984) and a second place at the International Composers' Competition in Monaco (1988).
Rafał Blechacz (born 1985)
is a Polish classical pianist. On October 21, 2005, he became the sole recipient of all five first prizes at the 15th International Frederick Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, taking First Prize and the polonaise, mazurka, sonata, and concerto prizes. In 2014, Blechacz was named the 2014 Gilmore Artist. He is the seventh individual to receive this award, and the second Polish pianist. Blechacz is currently a student at the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń.
Leszek Możdżer (born 1971)
is famous Polish jazz pianist. He is also a music producer and a film music composer.
Józef Rotblat (1908-2005)
Polish phisicyan, in 1995 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, together with the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs association of which he was one of the founders, for the fight against the study and use of nuclear weapons.
Saint John Paul II (1920-2005)
the first non-Italian pope after 455 years, and the first ever of Slavic origins. he tried to promote dialogue between nations and between religions, moving around the world like no pope had ever done before In particular, Wojtyła worked hard to thwart the communist regime in Poland, and used its global influence to promote the recognition of human rights worldwide.
Lech Wałęsa (born 1943)
Polish statesman, dissident, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who served as the first democratically-elected President of Poland from 1990 to 1995. A shipyard electrician by trade, he became the leader of Solidarity, and led a successful pro-democratic effort which in 1989 ended the communist rule in Poland and ushered in the end of the Cold War.