The Institute of Physics, Belgrade was founded in May 1961, a century and a half after the first Serbian book on physics epitomizing research of nature was published. It was the three-volume Fisika by Atanasije Stojkovich (1773-1832), the first Serbian physicist and novelist, whose publication in Slavonic-Serbian started in 1801 in Buda to be sold to subscribers in southern Hungary.
The search for the Institute’s roots, however, does not go back so far into the past. Although pioneering, Stojkovich’s educational work on the introduction of physics among Serbs cannot be conceived as a historical groundwork from which the Institute of Physics would spring in the 20th century. In the following century and a half, this natural science actually developed at a much slower pace than some other scientific fields.
The genuine awakening of physics happened after the Second World War. Along with the thriving of science in the entire world, it began developing much faster than other fields in socialist Yugoslavia. Physics is symbolically a Yugoslavian idea too. Amid dramatic social changes, the creators of the new after-war order saw in physics one of the motors of progress, renewal, and faith in technological advancement.
Nuclear research in Vinča started in the 1950s in medias res – it did not come as a result of the gradual development of science, it was politically motivated, flocking around several pioneers, with physicochemist Pavle Savić, one of the most significant scientists of the Yugoslavian era, being among them. Nevertheless, after the first onrush and foundation of the first experimental laboratories, it became clear that it was impossible to develop nuclear physics without more intensive development of research in other fields.
In the meantime, another process was taking place – after the 1950s, a certain number of federal institutions and jobs were relegated to the republics. Along with the Institute of Vinča, scientific centres the Jožef Stefan Institute in Slovenia and Ruđer Bošković Institute in Croatia gained prominence, leading to a great number of Vinča researchers’ return to their republics. Republic scientific institutions in Serbia which were founded in the previous decade assumed greater importance.
So, over time, Yugoslavian science turned into the matter of republics. The decision of the republican authorities in Serbia to simultaneously found nine new scientific institutions came into force on 6 May 1961 with the institutions being as follows: the Institute of Industrial Economics, Institute for Economic Research, Institute for Psychology, Maize Research Institute, Small Grains Institute, Fodder Plant Institute, Institute of Viticulture and Enology and the Institute of Chemistry, Technology, and Metallurgy.
At the same time, along with them, the Institute of Physics, Belgrade was established. Following two-year-long discussions among university workers, the Executive Council of the National Assembly of The people’s Republic of Serbia passed the Decree on the Establishment of the Institute, which was also adopted on May 6, 1961.
The year the Institute was founded was not significant only for the science’s development in Serbia. In that 1961, Ivo Andrić received the Nobel Prize for literature. The First Conference of the Non-Aligned Movement took place in Belgrade, while the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin journeyed into space. On the morning of 12 April, after a 108-minute flight through the orbit aboard the spacecraft Vostok 1, Gagarin parachuted in the territory of the Soviet Union. The space era began, a new age in which science has been changing everyday life.
*From the monograph ‘The Forging of an Institution – 50 Years of the Institute of Physics’ / Slobodan Bubnjević, Marija Vidić