ERDAL INONU (1926-2007)
Prof.Dr.Dr.h.c. Erdal Inönü, Turkish physicist, politician and historian of science, passed away on October 31st, 2007, in Houston where he was receiving cancer treatment. He was born in Ankara in 1926, a few years after the proclamation of the Republic as the son of Ismet Inönü, a hero of the Turkish War of Independence and the second president of the Turkish Republic, after Atatürk. E. Inönü studied physics in the newly founded Faculty of Science of the Ankara University, and pursued his postgraduate studies in California Institute of Technology (Caltech) where he obtained his Ph.D. degree in 1952. His thesis was on a phenomenological work based on the observations of high energy cosmic bursts. He worked in Caltech for another two years with E. P. Wigner: The celebrated group contraction concept 'Wigner-Inönü' was named after the two physicists. Inönü was also well recognized for his contributions to the development of neutron transport phenomena.
Back to Turkey in 1954, E. Inönü joined the staff of the Faculty of Science, Ankara University. In 1957, he left for Oak Ridge National Laboratory (TN, USA) to conduct research within the 'Atoms for Peace Program'. Upon his return in 1960, he joined the Middle East Technical University (METU, Ankara) where he taught theoretical physics, and undertook a range of administrative duties as the University President and the Faculty Dean. During the Ankara years, he contributed to the creation of TUBITAK (The National Scientific and Technical Research Council). In 1974 he moved to Bosphorus University (Istanbul) where he taught and continued to research until 1983, when he was invited to reorganize the Turkish social democratic movement. Thus, he became actively engaged in politics: he founded the Social Democratic Party (SODEP), became member of the parliament, acted as Minister of State, Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs until 1995, when he left politics and devoted himself to research, especially on the history of science. He acted as the Turkish delegate at the UNESCO Executive Council (1979-83). His last position was lecturer in history of science at the Sabanci University, Istanbul.
E.Inönü's interest in history of science emerged in late 1960s when he was teaching theoretical physics at METU. Aiming to find out and evaluate the contribution of Turkish scholars to physics, he started to compile a bibliography of their publications between 1923 and 1966. This first project was published in 1971, and was followed by Turkish bibliographies on mathematics and chemistry research which saw the press in 1973 and 1983, respectively. E. Inönü's resignation from politics allowed him to focus on history of science. His book on the Turkish mathematician and Mehmed Nadir (1856-1927) was published by the TUBITAK in 1996. This was followed by a good number articles and conferences analyzing, evaluating and discussing the scientific work of Turkish researchers and scholars, the beginning of modern physics in Turkey, the scientific activities in the Republic of Turkey (from 1923 on), the interaction between culture and science, and history of science in general. He strongly believed that the Ottomans society, in contrast to the European, was largely indifferent to the production of scientific knowledge through observation and experiment from the 1600s to the 1900s - 'a delay of 300 years' to use his own words. A scientific research policy was established in Turkey as a state policy only after the 1930s. In consequence, Turkey is still struggling to bridge the detrimental effects of the past centuries.
E. Inönü's last project was to extend the bibliographical research he had undertaken in 1960s. He started to compile the Turkish bibliographies of astronomy, biology and geology from 1923 up to the present day. These volumes, he hoped, would complete those of physics, mathematics and chemistry published earlier and give an overview of Turkish share in mathematical and natural sciences following the foundation of the Turkish Republic. Work is being carried out to complete the bibliographical research and to publish posthumously the remaining volumes.
In 2004, E. Inönü was awarded the Wigner Medal for his outstanding contributions to physics through group theory. He will be remembered, not only for his scientific work in physics, but as a modest, refined and an ever encouraging personality, a mentor of history of science studies in Turkey. Erdal Inönü is survived by his wife Sevinç Inönü, and his colleagues and students. F.Günergun.