zdeněk kopal - conference of stars and men



life

Zdeněk Kopal was born to the family of Josef Kopal, a secondary school teacher, who in 1912 took up a position of teacher of French and German at the grammar school in Litomyšl. On 4th April 1914 in house number 409 the future astronomer "first opened his young eyes onto our ancient universe". In July 1914 the First World War broke out and Professor Kopal enlisted into the army. His wife Ludmila Kopalová, together with their sons Zdeněk and their first born Miloš, went to live with her father Josef Lelek in Jičín. The teacher Josef Lelek had a strong personality, in which were epitomised all the positive aspects of Czech teachers of the second half of the 19th and first half of the 20th century, who, aside from their pedagogical activities, were strongly and entirely selflessly influenced by local cultural life and science and were enriched by their basic knowledge, usually their relationship to the local town where they worked. This was the case with Kopal's grandfather, doubtlessly thanks to whom the young grammar school pupil Zdeněk was able to grasp scientific methods, as evidenced by his letters to grandfather Lelek, in which he writes about his latest discoveries for example from Entomology which, before his interest in astronomy broke through, took up most of his time (letters to grandfather). In January 1919, after the war had ended, the entire family settled in Litomyšl, where on 1st September Zdeněk started school, where Miroslav Šťastný, later to become a leading Czechoslovak expert on ferro-concrete constructions, whose merit was his restoration of relations between Professor Zdeněk Kopal and his native Litomyšl in the 1990s, was his fellow pupil. On 5th May 1923 Zdeněk and his mother and brother moved with his father to Prague, where the possibilities to further his scientific path were better, and where he became a university professor and member of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. "My happy years in Litomyšl", a city which was pulsating with rich cultural life and which had a large library, in which Zdeněk became acquainted with Jules Verne's Journey to the Moon - as a mature scientist he was to sprinkle moon dust on the writer's tomb - left a permanent mark on Kopal's mind. (letters and extracts from letters to Professor Šťastný).
Professor Kopal stayed in Litomyšl for short periods in 1963 and 1965 during his trips to Czechoslovakia, and he would show his children "where Dad was born". On 30th May 1991 Zdeněk was given honorary citizenship of his native Litomyšl and the famous scientist was greatly honoured by this event. In July of that year he visited the city once again, and returned in 1992 on his birthday. During these visits he stated his wish that his scientific legacy should be given to and managed by the Litomyšl archive, which duly happened after his death. The memorial service at which the ashes of Professor Zdeněk Kopal were placed in the Vyšehrad cemetery in Prague, where leading men and women from the Czech nation are laid to rest, was attended also by representatives of the City of Litomyšl.
The scientific legacy of Professor Kopal that can be found in the Litomyšl archive contains not only part of his personal documents including those of members of his family, hand-written work and prints of his scientific work, photographs, including his work concerning his moon research, family correspondence, honours, and also unique documents concerning the life and works of the 19th century Czech writer Božena Němcová. These papers have been expertly catalogued and are open to access for research purposes.
In 1994 an exhibition on the life and works of Professor Zdeněk Kopal took place, the opening of which was attended by leading representatives of Czech astronomy. In addition to this several lectures and memorial evenings were held.

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