(1879 - 1958)

Milutin Milanković ranks among those great scientists of the world who have marked the 20th century, in recognition of which a crater on the Moon, another on Mars and a planetoid were named after him.

He was born on 16 May 1879 in Dalj near Osijek (Croatia) and died on 12 December 1958 in Belgrade. He buried in his hometown of Dalj. The Milankovićes were an old, respectable Serbian family. His grandfather Uroš was a philosopher (The Organism of Outer Space, Vienna 1845) and the other, Mita, was Chief of Staff of the Serbian Army during the reign of Prince Mihailo. His uncle Andra Radovanović was a design engineer with interests in the Škoda factories, and his uncle Vaša Muačević managed the Patriarchate's estate in Dalj. He was the son of Milan, a reputable merchant, and Jelisaveta, nee Muačević. He was married to Kristina, nee Topuzović, with whom he had a son, Vasko, who now lives in Australia.

He received his elementary education at home in Dalj and completed the grammar school in Osijek in 1896. He was awarded a bachelor's degree in civil engineering in Vienna in 1902 and was the first Serb to be awarded doctorate at the Vienna Grand School of Engineering in 1904. From 1905 to 1910, he worked in Vienna as design engineer – a pioneer in the design of reinforced concrete buildings. At the same time, he was engaged in designing the sewerage system in Belgrade, a task set by his Viennese employers. At the recommendation of Mihailo Petrović and Jovan Cvijić, he was elected as associate professor of applied mathematics at the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade in 1909. He took part in the First Balkan War (1912) and for the duration of the First World War (1914-1918), he was confined to a camp near Budapest in Hungary.

He became a full professor in 1919, first corresponding and then full member of the Serbian Royal Academy in 1919 and 1920 respectively, and was elected member of the Yugoslav Academy of Sciences and Arts in 1920. In 1927, he became an honorary member of the Matica srpska, prestigious Serbian literary and cultural society. At the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, he was elected vice-president in 1948,1951 and 1954. He headed the Astronomical Observatory of Belgrade from 1951 onwards and was elected fellow of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Halle in 1955.

In Belgrade, Milanković's theoretical work could rely only on his remarkable powers of observation and great multidisciplinary knowledge of mathematics and natural sciences, since the funds available to the University were limited. The chief idea underlying his longstanding work was that climatic variations on the Earth result from regular changes in celestial mechanics (periodical change of tilt of the Earth's axis, eccentricity of the Earth's orbit and change of the ecliptic angle), which in turn cause cyclic changes in the intensity of insolation. Painstakingly elaborating the idea, he published A Contribution to the Mathematical Theory of Climate in 1912, and eventually arrived at his Theory of Insolation of the Earth (published in 1920). Coordinating his scientific work with Alfred Wegener, the father of modern geology, and the climatologist Wladimir Koppen, he completed his monumental work, Kanon – The Canon (1941), specifying accurately the periods of lower and higher insolation over the last million years of geological time. Milanković's insolation curves explained the climatic variations in the Ice Age. This theory was proven valid only after Milanković's death, on the basis of multidisciplinary studies of the ocean floor, using a number of palaeonthological and geochemical methods. With the publication of these results (Science, 1976) and staging of the symposium of historical momentum Milanković and the Climate (Columbia University, 1982), the world scientific community was informed that Milanković's cycles are one of the greatest breakthroughs of the 20th century and that they apply to all periods of geological time. Even some of the new branches of science (cyclostratigraphy, etc.) are based on his cycles.

In addition to designing reinforced concrete structures in AustriaHungary, Milanković also designed a large number of civilian and military facilities in Yugoslavia (particularly between 1920-1941), including almost all airports, many fortifications, bank buildings, the Mint and some churches. He set the theory of virtual movement of the poles (1933), he worked out the temperature on Mars (-17°C) in 1913, which was proven right only recently by direct measurement. Milanković produced the most accurate calendar so far (he reconciled the Julian and Gregorian ones), but it was not adopted, lacking consent of the church. He also wrote about Einstein's the¬ ory of relativity. As for his literary work, the following two popular science books stand out: Kroz vasionu i vekove – Through Space and Centuries (1943) and Kroz carstvo nauke – Through the Empire of Science (1950), as well as his autobiography Uspomene, doživljaji i saznanja 1-3 – Memories, Experiences and Discoveries (1952, 1957, 1979).

The following are Milanković's major works: Distribution of Solar Radiation on the Surface of the Earth (Belgrade 1913), Theorie mathematique des phenomenes thermiques (Mathematical Theory of Thermal Phenomena, Paris 1920), Kanon der Erdbestrahlung und seine Anwendung auf das Eiszeitenproblem (Canon of Insolation of the Earth and its Effect on the Ice Age Problem, Belgrade 1941; English edition, Jerusalem 1959, Serbian translation, Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts 1997), Calendar of the Earth's Past (1926) and Numeric Calculation of the Secular Trajectory of the Earth's Rotation (1933).

Since 1976, Milanković's works have been increasingly recognised by the world scientific community: many scientific conferences on the elaboration and supplementation of his mathematical theory of climate have been held and his scientific citation index is increasing by hundreds of times a year. In 1993, the European Geophysical Society instituted the Milutin Milanković Medal, which like the Nobel Prize, is awarded to scientists from all parts of the world for their accomplishments in the field of climatology. The selected works of Milutin Milanković were published in eight volumes in Belgrade (1997) as a belated acknowledgement. The new edition of Canon in English was also published in Belgrade in 1998.

In contrast to other great Serbian scientist, Milanković's scientific work is characterized by the fact that he received his education abroad and that the crucial point for his theoretical work was his patriotic arrival in Belgrade, from where he won international fame.

Author: Pantić, Nikola