Home > News and Events > 2000 > Eberly College of Science News - Josef Pliva, Professor Emeritus of Physics, Deis at 75

Eberly College of Science News - Josef Pliva, Professor Emeritus of Physics, Deis at 75

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Josef Pliva, professor emeritus of physics, died on Thursday, 9 March 2000, at Centre Community Hospital in State College, Pennsylvania, at the age of 75.

Pliva is remembered by his colleagues at Penn State for his enormous competence, his modesty and understatement, his sincerity and honesty, and his loyalty toward his friends.  He is perhaps best known by scientists worldwide as the first president of the Czechoslovakia Spectroscopic Society, which he helped to found in the 1950s.  Pliva also started construction of the first high-resolution spectrometer in central and eastern Europe.  Throughout his career, in addition to his experimental investigations, Pliva pioneered the development of the theory for ,polyatomic molecular vibrational and rotational motions.  Much of his research focused on determining the structure of organic molecules.

"In addition to being a really fine physicist, Joe also was a really fine pianist and musicologist," recalls Roger M. Herman, professor of physics.  "He actually earned his living in Czechoslovakia as a musician prior to World War 2.  He also was an avid outdoorsman who enjoyed hiking, skiing, and swimming."  Pliva, who was an enthusiastic international traveler, wrote and spoke a number of languages including Czech, English, French, German, Latin, Russian, and Slovak.

Pliva was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, on 24 March 1924, the son of Miroslav Pliva and Ludmila Plivova, both medical doctors.  In 1949, he earned the doctoral-level degree, Dr. techn., at Prague Technical University, then was employed as a faculty member in chemistry and chemical engineering there until 1952.  When the Czechoslovak Academy of Science was founded in 1952, Pliva was selected to be the head of its Laboratory of Physical Chemistry.

He received the Czechoslovak National Prize for Chemistry in 1955 for his work in molecular spectroscopy, and in 1957 he was awarded the Doctor of Science degree by the Czechoslovak Academy of Science.  The National Research Council of Canada awarded him a postdoctoral fellowship, which allowed him to work as a visiting scientist in its division of pure chemistry and pure physics from 1959 to 1960.  He was elected a corresponding member of the Czechoslovak Academy of Science in 1960.  The Czechoslovak Academy of Science appointed him head of its Laboratory of Molecular Spectroscopy in 1962 and honored him with the title of professor of chemical physics in 1965.

Pliva journeyed to North America as a visiting scientist at the Penn State Department of Physics for three months during 1964, then was a visiting professor of physics at Ohio State University from 1966 to 1967.  He worked as a visiting scientist in the National Research Council Division of Pure Physics in Ottawa, Canada, from 1968 to 1969, when he joined the Penn State faculty as professor of physics.

"Joe made his home in North America for over thirty years, but always kept his love for Czechoslovakia," recalls Wolfgang Ernst, professor of physics and chemistry.  "He was delighted when the iron curtain fell because it meant he could visit Prague again, which he did for a number of years as the honorary chairman of the biannual International Conference on High-Resolution Molecular Spectroscopy."

Pliva retired from Penn State in 1991.  "Even after Joe retired and until his last days, he continued to work in the physics department every day, analyzing spectra with the experience he had accumulated over a lifetime," Ernst says.  "He loved molecular spectroscopy with all his heart."  He recently received the Honorary Medal of the Charles University in Prague, Czechoslovakia, from the university's mathematics, physics, and natural science faculty in recognition of his achievements as a teacher and for his pioneering work in introducing the discipline of molecular spectroscopy to Czechoslovakia.

He is survived by his wife, Olga, of State College, Pennsylvania, and their daughter, Ludmila, and son, Josef.

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