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Croatian Inventors: Great Minds from a Small Country

30 Jun 2017

By Andrea Pisac

If there was an index to calculate a country’s inventiveness gene, Croatia would rank extremely high. This small country of no more than 4.5 million people has advanced the world in all major spheres of life. Croatian inventors have dreamed up ingenious abstract concepts and have also created hands-on solutions that we use in everyday life.

Starting from Nikola Tesla who literally “lit up the world” with his alternating electric current to Slavoljub Penkala whose pen allows us to sign our name – physically on paper and metaphorically as a legacy.

Many of Croatia’s greatest minds lived a quiet life, as most geniuses do. And as history keeps re-evaluating our biggest civilizational feats, Croatian inventions too are being rescued from oblivion. Like for example the ideas spawned by the physicist Ruđer Bošković, which predate Einstein’s theory of relativity by 200 years.

What better way to connect to your travel destination than to realize how its inventors influenced the world at large, and your own day-to-day life. So here is a list of Croatia’s major innovators.

Faust Vrančić (1551 - 1617)
People had always been fascinated with flying, but it was not until the Renaissance that they had the first taste of it. Many think that Leonardo da Vinci invented the parachute. But the revolutionary ‘Homo Volans’ (the flying man) concept was actually thought through by Šibenik-born Faust Vrančić.
In his masterwork Machinae Novae/New Devices (Venice 1615), this genius polymath depicted 56 different machines, devices, and technical concepts. Many were bridges, mills and turbines. Next time you admire San Francisco’s famous Golden Gate Bridge, remember that the suspension bridge was Vrančić’s brainchild.

The parachute he conceived of was the first ever tested. It was Vrančić himself who at the age of 65 jumped from St Mark's Campanile in Venice and confirmed his invention worked. He survived, setting humankind on course to finally conquer the sky.

Marin Getaldić (1568 - 1626)
Maybe you don’t need glasses, or don’t need them yet. But when you pick them up in your seasoned years, think of the mathematician and physicist Marin Getaldić. This Dubrovnik-born colleague of Galileo Galilei set the stage for modern day optics. A pioneer in building conic lenses, he would retire into the so called Bete’s cave outside the Dubrovnik city walls and conduct his experiments with mirrors.

The parabolic mirror he built still survives and is kept at the National Maritime Museum in London. Again, a parabolic mirror may not sound like much. But next time you tune into your favourite TV show on a satellite channel, remember, a satellite dish is just one if its many applications.

Ruđer Bošković (1711 - 1787)
The hardest inventions to understand and appreciate are the abstract ones. They may not have practical devices to show but they forever change the way we see the world. This is why you should remember Ruđer Bošković, Dubrovnik-born mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher – the father of modern physics.

His famous work Theoria Philosophiae Naturalis/Theory of Natural Philosophy (Vienna, 1758) contains super-modern theories that were proven and embraced only two centuries later. Like for example that matter consists of tiny particles, today known as quarks, and a lot of empty space. The true meaning of this revolutionary discovery may be lost to a layperson. So think of Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity – the biggest discovery of the 20th century – and remember that it wouldn’t have been possible without Bošković’s ideas.

But this genius scientist also used his mind for practical solutions, like repairing the dome of St. Peter’s in Rome and setting up the famous Brera Observatory in Milan.

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