Roger Joseph Boscovich (see names in other languages; May 18, 1711 – February 13, 1787) was a physicist, astronomer, mathematician, philosopher, diplomat, poet, and Jesuit from Ragusa (today Dubrovnik, in Croatia) who lived for a time in France, England and some Italian states .
He is famous for his atomic theory, given as a clear, precisely-formulated system utilizing principles of Newtonian mechanics. This work inspired Michael Faraday to develop field theory for electromagnetic interaction, and was even a basis for Albert Einstein's attempts for a unified field theory, according to Einstein's coworker Lancelot Law Whyte. Also according to John D. Barrow, Professor at Cambridge University and a Fellow of the Royal Society: Boscovich was the first to envisage,seek, and propose a mathematical theory of all the forces of Nature; the first scientific theory of everything. Boscovich also gave many important contributions to astronomy, including the first geometric procedure for determining the equator of a rotating planet from three observations of a surface feature and for computing the orbit of a planet from three observations of its position. In 1753 he also discovered the absence of atmosphere on the Moon.
A crater on the Moon also bears his name: Boscovich crater.
Bošković's mother, Paola Bettera (*1674 +1777) was a member of a cultivated Italian merchant family established in Ragusa since the early seventeenth century, to where her ancestor, Pietro Bettera, had come from Bergamo in northern Italy. She was a robust and active woman with a happy temperament who lived to 103. She left nothing in writing, but Bošković's aunt, her sister, wrote poetry in Italian. Their sons, Roger’s cousins and playmates, Antun Bošković and Franjo Bošković, grew up into good Latinists. His own brothers and sisters were all older than himself, except his sister Anica Bošković (*1714 + 1804), two years his junior. His eldest sister Mare Bošković, nineteen years his senior, was the only member of the family to marry; his second sister Marija Bošković became a nun in the Dubrovnik Convent of St Catherine’s. His eldest brother Božo Bošković (Boško), thirteen years older, joined the service of the Dubrovnik Republic. His brother Bartolomeo Bošković (Baro), born in 1700 and educated at the Jesuit school in Dubrovnik, left home when Roger was 3 to become a scholar and a Jesuit priest in Rome. He too wrote good verse in both Latin and ‘Illyrian’, but eventually burnt some of his manuscripts out of a scrupulous modesty. His brother Ivan Bošković became a Dominican in a sixteenth-century monastery in Dubrovnik, whose church Roger knew as a child with its rich treasures and paintings by Titian and Vasari, still there today. His brother Pero Bošković, six years his senior, became a poet like his grandfather. He, too, was schooled by the Jesuits, then served as an official of the Republic and made his reputation as a translator of Ovid, Corneille’s Cid and of Molière. A volume of his religious verse, Hvale Duhovne, was published in Venice in 1729.
At the age of 8 or 9, after acquiring the rudiments of reading and writing from the priest Nicola Nicchei of the Church of St. Nicholas, Roger was sent for schooling to the local Jesuit Collegium Regusinum. During his early studies Roger Bošković showed a distinct propensity for further intellectual development. He gained a reputation at school for having an easy memory and a quick, deep mind.
On September 16, 1725, Roger Bošković left Ragusa for Rome. He was in the care of two Jesuit priests who took him to the Society of Jesus, famous for its education of youth and at that time having some 800 establishments and 200,000 pupils under its care throughout the world. We learn nothing from Boscovich himself until the time he entered the novitiate in 1731, but it was the usual practice for novices to spend the first two years not in the Collegium Romanum, but in S. Andrea delle Fratte on the Quirinal, the highest of the seven hills of Ancient Rome. There, he studied mathematics and physics; and so brilliant was his progress in these sciences that in 1740 he was appointed professor of mathematics in the college.
He was especially appropriate for this post due to his acquaintance with recent advances in science, and his skill in a classical severity of demonstration, acquired by a thorough study of the works of the Greek geometers. Several years before this appointment he had made a name for himself with an elegant solution of the problem of finding the Sun's equator and determining the period of its rotation by observation of the spots on its surface.
Notwithstanding the arduous duties of his professorship, he found time for investigation in all the fields of physical science, and he published a very large number of dissertations, some of them of considerable length. Among the subjects were the transit of Mercury, the Aurora Borealis (corona), the figure of the Earth, the observation of the fixed stars, the inequalities in terrestrial gravitation, the application of mathematics to the theory of the telescope, the limits of certainty in astronomical observations, the solid of greatest attraction, the cycloid, the logistic curve, the theory of comets, the tides, the law of continuity, the double refraction micrometer, various problems of spherical trigonometry.
In 1742 he was consulted, with other men of science, by the Pope Benedict XIV, as to the best means of securing the stability of the dome of St. Peter's, Rome, in which a crack had been discovered. His suggestion of placing five concentric iron bands was adopted.
In 1745 Boscovich published De Viribus Vivis in which he tried to find a middle way between Isaac Newton's gravitational theory and Gottfried Leibniz's metaphysical theory of monad-points. Developing a concept of "impenetrability" as a property of hard bodies which explained their behaviour in terms of force rather than matter. Stripping atoms of their matter, impenetrability is disassociated from hardness and then put in an arbitrary relationship to elasticity. Impenetrability has a Cartesian sense that more than one point cannot occupy the same location at once.
Boscovich visited his hometown only once in 1747. After that, he never went to visit the place where he was born and grew up.
He agreed to take part in the Portuguese expedition for the survey Brazil and the measurement of a degree of the meridian, but was persuaded by the Pope to stay in Italy and to undertake a similar task there with Christopher Maire, an English Jesuit who measured an arc of two degrees between Rome and Rimini. The operation began at the end of 1750, and was completed in about two years. An account was published in 1755, under the name De Litteraria expeditione per pontificiam ditionem ad dimetiendos duos meridiani gradus a PP. Maire et Boscovicli. The value of this work was increased by a carefully prepared map of the States of the Church. A French translation appeared in 1770.
A dispute arose between Francis the Grand Duke of Tuscany and the republic of Lucca with respect to the drainage of a lake. As agent of Lucca, Boscovich was sent, in 1757, to Vienna and succeeded in bringing about a satisfactory arrangement in the matter.
In Venice in 1758, he published the first edition of his famous work, Theoria philosophiae naturalis redacta ad unicam legem virium in natura existentium (Theory of Natural philosophy derived to the single Law of forces which exist in Nature), containing his atomic theory and his theory of forces . A second edition was published in 1763 in Venice, a third in 1922 in London, and a fourth in 1966 in the United States. A fifth edition was published in Zagreb in 1974.
Another occasion to exercise his diplomatic ability soon arose. The British government suspected that warships had been outfitted in the port of Ragusa for the service of France and that therefore the neutrality of the Republic of Ragusa had been violated. Boscovich was selected to undertake an ambassadorship to London (1760), to vindicate the character of his native place and satisfy the government. This mission he discharged successfully — a credit to him and a delight to his countrymen. During his stay in England he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society.
In 1761 astronomers were preparing to observe the transit of Venus across the Sun. Under the influence of the Royal Society Boscovich decided to travel to Istanbul. He arrived late and then travelled to Poland via Bulgaria and Moldavia then proceeding to Saint Petersburg where he was elected as a member of Russian Academy of Sciences. Ill health compelled him soon to return to Italy.
He was invited by the Royal Society of London to undertake an expedition to California to observe the transit of Venus in 1769 again, but this was prevented by the recent decree of the Spanish government on the expulsion of the Jesuits from its dominions. Boscovich had many enemies and he was driven to frequent changes of residence. About 1777 he returned to Milan, where he kept teaching and directing the Brera observatory.
Deprived of his post by the intrigues of his associates, he was about to retire to Ragusa when in 1773 the news of the suppression of his order in Italy reached him. Uncertainty led him to accept an invitation from the King of France to come to Paris where he was appointed director of optics for the navy, with a pension of 8000 livres and a position was created for him.
He naturalized in France and stayed ten years, but his position became irksome, and at length intolerable. He, however, continued to work in the pursuit of science knowledge, and published many remarkable works. Among them was an elegant solution of the problem to determine the orbit of a comet from three observations and works on micrometer and achromatic telescopes.
In 1783 he returned to Italy, and spent two years at Bassano, occupying himself with the publication of his Opera pertinentia ad opticam et astronomiam, etc., published in 1785 in five volumes quarto.
After a visit of some months to the convent of Vallombrosa, he went to Brera in 1786 and resumed his literary labors. At that time his health was failing, his reputation was on the wane, his works did not sell, and he gradually fell prey to illness and disappointment. He died in Milan and was buried in the church of St. Maria Podone.
Croatian sources claim that Orahov Do, where Nikola Bošković came from, has always been inhabited by catholic Croats. Some episodes are reported to affirm he referred to his Croatian identity. In writings to his sister Anica (Anna), he told her he had not forgotten the Croatian language. When he was in Vienna in 1757, he spotted Croatian soldiers going to the battlefields of the Seven Year's War, he immediately rode out to see them, wishing them 'Godspeed' in Croatian. In one of his letters to his sister he wrote that in one of European cities he saw soldiers - "our Croats". The largest Croatian institute of natural sciences and technology, based in Zagreb bears his name. His picture was on Croatian dinar banknotes valid from 1991 until 1994, when the dinar was replaced by the Croatian kuna.
Serbs claim that his family origin from Montenegro and claim that his father abandoned his Orthodox religion, according to some primary sources, prior to marriage. The Astronomical Society Ruđer Bošković based in the Serbia's capital Belgrade bears his name.
In Italy Boscovich is remembered as Italian (although he is not as well known as other, more famous, scientists of his time such as Alessandro Volta, Luigi Galvani and others). He was born in a city of mixed language and culture (Italic and Croat), strongly influenced by the Italian Culture and where upper classes had an Italic/Latin (Romanic Dalmatian) identity. His mother's family was from Italy, and he was also largely Italian both by culture and career; he moved to Italy at the age of 14 where he spent the greater part of his life. In several sources and encyclopedias he is described as an Italian scientist. He used Italian for his correspondence and private matters and Voltaire always wrote to Boscovich in Italian as "a sign of respect". Furthermore, Boscovich always said that Italy was "his real and sweet mother". However Boscovich himself also denied being Italian: when it was suggested he was an Italian mathematician, he responded in a note to his Voyage astronomique et geographique that "our author is a Dalmatian from Ragusa, and not an Italian. Even so, one time, while living in Paris and attending to a military parade where he saw a Croatian unit from Ragusa, his words were: "there are, my brave Croats".