Microcosm to macrocosm
This year’s winners of the Benedict the Pole Award were recognised for research on the most dangerous haemorrhagic fever viruses, work on Kurdish cultural heritage, and conducting an exploratory mission to Titan, a moon of Saturn.
Dr hab. Joanna Bocheńska, Professor Janusz T. Pawęska, and Professor Jan Charles Zarnecki received the awards at the University of Warsaw on 25 June. The Award Chapter grants the prize to Polish citizens for “outstanding achievements in exploring the earth, the sea, and aerospace” and to foreigners for “promoting Polish research topics and work with Polish scientists”.
Dr hab. Joanna Bocheńska of Jagiellonian University, a specialist in Kurdish Studies, has collaborated with many organisations and researchers in the Middle East. She has been recognised by fellow scholars and the Kurdish academic community for her achievements, knowledge, and mastery of the Kurdish language. Dr Bocheńska has been accorded the Kurdish title of mamosta, which means master or teacher.
Professor Janusz T. Pawęska heads one of the units at South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases. He has published important research on identifying filovirus reservoirs and discovered a novel arenavirus that causes haemorrhagic fever. Professor Pawęska was responsible for the safe operation of Africa’s only laboratory classified at biosafety level 4. He has also contributed significantly to epidemiological, ecological, immunological, and molecular research into viral infections and monitored the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone.
The main prize for foreigners went to Professor Jan Charles Zarnecki, a British astronomer and one of six scientists responsible for conducting the unmanned Huygens probe mission with its Surface Science Package to Titan, a moon orbiting Saturn. The mission targeted one of the most remote sites to be explored in space to date. While preparing the mission, Professor Zarnecki worked with scientists from the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Space Research Centre (CBK).
“The award honours values that should be recognised and promoted but are not always visible in popular culture. Even so, they are vital to the community, the nation, and the state. They are also supranational in character,” Professor Piotr Gliński, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture and National Heritage, said at the awards ceremony, highlighting the significance of the event.
This year marked the eighth presentation of the Benedict the Pole Award.
The prize was named after Benedykt Polak, the Franciscan friar who accompanied Giovanni da Pian del Carpine on a mission to Great Khan Güyük of the Mongol Empire in 1245–1247; the envoys were received by the khan in Karakorum, then the Empire’s capital.
The envoys set off from Łęczyca, generously equipped for the journey by Duke Konrad I of Masovia and other members of Poland’s political elite.
After returning from a journey of more than two years that covered some 20,000 kilometres on horseback, the envoys presented Pope Innocent IV and European courts with the first-ever detailed account of that part of Asia. It was not until 50 years later that The Travels of Marco Polo appeared in writing.
“The mission was both diplomatic and exploratory, demonstrating European cooperation that went beyond the personal partnership of Benedict the Pole and Giovanni da Pian del Carpine. The key political centres of contemporary Europe also contributed directly and significantly to the mission’s success, while various kinds of logistical support were provided by Czech, German, French monks, as well as their Ruthenian and Hungarian colleagues, who also helped to work up the final report,” said Professor Mariusz Ziółkowski, Deputy Chair of the Award Chapter and President of the Polish Chapter of the Explorers Club.
The Award Chapter was appointed by the Polish Chapter of the Explorers Club, the Urban Municipality of Łęczyca, the District of Łęczyca, and the Warsaw Scientific Society. The President of the Republic of Poland has been Patron of Honour of the award ceremony, and the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage funds monetary prizes for the laureates.
(WU, prepared by MAJ)
Photos: Marzena Hmielewicz