He was born in Warsaw and was the fifth of seven children in a family of Polish Jews. Young Józef started his education in a cheder, but quickly moved to the School of Craftsmen. There he obtained the profession of an electrician. In 1926 he was admitted to the Free Polish University, a university admitting Jews. He passed the entrance examination, although he did not have formal secondary education behind him.
He studied there in the evenings, and during the day he earned his living as a home electrician. Rotblat’s mentor and tutor at Wolna Wszechnica Polska was prof. Ludwik Wertenstein, pioneer of Polish nuclear physics, who lectured, among others radioactivity, quantum theory and the structure of atoms, which influenced the further life of Rotblat. In 1932, Rotblat obtained a master’s degree in physics at the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences and started working at the Radiology Laboratory of the Warsaw Scientific Society. In 1936, at the 8th Congress of Polish Physicists in Lviv, he delivered three scientific papers.
In 1938, he married Tola, a graduate of Polish studies at the University of Warsaw, and in October he defended his doctorate at the University of Warsaw, after which he obtained a foreign scholarship. The outbreak of World War II found him in Liverpool, where he was first a student and then a collaborator of the English nuclear physicist James Chadwick, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of the neutron.
“There is no indication to the fact thea world without nuclear weapons would become dangerous. On the contrary, it would be safer.”
In February 1944, Józef Rotblat was transferred to the laboratory town of Los Alamos in the US state of New Mexico. Together with a team of eminent scientists from around the world, he worked there on the secret Manhattan project, which was to lead to the obtaining of a new powerful weapon, thanks to which the United States would be able to defeat Japan and the Third Reich. Thus, the atomic bomb was born. Terrified by the effects of the nuclear destruction, Rotblat withdrew from this project and returned to England, where he became involved in work on British nuclear technology. He became the head of the physics department at the Medical College at St. Bartholomew in London. In 1946 he became a British citizen, and in 1998 he was knighted. Together with the English philosopher, logician and literary Nobel Prize winner Bertrand Russell, he led to the formation in 1957 of an international pacifist movement under the name of Pugwash, bringing together scientists working for nuclear disarmament. This movement involved representatives of science on both sides that divided Europe in half the “iron curtain”. Despite pressure from both the USSR and Western states, it partially managed to avoid the politicization of the movement, keeping its position above the bipolar political division of the world of the time. In 1995, on the 50th anniversary of the extermination of Hiroshima, and when France resumed the nuclear weapons tests, Józef Rotblat was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (halfway) along with the Pugwash movement. He was appreciated for his activities in favor of nuclear disarmament. As a scientist, Józef Rotblat was involved in nuclear medicine, incl. the influence of ionizing radiation on tumor formation. He was a member and chairman of the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics of the Polish Scientific Society Abroad. From 1966, he became a foreign member of the Polish Academy of Sciences, in 1996 the Polish Academy of Sciences awarded him with the Copernicus. His mother tongue was Polish, he was fluent in it until the end of his life and emphasized his relationship with Polishness. In 1998, for outstanding services to Polish science, he was awarded by the President of the Republic of Poland with the Commander’s Cross with the Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta. In 2018, the Council of the Capital City of Of Warsaw gave his name to the square located at the intersection of Nowolipki and Smocza streets.