Prof. Piotr Węgleński was an eminent scholar, an authority in the world of science and a Man of the University. On 1st February, the UW academic community bid farewell to the University’s long-standing Rector.

“On the one hand, it is an honour to be able to express respect and remember my predecessors, but on the other, it is a deep regret to say goodbye to people of great merit; people to whom both the University of Warsaw and the academic community in Poland and abroad owe a great deal. Summarising the life and work of Prof. Piotr Węgleński is not easy. He was a vivid, modest and extremely important figure for the UW. He carried out numerous projects for the development of the University and changed its image in Poland and abroad,” Prof. Alojzy Z. Nowak, the UW Rector, said during a ceremonial meeting in memory of Prof. Piotr Węgleński.

Visionary and authority

Prof. Piotr Węgleński was born on 29th June 1939 in Świdniki, in a family with rich patriotic traditions. One of his ancestors was Jan Węgleński, Minister of the Treasury of the Kingdom of Poland, who was a key figure in establishing the University of Warsaw in 1816.


He had been affiliated with the University since 1956, when, as a graduate of the Hugo Kołłątaj Secondary School in Warsaw, he began studying at the Faculty of Biology and Earth Sciences. Already during his studies he did an internship at the Institute of Genetics. In 1961, he defended his master’s thesis on the genetics and cytology of Tetrigidae, written under the supervision of Prof. Wacław Gajewski. Since then, his entire professional career, from assistantship, through doctorate (1965), habilitation (1974), the position of associate professor (1982), to full professorship (1989), he was affiliated with the University of Warsaw.


Prof. Węgleński was an outstanding geneticist, author of numerous scientific publications, mainly on gene function regulation and genetic engineering. He was the scientific editor of the textbook Molecular Genetics (PL: Genetyka molekularna). He directed important research projects, such as the construction of bacterial strains for the production of human insulin and human growth hormone, or (together with a team from the Warsaw University of Technology) the development of a computer using the reactions of DNA molecules.


Prof. Węgleński’s organisational flair was evident in the numerous university positions he held. He headed the Institute of Genetics, served as Director of the Institute of Genetics and Biotechnology and Vice-Director of the Institute of Botany. He was Vice-Rector of the University of Warsaw for many years, and Rector of the University of Warsaw from 1999 until 2005.


Leading the University, he took care of its investment development, raising funds for research and expanding its teaching offer. In 1999, as Rector-elect, together with his predecessor, Włodzimierz Siwiński, he took part in the opening ceremony of the new premises of the University Library in Powiśle, attended by the Pope. He obtained funds for the renovation of the former library on the UW campus in Krakowskie Przedmieście and led to the adaptation of its space for teaching rooms.


Prof. Piotr Węgleński was the originator of the series of popular science lectures for the New Millennium, inaugurated in October 2000, whose speakers include scientists, politicians, people connected with the world of culture and art, as well as the clergy.


Prof. Piotr Węgleński passed away on 19th January 2024 as a Great Friend of the University and an unquestionable Authority in the academic community.

In an ecumenical spirit

On 1st February, a formal session was held in the Senate Hall of the Kazimierzowski Palace in memory of Prof. Piotr Węgleński. It was attended by numerous representatives of employees, doctoral candidates, students and friends of the UW.


“I think that the University was Prof. Piotr Węgleński’s greatest love,” Prof. Alojzy Z. Nowak, the UW Rector said, adding: “He had a passion and a mission, which he pursued. He was courageous in proclaiming his views and open to different visions of the world. Prof. Węgleński also  implemented successfully the idea of ecumenism, bringing together various circles and supporting them.”


Prof. Piotr Węgleński was also remembered during the ceremony by: Prof. Krzysztof Spalik, Dean of the Faculty of Biology, University of Warsaw, Prof. Joanna Kargul, Centre of New Technologies, University of Warsaw, Prof. Ewa Bartnik, Faculty of Biology, University of Warsaw, Prof. Piotr Dyczek, Director of the Antiquity of South-eastern Europe Research Centre, University of Warsaw, Prof. Romuald Zabielski on behalf of the President of the Polish Academy of Sciences, and Prof. Krzysztof Stefaniak, University of Wrocław.


Participants of the meeting emphasised Prof. Węgleński’s contribution to the development of genetic engineering, the establishment of the UW’s Centre of New Technologies, the popularisation of science and the functioning of the University.


Prof. Piotr Węgleński was buried at the Powązki Military Cemetery.