Monday, 15 July 2019

In conversation with Janusz Laskowski

Janusz Laskowski
I first met Prof. Janusz Laskowski at the 1988 IMPC in Stockholm, and have caught up with him at every IMPC, apart from Moscow, since then, as well as occasional SMEs, and at MEI’s flotation conferences; he was a keynote speaker at Flotation ’15 in Cape Town.
Janusz is Professor Emeritus of mineral processing at the University of British Columbia, Canada, and obtained all his degrees, including Ph.D., from the Silesian University of Technology in Poland.
In 1984 he founded “Coal Preparation” international journal and was its editor-in-chief until 2004.
An acknowledged expert on the surface chemistry of flotation, Prof. Laskowski was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award of the International Mineral Processing Council at the 24th International Mineral Processing Congress in Beijing (2008), and is a recipient of the SME’s Antoine Gaudin Award (2011).
Young Janusz with his grandfather
and father before WW2
Janusz Stanislaw Laskowski was born in 1936 in Pszow, Upper Silesia. His father was a graduate of the Technical University of Mining and Metallurgy in Krakow, and was a deputy director of the Rymer Coal Mine. On the first day of World War II in 1939 he ended up, as did most Polish engineers, doctors and lawyers in Upper Silesia, in a German Concentration Camp.  He survived the war, and was the first General Director of the newly organized Central Research Mining Institute in Katowice (later he became president of the Silesian University of Technology). 
The young Janusz spent the next five years with his mother’s family in a small village, Posadza, near Krakow. He was nine years old when in a beautiful sunny winter of 1945 Marshal Koniev’s Southwest Front of the Red Army started surging towards Krakow.  He said that “a dull rumble slowly dominated everywhere. The family quickly moved into the fortified cellar.  One day the war stopped for three intense days in my village and a young German sergeant dug out a position for his heavy machine gun behind my uncle’s barn. “My war” ended when Russian T-34 tanks appeared and the German sergeant, who was shooting to the last cartridge, forced his way to our cellar where all the family was hiding. He was immediately followed by Red Army soldiers who shot him on the spot. Over the next few days the snow-white fields were tainted by the dead bodies of German and Russian soldiers”. 
A few months later he was back in Upper Silesia, in Katowice, and was admitted to the third year primary school to complete his education. 
Janusz graduated with a B.Sc. in chemistry from the Silesian University of Technology in 1956, obtained an M.Sc. degree in chemical engineering in 1958, and Ph.D. degree in mineral processing in 1963.  
Janusz and his wife Barbara, a successful dentist,
after the official ceremony for his award of PhD in 1963.
Barbara and Janusz are with Janusz’s parents, his father being University Rector
In 1961/62, his international career began when he spent one year in Prof. P.A. Rehbinder’s Department of Colloid Chemistry, Lomonosov University, Moscow, as a postgraduate student, and was involved in research under the supervision of Professor V.I. Klassen at the Mining Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences in Moscow. Janusz said “in the early stages of my professional career I was very much inspired by Professor Klassen, and the topic of my PhD project, coal salt flotation, was a result of this influence”. In 1966 he translated Klassen’s monograph, Coal Flotation (V.I. Klassen, Wyd. Slask, Katowice, 1966; Polish text). After translating Klassen’s monograph he started working on his own book on coal flotation which was finally published by Elsevier in 2001 (Coal Flotation and Fine Coal Utilization). The book was dedicated to “my professors: Tadeusz Laskowski, Willy Ivanowich Klassen and Joseph A. Kitchener.”
As assistant professor at the Silesian University of Technology in 1966, he organised the 1st Seminar on Physicochemical Problems of Mineral Processing which with time evolved into a regular annual event and regularly published journal. 
Gliwice, 1964, Prof. Willy Ivanowich Klassen (3rd from left) with
Prof. Andrzej Waksmundzki (left) and Janusz’s father Prof. Tadeusz Laskowski (far right),
at the conference organized by the Silesian University of Technology when the
Slask Publishing office invited Klassen to visit Poland to publish
the Polish translation of Klassen’s “Coal Flotation” monograph.
Janusz with his wife Barbara and Prof. Klassen at the stop in Krakow on
the way from Gliwice to Zakopane to show Klassen the Tatra Mountain ski resort
He was chairman of the organising committee of these annual conferences until 1980, and, when he left Poland, the Symposia were taken over by his previous Ph.D. students and research associates (Dr. J. Lekki, Dr. A. Luszczkiewicz, Dr. J. Drzymala, Dr. Z. Sadowski). Since then he has been a member of the Editorial Board. Issue no.4, Volume 54, of Physicochemical Problems of Mineral Processing was published to honour him on his 82nd birthday. 
Janusz (2nd left) at the 2014 IMPC in Santiago with Polish colleagues
Tomasz Chmielewski, Przem Kowalczuk and Jan Drzymala
In 1967, Dr. Laskowski obtained a Leverhulme Trust Post-Doctoral Fellowship and in 1967/68 spent one year as a post-doctoral fellow with Dr. Joseph Kitchener at the Department of Mineral Technology, Imperial College, London. When Kitchener retired he edited jointly with Prof. John Ralston the volume Colloid Chemistry in Mineral Processing in his honour. The book was published by Elsevier in 1992.
Dr. Laskowski was an associate professor of mineral processing at the Silesian University of Technology until 1973 when he was appointed professor of mineral processing at the Wroclaw Technical University, Wroclaw, Poland.
In 1971/72, he was a visiting professor and taught several courses at the University of Chile in Santiago, and was invited by Prof. Fernando Concha to spend a month with the University of Concepcion, where he updated his own book, which had been published in Poland in 1969. The book was translated into Spanish, and published by the University of Concepcion in 1974 (Fundamentos Fisicoquimios de la Mineralurgia). Collaboration established with several Chilean researchers has survived up to this time.     
             Janusz and Fernando Concha relaxing in Concepcion during the
          3rd Latin-American Congress on Froth Flotation, November, 1994
Janusz attended his first International Mineral Processing Congress (IMPC) in Prague in 1970, and has attended every one since then. 
IMPC reception in Prague in 1970.
Janusz and Barbara Laskowski with Douglas Fuerstenau’s wife, Peggy
In 1979, he chaired the 13th IMPC in Warsaw, the last IMPC run with simultaneous translation into four official languages (English, French, German and Russian). It was at this Congress that he first met Prof. Jan Miller, of the University of Utah, who writes: “…my first meeting with Janusz and his wife, Barbara, was the occasion of the 1979 IMPC, the first and only IMPC held in Poland.  In those days international travel, especially to Poland, was not so easy, but the meeting was a great success. After the meeting Janusz had invited me to visit for a couple of days at his institute in Wroclaw, and so I did, traveling by train from Warsaw.  There we met with Professor Franciszek Letowski and Professor Fathi Habashi. 
In front of the Institute of Inorganic Chemistry and Metallurgy of Rare Earth Elements,
Wroclaw Technical University, 1979, Janusz (right) with
Franciszek Letowski, Fathi Habashi and Jan Miller
As is usually the case with Janusz, we had interesting discussions, both technical discussions and political discussions, during the visit.  Because of the visit to the institute, I was unaware that my visa to Poland had expired, making me a bit anxious.  We had to appear before the authorities to explain my naiveté and that there was no subversive intent.  Finally, only with Janusz’s typical persuasion did the authorities grant a visa extension and my return to the U.S. seemed possible.  Departure from Wroclaw, however, was not without one additional experience.  Arrangements had been made to put me on a night train to Warsaw, a sleeper car to be shared with three others.  Little did I know that the three other occupants would be three babuszkas, one of whom snored all night as I tried to sleep on my way to Warsaw.  So, my first meeting with Janusz was an interesting experience for a young man attending his first IMPC”. 
Prof. Miller continued “This first meeting was followed by many other occasions when I had the pleasure to enjoy the company of Janusz and Barbara, frequently at IMPC meetings such as the meeting at Dresden in 1991 and the IXth Balkan Mineral Processing Congress at Istanbul in 2001.  Of course, the Istanbul meeting was memorable.   Our wives, Barbara and Patricia, enjoyed shopping at the Grand Bazaar with Nanette, Cyril O’Connor’s wife, until we learned of the horrendous terrorist attacks, especially the World Trade Center complex in New York, and the corresponding devastation.  Of course, all Delta flights were cancelled and return to the U.S. was delayed for 3 days, only then being able to return to JFK airport on Turkish Airlines”.
In the 80’s Prof. Douglas Fuerstenau moved into the area of fine coal beneficiation and in 1981 he invited Janusz to join him as a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Doug’s invitation came in a critical period of Polish history when military government silenced the Solidarity Trade Union. As a result, after one year with Berkeley University, Janusz moved north to Canada, where in 1982 he was appointed Professor of Mineral Processing in the Department of Mining and Mineral Process Engineering, University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Through this appointment, he joined forces with Profs. Jan Leja, George Poling, and Andrew Mular and created one of the world’s strongest mineral processing and coal preparation programs. When Professor Leja retired after 20 years with the University of British Columbia, he edited a volume Frothing in Flotation in his honour (published by Gordon and Breach in 1989). This book turned out to be the first volume in a series of publications; Frothing in Flotation II, edited jointly with E.T. Woodburn, which was published by Gordon and Breach in 1998; Frothing in Flotation III, edited jointly with C.T. O’Connor and J.P. Franzidis, appeared as a special issue of International Journal of Mineral Processing, Vol. 64, Nos. 2-3 (2002).
The two sabbatical leaves from the University of British Columbia he spent with Prof. Jean Cases’s Surface Chemistry Group at Ecole Nationale Superieure de Geologie, Nancy, France in 1987/88, and with the Department of Chemical Engineering of the University of Cape Town in 1996. 
Celebration of Janusz’s 60th birthday on Cape of Good Hope during his
6-month sabbatical with UCT in 1996.
Cyril and Nanette O’Connor (left), J-P and Ross Franzidis, Barbara and Janusz
Janusz and Barbara testing South African wines on Cape Town beaches in 1996
Farewell to Cape Town in 1996; Janusz, Ross and J-P. Franzidis,Barbara, and Dee Bradshaw
In 1995, he initiated a new series of UBC-McGill international symposia on Fundamentals of Mineral Processing and chaired the first Symposium on Processing of Hydrophobic Minerals and Fine Coal, in Vancouver. He chaired the 3rd and 5th Symposia and edited the Proceedings, and then in 2006, the Metallurgical Society of Canadian Institution of Mining organized the 6th UBC-McGill-University of Alberta international symposium on Interfacial Phenomena in Fine Particle Technology in his honour and this led to publication of a special issue of the Canadian Metallurgical Quarterly, Vol. 46, No. 3, 2007.
With Prof. David Boger he co-chaired the Engineering Foundation Conference on Rheology in the Mineral Industry in San Diego, in February, 1997 and co-chaired the 2nd conference in the series in Hawaii in March, 1999.
Along with Dr. J. Drelich, Janusz co-chaired the Symposium Apparent and Microscopic Contact Angles held in conjunction with the 216th National American Chemical Society Meeting, Boston, in 1998, and jointly with J. Drelich and K.J. Mittal edited the conference volume, published by VSP in 2000. His monograph on Coal Flotation and Fine Coal Utilization was published by Elsevier in 2001. 
21st IMPC in Rome in 2000. Janusz and Barbara with their Chilean friends: Sergio Castro (left) and his wife,
and Osvaldo Bascur (right) with his wife
At the Centenary of Flotation conference in Brisbane in 2005,
with Profs. Kari Heiskanen and Douglas Fuerstenau
Prof. Laskowski retired from the University of British Columbia in 2001. He has been a huge contributor to our profession and in 2008 he received the highest accolade of the IMPC’s Lifetime Achievement Award, at the Beijing IMPC and in 2011, the SME’s Antoine Gaudin Memorial Award.
Janusz with Profs. Cyril O’Connor, Jacques Astier, Douglas Fuerstenau and Eric Forssberg
after being awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award in Beijing, 2008

With Prof. Roe-Hoan Yoon in Denver in 2011 with his Gaudin Award

Flotation ’15, Cape Town, with fellow Gaudin Award winners Profs. Nag Nagaraj, Graeme Jameson and Jim Finch
Janusz has been involved in flotation research for over 50 years and he feels that the most important developments in flotation technology have been:
  • The development of xanthates as collectors in flotation of sulfides;
  • Introduction of flotation as a main beneficiation process for processing of non-sulfide ores (e.g. phosphate ores, iron ores, coal, potash ores etc.);
  • Development of the concept of critical coalescence concentration to characterize the flotation properties of frothers;
  • The development of flotation columns;
  • The development of fluidised-bed flotation technology.
As to the future of flotation, in his opinion the most important areas that should be targeted are the processing of rare earth ores and flotation in seawater.

I have mentioned retirement to Janusz many times, but he is emphatic that he will never fully retire from a profession that he loves. He is a very fit man who visits a fitness centre daily, and he swims and cycles. He is a proud family man, he and Barbara having two sons, Kornel, who has a PhD from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and his younger brother Cyprian, who has a PhD from the University of Edinburgh.
Barbara and Janusz with sons Cyprian (left) and Kornel
It has been fascinating talking to Janusz about his long life and career, and hopefully he will continue to be a major player in mineral processing for many more years to come.


  1. Pro Laskowski, It is privilege and pleasure to read all the details about you from Barry--any one working on coal preparation gained so much from your research and many in India hold you in very high regard.
    Please accept my regards and wish you all the best.
    I am sure this Blog would inspire many young researchers.

  2. Prof.Laskowski.,
    I have great passion on coal preparation and I was also on the Editorial Board of International Journal of Coal Preparation.
    Being the tallest on this subject, can you please comment on why this coal preparation Industry is in such a sad state of affairs; I can understand pollution aspects of burning coal etc. but our technologies of beneficiation and combustion made no significant technological strides to mitigate these aspects. No serious attempts were made on dry processing. We benefiate thermal coals by wet process and then power station people pulverise to feed to power plants. I keep thinking why we do not pulverise without beneficiation(innovate a safe way of doing it) beneficiate the pulverised coal by a dry system(again good research and innovatively designed machine) and then feed to the power plant. This way we eliminate wet washing,increase the calorific value of feed to thermal plant by a great extent because of better liberation
    Why we think of only flotation for treating coal fines which is very expensive. Has enough been done to use stub cyclones, oil agglomeration etc.
    I may be out of touch with the latest but my passion is still there.
    Even general comments from you would surely motivate young researchers to explore new ways of dealing with coal.
    Any comment from you would be of great value.
    Let me thank Barry for bringing coal into focus by the BLOG on you.

    1. Dear Sir, thanks for drawing attention of everyone on dry beneficiation n need for improvement in the processes. A great teacher always inspire the NextGen.


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