Auguste Piccard, born on January 28, 1884 in Basel, Switzerland, was professor of physics at the Swiss Institute of Technology in Zürich and then at the University of Brussels. Friend of Albert Einstein and Marie Curie he made possible modern aviation and space exploration by inventing the pressurised cabin and the stratospheric balloon.
He made the first ascents into the stratosphere in 1931 and 1932, reaching heights of 15,781 metres and 16,201 metres respectively, to study cosmic rays. He became the first man to witness the curvature of the Earth with his own eyes.
Applying the principle of his stratospheric balloon to the exploration of the deepest oceans, he built a revolutionary submarine, which he named the Bathyscaphe. Diving with his son, Jacques to 3150 metres in 1953, he became the man of both extremes: having flown the highest and dived the deepest.
Meanwhile, his twin brother, Jean, had emigrated to the United States where he had become a chemistry professor, and with his wife Jeanette made another ascent into the stratosphere. Jean's son, Donald, continued the aeronautic tradition by pioneering the revival of hot-air ballooning in the 1960s.
Auguste Piccard, Commander of the Legion of Honour and the Order of Leopold, was famous for spectacular inventions but he was also a scientist of universal scope. His thesis in physics concerned the magnetisation of water. He identified Uranium 235, which he called "Actinuran." An experiment he conducted in a balloon, proved part of Einstein's Theory of Relativity which had been called into question. He constructed the most precise scales, galvanometers and seismographs of his era. His obsession with exactitude earned him the nickname of "the extra decimal place".
It was hardly surprising that the cartoonist Hergé saw Auguste Piccard as the archetypal boffin and used him as the model for his character, Professor Calculus, in the adventures of Tintin.
Auguste Piccard died in Lausanne on March 25, 1962.