Hungarian Academy of Sciences

Balaton Limnological Research Institute


Sándor Herodek and Károly Elekes


The foundation and history of the Institute


Limnology, or the science of lakes, began to develop rapidly in the 1880s, due to the discovery of the temperature stratification in deep lakes. Hungarian researchers did not lag behind the rest of the world. In 1891, under the directorship of Lajos Lóczy, the Hungarian Geographic Society launched the Scientific Study of the Balaton, which for thirty years was to publish in 32 volumes results in geological, hydrographical, meteorological, zoological, botanical, anthropological, ethnological and other branches of research. However, it soon became apparent that the only efficient way to observe the complex interrelationships of the lake life was by creating a permanent research institute upon the banks of the lake. The creation of a research base upon the lakeside of the Balaton, similar to the Neapolitan Zoological Station, had already been recommended by the Royal Hungarian Society for Natural Sciences, but high costs and a World War meant a long wait until 1925, when the Balaton Biology Station, whose first director was Béla Hankó, was opened in Révfülöp under the auspices of the Hungarian National Museum. The situation could only be temporary. At the beginning of the twentieth century, chiefly due to the work of Nauman and Thienemann and the founding of the International Association of Limnology in 1922, the science of limnology was to develop in leaps and bounds in the direction of freshwater ecology.

It goes without saying that at this time there were similar massive steps forward in the fields of biochemistry, biology, microbiology, genetics and many other experimental biology-based areas of research, and a home had to be found for each of these. In 1925, the great minister of religion and education Count Kuno Klebelsberg called together a National Congress of Sciences in order to analyze the place of theoretical and applied sciences in Hungary. At the same time a 20-year scientific program was drawn up, to be supported partly by the state, and partly through the exertions of society. The founding of the Hungarian Biological Research Institute was part of this program. It was Klebelsberg who stressed that in other parts of Europe research institutes were appearing that were independent of the university departments, and of which the main profile was unambiguously that of research. Such were the by then already functioning institutes of the Kaiser Wilhelm Gesellschaft in Berlin-Dahlem, and the first modern Hungarian institute of the kind at Tihany.

The site of the institute was chosen by Klebelsberg himself on the Tihany peninsula, below the Abbey and right on the lakeside. The group of buildings was designed by Iván Kotsis. The corner-stone was laid on August 25, 1926.

The several-story-high main building houses the laboratories, the library, the main offices, the aquarium room and workshops. The building is joined by two arcades, one leading to the guest house and the other to researchers’ apartments. The only changes that have taken place in the past decades are that the guest house has gained a store, and so now it contains 15 guest rooms, 2 apartments, and a conference hall seating 100, a restaurant and the office of administration and finances, while the researchers’ apartments have been modified into a building purely for research. The 2 hectares of lakeside parkland surrounding the institute lend it a unique beauty. By years, six new researchers’ homes have been built in the territory leading from the roadway to the hillside.

The Hungarian Biological Research Institute was opened on September 5, 1927. The Balaton Department was directed by Béla Hankó and the Department of General Biology by Frigyes Verzár, both of whom wore the rank of directorship. The first research groups were formed by the botanist Rezső Soó, the geneticists Lajos Csik and Piusz Koller, the physiologists Sándor Müller, Gyula Méhes and Sándor Wolsky, and the hydrobiologists Mihály Rotaridesz and Aladár Scherffel, each of them well-known as experts in their particular field in scientific history. In addition to the relatively small number of permanent staff, a great many guests have come to Tihany to work for shorter or longer periods of time since the inception of the institute.

In 1929 Béla Hankó was appointed professor of the Debrecen University Department of Zoology, which resulted in Klebelsberg recalling the internationally renowned Hungarian hydrobiologist Géza Entz from Holland, at whose request Olga Sebestyén returned from the USA to begin what were to become many decades of research at Tihany.

Restriction of space denies us the opportunity to make a complete list of all of the distinguished researchers who have passed through the portals of the Institute; however, both the Institute and the history of Hungarian biology would be lacking if we were to fail to make mention of some of those who arrived before the War and continued here for long, long years; the outstanding morphologist István Krompecher and the pearl of Hungarian genetics, Barna Győrffy.

In 1936 Frigyes Verzár returned to Debrecen from Tihany to become Professor of the Biology Department there, only to leave shortly afterwards to Switzerland. From that time until his death in 1943 Géza Entz was to hold the position of Institute Director. Sándor Wolsky, working as managing director, preserved the building and its entire array of equipment from damage in the last years of the War. However, by the end of the War the Institute was almost completely depleted of researchers.

In 1945 the departments of the Budapest University lay in ruins and the researchers were starving. The Institute was to provide them with an ideal sanctuary. In 1945 the medical physiologist, Aladár Beznák was appointed to director. A strong team of biologists arrived with him in Tihany, but of the eighteen scientists beginning work here at the close of the War we can only mention the most famous: the hydrobiologist Béla Entz, the zoologist Gábor Stohl, the geneticist Gyula Fábián, the biochemist András Krámli, the microbiologists János Horváth and János Zsolt, and the ecologists Miklós Müller and Lajos Felföldi.

In 1948 Aladár Beznák and his team left the country. Altogether eleven researchers were to leave the Institute. The directorship was taken over by János Horváth, who strengthened research in microbiology.

In the course of the 1950s the directorship changed hands all too frequently, due to personal antagonisms within the Institute. In 1952 János Horváth resigned and the outstanding Hungarian zootaxonomist Endre Dudits took over the leadership, but after only one year he too resigned and Béla Entz took over as acting director. The situation, which has been diagnosed as the sickness “morbus peninsularis”, was probably mainly due to the isolated life-styles of the researchers and their families living on the compound. In those days there were no private cars or television, and was by no means easy to get even as far as neighboring Balatonfüred for much of the year.

In 1951 the Institute was attached to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (HAS) under the name of Biological Research Institute of the HAS. In 1956 the HAS appointed the hydrobiologist Elek Woynarovich as its new director, in expectance of institutional stabilization and progress in hydrobiological research. Throughout Woynarovich’s leadership his vice-director was Béla Entz, and the Institute was divided into three sections. Olga Sebestyén became head of the Department of Hydrobiology, Lajos Felföldi that of Botany, and the head of Zoology became József Gellért. Tibor Farkas, who had made an international name for himself through his research in lipid metabolism in animals, had been working at Tihany since 1955. In 1957 Gyula Fábián departed for the Agricultural University of Gödöllő, where he became professor of zoology. It was in the same year that Jenő Ponyi, István Tölg and Sándor Herodek joined the Institute. During his years as director, Woynarovich raised the number of researchers from 11 to 15. Most of those working in the Departments of Botany and Zoology performed research in hydrobiology, while the taxonomist József Gellért dealt with protistology.

In 1962 the Department of Biological Sciences of HAS announced that while the areas of biophysics, biochemistry, molecular biology, biology and genetics were to develop, botany and zoology to remain at the same level of research, anthropology and hydrobiology had to fall behind and to receive less support. It was the decision that made it possible to create the Biological Research Center of the HAS in Szeged, and experimental biological research to be raised to international standards. Abroad, however, ecological research was already developing at this time in recognition of the danger of a global ecological crisis.

In 1962 János Salánki was named the Institute’s new director. Elek Woynarovich became professor at the Zoological Department of the University of Debrecen, and for many years was to carry out work on the breeding of fish in the developing world within the framework of the FAO, which earned him international recognition. His work was later rewarded when he was given the prestigious Széchenyi Prize in 1999. Soon after his departure István Tölg was also to leave the Institute, to be followed in 1965 by Lajos Felföldi, László Tóth and Ernő Szabó, whose disappearance brought to an end of the Department of Botany. From 1965 onwards Béla Entz spent nine years working abroad.

Along with János Salánki arrived a new crop of researchers, Katalin S.-Rózsa, Imre Zsolnai-Nagy and Elemér Lábos, who were joined by others including, to name just the best-known, László Hiripi, Károly Elekes and Tibor Kiss. With these new arrivals, the Department of Experimental Zoology was to begin specialization in the neurobiology of invertebrates, primarily molluscs and to lesser extent insects. Within this tightly organized department there developed the sections of electrophysiology, morphology and biochemistry cooperating with each other. Whereas both in the early days of the Balaton Department, and later with its successor the Department of Hydrobiology the main task, to analyze the ecology of the Balaton, was carried out continuously, the Department of General Biology, and later its successor the Department of Experimental Zoology had always performed a great variety of research, often at a very high level, but with limited personnel and time-spans for research which meant that while a number of great researchers have spent time at the Institute, there has never developed a Tihany “school”. During the 60s the even and regular quality of research was such that it was deemed the highest of its kind at a national level, and also earned international recognition. Development of science made it necessary to concentrate and specialize. In the Biological Research Center of HAS in Szeged, opened in 1969, independent institutes were studying research areas which in Tihany in 1927 were only apportioned single laboratories to.

The great fish kill in 1965 compelled the Hungarian Academy of Sciences to raise the number of hydrobiologists somewhat, and as a result János Oláh and Péter Bíró joined the Institute in 1966 and 1967, respectively. As a result of rapid growth of the lake’s algae and mass kill of the lake’s fish population in 1975, in 1976 the National Council for Environmental and Nature Preservation introduced a complex research program into environmental preservation of the Balaton, which was superseded in 1981-1985 by the “Research into the Regional Environmental Preservation of the Balaton” program. A Program Office under the direction of Ferenc Máté was created in the Institute, in order to coordinate the research program. In the 1980s, in addition to the previous one-sided annual financing of the Institute, a number of research projects received independent significant financial support.

As a result both of the continuous deterioration of the Lake’s hydrobiological state and of recognition the degree to which research could provide real assistance in preservation of the water quality, the HAS changed the name of the Institute in 1982 to the Balaton Limnological Research Institute, and its main task became to carry out the research of the Balaton (under Instruction 8/1982 of the General Secretary of the HAS). In 1990 there were 22 researchers employed at Tihany, some with permanent appointments, and others paid from research grants. Half of them staff was carrying out research activity on the Balaton, and the other half was dealing with comparative neurobiology.

In 1991 Sándor Herodek became the new director both of the Institute and the head of the Department of Hydrobiology. The deputy director was Károly Elekes, who was also head of the Department of Experimental Zoology. Leaders of the different research teams were Péter Bíró, Sándor Herodek and Jenő Ponyi in hydrobiology and Károly Elekes and János Salánki in experimental zoology.

The basic concept of the new leadership was that comparative neurobiology should be kept at Tihany, where over three decades there had been collected significant intellectual and material capacity, and which was the only team in the country to apply morphology, physiology and biochemistry in a complex way, while at the same time the ratio of researchers would have to be raised to 2:1 in favour of limnologists, whenever possible by employing new, young researchers. In the way the Institute would be able to satisfy the demands suggested by its title, whilst retaining sufficiently minimum number of researchers in neurobiology necessary for achieving their successful work. At present four colleagues are carrying out research in aquatic chemistry, five in algology and microbiology, one who is involved in aquatic macrofitons, four dealing with aquatic invertebrates, three with fish and two with aquatic toxicology. At the same time, the nervous system of invertebrates has been studied by three neuroanatomists, two biochemists and five electrophysiologists. The borders of research are not rigorously defined, but it is based on intensive cooperation.









Kuno Klebelsberg

Frigyes Verzár

Géza Entz




Main building (A)


Aerial footage