Scientific activities in Croatia are carried out by universities and their component departments, the scientific institutes (190 institutions in total), the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts and other institutions registered to conduct such activities. In 2018, over 11,000 scientists and researchers published around 25,000 scientific and research papers.
The largest science and art institution is the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts founded in Zagreb in 1866, thanks to the efforts of the Bishop of Đakovo, Josip Juraj Strossmayer (1815–1905). It was called the Yugoslav Academy of Sciences and Art. Its main task was to encourage and organise Croatian scholars, artists and those engaged in cultural activities and to promote their work abroad. The Academy is divided into nine departments and several scientific institutes. It also operates a library, the Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters, a Glyptotheque, a Graphics Office and Archives.
The largest scientific and research institution in Croatia is the Ruđer Bošković Institute, founded in 1950 in Zagreb, which conducts natural science research. Among other notable institutes are the Croatian Civil Engineering Institute, the Ivo Pilar Institute of Social Sciences, the Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Research, the Institute of Physics of the University of Zagreb, the Institute of Croatian Language and Linguistics, the Croatian Institute of History, the Institute for Medical Research and Occupational Health, the Institute of Economics, the Institute of Art History (all in Zagreb), the Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries in Split, the Agricultural Institute in Osijek, etc.
The first major contribution to Western European scholarship was made by Herman Dalmatin in the 12th century. In the 14th and 15th centuries, Croatian scientists worked in European centres. In the 16th century the Zadar doctor and physicist Frederik Grisogono produced a valuable theory on tides and promoted astrological medicine. In the same century, the astronomers and natural philosophers Nikola Nalješković, Nikola Vitov Gučetić, Miho Monaldi and Antun Medo were working in Dubrovnik, while the foremost Croatian philosopher and scientist was Frane Petrić from the island of Cres. In the 17th century, the theologian and scientist Markantun de Dominis from Rab wrote on optics and the tides. Marin Getaldić contributed to world mathematics, and the inventor Faust Vrančić made the first parachute. The central figure of the 18th century was Ruđer Bošković, with his natural philosophy. In the 19th century, several scientists worked in Hungary and Slovakia, among them the astronomer and mathematician Mirko Danijel Bogdanić and the physicist Franjo Josip Domin. In the early 20th century, the geophysicist Andrija Mohorovičić made a great contribution to world science, as did the palaeontologist Dragutin Gorjanović-Kramberger, whose interpretation of his findings concerning prehistoric people in Krapina placed him among the founders of palaeoanthropology. In that period, the unique figure of Nikola Tesla stood out as an inventor. During the 20th century, eminent scientists were at work in Croatia and abroad, for example the physicist Ivan Supek and the Nobel prize winners Ružička and Prelog, and the tradition is continued today by molecular biologists Miroslav Radman and Ivan Đikić, Davor Pavuna and Marin Soljačić (physics) and many others.
Herman Dalmatin (c.1110–43), philosopher, theologian, astronomer and translator. He translated Arabic astronomy and astrology texts into Latin, and was the first person to begin translating the Qur’an. His major work was De essentiis, in which he set forth his own philosophical system.
Benedict Kotruljević (c.1416–69), diplomat and writer; moved to Naples in 1453. He was the author of the first systematic European work on trade (On Trade and the Perfect Trader), and the first to write about double-entry bookkeeping.
Frane Petrić (Franciscus Patricius) (1529–97), philosopher and polymath. He worked in Modena, Ferrara and Rome, where he taught philosophy as a Neo-Platonist and an opponent of Aristotelianism. He had a significant influence on the emergence of new Western European branches of science and philosophy. In his works, he dealt with other branches of knowledge (geometry and the history of war).
Marin Getaldić (Marinus Ghetaldus) (1568–1626), mathematician and physicist. He significantly influenced the development of applied algebra in geometry. He constructed the first parabolic mirror. He cooperated with the mathematicians François Viète in France and Galileo Galilei in Italy.
Ruđer Josip Bošković (1711–87), scientist and philosopher; a Jesuit. He worked in Rome, Pavia, Milan and Paris. He was a member of the Royal Society in London. His major work was the Theory of Natural Philosophy, in which he constructed an original theory about forces and the structure of materials, which has received many affirmations through the discoveries of modern science. He published many works describing original discoveries in the fields of mathematics, astronomy, geophysics and archaeology, and made many different optical, astronomical and geodetic instruments. He carried out expert projects in hydro-technology, geodesy, cartography, statics and measuring (he repaired the cupola of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and the Cathedral in Milan).
Nikola Tesla (1856–1943), inventor. In 1884, he moved to the USA, where he set up his own laboratory and made over 700 inventions, several of which are crucial to the way we live, and are still in use today (the entire system of producing, transporting and using multi-phase alternating current, remote control and radio communication, etc.). Most of his inventions were purchased by the Westinghouse Company. The hydroelectric plant at Niagara Falls was built in 1895 according to his alternating current system, the first in the world to enable distant towns to be illuminated. Thanks to Tesla's inventions, the hydroelectric plant on the River Krka near Šibenik, the oldest in Europe, was built in the same year. A unit of magnetic induction, the tesla (T), was named after him. He is often referred to as the ‘man who invented the 20th century’. In 2006, a memorial centre, including the house in which Tesla was born, was opened in Smiljan near Gospić.
Andrija Mohorovičić (1857–1936), geophysicist. From 1892 he was the Director of the Meteorological Observatory in Zagreb. He worked in meteorology and seismology and introduced the exact time service. His contribution to world science was his discovery of the Mohorovičić discontinuity (Moho) in the Earth’s core, which leads to an acceleration in the spread of shock waves. This discovery enabled the epicentres of earthquakes to be located precisely.
Lavoslav Ružička (1887–1976), chemist. He was professor and principal at the Laboratory of Organic Chemistry at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule in Zurich from 1912. His reputation was the result of research into many organic syntheses and his work on steroids and sex hormones. He won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1939. A memorial museum to Ružička was opened in his home city of Vukovar in 1977, destroyed during the Serbian siege of the town, and renovated in 2007.
Vladimir Prelog (1906–98), chemist. He was professor at the Zagreb Faculty of Engineering and principal of the Institute for Organic Chemistry, and in 1941 moved to Zurich, where he succeeded Lavoslav Ružička at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule. He was known for his work in synthesising many organic compounds, and was the first person to synthesise adamantane, the most stable isomer. He won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1975.