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Mikhail Lomonosov   1  2  3
".. .show
That Newtons, Platos of our own
 And other men of world renown
On Russian soil can also grow!"


     In the winter of 1730, as the dawn cast its early light on the many gilded domes of Moscow, a string of horse-drawn sleighs were driving into the city. Smoke from thousands of chimneys hung low over Moscow, a sure sign that housewives were up and busy cooking breakfast.
     The sleighs that entered the city that morning had travelled over two thousand kilometres. The drivers huddled in their sheepskin coats in the morning cold. They had brought fish from the village of Kholmogory, far up in the north, near Arkhangelsk.
      In one of these sleighs there was a tall nineteen-yearold youth, Mikhail Lomonosov, the son of a fisherman in the village of Kholmogory. The lad had lefthis home against his father's will ana come tc Moscow because he was determined to study.
      But the big city was indifferent to his fate  — it did not care where he would spend the day or night. It was unlikely that anyone would take in this young man, who had no documents on him. After all, he might turn out to be a fugitive serf and anyone harbouring him would be punished.
     But he was a very determined young man, and he managed to obtain lodgings at the home of a minor official3 who had once been to Kholmogory on business.  The clerk was pleased with the arrangement: the lad had no documents and could therefore not com­plain that he was being made to work too hard for his lodgings. And he was a strong youth and could do all sorts of work.
     It had been nice to dream of studying science back in the warmth of his father's home, reading a favourite  book with an oil lamp burning cheerfully. In Moscow things were more difficult. Mikhail  Lomonosov was a peasant's son. True, his father was not a serf, but a peasant was a peasant all the same, and the young man found that the doors of colleges were closed to him.  Nor could  he enter the Navigation School, which framed naval officers. Only noblemen were admitted there.
      Finally, by concealing his humble origin, Lomonosov managed to enter the Slavonic-Greco-Latin Academy. True, it trained young men for the church, but Lomonosov did not care. The main thing was to study . . .
     In 1735  Lomonosov with a few of the other best students had the good fortune to be sent to St. Petersburg, the capital, to study at the University of the Academy of Sciences, founded  by Peter the Great. This, at last, gave the young  man the chance to study science, which was what he had dreamed of all along.
    In a period  of ten years Lomonosnv worked his way up from a student  to a professor and member of the Academy. His fame as the most talented Russian man of science began to spread.
      A scientist of encyclopaedic knowledge, he was the founder of modern research in Russia in very many field's; as a poet, he laid the foundations of the contemporary Russian literary language.
     Even Leonardo da Vinci and Benjamin Franklin had not had so broad a range of interests. Lomonosov lived a short life: he was born in 1711 and died in 1765. But even a brief review of what he accomplished in science is impressive.
     In chemistry he formulated the Law of the Conservation of Matter long before Lavoisier. He also refuted the theory of phlogiston, a weightless fire substance. In this he was ahead of Lavoisier, Scheele and Priestley. Lomonosov may also rightly be regarded as having laid the cornerstone of physical chemistry, one of the most important branches of chemistry today. His work on the theory of solutions was a particularly important contribution to this branch of chemistry.
       In physics too Lomonosov accomplished a great deal. He was the first scientist to explain thermal phenomena in terms of the atomic and molecular theory. At the same time as Franklin, he demonstrated the electric nature of lightning and invented the lightning rod. He provided experimental confirmation of the gas laws of Boyle and Mariotte. In his mathematical interpretations of the laws governing electrical phenomena he was a brilliant forerunner of Coulomb, Ampere, and Faraday.
      He also made outstanding discoveries in astronomy. Thirty years before the English astronomer Sir William Herschel he detected the atmosphere of Venus and described the substance of comet tails. His analysis of this was far more correct and convincing than the study made by Sir Isaac Newton.   
     In geology Lomonosov's famous treatise concerning the strata of the Earth  became a starting point for geochemistry, a science that appeared one hundred years later. This new science was founded by the Swiss Schonbein and the Russians Vernadsky and Fersman.
       Manv geochemical ideas were also expressed by Lomonosov in his work "On the Birth of Metals". He was the first to deduce that metals and minerals migrated, and he formulated new ideas about minerals as products of the complex life of the earth's crust.'
     Similarly, crystallographers consider Lomonosov a forerunner of the prominent scientist Romais de Lille. That French scientist formulated the theory that the properties of a crystal depend on its shape and especially on its angles.
    Lomonosov also did a great deal in metallurgy and mining, glass-making and pyrotechnics. He revived the art of mosaics, which had been forgotten in Russia. Forty mosaic panels and portraits were made in his studio. Twenty-three of them have been preserved. His best work is a portrait of Peter the Great, which is on display at the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad.
    In...1748, after a struggle of many years, he organized the First Russian chemical laboratory. It was according to his plans that a university was opened in Moscow, now called the Lomonosov University.
       Lomonosov understood science to be not just a description of phenomena, but their explanation. He believed it was necessary to study not bodies in themselves, but their internal structure, the causes of that struc­ture, and the forces operating inside it.
      Unfortunately, Lomonosov alone could do little to spread learning in Russia. His Russian contemporaries could appreciate his poetry and his mosaics, but his science remained largely incomprehensible to them. In the West too his work was almost unknown. Only a few scientists of his time, like the mathematician Leonard Euler, recognized his genius.
    But although Lomonosov was little understood by his contemporaries, new generations were rising, with a new thirst for learning. It was to them that he made this stirring appeal in verse:
".. .show
That Newtons, Platos of our own
And other men of world renown
On Russian soil can also grow!"
     Two hundred years have passed since then, but only now, in Soviet years, have Lomonosov's dreams of Russia's scientific greatness and glory come true.  And our grateful country will- always remember Lomonosov, who, in Pushkin's words, was a "whole university" in himself.




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