The Prominent Russian Scientist V.I.Vernadsky

St.Petersburg University
V.I.Vernadsky was born in St. Petersburg on March 12, 1863. He graduated
from Physics and Mathematics Department of the Petersburg University in 1885 and after that during two years enlarged his education in the Universities of the Western Europe. Since 1890 till 1911 he taught mineralogy and crystallography in the University of Moscow. In 1897 he maintained his thesis for a Doctor's degree. In 1905 he was elected a junior scientific assistant, in 1912 - a full member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. He works in its departments for 33 years and died in Moscow on January 6, 1945.
From the chronology of his life one may see that V.I.Vernadsky was a Russian
scientist. Still in the Ukraine, he is cosidered to be a Ukrainian scientist and it is not devoid of foundation. His ancestors were the Dnieper Cossacks. His father, before his move to Petersburg, taught political economy in the Kiev University. In 1918 V.I.Vernadsky himself organized the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences and became its first president.
In the beginning of his scientific activities, V.Vernadsky worked as a soil
scientist. In the 1880s he participated in the expeditions which had been organized by his loved teacher V.V.Dokuchaev (the founder of the modern soil science). These expeditions explored the soils in the various regions of Russia. Studying the mineral composition of different soils, Vernadsky became deeply interested in mineralogy and crystallography. Moscow University These sciences for long years became the main areas of his scientific inferences and of his activities as a professor. His thesis for Doctor's degree dealt with a crystallographic topic: On the sliding phenomena in the sillimanite crystals. But his contributions to mineralogy are still more important. Among these contributions, one must note the genetic approach. He emphasized the connection between the crystallization form, hardness, color and other physical properties of minerals and their chemical composition, as well as the conditions of their genesis.
Studying the chemical composition of minerals, V.I.Vernadsky became
interested in the distribution of individual chemical elements in the Earth's crust, hydrosphere, and atmosphere, i.e. in the knowledge field, which was as early as in 1842 named geochemistry by the Swiss scientist Christian Schonbein.
V.I.Vernadsky published many papers on geochemistry of various elements,
and his main work La Geochimie was published in French in 1924 in Paris. In this book the geochemistry of carbon, as a constant component of all organic compounds, is described in the utmost detail. The final chapter of the book deals with the geochemistry of radioactive compounds.
V.I.Vernadsky was one of the first scientists who predicted the possibility
of controling the rate of radioactive decay and using radioactive elements as energetic raw materials. At the same time he organized a special commission which began searching uranium ores in the various regions of Russia. In 1916 the first uranium deposit was discovered in the Middle Asia, and in 1918 its ores gave the first milligrams of radium in Russia.
In the early 1922 V.I.Vernadsky managed to organize in Petersburg the
Radium Institute which is actively working up to our time. To 1938 he remained its director. In the day of the opening he held a speech. Vernadsky said:"Soon man will have atomic power at his hands. This is a power source which will give him a possibility to build his life just as he wishes. Will he be able to use this force for good purposes and not for selfdestruction? A scientist must feel responsibility for the results of his studies!"
This was the first time when a warning about the threat of atomic war sounded.
In 1922 Vernadsky began studying meteorites and cosmic dust. He published
a series of papers in this area. In 1935 he organized the Committee on meteorites of the Academy of sciences. He guided the works of this Committee up to the end of his life.
But of the greatest importance for our days is V.I.Vernadsky's doctrine
on the biosphere of the Earth and on the inevitability of the evolutionary transformation of the biosphere into the reign of the human reason - the noosphere.
As early as in his student years, he manifested a profound interest to
the living nature. It is evidenced by his most early publications of the 1880s.
Later he studied the distribution and migration of various chemical elements
in the Earth's crust as well as in the other Earth's sphere (hydrosphere, atmosphere). During these studies he naturally became interested in the content of these elements in various tissues of animals and plants. These studies showed that almost all known chemical elements may be found in some or other organs of the animals and plants. In his studies of the living substance, V.I.Vernadsky approached an analysis of the structure of the envelope of the Earth within which this substance exists. As early as in 1875 an Austrian geologist Edward Suess called this envelope biosphere, i.e. the sphere of life. However, neither Suess nor other scientists analyzed the content of this term in detail.
As to V.I.Vernadsky, he worked out an overwhelming doctrine concerning
the biosphere of the Earth. He defined the bounderies of the biosphere by having shown that the biosphere includes all the hydrosphere, troposphere to the height of about 30 km, and the upper part of the Earth's crust down to a depth of two or three kilometers, for living bacteria still may be found at this depth in the underground waters and in the oil. V.I.Vernadsky's biosphere is not a static life envelope, but an open system having existed since the very beginning of the Earth's history. The contemporary life and its activities are the product of a long and complex evolution of the living substance.
Having accepted the idea of the evolution of the biosphere, V.I.Vernadsky
also changed his viewpoint upon the technological activities of the mankind. He came to consider them as a lawgoverned evolutionary stage in the development of the biosphere. He believed in the strength of the human reason and supposed that the team scientific thought will overcome the negative results of the technogenesis and will secure, in future, the rational transformation (and not annihilation) of the natural components of the biosphere, for a maximum satisfaction of the material and spiritual demands of the mankind which is growing quantitatively. This future evolutionary stage of the biosphere of the Earth was designated by V.I.Vernadsky noosphere, the sphere of reason (the term introduced in 1922 by a French philisopher and mathematician Edouard Le Roy).
V.I.Vernadsky intended to elaborate the noosphere doctrine in more detail
but he had no time to answer. Still in his article Several Words on the Noosphere (1944; the last paper out of all those which he published during his life) and in the two above mentioned post humous monographs, conditions are formulated which ought to be kept for the creation of the noosphere (after V.I.Vernadsky's opinion). These conditions are:
  1. peopling of all the Earth;
  2. abrupt transformation of the means of communication and commerce between different countries;
  3. establishment of political and other ties between all the states of the Earth;
  4. predominance of the geological role of man over other processes which take placein the biosphere;
  5. expansion of the fontiers of the biosphere and the man's exit into the Cosmos;
  6. industrial exploitation of new sources of energy;
  7. equality of the people of all races and religions;
  8. increase in the role of people's masses in the decisions on the questions of internal and foreign policy;
  9. freedom of scientific thought and scientific search from the pressure of religious, philosophical and political considerations, and the creation of the conditions, favorable for the free scientific thought, in social and state structure;
  10. rise of the well-being of the world's people. Creation of a real possibility to exclude malnutrition, hunger, misery and to weaken the influence of the diseases;
  11. rational transformation of the original nature of the Earth, with the purpose to make it capable to satisfy all material, aesthetic and spiritual demands of the mankind;
  12. exclusion of wars from the life of society.
It is easy to see that now, after the expire of half a century of the
formulation of these conditions by V.I.Vernadsky, they are for the most part carried into effect or at least are being in the processof realization, which brings the mankind nearer to the creation of noosphere.
A.E.Fersman, the nearest pupil of V.I.Vernadsky and his successor in the
area of the development of geochemistry, who only outlived his teacher by several months, had time to write about Vernadsky: "His general ideas will be studied and elaborated during centuries and one will discover new pages in his works which will serve as the source for new searches. Many scientists will learn his creative thought which is acute, stubborn and articulated, always genial, but sometimes poorly understood. As for young generations, he always will be a teacher in science and a striking example of a fruitfully lived life".
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