Mikhail Lomonosov

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was a Russian polymath, scientist and writer, who made important contributions to literature, education, and science. Among his discoveries were the atmosphere of Venus and the law of conservation of mass in chemical reactions. His spheres of science were natural science, chemistry, physics, mineralogy, history, art, philology, optical devices and others. Founder of modern geology Lomonosov was also a poet and influenced the formation of the modern Russian literary language.

Lomonosov was born in the village of Mishaninskaya (later renamed Lomonosovo in his honor) in Archangelgorod Governorate, on an island not far from Kholmogory, in the far north of Russia. His father, Vasily Dorofeyevich Lomonosov, was a prosperous peasant fisherman turned ship owner, who amassed a small fortune transporting goods from Arkhangelsk to Pustozyorsk, Solovki, Kola, and Lapland. Lomonosov’s mother was Vasily’s first wife, a deacon’s daughter, Elena Ivanovna Sivkova. He remained at Denisovka until he was ten, when his father decided that he was old enough to participate in his business ventures, and Lomonosov began accompanying Vasily on trading missions. Learning was young Lomonosov’s passion, however, not business. The boy’s thirst for knowledge was insatiable. Lomonosov had been taught to read as a boy by his neighbor Ivan Shubny, and he spent every spare moment with his books. He continued his studies with the village deacon, S.N. Sabelnikov, but for many years the only books he had access to were religious texts. When he was fourteen, Lomonosov was given copies of Meletius Smotrytsky’s Modern Church Slavonic (a grammar book) and Leonty Magnitsky’s Arithmetic Lomonosov was a Russian orthodox all his life, but had close encounters with Old Believers schism in early youth and later in life he became a deist. In 1724, his father married for the third and final time. Lomonosov and his stepmother Irina had an acrimonious relationship. Unhappy at home and intent on obtaining a higher education, which Lomonosov could not receive in Mishaninskaya, he was determined to leave the village.

Lomonosov was born in the village of Mishaninskaya (later renamed Lomonosovo in his honor) in Archangelgorod Governorate, on an island not far from Kholmogory, in the far north of Russia. His father, Vasily Dorofeyevich Lomonosov, was a prosperous peasant fisherman turned ship owner, who amassed a small fortune transporting goods from Arkhangelsk to Pustozyorsk, Solovki, Kola, and Lapland. Lomonosov’s mother was Vasily’s first wife, a deacon’s daughter, Elena Ivanovna Sivkova. He remained at Denisovka until he was ten, when his father decided that he was old enough to participate in his business ventures, and Lomonosov began accompanying Vasily on trading missions.

Learning was young Lomonosov’s passion, however, not business. The boy’s thirst for knowledge was insatiable. Lomonosov had been taught to read as a boy by his neighbor Ivan Shubny, and he spent every spare moment with his books. He continued his studies with the village deacon, S.N. Sabelnikov, but for many years the only books he had access to were religious texts. When he was fourteen, Lomonosov was given copies of Meletius Smotrytsky’s Modern Church Slavonic (a grammar book) and Leonty Magnitsky’s Arithmetic. Lomonosov was a Russian orthodox all his life, but had close encounters with Old Believers schism in early youth and later in life he became a deist.

In 1724, his father married for the third and final time. Lomonosov and his stepmother Irina had an acrimonious relationship. Unhappy at home and intent on obtaining a higher education, which Lomonosov could not receive in Mishaninskaya, he was determined to leave the village.

In 1730, at nineteen, Lomonosov went to Moscow on foot, because he was determined to “study sciences”. Shortly after arrival, he admitted into the Slavic Greek Latin Academy by falsely claiming to be a son of a Kholmogory nobleman. In 1734 that initial falsehood as well as another lie for him to be son of a priest nearly got him expelled from the academy but the investigation ended without severe consequences.

Lomonosov lived on three kopecks a day, eating only black bread and kvass, but he made rapid progress scholastically. It is believed that in 1735, after three years in Moscow he was sent to Kiev to study for short period at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. He quickly became dissatisfied with the education he was receiving there, and returned to Moscow to resume his studies there. In five years Lomonosov completed a twelve-year study course and in 1736, among 12 best graduates, was awarded a scholarship at the St. Petersburg Academy. He plunged into his studies and was rewarded with a four-year grant to study abroad, in Germany, first at the University of Marburg and then in Freiberg.

The University of Marburg was among Europe’s most important universities in the mid-18th century due to the presence of the philosopher Christian Wolff, a prominent figure of the German Enlightenment. Lomonosov became one of Wolff’s students while at Marburg from November 1736 to July 1739. Both philosophically and as a science administrator, this connection would be the most influential of Lomonosov’s life. In 1739–1740 he studied mineralogy, metallurgy, and mining at Bergrat Johann Friedrich Henckel’s laboratory in Freiberg, Saxony; there he intensified his studies of German literature.

Lomonosov quickly mastered the German language, and in addition to philosophy, seriously studied chemistry, discovered the works of 17th century Irish theologian and natural philosopher, Robert Boyle, and even began writing poetry. He also developed an interest in German literature. He is said to have especially admired Günther. His Ode on the Taking of Khotin from the Turks, composed in 1739, attracted a great deal of attention in Saint Petersburg. Contrary to his adoration for Wolff, Lomonosov went into fierce disputes with Henckel over the training and education courses he and his two compatriot students were getting in Freiberg as well as over very limited financial support which Henckel was instructed to provide to the Russians after numerous debts they made in Marburg. As the result, Lomonosov left Freiberg without permission and wandered for quite a while over Germany and Holland unsuccessfully trying to get a permission from Russian envoys to return to the St.Petersburg Academy.

During his residence in Marburg, Lomonosov boarded with Catharina Zilch, a brewer’s widow. He fell in love with Catharina’s daughter Elizabeth Christine Zilch. They were married in June 1740. Lomonosov found it extremely difficult to maintain his growing family on the scanty and irregular allowance granted him by the Russian Academy of Sciences. As his circumstances became desperate, he resolved and got permission to return to Saint Petersburg.

Lomonosov returned to Russia in June 1741, after being abroad 4 years and 8 months. A year later he was named an Adjunct of the Russian Academy of Science in the physics department. In May 1743, Lomonosov was accused, arrested, and held under house arrest for eight months, after he supposedly insulted various people associated with the Academy. He was released and pardoned in January 1744 after apologising to all involved.

Lomonosov was made a full member of the Academy, and named Professor of chemistry, in 1745. He established the Academy’s first chemistry laboratory. Eager to improve Russia’s educational system, in 1755, Lomonosov joined his patron Count Ivan Shuvalov in founding Moscow University.

In 1760, he was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. In 1764, he was elected Foreign Member of the Academy of Sciences of the Institute of Bologna In 1764, Lomonosov was appointed to the position of the State Councillor which was of Rank V in the Russian Empire’s Table of Ranks. He died on 4 April (o.s.), 1765 in Saint Petersburg. He is widely and deservingly regarded as the “Father of Russian Science”, though many of his scientific accomplishments were relatively unknown outside Russia until long after his death and gained proper appreciation only in late 19th and, especially, 20th centuries.

In 1756, Lomonosov tried to replicate Robert Boyle’s experiment of 1673. He concluded that the commonly accepted phlogiston theory was false. Anticipating the discoveries of Antoine Lavoisier, he wrote in his diary: “Today I made an experiment in hermetic glass vessels in order to determine whether the mass of metals increases from the action of pure heat. The experiments – of which I append the record in 13 pages – demonstrated that the famous Robert Boyle was deluded, for without access of air from outside the mass of the burnt metal remains the same”.

That is the Law of Mass Conservation in chemical reaction, which was well-known today as “in a chemical reaction, the mass of reactants is equal to the mass of the products.” Lomonosov, together with Lavoisier, is regarded as the one who discovered the law of mass conservation.

He stated that all matter is composed of corpuscles – molecules that are “collections” of elements – atoms. In his dissertation “Elements of Mathematical Chemistry” (1741, unfinished), the scientist gives the following definition: “An element is a part of a body that does not consist of any other smaller and different bodies … corpuscle is a collection of elements forming one small mass.” In a later study (1748), he uses term “atom” instead of “element”, and “particula” (particle) or “molecule” instead of “corpuscle”.

He regarded heat as a form of motion, suggested the wave theory of light, contributed to the formulation of the kinetic theory of gases, and stated the idea of conservation of matter in the following words: “All changes in nature are such that inasmuch is taken from one object insomuch is added to another. So, if the amount of matter decreases in one place, it increases elsewhere. This universal law of nature embraces laws of motion as well, for an object moving others by its own force in fact imparts to another object the force it loses” (first articulated in a letter to Leonhard Euler dated 5 July 1748, rephrased and published in Lomonosov’s dissertation “Reflexion on the solidity and fluidity of bodies”, 1760).

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