People of great intellect and benevolent nature has been always fascinating me since my childhood. My regular readers know about my adoration for Nicola Tesla (post here). Another great personality, a universal genius of Da Vinci level (again generally unknown outside of Russia) is for me Mikhail Vasiliyevich Lomonosov (1711-1765). He was a physicist, a painter, an astronomer, a geographer, a historian, a poet and a statesman…Lomonosov was a Russian genius, a scholar, the first learned man in Natural Science, a researcher who gained the world fame, who was the supporter of Russia’s Enlightenment and who was struggling for the development of Russian science by its own way in the world.
His story is a brilliant example of the hunger for knowledge and a good example for everyone who claims that life conditionings do not let people to develop or achieve much. His life is a great example of a genuine seeking and will power. In a way, Lomonosov is for me a symbol of the Russian intellectual quest.
Lomonosov was born in the village in the Far North of Russia. When he was ten years old, the young Lomonosov had to help his father, a fisherman, and work. But the boy’s thirst for knowledge was unbounded. He almost learned by heart the few books he had access to – and, seeing there was no chance of education at home, he decided to walk(!) to Moscow (this took him 3 weeks in winter).
An opportunity occurred when he was nineteen and by the intervention of friends he obtained admission into the Slavic Greek Latin Academy in 1731. In only 5 years he completed a 12 year course, finished at the top of his class. He ultimately received a 2 year grant to study in German universities. Upon his return to Russia in 1745, he was appointed professor of chemistry at the Academy itself.
Among his amazing heritage are some following discoveries and ideas:
- 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”.
- In 1748, he also created a mechanical explanation of gravitation.
- Lomonosov was the first person to record the freezing of Mercury
- and to hypothesize the existence of an atmosphere on Venus based on his observation of the transit of Venus of 1761
- Believing that nature is subject to regular and continuous evolution, he demonstrated the organic origin of soil, peat, coal, petroleum and amber. In 1745, he published a catalogue of over 3,000 minerals,
- and in 1760, he explained the formation of icebergs.
- As a geographer, Lomonosov got close to the theory of continental drift, theoretically predicted the existence of Antarctica and invented sea tools which made writing and calculating directions and distances easier.
- Lomonosov was proud to restore the ancient art of mosaics.
- he wrote more than 20 solemn ceremonial odes, notably the Evening Meditation on the God’s Grandeur.
- In 1755, he wrote a grammar that reformed the Russian literary language by combining Old Church Slavonic with the vernacular tongue. ´
- He applied an idiosyncratic theory to his later poems – tender subjects needed words containing the front vowel sounds E, I, YU, whereas things that may cause fear (like “anger”, “envy”, “pain” and “sorrow”) needed words with back vowel sounds O, U, Y. That was a version of what is now called sound symbolism.
Lomonosov was well regarded by contemporary European scientists; he was elected honorary member of the Swedish (1760) and Bologna (1764) academies of science. He worked persistently to upgrade the quality of Russian scientific education, and his efforts resulted in the founding in 1755 of what is now Moscow State University. Lomonosov occupies a central place in the history of Russian science, and he is memorialized in place names and honorary scientific medals.
Below is the picture of Lomonosov State University in Moscow -as majestic as his work.
P.S. Yesterday I suddenly felt a desire to post something on this great soul – and found out that Lomonosov was born on the 19. November (today would be his birthday!). I could impossibly know that! Coincidence or collective consciousness?