Famous Ukrainian Chemist
(Vladimir Vernadsky, Vasiliy Karazin, Nikolay Beketov ) Nikolay Beketov
Nikolay Nikolayevich Beketov (Бекетов, Николай Николаевич in Russian)
(January 13 [O.S. January 1] 1827—December 13 [O.S. November 30] 1911)
was a Ukrainian physical chemist, academician of the Petersburg Academy
of Sciences (1886).
In 1849, Beketov graduated from Kazan University and worked with Nikolay
Zinin. In 1855, he became a junior scientific assistant in the
Department of Chemistry at Kharkov University. In 1859-1887, Beketov was
a professor at the same university. In 1865, he defended his Ph.D.
thesis on “Research on the displacement phenomenon in metals”
(“Исследования над явлениями вытеснения одних металлов другими”). In
1886, Beketov moved to Saint Petersburg, where he worked at the academic
chemical laboratory and taught at the University for Women. In 1890,
Beketov delivered lectures on the “Basics of Thermochemistry” at Moscow
Beketov discovered displacement of metals from solutions of their salts
by hydrogen under pressure. He also established that magnesium and zinc
displaced other metals from their salts under high temperatures. In
1859-1865, Beketov proved that aluminum restored metals from their
oxides under high temperatures. Later on, Beketov’s experiments served
as a starting point for aluminothermy.
Василь Назарович Каразін, Vasyl Nazarovych Karazin, Russian: Василий
Назарович Каразин; January 30, 1773 – November 4, 1842) was a Ukrainian
Enlightenment intellectual, inventor, and scientific publisher in
Imperial Russia. He is the founder of Kharkiv University, which now
bears his name. He is also known for opposing to what he saw as colonial
exploitation of Ukraine by the Russian Empire, even though he himself
was ethnically Serbian.
He was born in Kruchyk village (Sloboda Ukraine Governorate
(Slobodsko-Ukrainskaya Guberniya), now Bohodukhivskyi Raion of Kharkiv
Oblast), Russian Empire (today Ukraine), in the family of Nazary
Alexandrovych Karazin, a Russian Imperial Army officer (noted for his
involvement in Parvu Cantacuzino’s 1769 rebellion in Wallachia). Vasyl
Karazin considered himself to be ethnic Serb, though his family
originally known as Karadji was of Greek origin.
Vasyl Karazin was educated in nobility schools in Kharkiv and
Kremenchuk. At the age of eighteen, he left for Saint Petersburg, and
underwent military training in the prestigious Semyonovsky Regiment. He
also studied at the School of Mines, one of the top educational
institutions in Russian Empire at that time. Karazin was, nevertheless,
opposed to this environment, and often reacted against the manners and
customs condoned by the nobility of the times. Unsatisfied with his
military service, he moved back to his village and married a
In 1798, Karazin attempted to leave Russia given his opposition to the
policies of Russian Emperor Paul I, but was denied a passport. After he
attempted to cross the border illegally, he was swiftly arrested.
When Alexander I took power, Karazin began petitioning him with his
views on government development, pointing out the state’s need to invest
in education. In 1802 he obtained the tsar’s permission to open a
university in Kharkiv. On September 1 of that year, during a meeting of
the Kharkiv nobility, he gave a famous speech on the benefits of a
university, asking for voluntary donations. Lacking sufficient funding
and academic supplies, Karazin underwent hardship in achieving his
On January 17, 1805 the Kharkiv University was opened; Karazin did not
take part in the opening ceremony, as by that time he had lost his
position with the Ministry of Education. According to Alexander Herzen,
“the colossal ideas of Karazin were downscaled to a provincial German
Hochschule”. Forced to return to his village, Karazin did not give up
on all his plans, and established a school for local children. In
November 1808, Karazin wrote a letter to the emperor titled On
non-intervention in European affairs for which he was arrested for the
Karazin continued his academic work. He was a member of 7 academies,
published more than 60 articles in different fields of science,
primarily agriculture, pharmacology, chemistry, and physics. As an
example of his innovative spirit, in 1810 in his village he opened
Ukraine’s first weather station.
Karazin repeatedly voiced critiques of what he viewed as colonial
exploitation of Ukraine by the Russian Empire, and was a proponent of
constitutional monarchy as a form of government organization. In 1820–21
he was imprisoned in Shlisselburg fortress. He died in Mykolaiv.
The Russian painter and writer Nikolay Karazin was his grandson.
Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky (Ukrainian : Володимир Іванович
Вернадський, Russian : Владимир Иванович Вернадский) (March 12 [O.S.
February 28] 1863 – January 6, 1945) was a Russian and Soviet
mineralogist and geochemist who is considered one of the founders of
geochemistry, biogeochemistry, and of radiogeology. His ideas of
noosphere were an important contribution to Russian cosmism. He also
worked in Ukraine where he founded the National Academy of Science of
Ukraine. He is most noted for his 1926 book The Biosphere in which he
inadvertently worked to popularize Eduard Suess’ 1885 term biosphere, by
hypothesizing that life is the geological force that shapes the earth.
In 1943 he was awarded the Stalin Prize.
Vernadsky was born in Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire, on March 12,
1863, of mixed Russian and Ukrainian parents. His father, a descendent
of Ukrainian Cossacks, had been a professor of political economy in Kiev
before moving to Saint Petersburg, and his mother was a noble woman of
Russian ethnicity (Vernadsky himself considered himself both Russian and
Ukrainian, and had some knowledge of the Ukrainian language).
Vernadsky graduated from Saint Petersburg University in 1885. As the
last mineralogist had died in 1887 in Russia, and Dokuchaev, a soil
scientist, and A.P. Pavlov, a geologist, had been teaching mineralogy
for a while, Vernadsky chose to enter Mineralogy. He wrote to his wife
Natasha Vernadsky on 20 June 1888 from Switzerland:
“…to collect facts for their own sake, as many now gather facts,
without a program, without a question to answer or a purpose is not
interesting. However, there is a task which someday those chemical
reactions which took place at various points on earth; these reactions
take place according to laws which are known to us, but which, we are
allowed to think, are closely tied to general changes which the earth
has undergone by the earth with the general laws of celestial mechanics.
I believe there is hidden here still more to discover when one considers
the complexity of chemical elements and the regularity of their
occurrence in groups…”
While trying to find a topic for his doctorate, he first went to Naples
to study with the crystallographer Scacchi, who was senile at that time.
The senility of Scacchi lead Vernadsky to go to Germany to study under
Paul Groth. There, Vernadsky learned how to use the modern equipment of
Groth who had developed a machine to study the optical, thermal,
elastic, magnetic and electrical properties of crystals, as well as
using the physics lab of Prof. Zonke, who was also working on
Vernadsky first popularized the concept of the noosphere and deepened
the idea of the biosphere to the meaning largely recognized by today’s
scientific community. The word biosphere was invented by Austrian
geologist Eduard Suess, whom Vernadsky had met in 1911.
In Vernadsky’s theory of how the Earth develops, the noosphere is the
third stage in a succession of phases of development of the earth, after
the geosphere (inanimate matter) and the biosphere (biological life).
Just as the emergence of life fundamentally transformed the geosphere,
the emergence of human cognition fundamentally transformed the
biosphere. In this theory, the principles of both life and cognition are
the essential features of the earth’s evolution, and must have been
implicit in the earth all along. This systemic and geological analysis
of living systems complements Darwin’s theory of natural selection,
which looks at each individual species, rather than at its relationship
to a subsuming principle.
Vernadsky’s visionary pronouncements were not widely accepted in the
West. However, he was one of the first scientists to recognize that the
oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere result
from biological processes. In the 1920s, he published works arguing that
living organisms could reshape the planets as surely as any physical
force. Vernadsky was an important pioneer of the scientific bases for
the environmental sciences.
Vernadsky was the founder and the first president of the Ukrainian
Academy of Sciences in Kiev, Ukraine (1918), was the founder of the
National Library of Ukrainian State and worked closely with the Tavrida
University in Crimea. During the Russian Civil War, he hosted the
gatherings of the young intellectuals who later founded the emigre
Eurasianism movement. Vernadsky was loyal to the Russian state and was
opposed to Ukrainian independence.
In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Vernadsky played an early advisory
role in the Soviet atomic bomb project, as one of the most forceful
voices arguing for the exploitation of nuclear power, the surveying of
Soviet uranium sources, and having nuclear fission research conducted at
his Radium Institute. He died, however, before a full project was
Vernadsky’s son George Vernadsky (1887-1973) emigrated to the United
States where he published numerous books on medieval Russian history as
well as medieval Ukrainian history and modern Russian history.
One of the main avenues in both Moscow and the Tavrida National
University in Crimea (Ukraine) are both named after Vladimir Vernadsky.
Geochemistry, published in Russian 1924
The Biosphere, first published in Russian in 1926. English translations:
Oracle, AZ, Synergetic Press, 1986, ISBN 0-907791-11-5, 86pp.
tr. David B. Langmuir, New York, Copernicus, 1998, ISBN 0-387-98268-X,
Essays on Geochemistry & the Biosphere, tr. Olga Barash, Santa Fe, NM,
Synergetic Press, ISBN 0-907791-36-0, 2006
Dnevniki 1917-1921: oktyabr 1917-yanvar 1920 (Diaries 1917-1921), Kiev,
Naukova dumka, 1994, ISBN 5-12-004641-X, 269pp.
Dnevniki. Mart 1921-avgust 1925 (Diaries 1921-1925), Moscow, Nauka,
1998, ISBN 5-02-004422-9, 213pp.
Dnevniki 1926-1934 (Diaries 1926-1934), Moscow, Nauka, 2001, ISBN
Dnevniki 1935-1941 v dvukh knigakh. Kniga 1, 1935-1938 (Diaries
1935-1941 in two volumes. Volume 1, 1935-1938), Moscow, Nauka, 2006,ISBN
Dnevniki 1935-1941 v dvukh knigakh. Kniga 2, 1939-1941 (Diaries
1935-1941. Volume 2, 1939-1941), Moscow, Nauka, 2006, ISBN
Samson, Paul R.; Pitt, David C. (1999). The Biosphere and Noosphere
Reader: Global Environment, Society, and Change. London: Routledge. ISBN
Ігор ГИРИЧ. Вернадський. Між російським і українським берегами
S.R. Weart, 2003, The Discovery of Global Warming, Cambridge, Harvard
“Science and Russian Cultures in an Age of Revolutions” ISBN
Lapo, Andrei V. (2001), “Vladimir I. Vernadsky (1863-1945), founder of
the biosphere concept.”, Int. Microbiol.
Behrends, Thilo, The Renaissance of V.I. Vernadsky, Newsletter of the
Geochemical Society, #125, October 2005,
http://gs.wustl.edu/archives/gn/gn125.pdf PDF retrieved Jan. 16, 2006
Vernadsky, Vladimir Ivanovich, GEOCHEMISTRY AND THE BIOSPHERE.
Electronic archive of writings from and about Vernadsky (Russian)
Hertzen A.I. Emperor Alexander I and V.N. Karazin From Hertzen in 30
volumes – Moscow, 1959. –v. 16. (Russian)
(Ukrainian)/(Russian) “An Enthusiastic ‘Ukrainian Lomonosov'”, Zerkalo
Nedeli, #1(376), January 5, 2002 Available online in Russian and in
(Ukrainian) Vasyl Karazin. Bibliography
(Russian) A.M Peskov Boratynsky
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