Mikhail Lomonosov – the Russian Leonardo da Vinci

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In the year 2011 we mark 300 years since the birth of Mikhail Lomonosov, who was born on the 8th of November, 1711 in the village of Denisovka near Arkhangelsk. Lomonosov was the son of illiterate fisherman who became an outstanding Russian scientist. At the age of 20 he left his native village with a fish caravan for Moscow, where he became a student in the Greco-Latin Academy (pretending to be the son of a priest), showing outstanding abilities and a phenomenal capacity for work, and later proceeded with his education at the St Petersburg University. The three best students of the University (including Lomonosov) were sent to Germany to study chemistry, physics and mining.

After returning to Russia he became a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and completely devoted his life to the scientific researches in different fields: physics (he formulated the law of conservation of matter), astronomy (suggested the existence of an atmosphere on the planet Venus), chemistry (proved the organic origin of soil, peat, coal, petroleum and amber, published a catalogue of 3000 minerals, and explained the formation of icebergs), geography (theoretically predicted the existence of Antarctica, arranged an expedition which discovered a Northeast passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans which became known as Bering Strait), art of mosaics (in 1754 he set up a glass factory not far from St Petersburg and produced the first stained glass (or smalt) outside Italy.  All in all 40 mosaics were made based on his drawings of which only 24 survived (you can find some of them in Russian Museum), and poetry (he wrote more than 20 solemn ceremonial odes).

Lomonosov was elected the honorable member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. His unusually fast rise along the social staircase and great abilities made contemporaries to suggest that he was the son of Peter the Great himself (born in 1672 and died in 1725 and visited Arkhangelsk several times in fact), but later it was proved by modern scientists not to be true. Surprisingly, the Russian people were not able to appreciate the genius of their contemporary (and many of his discoveries were re-opened by European scientists much later), and when he died in 1765 being only 54 years old, a monument on his grave (at the Lazarev Cemetery in St Petersburg) was created at the expense of a private person, Count Stroganov, while court poet, Sumarokov, said “The fool calmed down at last and is not able to create noise anymore..”

By the order of Catherine II Lomonosovs’ archive was taken after his death and subsequently disappeared. The story of Mikhail Lomonosov, who due to his abilities managed “to jump” from the bottom of society to the very high position (Secretary of the State) was never repeated by anybody else in Russia. Nowadays the highest order of modern Russian Academy of Sciences for any Russian or foreign researcher is Big Gold Medal named after Mikhail Lomonosov himself.