Mikhail Lomonosov – the Russian Leonardo da Vinci

posted in: Blog | 0

Mikhail Lomonosov: A Universal Genius of Russia.

In 2011, the world marked the 300th anniversary of the birth of Mikhail Lomonosov, who was born on November 8, 1711, in the village of Denisovka near Arkhangelsk. The son of an illiterate fisherman, Lomonosov would become an outstanding Russian scientist.

At the age of 20, he left his native village with a fish caravan for Moscow, where he pretended to be the son of a priest in order to enroll in the Slavyano-Greko-Latin Academy. Displaying exceptional abilities and a phenomenal capacity for work, he continued his education at Saint 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 devoted his life to scientific research in various fields:

  • Physics: Formulated the law of conservation of matter.
  • Astronomy: Suggested the existence of an atmosphere on Venus.
  • Chemistry: Proved the organic origin of soil, peat, coal, oil, and amber; published a catalog of 3000 minerals; and explained the formation of icebergs.
  • Geography: Theoretically predicted the existence of Antarctica; organized an expedition that discovered the Northeast Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans (Bering Strait).
  • Mosaic art: In 1754, he set up a glass factory near St. Petersburg and produced the first smalt outside of Italy. Based on his sketches, 40 mosaics were created (of which only 24 have survived; some can be found in the Russian Museum).
  • Poetry: Wrote more than 20 solemn odes.

Lomonosov was elected an honorary member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences. His unusually rapid social rise and great abilities led his contemporaries to speculate that he was the illegitimate son of Peter the Great (who did indeed visit Arkhangelsk several times). However, this theory was later disproved by modern scientists.

Surprisingly, the Russian people failed to appreciate the genius of their contemporary, and many of his discoveries were re-discovered by European scientists much later. When he died in 1765 at the age of only 54, a monument on his grave (at the Lazarevsky Cemetery in St. Petersburg) was created at the expense of a private individual, Count Stroganov, while the court poet Sumarokov remarked, “The fool has finally calmed down and can no longer make noise.”

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

Additional facts about Mikhail Lomonosov:

  1. He was the first to correctly understand the general electrical nature of lightning and the aurora borealis.
  2. He developed a theory of heat that anticipated some of the ideas of modern thermodynamics.
  3. He was a talented linguist who studied several languages, including Latin, Greek, German, and French.
  4. He was a strong advocate for the development of the Russian language and literature.
  5. He is considered one of the founding fathers of modern Russian science.

Lomonosov was a true Renaissance man, a brilliant scientist, and a gifted writer who made significant contributions to many fields of knowledge. His legacy continues to inspire generations of Russians.