Libmonster ID: UA-12102
Author(s) of the publication: Edouard TROPP

by Edouard TROPP, Dr. Sc. (Phys. & Math.), chief academic secretary of St. Petersburg Scientific Center Presidium, RAS

In 2011 we will mark 300th birth anniversary of the great Russian scientist-encyclopedist, creator of Russian scientific and literary language Mikhail Lomonosov (1711-1765).


"I must give Mr. Lomonosov* his due as he is endowed with the most wonderful wit for explaining physical and chemical phenomena,"--wrote one of the greatest mathematicians, mechanics, astronomers of the 18th century, member of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences Leonhard Euler. Lomonosov himself characterized physics as "the major part of natural science". His interest in this science arose when he was a student and he kept it during his whole life.

In 1736 Lomonosov was sent to Germany, to the University of Marburg (previously he studied at the Moscow Slavonic-Greek-Latin Academy and Petersburg Academic University) to master chemistry and mining. In 1738 he attended lectures of the celebrated philosopher Christian Wolff (a foreign honorary member of St. Petersburg AS from 1725) devoted to theoretical and later experimental physics, and it is not accidental that his first work dealt with this subject. Curious enough the fact that to the student's dissertation in physics was attached a translation of the ode of French writer Francois Fénelon (the theory of versification he studied in Marburg independently). Thus, the great coast-

See: E. Karpeyev, "A Giant of Russia's Enlightenment", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2003.--Ed.

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dweller was facing a dilemma: to become a "physicist" or a "lyric poet."

An inquisitive youth learned from Wolff not only the principle of "liberal philosophizing," but also a whole scope of methodological and general scientific ideas, including axiomatic construction of physics according to Euclid's geometry. Lomonosov thought Wolff to be the author of the "mathematical method" in natural science, though the priority in axiomatization of physics (not realized yet) was given to Rene Descartes, a prominent French scientist of the 17th century. In 1756 in his drafts on the theory of light and electricity, Lomonosov proudly wrote: "The creator of the theory himself (Wolff--E. T.) not once approved my resolution in it. And the old man marveled at my firmness." No less was the Marburg student impressed by the professor's systematic character, his broad world view, present in his "natural philosophy."

The latter term requires clarification. Nowadays it is used in an abridged variant of "natural philosophy", implicating "philosophy of Nature, the peculiarity of which is predominantly notional interpretation of Nature, considering it as a whole." In the 17th-18th centuries a number of natural science branches were

Science in Russia, No.5, 2011

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separated (first of all mechanics and astronomy, and later on physics and chemistry) from natural philosophy, but the latter however is thought to be its inseparable part. Natural scientists tried to eliminate "speculation", though "integrity" remained attractive to them, in any case, for those of natural scientists, who would be now called "philosophically minded". Lomonosov turned out to be among them. In that case Wolff was not an inspirer, it was the remarkable English physicist and chemist Robert Boyle (1627-1691), who inspired this group of scientists. It was he who revived the ancient tradition of atomism. His books, the famous Russian student got acquainted with during his studies in Germany, impressed him even more than Wolff's lectures. In his notes, published in 1756, we read: "From the moment I read Boyle, I was overcome with eagerness to study atoms. I was thinking of them for 18 years." The ambitious youth not simply headed after the "celebrated Robert Boyle", but he set his mind, most probably unconsciously, to surpass him.

Meanwhile, settling down to the course of developing "corpuscular philosophy", i.e. trying to explain phenomena (in contemporary language) of physics of condensed state on the basis of microparticle mechanics (according to Lomonosov "insensitive" particles), he failed to eliminate "speculations". Corpuscles (atoms or "physical monads") were "unobservable" and in reference to them it was necessary to hypothesize. Thus, on the first page of Lomonosov's second dissertation we read: "Corpuscles are absolutely invisible, that's why their character and the method of mutual arrangement must be studied via reasoning."

A few years later in his diary, already not a student, but a junior scientific assistant in physics, he expressed the thought more emotionally: "How hard it is to lay bases! As by doing so, we must at once embrace the aggregate of all things and exclude contradictions. It may be compared with division and extraction of the root of cubic and higher powers." Having marked the complicated relations of the junior scientific assistant with mathe-

стр. 34

matics, let's continue quoting: "I, however, have enough courage to do it, relying on the statement or saying that Nature strictly follows its laws and is everywhere the same." This methodological principle, according to the reference in the incomplete work Practice of the Theory of Insensitive Particles of Bodies and in General of Causes of Individual Characters, Lomonosov borrowed from "Mathematical Basis of Natural Philosophy" by Isaac Newton. The law of gravity of the great English scientist is based on this principle, equally applied both to a stone falling near the Earth's surface and to the movement of heavenly bodies.

Lomonosov's first published scientific work in physics was a translation of his Marburg teacher's book. Wolffian Experimental Physics (1746) became the first Russian textbook dealing with this subject. This work is associated with the first mentioning of the scientist in foreign scientific literature (1746). Lomonosov's translation allowed to create Russian scientific terminology in physics, it laid a foundation of Russian scientific language.

The dissertation "Thoughts on the Cause of Warmth and Cold" is one of Lomonosov's major works in the field of physics. In January 1745 he read it at the Conference of the Academy of Sciences, which was followed by a discussion. Argumentation, according to which warmth appeared as a result of rotational movement of "insensitive" particles (forward and oscillatory motions were free of such dependence) seemed not absolutely convincing to critics.

Let's summarize the "Thoughts". Initially the author, using simple examples demonstrates the necessity of having sufficient grounds for warmth in the motion of a substance. Further on it is established that "it is an inner motion, i.e. insensitive particles move in warm and hot bodies, they consist of." He turns down forward and oscillatory motions of corpuscles as a cause of warmth, and by means of the method of exclusion concludes: "the warmth consists in the inner rotational motion of the <...> bound substance." As a first consequence of this statement, Lomonosov concludes that substance particles represent solid spheres. "For our calorific motion the most suitable is a spherical form of substance corpuscles, as such particles can touch each other only in one point and perform almost no friction." As a proof of "the theory there were offered and interpreted 14 properties and changes, displayed by the warmth." Among them we should mention heating of a solid body by friction and impossibility of heating liquids by friction, decrease of hardness by heating, melting and evaporation.

The scientist touches upon the issue of thermal expansion of the body, but postpones its consideration, as, according to him, for its full explanation it is necessary to combine the phenomenon of heating with the phenomenon of air resilience, "contained in body pores". In our opinion, it also includes the most impressive result of the kinetic theory of heat of Lomonosov: prediction of existence of absolute cold: "Further on it's impossible to name such a big speed of motion and not to name mentally another larger one. This is also true of calorific motion; that's why it is impossible to find the highest and lowest degree of heat as a motion. On the contrary, motion can decrease so that at last the body reaches the state of absolute peace, and no further decrease of motion is possible." The author explains that "there is no highest degree of cold on the Earth". The scientist refutes views of his contemporaries on the nature of heat, connected with the hypothesis on calorific substance.

If we "parenthesize" putting the reason of heat down to rotational movement of substance particles, "the error", characteristic of the transient phase of physics from natural philosophy to science, we cannot but remark that in this work the author proposed a molecular-kinetic theory of thermal processes, one of the first in science history. The scientist himself highly praised

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"Thoughts". In 1764, compiling "the review of the most important inventions, due to which Mikhailo Lomonosov enriched natural sciences," he put an explanation of the reasons of heat and cold first.

For two years and a half the dissertation just lay untouched. In the summer of 1747, among other papers of Petersburg scientists, which were waiting for their turn to be published, turned out to be two Lomonosov's works: "Thoughts on Heat and Cold" and dissertation "On the Effects of Chemical Solvents in General". In June of the same year administration of the Academy of Sciences signed an order, saying: "Pieces by professors Lomonosov and Rikhman were written to be sent to honorary members of the Academy Euler, Bernoulli and others, in order to learn their opinion of the works and if they permit to print them, as local professors cannot make a proper decision." And, certainly, Lomonosov was glad to learn about not only benevolent, but even complimentary reference of the leader of European science of that time Leonhard Euler.

In the mid-20th century Lomonosov's natural scientific works were still unknown outside Russia. The situation changed in the 1950s-1970s, when there appeared works of Soviet and German science historians to assess Lomonosov's works abroad. In particular, it was noted: the first volume of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences magazine New Commentaries issued in 1750, included four works of Lomonosov, which were immediately abstracted by the Leipzig magazine Neue Zeitungen von gelehrten Sachen. In 1751, Hamburgisches Magazin reviewed the articles, published in the abovementioned volume.


One of the grandious ideas of Lomonosov was a project of approval of chemistry as a fundamental science. The monograph "Introduction into True Physical Chemistry", which he used in lectures to students of the Academic University in 1752-1753, the scientist begins with a definition: "Physical chemistry is a science, which explains on the basis of physical statements and experiments, processes going on in mixed bodies during chemical procedures. It may also be called chemical philosophy." Lomonosov distinctly differentiated the latter from applied chemistry: "We decided to name this work physical chemistry, as we intended, making all possible efforts, to include in it only that material, which may assist to scientific explanation of the mixing of bodies. That's why we consider it necessary to exclude from the current paper and refer to a special course of technical chemistry everything that refers to economical sciences, pharmacy, metallurgy, glassmaking and so on in order <...> to prevent, blind striving for profit from obscuring philosophical scrutiny of beautiful nature,

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and in order a person diligently studying chemistry, with a clear idea of what mixed bodies are, could competently, using the theory, increase comforts of life."

The vivid opposition to "philosophical scrutiny of beautiful nature" to "blind striving for profit" and strict establishment of operation order: initially "a complete competence", and only later "increase of comforts of life" are proofs against statements that Lomonosov "as the main priority of science considered to be not the search for Truth, but its practical use". On the other hand, the quoted phrases discredit views, widely spread in the mid-20th century and kept till our days, on Lomonosov's "physical chemistry" as an independent "scientific discipline". It seems obvious that he conceived it as a scientific foundation for all kinds of chemistry.

Lomonosov's project was obviously reductionist*: a professor of chemistry at the Imperial Academy of Sciences intended to narrow down the processes of "body displacement" to physical processes, and the latter--to mechanical ones. Even clearer than in the "Introduction...", the third, theoretical part of which was left unfinished, this tendency was expressed in the earlier work Elements of Mathematical Chemistry (1741). The term "mathematical" is used here by the author in the sense of "demonstrative", which for him was a synonym of scientific.

What scientific knowledge had Lomonosov at the beginning of his work in the sphere of chemistry? He acquired it not only from lectures of Marburg professors Christian Wolff and Justin Duising, but also as a result of thorough studies of contemporary physical and chemical literature. Besides, his knowledge of this subject was all-embracing. Chemistry at that time was an art, when via the trial-and-error method scientists tried to make analysis and synthesis of the substances under consideration. Chemistry used the necessary empirical material, accumulated by alchemy and iatrochemistry* as well as nomenclature and symbols of chemical sub-

* Reductionism--a methodological principle, according to which complex phenomena can be completely explained on the basis of laws, characteristic of simpler ones (for example, biological phenomena--by means of physical and chemical laws).--Ed.

* Iatrochemistry--a trend in the 16th-18th cent. medicine, representatives of which examined processes, taking place in the organism as chemical phenomena.--Ed.

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stances. In their names prevailed confusion, which did not remain unnoticed by Lomonosov. (Let us remember that modern classification of chemicals began only in 1787, when a group of scientists from the Paris Academy of Sciences, headed by its president Antoine Lavoisier, proposed the first reasonable chemical nomenclature, to a greater extent preserved to the present time. It is based on the element later called oxygen.)

Oxides and bases then were unknown, spirits were mixed up with acids, which in Russia were often called vodka. No gases except air were distinguished, water composition was unknown and the same is true of salts. For a long time acids, alkali and salts (in the current sense of the word) constituted one extensive group that was called "salts". All peculiarities of contemporary to Lomonosov chemistry were distinctive in his works in this sphere of science too.

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It is important to point out that chemists of those times continued to use the so-called "primary substances" (hydrochloric, sulphuric and mercury) and Aristotle's "elements" (water, air, earth, fire). Lomonosov knew them too and on occasion used in his works, as at that time water, earth and air could not be decomposed and were considered to be elements.

The first stage of transition of chemistry from art to science, as is well-known, became the phlogiston theory developed by the German chemist Georg Stahl in 1697-1703. According to its author, it is a tenuous substance, contained in all bodies and in the air. It is a source of combustibility. Char coal, oils, and fats contain especially great amounts of phlogiston. Noncom-bustible bodies, metal cinder particularly, either do not contain phlogiston or lose it during chemical processes. In general, Stahl considered phlogiston to be a weightless source of immaterial character, determining even coloration and metallic luster of a body. Lomonosov studied Stahl's books and perceived his views, which theoretically explained a number of chemical phenomena. He used the theory in his two chemical works On the Metallic Luster and On the Origin and Nature of Nitre.

The main original work of Lomonosov in the sphere of "physical chemistry" was his dissertation "On the Effect of Chemical Solvents in General", written in 1743, revised in 1749, and published in 1750. The author himself assessed it as "the first specimen and sample for true physical chemistry base, as in it the phenomena are explained by stringent laws of mechanics and not by a poor law of gravity". On the basis of the ideas, close to those, included in the works on the causes of heat and cold, and on air resilience, the scientist explained a difference between the phenomena of dissolution of metals in acids and salts in water: in the first case the solvent heats up, in the second case--cools down.

Lomonosov's works in chemistry were translated into German and discussed till the end of the 18th century. As an evidence of international recognition of his works serves his election an honorary member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1760 (the same year he sent to Stockholm his Reasoning on the Origin of Icebergs in the Northern Seas), and in 1764 he was elected an honorary member of the Academy of Sciences of Bologna Institute.

Reviewing Lomonosov's works in physics and chemistry, it's impossible to avoid conservation laws, named after him. The outstanding physicist and science organizer, president of the USSR Academy of Sciences Sergei Vavilov in his article "The Law of Lomonosov" (Pravda newspaper of January 5, 1949) wrote: "The meaning and peculiarity of the source, announced by Lomonosov, consisted not only in the fact that by this source were approved conservation laws and impossibility to annihilate substance, motion and strength separately. Some of them traditionally, even in ancient times, were guessed by progressive minds." In the same article it is stated that the idea of conservation laws was first declared by ancient Indian philosophers, perceived in Ancient Greece and due to Aristotle adopted by Christian theologians. The science of Modern history accepted it together with a principle of balance, which appeared in accounting practice of the 15th century. The 16th century French philosopher Michel de Montaigne regarded this idea generally accepted ("natural scientists believe that origin, nutrition and growth of one thing is at the same time destruction and ruin of another"). As a reference he quoted the Roman poet and philosopher of the 1st century B.C. Lucretius Carus. Lomonosov also considered the law of conservation of matter and motion as generally accepted, when formulated it in his famous letter to Euler in 1748 and in his work of 1760 Reflections on the Solidity and Fluidity of Bodies. In the abovementioned article Vavilov pointed out as a major achievement of our fellow-countryman the fact that he attached universal character to the conservation law, regarding it or Lomonosov's "source" as a philosophical or methodological principle.

More popular is the name of the law of conservation of mass in chemical reactions as "the law of Lomonosov-Lavoisier." It is based on the following entry in the report in 1756: "The experiments were made in the tightly smelted glass vessels to see whether metal weight increased from heat. These experiments showed that the famous Robert Boyle's opinion was wrong, as without letting through of outside air, the weight of the burnt metal remains the same." For our contemporaries interpretation of the experiment in the spirit of "the law of Lomonosov-Lavoisier" is quite obvious, but the experimenter himself did not and could not think so. At that time it was still unknown that oxidation of metals in the process of glazing is a chemical reaction. We have to agree with the author of the Concise Encyclopedic Dictionary (SPb.: Nauka, 1999): "Lomonosov did not discover the law of conservation of weight of substances during chemical reactions, and the cited entry from the report demonstrates nothing more than Lomonosov's talent as an experimenter."

Liberation of the scientist from the burden of the ascribed to him "universal laws" evokes sometimes... "offence" against him. He is accused of "scattered nature", "eagerness to comprehend all with his irrepressible energy". One of such authors writes: "Beyond doubt, Lomonosov had enough talents to study only physics and chemistry, to connect his name with a concrete scientific discovery in one of these sciences forever."

стр. 39

Belated advice to the great natural scientist is based on a simple forgetfulness: beside physics and chemistry, which "fell behind" in the 18th century. Lomonosov was interested in "advanced" astronomy, and showed himself in it as an "industrious" observer and "entered his name in the history of science".


His attitude to astronomy was almost amateurish, in any case, unlike physics, in which he had a title of a junior scientific assistant, and chemistry, in which he reached a position of professor, in astronomy he had no "ranks". Nevertheless, studies of the latter had the same stages as physics and chemistry: big translation work, self-sustained research, conflicts with colleagues, unfinished inventions of devices, a great amount of "ideas", including both concrete plans and unrealizable "dreams". Lomonosov's career as an astronomer lacks perhaps only the first stage: a recognized scientist as a teacher.

Translation of a large astronomical text from German was done by Lomonosov in 1744. In the beginning of January of the same year there appeared an incredibly bright comet over Petersburg. Astronomers of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences observed it from the very first day of its appearance. The best results showed professor Gottfried Geynsnus. His description was published in Lomonosov's translation as a separate edition. Lomonosov either explained specialized terms in it (discus--"visible plane", hypothesis--"voluntary opinion"), or combined "explanatory" translation with transliteration of a foreign term (perihelium--"the shortest distance from the Sun"). Thus, he was creating Russian astronomical terminology in the same way as he compiled physical dictionary a year ago.

Transit of Venus along the solar disk (i.e. between the Earth and Sun) was predicted by the German astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630). Followers of his ideas predicted another similar event. It should have taken place on May 26, 1761. There was developed a large international program of observation and calculation of the solar parallax (visible change of the Sun's position due to the shift of the observer's eye during the Earth's rotation). Predicted results were intended to be used for a precise determination of an "astronomical unit"--for measuring a distance from the Earth to Sun according to the method of the English astronomer Edmund Halley. The number of astronomers-observers in 40 locations of Europe, Asia and America made up 112 people. Lomonosov actively contributed to Russia's

стр. 40

active participation in this event. On his suggestion, expeditions were sent to Tobolsk, Irkutsk, and Selenginsk. Two astronomers carried out observations in Petersburg.

Mikhail Lomonosov narrates about himself in the third person: "Except these astronomical observations Mr. collegiate counsellor and professor Lomonosov asked himself more for physical notes, having used a telescope with double glass 41/2 feet long. Together with the device was used a smoke-dried glass, for he decided to pay attention only to the beginning and end of the phenomenon, making use of all strength of eyesight, and for the rest of the time just let his eyes have a rest." He describes in detail "thin as a hair, radiance, which he saw during entry of the "back edge" of the Venus on the solar disk and appearance of a pimple (bright rim) on the edge of its disk during leaving the disk of the luminary. Finally, he clearly and correctly interprets his observations: "According to these notes Mr. counsellor Lomonosov discourses that Venus is surrounded by a splendid air atmosphere, such as spilled over near the Earth."

Lomonosov's work with a notification about this discovery was submitted to the Academy of Sciences on July 4, 1761, and on July 17 it was printed with a circulation of 200 copies.

About existence of the atmosphere on Venus wrote also some other scientists. Lomonosov himself pointed out at such fact in his manuscript, entitled "The List of Works of the Counsellor Lomonosov", first published in 1948. He wrote: "Results of physical observations during passing of Venus over the Sun and an enormous atmosphere near Venus were noticed by European scientists." The commentators of Volume IV of the Collected Works of M. Lomonosov (M.: USSR AS Publishers, 1955) discuss in detail Lomonosov's priority, considering "the most essential of the published observations". The astronomer and mathematician Stepan Rumovsky (honorary member of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences from 1767) made a statement about a "light ring" around the Venus disk, but he did not interpret the phenomenon. Swedish natural scientist Tobern Bergman, who carried out research at Uppsala on November 19, 1761, reported to the Royal Society of London: "... we think that we were observing Venus, surrounded by an atmosphere." The report was published in 1762, hence, it was published later than Lomonosov's work. The French scientist Chappe d'Auteroche carried out his research in Tobolsk, on his way back he stayed in Petersburg, where on January 8, 1762, he made a report at a meeting of the Academy of Sciences, in which he pointed out that he "noticed a part of Venus disk, which had not yet entered the solar disk, and a small atmosphere in the shape of a ring around this disk". The analysts think that the French astronomer, "on the arrival in Petersburg, could not know the results of Lomonosov's observations, thus his explanation of the ring as a phenomenon cannot be considered original; by the way, he has no pretensions to the latter". Taking into account the means of communication of that time, he could do that, anyway, Lomonosov's authorship would not suffer. About Chappe d'Auteroche historians can write: "simultaneously and independently in Tobolsk..." But the German observer Schroeterand English astronomer Herschel, who discovered lengthening of horns of crescent Venus in the 1790s, have the right to "independently", but not "simultaneously".

The publication of Venus Phenomena on the Sun..., Mikhail Lomonosov supplemented by his Addition, intended for defense of the system of Copernicus and other astronomical discoveries from religious fundamentalists, perceiving the hexaemeron and stoppage of the Sun by Jesus Navin literally. According to Lomonosov, geocentric dogma is characteristic of Catholic Church: "Theologians of the Western church understand Jesus Navin's words, Chapter 10 verse 12, in a direct grammatical sense and that's why they are eager to prove that the Earth stands still."

"But this dispute begins with idolatrous, not Christian teachers,"--Lomonosov continues to argue and throws on the scale a sharp-witted fable with a well-known moral: "Could anyone see such a simpleton cook,/ Who would turn a hearth round roast meat?" Making reference to the Orthodox Church fathers Vasily the Great and Johannes Damascenes, the scientist tries to vindicate the necessity of metaphorical interpretation of biblical texts. Today when the discovered exoplanets can be counted in hundreds, and some of them are located in zones, admitting existence of life, all these questions are becoming topical again (mainly for theologians, not for astronomers). We cannot but recommend for those who are interested in this topic to read the works of our great ancestor.

In conclusion, we'd like to say that it is an incontestable fact that Russian scientists during three centuries from the day of "the great coast-dweller's" birth, achieved a huge number of results, which enriched world science, as our national science is its inalienable part. At the top of the list of discoveries there are Lomonosov's achievements (the corpuscle theory of warmth, prediction of "absolute cold", discovery of the atmosphere of Venus). He sought for universal knowledge. In 1755, he initiated establishment of Moscow University. "He himself was our first university."


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