Vernadsky is one of the founders of USSR’s and Ukrainian Academy of Science and a major political figure of the Russian Empire, one of the founders of the Cadets Party, a member of the Russian Provisional Government. He initiated the Commission for the Study of Productive Forces of Russia whose study gave grounding in electrification and industrialization of the country during the Soviet period. He is the father of the atomic project in the USSR (he began his research as early as the First World war), a philosopher of science, humanist, one of the leading representatives of Russian cosmism, author of the concept of the Noosphere.


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ВернадскийVladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky (Владимир Иванович Вернадский; Ukrainian: Володимир Іванович Вернадський; 12 March 1863 – 6 January 1945) was a Russian, Ukrainian and Soviet mineralogist and geochemist who is considered to be 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 during the Russian Civil War, where he founded the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences (now National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine).  His  most famous 1926 book The Bioshphere popularized the term that was introduced by a geologist Eduard Seuss in 1885, with whom they met in 1911.Vernadsky hypothesized 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 12 March 1863. As the family legend tells, his father was a descendent of Zaporozhian Cossacks. He had been a professor of political economy in Kiev before moving to Saint Petersburg. Vladimir’s mother was a noblewoman of Russian ethnicity.

Vernadsky graduated from Saint Petersburg State University in 1885, but stayed there in the position of the mineralogist.

He wrote to his wife Natasha 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 with 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 crystallographer Arcangelo Scacchi, who was quite senile by that time. Scacchi’s condition led Vernadsky to go to Germany to study under Paul Groth. 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. He also gained access to the physics lab of Leonhard Sohncke who was studying crystallisation during that period.

Vernadsky first popularized the concept of the noosphere and further developed the idea of the biosphere to the meaning largely recognized by today’s scientific community.

Vernadsky theorises that the noosphere is the third stage in the earth’s development, after the geosphere (inanimate matter) and the biosphere (biological life). Just as the advent of life has fundamentally transformed the geosphere, the advent of human cognition fundamentally transformed the biosphere. This systemic and geological analysis of living systems complements Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection which looks at each individual species, rather than at its relationship to a subsuming principle.

Vernadsky’s insights 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 are the result of various biological processes. During the 1920s he published works arguing that living organisms could reshape the planets as much as any physical force. Vernadsky was an important pioneer of the scientific bases for the environmental sciences.

Vernadsky did not only found the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences in Kiev, Ukraine (1918), but also of  the National Library of Ukrainian State. He worked closely with the Tavrida University in Crimea that now is named after him. During the Russian Civil War, he hosted gatherings of the young intellectuals who later founded the émigré Eurasianism movement.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s Vernadsky played an early advisory role in the Soviet atomic bomb project, as one of the most respectful voices arguing for the use of nuclear power, the exploration of Soviet uranium sources, and having nuclear fission research conducted at his Radium Institute. He died, however, before the project was finished.

Vernadsky’s son George Vernadsky (1887–1973) emigrated to the United States where he published numerous books on medieval and modern Russian history.



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