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Vladimir Vernadsky His Life and Work

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. He himself considered himself both Russian and Ukrainian, and had some knowledge of the Ukrainian language, but was loyal to the Russian state and was opposed to Ukrainian independence.

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 crystallisation.

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,[citation needed] 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 émigré Eurasianist movement. One of the main avenues in both Moscow and Tavrida National University, Crimea are named after him.

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 atomic energy, the surveying of Soviet uranium sources, and having nuclear fission research conducted at his Radium Institute. He died, however, before a full project was pursued.

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.


Vladimir Vernadsky. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.