William Hopkins Biography

Valdimir Vernadsky, a renowned Russian-Ukrainian mineralogist, was a pioneer in the field of environmental sciences. Born into a family of educators, his passion for natural sciences was ignited at a young age. Under the guidance of esteemed mineralogist Paul Groth, Vernadsky delved into the world of crystallography and conducted extensive research on aluminosilicates. He also made significant contributions to geochemistry, particularly in the study of radioactivity as a source of thermal energy. However, his most groundbreaking concept was the theory of the interdependence of geosphere, biosphere, and noosphere, which he introduced as the sphere of human cognizance. Despite facing criticism, Vernadsky continued his research and became a strong advocate for alternative sources of energy, vehemently opposing the exploitation of nuclear power and weaponization. To learn more about the life and works of this erudite geochemist, continue reading.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky
  • Died At Age: 81
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Natalya Vernadskaya
    • Father: Ivan Vernadsky
    • Mother: Anna Vernadskaya
    • Children: George Vernadsky, Nina Vernardskaya
  • Born Country: Russia
  • Geologists
  • Mineralogists
  • Died on: January 6, 1945
  • Place of death: Moscow, Russia
  • Ancestry: Ukrainian Russian, Russian Swiss
  • Notable Alumni: Saint Petersburg Imperial University
  • City: Saint Petersburg, Russia
  • Founder/Co-Founder: Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine
  • Education: Saint Petersburg Imperial University
  • Awards: USSR State Prize

Childhood & Early Life

Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky was born on March 12, 1863, in Saint Petersburg, Russia. His parents, Anna and Ivan Vernadsky, were of Ukrainian Cossacks ancestry. His father was a teacher of political economy at the University of Moscow, and his mother belonged to the lower Russian nobility. Vladimir received his early education in Ukraine before returning to Russia to study at the Saint Petersburg Grammar School. He then pursued higher education at St. Petersburg University and graduated with a degree from the Department of Natural, Physical and Mathematical Faculty in 1885.

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Career

Vladimir Vernadsky was always interested in natural sciences and decided to specialize in mineralogy under the renowned Vasily Vasili’evich Dokuchaev, a pioneer in the field of soil science. While working on his doctoral dissertation, Vernadsky became interested in crystallography. He initially wanted to work with crystallographer Arcangelo Scacchi, but due to Scacchi’s fragile mental condition, Vernadsky moved to Germany. There, he worked on his thesis under the guidance of mineralogist Paul Groth, who was studying the physical properties of crystals. During his time in Germany, Vernadsky also collaborated with mathematician Leonhard Sohncke on research related to crystallization. He successfully completed his doctorate and began his professional career as a research assistant in a mineralogy laboratory.

Vernadsky’s research focused on aluminosilicates, studying their structure and chemical composition. He also studied the distribution and concentration of isotopes of different elements in the Earth’s crust and how various geological forces affect the formation of compounds. He then delved into the study of radioactivity and explored its usefulness as a source of thermal energy. His studies in this area were published as “Paragenesis of Chemical Elements in the Earth’s Crust,” which formed the basis of geochemistry. Vernadsky also conducted studies using radioactivity to assess the age and evolution of chemical elements, believing that radioactive substances could create new elements. In 1909, he formed the first Radium Commission based on these ideas.

Vernadsky’s efforts to procure samples of radioactive rocks led to the establishment of a geochemical laboratory at Saint Petersburg University in 1910. He also proposed the concept of the “noosphere,” which refers to the sphere of human cognition. According to his theory, the evolution of the Earth occurs in three stages: the geosphere undergoes modification when the biosphere comes into existence, and the biosphere is modified when the cognitive ability of living beings develops. All three spheres are interdependent and necessary for evolution.

Despite criticism from his contemporaries in the West, Vernadsky remained undeterred and conducted a study showing that the existence of nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a by-product of various biological processes in the biosphere. His research on the role of evolution in geological processes earned him the reputation of being a pioneer environmental scientist.

Vernadsky’s contributions to the field of geology and science led to his nomination as an academician in the Saint Petersburg Academy of Science in 1912. Two years later, he was appointed the head of the Museum of Mineralogy and Geology, where he contributed to the progress of the metal mining industry in Russia. He also established the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences and served as its President in 1918. Additionally, he contributed to the Ukrainian State by establishing the National Laboratory.

In 1921, Vernadsky accepted a position as a professor of mineralogy at the University of Simferopol but was later dismissed due to political tension between Russia and Ukraine. During the years 1924-27, he published two significant works, “Geochemistry” and “The Biosphere.” He also collaborated with French chemist Marie Curie on two other compendiums, “Living Matter in Biosphere” and “Human Autotrophy.” In the 1930s and 1940s, Vernadsky voiced his opinions against the exploitation of nuclear weapons and was a member of the advisory board to the Soviet atomic bomb project. He surveyed viable sources of uranium and conducted experiments on nuclear fission in the Radium Institute.

Major Works

Vladimir Vernadsky is best known for his work on the “Noosphere” and biogeochemistry. His theory on the evolution and progress of the geosphere, biosphere, and the sphere of cognizance was a significant contribution to the field of environmental sciences.

Personal Life & Legacy

Not much is known about Vladimir Vernadsky’s personal life, except that he was married to Natalya and had two children, a son named George Vernadsky and a daughter named Anna Vernadskaya. He passed away on January 6, 1945, in Moscow. Several educational institutes in Ukraine and Moscow have honored his legacy, including the naming of an avenue at Tavrida National University and a street in Moscow.

Trivia

Vladimir Vernadsky, who was supposedly an atheist, was intrigued by Hinduism, particularly the canonical text of Rig Veda.

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