Mikhail Vasilyevich Lomonosov Biography


(History of the World: The 17th and 18th Centuries)
0111200284-Lomonosov.jpg Mikhail Vasilyevich Lomonosov (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Through his reform of the Russian literary language, his scientific investigations, and his reinterpretation of early Russian history, Lomonosov was at the beginning of modern Russian intellectual history and a founder of Russian nationalism.

Early Life

Mikhail Vasilyevich Lomonosov was born in 1711 the son of prosperous peasant parents near Kholmogory, Russia. His father was a fisherman. Lomonosov seems to have been a voracious reader at an early age, and gradually he came to outgrow the small village of his birth. In 1730, he went to Moscow on foot, pretending to be the son of a priest, to enroll in the Slavo-Greco-Latin academy of the Zaikonospassky monastery, where he studied Greek and Latin. From there, he continued to study at the St. Petersburg Imperial Academy of Sciences in 1736, but he soon secured a newly created traveling scholarship to study in Germany.

In 1736-1739, Lomonosov studied principally the humanities under the mathematician Christian von Wolff at the University of Marburg and in 1739-1741 changed to chemistry, mining, and metallurgy at the University of Freiburg in Saxony. He may have married a German woman in 1740, but, apparently to escape her, his own drunkenness and debts, and possible imprisonment for them, Lomonosov joined the Prussian army later in that same year. In 1741, he returned home to Russia to become a professor of chemistry at the new University of St. Petersburg Imperial Academy of Sciences and a member of the academy. It remained the base for his life’s work.

Life’s Work

In St. Petersburg, Lomonosov became Russia’s first great scientist. By 1748, he had founded the first chemistry laboratory in the Russian Empire. He worked on the mechanical nature of heat and developed a kinetic theory of gases. In 1752, his investigations led to the initial discovery of the law of conservation of matter eighteen years before similar work of the French chemist Antoine Lavoisier was published and earned for him the lion’s share of the credit in his own time and through history. Lomonosov also had an impact on the development of Russian geography and cartography. For example, he redrew and reconstructed an immense globe of 3.1 meters in diameter, which had been a gift from Duke Christian August of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf to Peter the Great at the end of the Great Northern War in 1721. Lomonosov and his team took almost seven years (1748-1754) to complete the work.

Under Empress Elizabeth, the Russian Empire was still somewhat too far out of the mainstream of Western civilization for achievements such as Lomonosov’s to be fully noticed. Yet his work could not be denied. He published numerous scientific studies of importance, including Slovo o proiskhozhdeni sveta (1756; comments on the origin of light representing a new theory of color). For his accomplishments in the fields of chemistry, optics, metallurgy, geography, natural sciences, physics, and astronomy, Lomonosov was made a member of the Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1760 and the Bologna Academy of Sciences in 1764.

As important a scientist as Lomonosov was, his influence on the development of the arts in Russia, especially literature, was far greater. He revived the ancient art of mosaics in Russia and was a folklorist, poet, dramatist, historian, and philologist. In 1755, Lomonosov contributed to the founding of Moscow University, which today bears his name as Mikhail Lomonosov University.

While his poems and plays were very artificial, mechanical, and typically classicist (many being in honor of Elizabeth), Lomonosov’s...

(The entire section is 1500 words.)