Russian Academy of Sciences

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Russian Academy of Sciences


the highest scientific and scholarly institution in Russia, the RSFSR, and the USSR. Founded Jan. 28 (Feb. 8), 1724, in St. Petersburg by a decree of Emperor Peter I. Regular meetings began in August 1725; the ceremonial opening was held Dec. 27, 1725 (Jan. 7, 1726).

Until May 1917 the academy was generally called the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences; under a 1747 regulation it was called the Imperial Academy of Sciences and Arts; from 1803, the Imperial Academy of Sciences; from 1836, the Imperial St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences; and from May 1917, the Russian Academy of Sciences. Since July 1925 it has been called the Academy of Sciences of the USSR.

The academy’s first regulations (charter) were ratified in 1747; until that time a draft statute on the establishment of the Academy of Sciences and Arts had been in force. The draft had been drawn up on instructions from Peter I after he had made a detailed study of the academies of sciences of Western Europe and had consulted with G. W. von Leibniz and C. Wolff; the draft was considered by the Senate on Jan. 22, 1724.

Under the draft statute, the Academy of Sciences consisted of 11 academicians (in the first decades they were also called professors). Three classes, or divisions, were envisaged: (1) mathematics, astronomy (with geography and navigation), and mechanics (two academicians); (2) physics, anatomy, chemistry, and botany; (3) rhetoric and the antiquities, history, and law. The presidency was to be elective, but this was not implemented until 1917. Academicians were required not only to do research but also to give lectures; thus, the academy was also a university. Under the academicians were student assistants (later adjuncts, or junior scientific assistants) who taught at the Academy Gymnasium. This kind of organization was unique among academies of that time. The Academy of Sciences had a status of a state institution, with an assured budget and permanent staff and had at its disposal the best resources for the time: an extensive library, a natural-science museum (Kunstkamera), a physics laboratory, an observatory, a chemical laboratory (founded by M. V. Lomonosov), and toolmaking and artisans’ studios (until the formation in 1757 of the Academy of Arts). There was also a printing plant, which printed academicians’ monographs, textbooks, academic annuals, popular-science magazines, calendars, a newspaper, and works of fiction.

L. Bliumentrost, a physician-in-ordinary who assisted Peter I in establishing the Academy of Sciences, was appointed the academy’s first president on Dec. 7, 1725; subsequent presidents were usually persons close to the court. (For a list of the academy’s presidents, seeACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNION OF SOVIET SOCIALIST REPUBLICS.) In the 1730’s and 1740’s the Academy of Sciences was managed, in effect, by the office headed by I. D. Schumacher. The first academicians—the mathematician Ia. German (J. Hermann), the astronomer J. N. Delisle, the physiologist and mathematician D. Bernoulli and his brother, the mathematician N. Bernoulli, the physicist G. B. Bülfinger, and others who were invited from abroad—were chosen from among the best scientists of Europe, mostly with the aid of the Russian diplomats B. I. Kurakin in Paris and A. G. Golovkin in Berlin. Academicians continued to be invited from abroad throughout the 18th century, but scientists reared in the academy soon took over the leading position. By 1731, five of the adjuncts had already been appointed professors, including L. Euler, who arrived in 1727 as a 20-year-old adjunct and became a famous mathematician at the academy, and I. G. Gmelin, the future explorer of Siberia. The first Russian adjunct was V. E. Adodurov (beginning in 1733); the first native Russian to become a professor was G. V. Rikhman (1741; adjunct from 1740), and the first Russian professors (beginning in 1745) were M. V. Lomonosov (a student from 1735; an adjunct from 1742), and the poet V. K. Trediakovskii.

Among the Russian academicians who became prominent in the second half of the 18th century were the naturalists and travelers S. P. Krasheninnikov, I. I. Lepekhin, N. Ia. Ozeretskovskii, and V. F. Zeuv, the mathematician S. K. Kotel’nikov, the astronomers N. I. Popov, S. Ia. Rumovskii, and P. B. Inokhodtsev, the chemist Ia. D. Zakharov, and the mineralogist V. M. Severgin. The rapid scientific and scholarly growth of the academy’s membership, most of whom received the title of academician before the age of 40, and about one-third before 30, was promoted by the connection between their work and practical tasks.

The main achievements of the 18th century were in physics, mathematics, and the natural sciences and were associated primarily with Euler and Lomonosov, as well as the astronomers Delisle and Rumovskii, the physicists Rikhman and F. U. T. Epinus, and the physiologist C. F. Wolff. The Academy of Sciences directed the study of Russia by natural scientists. The Geography Department, headed by Delisle, prepared the A tlas of the Russian Empire (1745), the first collection of maps compiled on the basis of astronomy and mathematics. Expeditions over a vast territory—from the western borders to Kamchatka—resulted in the refinement of geographical maps and in the study of natural resources, flora and fauna, and the everyday life and culture of peoples. On Lomonosov’s initiative, the academy organized the collection of economic and geographical information through the distribution of questionnaires and the taking of ore samples.

The academy’s works on the collection and publication of sources on the history of Russia and on the study of the Orient were significant. Lomonosov laid the groundwork for Russian philology. In 1783 the Russian Academy was established to study problems of the Russian language and literature. The Academy of Sciences published annual collections. Public meetings, at which members of the academy spoke, were held annually or semiannually; the speeches were published. Ties with foreign scientists and scholars and academic institutions were maintained. A lively correspondence was conducted; Euler, Delisle, Lomonosov, and others were members of foreign academies of sciences; foreign members of the academy included Wolff, Johann Bernoulli, R. A. Reaumur, Voltaire, D. Diderot, Buffon, J. L. Lagrange, and B. Franklin. From 1749, annual international competitions were held on current problems of science, and prizes were awarded.

At the end of the 18th century, as universities and other higher educational institutions and scholarly societies were established and developed, the original functions of the academy narrowed. The Academy University and Academy Gymnasium were closed; geological, cartographic, translation, and other applied work was turned over to other departments. The efforts of academy members were focused primarily on theoretical research. From 1841 the academy consisted of three branches: (1) physics and mathematics; (2) Russian language and linguistics, under which the Class of Belles Lettres was instituted in 1899; (3) history and philology. Full members of the Academy were divided into three categories: adjunct, academician extraordinary, and academician ordinary (a single title, academician, was introduced in 1912); in addition, there were Russian and foreign honorary members and corresponding members, who were not members of the staff and had no scientific or scholarly obligations to the academy.

Russia’s most important scientists and scholars were usually full members of the academy. Among them were the mathematicians M. V. Ostrogradskii, B. Ia. Buniakovskii, P. L. Chebyshev, A. A. Markov, and A. M. Liapunov, the physicists V. V. Petrov, E. Kh. Lents, B. S. Iakobi, and B. B. Golitsyn, the chemists N. N. Zinin, A. M. Butlerov, N. N. Beketov, and N. S. Kurnakov, the astronomers V. Ia. Struve, A. A. Belopol’skii, and F. A. Bredikhin, the biologists K. M. Ber and A. O. Kovalevskii, the physiologist I. P. Pavlov, the mineralogist N. I. Koksharov, the geologist A. P. Karpinskii, the philologist A. Kh. Vostokov, the literary critic A. N. Veselovskii, and the historian S. M. Solov’ev.

Many prominent scientists and scholars, however, remained outside the academy. Progressive members of the academy tried to enlist their services by making use of the right to confer the title of honorary member (the mathematician F. G. Minding, the explorers of Central and Middle Asia N. M. Przheval’skii and P. P. Semenov-Tian-Shanskii, the linguist V. I. Dal’, the naval historian F. F. Veselago, and the physician G. A. Zakhar’in) and corresponding member (the mathematician S. V. Kovalevskaia, the mechanical engineer N. E. Zhukovskii, the philologist A. A. Potebnia, the historians V. S. Ikonnikov and N. I. Kostomarov, the biologists E. Metchnikoff, I. M. Sechenov, and K. A. Timiriazev, and the chemists D. I. Mendeleev and A. A. Voskresenskii). Among those elected honorary academicians in the Class of Belles Lettres were V. G. Korolenko, A. P. Chekhov, L. N. Tolstoy, and V. V. Stasov.

Among the new scientific and scholarly institutions organized in the 19th and early 20th centuries were the Asian Museum (founded 1818), the Egyptian Museum (1825), the Zoological Museum (1832), the Botanical Museum (1823), the Pulkovo Observatory (1839), the Physiology Laboratory (1864), the Laboratory for Plant Anatomy and Physiology (1889), the Pushkin House (1905), and the Commission on the Study of the Natural Productive Forces of Russia (1915). International scientific and scholarly ties expanded, and the number of foreign honorary members and corresponding members increased (P. Berthelot, C. Darwin, E. Du Bois-Reymond, C. Hermite, F. Kekulé, G. R. Kirchhoff, C. Lyell, F. Nansen, F. Palacký, L. Pasteur, M. Planck, W. Thomson [Lord Kelvin], and R. Virchow).

The conditions for the academy’s creative activity were extremely unfavorable. The government functionaries who headed the academy were openly arbitrary, obstructing the admission to full membership of such scientists and scholars as I. M. Sechenov, D. I. Mendeleev, K. A. Timiriazev, and A. G. Stoletov. In 1902, Emperor Nicholas II imposed a ban on the election of M. Gorky as an honorary academician. Inadequate funds were allocated for the support of the academy. This made it impossible to increase the small number of academic scientists and scholars and impeded the establishment of scientific and scholarly institutions, including specialized institutes and laboratories, the organization of which became an indispensable condition of the development of science at the turn of the 20th century. The Great October Socialist Revolution opened a new era in the history of the Academy of Sciences.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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