Fersman, Aleksandr Evgen’evich
Born Oct. 27 (Nov. 8), 1883, in St. Petersburg; died May 20, 1945, in Sochi; buried at the Novodevichii Cemetery in Moscow. Soviet geochemist and mineralogist. Academician of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (1919).
Fersman studied under V. I. Vernadskii. In 1907 he graduated from Moscow University, and from that year until 1909 he worked with the French mineralogist F. A. A. Lacroix in Paris and in the laboratory of the Norwegian geochemist V. M. Goldschmidt in Heidelberg. In 1909 he began teaching at Moscow University, and in 1910 he became a professor at the A. Shaniavskii People’s University, where in 1912 he introduced a course in geochemistry. In that same year, he was appointed professor of mineralogy at the St. Petersburg Advanced Courses for Women (Bestuzhev Courses) and senior curator of the Mineralogical Museum of the Academy of Sciences; he later became director of the museum, serving from 1919 to 1930. Also in 1912, Fersman helped found the journal Priroda, and he was one of the journal’s editors. In 1915, at his initiative, the Commission on Raw Materials and Chemicals was set up under the Committee for Military and Technical Assistance. Fersman headed the commission and was concurrently secretary of the Commission for the Study of Natural Productive Forces of the Academy of Sciences.
Fersman’s multifaceted career received greater scope for development after the Great October Socialist Revolution. He participated in studies of the Kola Peninsula, Tien-Shan, the Kyzylkum and Karakum, the Urals, and Transbaikalia.
The study of the Khibiny tundras, which began in 1920, and of Monchetundra, which began in 1930, had great practical importance. Here, Fersman participated in the discovery of deposits of apatite and copper-nickel ores. Fersman was one of the founders of geochemistry. His fundamental work in this field was Geochemistry (vols. 1–4, 1933–39). He devoted much attention to clarkes and the migration of elements. He also studied the mechanisms governing natural inorganic processes and proposed a theory relating the sequence of mineral precipitation to the energies of minerals’ crystal lattices. Fersman was one of the first to substantiate the need for geochemical methods in the search for mineral deposits. He devoted much attention to regional geochemistry and as early as 1926 outlined the Mongol-Okhotsk Geochemical Belt.
An important body of Fersman’s research was devoted to granitic pegmatites, the results of which were published in 1931 in his monograph Pegmatites. Fersman was an expert on gems, to which he devoted many scholarly and popular works.
Fersman was academician-secretary of the division of physical and mathematical sciences of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR from 1924 to 1927; from 1927 to 1929 he was vice-president of the academy, and from 1929 to 1945 he was a member of the academy’s presidium. Fersman directed the academy’s Radium Institute from 1922 to 1926, and he was chairman of the Ural Branch of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR from 1932 to 1938 and of the S. M. Kirov Kola Scientific Research Base from 1930 to 1945. He was director of the M. V. Lomonosov Institute of Geochemistry, Mineralogy, and Crystallography from 1930 to 1939 and of the Institute of Geological Sciences of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR from 1942 to 1945.
During the Great Patriotic War (1941–45), Fersman organized and headed a commission for scientific assistance to the Soviet Army under the division of geological and geographical sciences of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR.
Fersman is well known as the author of popular articles and books, including Recollections of Rocks (1940), Fascinating Mineralogy, and Fascinating Geochemistry (1950). He received the V. I. Lenin Award in 1929, the State Prize of the USSR in 1942, and the Wollaston Palladium Medal of the Geological Society of London in 1943. He also received the Order of the Red Banner of Labor. The minerals fersmite, an oxide of titanium and niobium, and fersmanite, a silicate of titanium and niobium, were named in his honor.
WORKSIzbr. tr., vols. 1–7. Moscow, 1952–62.
REFERENCESAleksandr Evgen’evich Fersman, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1964. (Materialy k biobibliografii uchenykh SSSR: Seriia geologicheskikh nauk, fasc. 19.)
Shcherbakov, D. I. A. E. Fersman i ego puteshestviia, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1953.
Pisarzhevskii, O. N. Fersman [2nd ed.] Moscow, 1959.
Problemy mineral’nogo syr’ia: Pamiati akademika A. E. Fersmana. Moscow, 1975.
F. I. VOLFSON