Nikolai Zelinskii

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Zelinskii, Nikolai Dmitrievich


Born Jan. 25 (Feb. 6), 1861, in Tiraspol’; died July 31, 1953, in Moscow. Soviet organic chemist; academician of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (1929). One of the founders of the science of organic catalysis. Hero of Socialist Labor (1945). Graduated from Novorossiia University (Odessa) in 1884 and defended his master’s thesis (1889) and doctoral dissertation (1891) there. From 1893 to 1953 he was a professor at Moscow University, except for the period from 1911 to 1917, when he left the university along with a group of students as a protest against the reactionary policies of the minister of public education, L. A. Kasso (during that time Zelinskii was in St. Petersburg as director of the Main Laboratory of the Ministry of Finance and head of a subdepartment at the Polytechnic Institute). In 1935 he participated actively in the organization of the Institute of Organic Chemistry of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, where he subsequently directed a number of laboratories. The institute was named for him in 1953.

Zelinskii’s scientific activity was varied. His work on the chemistry of thiophene, the stereochemistry of organic dibasic acids, electric conduction in nonaqueous electrolytes, and amino acid chemistry are well known, but he dealt mainly with the chemistry of hydrocarbons and with organic catalysis. From 1895 to 1907 he synthesized for the first time a number of cyclopentane and cyclohexane hydrocarbons, which were used as standards in studying the chemical composition of petroleum fractions. As early as 1911 he carried out the smooth dehydrogenation of cyclohexane and its homologues to aromatic hydrocarbons using platinum and palladium catalysts; he used the reaction extensively to determine the cyclohexane hydrocarbon content in the gasoline and kerosine fractions of petroleum (1920–30) and as an industrial method of producing aromatic hydrocarbons from petroleum. The modern process of catalytic reforming of petroleum fractions is based on this research by Zelinskii. Later research in the field led Zelinskii and his students to discover the hydrogenolysis of cyclopentane hydrocarbons to alkanes in the presence of platinum black and excess hydrogen (1934).

In 1915, Zelinskii successfully used oxide catalysts in petroleum cracking, which led to a decrease in the temperature of cracking and an increase in the yield of aromatics. In 1918–19 he developed a method of making gasoline by cracking solar oil and petroleum in the presence of aluminum chloride or bromide; the use of this method on an industrial scale played an important part in providing the young Soviet state with gasoline.

Zelinskii discovered the catalytic condensation of acetylene to benzene in the presence of activated charcoal. In the 1930’s he studied in detail the reaction of disproportionation of hydrogen to cyclohexane (so-called irreversible catalysis), with the simultaneous formation of cyclohexane and benzene. (He had discovered the reaction in 1911.) Zelinskii and his students also did research on the dehydrogenation of paraffins and olefins in the presence of oxide catalysts.

Zelinskii, who was a proponent of the theory of the organic origin of petroleum, conducted a number of studies attempting to link its formation to sapropels, oil shales, and other natural and synthetic organic substances.

Zelinskii and his students showed the intermediate formation of methylene radicals in numerous heterogeneous catalytic reactions—in the decomposition of cyclohexane; in the synthesis of hydrocarbons from carbon monoxide and hydrogen over a cobalt catalyst; in the reaction of hydrocondensation of olefins with carbon monoxide, which he discovered; and in the hydropolymerization of olefins in the presence of small amounts of carbon monoxide.

Zelinskii’s work on adsorption and the production of coal gas masks (1915), which was used by the Russian and Allied armies during World War I (1914–18), occupies a special place.

Zelinskii founded a large school of scientists who made fundamental contributions to various fields of chemistry. Among his students were Academicians of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR A. A. Balandin, L. F. Vereshchagin, B. A. Kazanskii, K. A. Kocheshkov, S. S. Nametkin, and A. N. Nesmeianov; Corresponding Members of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR N. A. Izgaryshev, K. P. Lavrovskii, lu. G. Mamedaliev, B. M. Mikhailov, A. V. Rakovskii, V. V. Chelintsev, and N. I. Shuikin; and Professors L. A. Chugaev and N. A. Shilov.

Zelinskii was one of the organizers of the D. I. Mendeleev All-Union Chemistry Society. In 1921 he became an honorary member of the Moscow Society of Naturalists and in 1935 its president. He received the V. I. Lenin Prize (1934) and the State Prize of the USSR (1942, 1946, 1948). He was awarded four Orders of Lenin and two other orders, as well as medals.


Izbr. trudy, vol. 1–2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1941.
Sobr. trudov, vol. 1–4. Moscow, 1954–60.


Akademik Nikolai Dmitrievitch Zelinskii. Devianostoletie so dnia rozhdeniia; Sbornik. Moscow, 1952.
Nikolai Dmitrievich Zelinskii. Moscow-Leningrad, 1946. (AN SSSR. Materials k bibliografii uchenykh SSSR. Seriia khimicheskikh nauk, issue 1.)
Kazanskii, B. A., A. N. Nesmeianov, and A. F. Plate. “Raboty akademika N. D. Zelinskogo i ego shkoly v oblasti khimii uglevodorodov i organicheskogo kataliza.” Uch. Zap. MGU, 1956, fasc. 175.
Figurovskii, N. A. Ocherk vozniknoveniia i razvitiia ugol’nogo protivogaza N. D. Zelinskogo. Moscow, 1952.
Plate, A. F. “Nikolai Dmitrievich Zelinskii.” Liudi russkoi nauki: Matematika. —Mekhanika. - Astronomiia. —Fizika. — Khimiia.Moscow, 1961.


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