Nikolai Zinin

Zinin, Nikolai Nikolaevich


Born Aug. 13 (25), 1812, in Shusha, present-day Nagorno-Kharabakh Autonomous Oblast; died Feb. 6 (18), 1880, in St. Petersburg. Russian organic chemist; Academician of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences (1865; academic assistant 1855, academician extraordinary 1858, regular academician 1865). After graduating from the University of Kazan in 1833, he taught physics and mechanics there. After receiving the master of chemistry degree (1836), he was made an academic assistant (1837) and sent abroad, where he visited laboratories and plants in Germany, France, and Britain; he worked under J. von Liebig in 1839–40. After defending his doctoral dissertation (1841), he was made a professor at the University of Kazan; from 1848 to 1864 he was professor at the Medical and Surgical Academy in St. Petersburg and director of its chemical laboratory (1864–74).

Zinin was the first to produce benzoin (by condensation of benzaldehyde in the presence of potassium cyanide) and benzyl (by oxidation of benzoin with nitric acid). In 1842 he discovered the reduction of aromatic nitro derivatives to aromatic amines by ammonium sulfide. He synthesized aniline and α-naphthylamine in this way; he later showed the common nature of his reaction by preparing meta-phenylenediamine by reduction of meta-dinitrobenzene (1844) and meta-aminobenzoic acid by reduction of meta-nitrobenzoic acid (1845). Zinin synthesized hydrazobenzene by treating azobenzene with ammonium sulfide and rearranged the hydrazobenzene to benzidine by the addition of sulfuric acid. Zinin’s syntheses were the foundation for the creation of the industry of synthetic dyes, explosives, and Pharmaceuticals.

Zinin described ureides, which he discovered, and the synthesis (independently of M. Berthelot) of allyl mustard oil (allyl isothiocyanate) and its reaction with amines, yielding the corresponding thioureas. Beginning in 1853 he conducted a great deal of work on the study of nitroglycerin as an explosive, and in collaboration with V. F. Petrushevskii he sought to introduce nitroglycerin into the Russian Army’s war materiel as early as 1854.

In collaboration with A. A. Voskresenskii, Zinin founded a large school of Russian chemists (A. M. Butlerov, A. P. Borodin, N. N. Beketov, L. N. Shishkov, and A. N. Engel’gardt). In 1867–68 he played an active part in starting the Russian Chemistry Society (now the D. I. Mendeleev All-Union Chemistry Society); he was its president for the first ten years. In 1880 the Zinin-Voskresenskii Prize was established by the Division of Chemistry of the Russan Physical Chemistry Society.


“Opisanie nekotorykh novykh organicheskikh osnovanii, poluchennykh pri deistvii serovodoroda na soedinenia uglevodorodov s azotnovatoi kisloto.” Uspekhi khimii, 1943, vol. 12, fasc. 2. (Article translated from German.)
“O produktakh reaktsii sernistogo ammoniia s nekotorymi organicheskimi veshchestvami i o kopulirovannykh kislotakh soedinenii khlornaftalina.” Ibid. (Article translated from German.)
“Ob azobenzide i nitrobenzoinoi kislote.” Ibid. (Article translated from German.)


Borodin, A. P., and A. M. Butlerov. “Nikolai Nikolaevich Zinin (Vospominaniia o nem i biograficheskii ocherk).” In A. M. Butlerov, Soch., vol. 3. Moscow, 1958. Pages 92–116.
Figurovskii, N. A., and Iu. I. Solov’ev. Nikolai Nikolaevich Zinin. Moscow, 1957. (Contains a list of Zinin’s works.)
Musabekov, lu. S. Istoriia organicheskogo sinteza v Rossii. Moscow, 1958.