Vladimir Vernadskii

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Vernadskii, Vladimir Ivanovich


VERNADSKII, VLADIMIR IVANOVICH. Born Feb. 28 (Mar. 12), 1863, in St. Petersburg; died Jan. 6, 1945, in Moscow. Soviet natural scientist. Outstanding thinker, mineralogist, and crystallographer. Founder of geochemistry, biogeochemistry, radiogeology, and the study of the biosphere. Organizer of many scientific institutions. Academician of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (1912), first president of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR (1919), member of the Czechoslovak (1926) and French (1928) academies of sciences.

In 1885, Vernadskii graduated from the department of physics and mathematics of the University of St. Petersburg. He took part in the work of student Populist circles together with A. Ul’ianov. In 1890, Vernadskii became assistant professor of mineralogy at Moscow University, and he was a professor at Moscow University during the years 1898-1911. He participated in the zemstvo (district assembly) movement in the defense of institutions of higher education. As a sign of protest against the reactionary measures of the tsarist government, he resigned from Moscow University. From 1914, Vernadskii was director of the Geological and Mineralogical Museum of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. He was one of the organizers of the Commission for the Study of the Natural Productive Forces of Russia (serving as chairman in 1915-30), out of which developed institutes of ceramics, optics, radium, physical chemistry, platinum, and others. From 1922 through 1939, Vernadskii was director of the State Radium Institute, which he had organized. In 1927 he organized within the Academy of Sciences of the USSR the Department of Living Matter, which was transformed in 1929 into the Biogeochemical Laboratory (of which he was director from 1927 to 1945), and which later became the Vernadskii Institute of Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry.

Vernadskii was one of the organizers of the Commission on the Study of Permafrost (now an institute). In 1937, on Vernadskii’s initiative, there was created the International Commission on Determining the Age of Rocks by Means of Radioactivity. In 1939, in collaboration with other scientists, Vernadskii organized the Commission on Isotopes. He worked in Paris (in the M. Curie-Sklodowska Radium Institute at the Sorbonne), in Prague (at the Charles University), and elsewhere.

In his research Vernadskii set forth extremely important scientific problems that were of great practical significance, including the structure of silicates, the geochemistry of rare and trace elements, the search for radioactive minerals, the role of organisms in geochemical processes, and the determination of the age of rocks, and many others. In his Practical Descriptive Mineralogy (1908-22) and The History of Minerals in the Earth’s Crust (1923-36), Vernadskii advanced a new evolutionary theory on the origin of minerals (genetic mineralogy). Of great importance were Vernadskii’s studies on the structure of silicates and aluminosilicates, which constitute the major part of the earth’s crust. Vernadskii’s study on the role of the kaolin core and the structure of aluminosilicates laid the foundation for present-day crystallography; his concepts concerning paragenesis and isomorphic series form the basis of one of the scientific methods of prospecting for mineral resources. Vernadskii was one of the founders of geochemistry and was the first in Russia to introduce the spectrum method for solving geochemical problems. He engaged in a study of rare and trace chemical elements in isomorphic compounds and in a dispersed state. He paid a great deal of attention to the study of the earth’s crust, the ocean, and the atmosphere. In his Outlines of Geochemistry (1927), Vernadskii set forth the history of silicon and silicates, manganese, bromine, iodine, carbon, and radioactive elements in the earth’s crust. Vernadskii’s radiogeological research dealt with the role of radioactive elements in the earth’s evolution. From 1910, Vernadskii conducted research on the location of deposits of radioactive minerals as well as chemical studies on radium and uranium. He predicted the importance of radioactive substances as far back as 1911.

Regarding water as a mineral, Vernadskii in his work A History of Minerals in the Earth’s Crust furnished a mineralogical analysis of water. He also developed a theory on the uniformity of the earth’s waters.

Biogeochemistry, which was created by Vernadskii, deals with geochemical processes in which organisms are involved. Vernadskii is the founder of the modern school of thought on the biosphere. The totality of living organisms in the biosphere he termed “living matter.” According to Vernadskii’s theory, this living matter, by transforming solar radiation, draws inorganic matter into a continuous cycle. The enormous role of Vernadskii’s study concerning the biosphere and its development began to become manifest in the second half of the 20th century. On the one hand, this was promoted by the development of ecology, in which the concept of the biosphere was one of the basic principles and, on the other hand, by the development of the present-day scientific and technological revolution, which has set as one of its high-priority concerns the problem of mankind’s impact on nature. Under the influence of scientific achievements and human labor the biosphere is gradually passing into a new condition—that of the sphere of the nous, or reason. Vernadskii’s ideas concerning the sphere of the nous, representing a major philosophical generalization, came into being at the juncture of the two principal trends of his scientific activity—biogeochemistry and the history of science. Vernadskii paid particular attention to the latter, demonstrating that at the time of an outburst of scientific creativity and of the scientific and technological revolution “scientific thought is a weapon in the achievement of innovation.” The analysis conducted by Vernadskii on the evolution of scientific thought and the scientific world view, as well as his studies of the structure of science, represents an extremely important contribution to the study of science, one of the founders of which was Vernadskii himself. Many pages of his works are devoted to the fundamental philosophical problems of natural science. He emphasized that the 20th century is a period characterized by the breakdown of the basic concepts of natural science.

Followers of Vernadskii’s school of thought include A. E. Fersman, D. I. Shcherbakov, A. P. Vinogradov, V. G. Khlopin, K. A. Nenadkevich, K. A. Vlasov, A. A. Saukov, and Ia. V. Samoilov.

For his outstanding work in the field of science and technology Vernadskii was awarded the State Prize of the USSR in 1943. He was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labor.

In 1945 two scholarships each at the Academy of Sciences of the USSR and at Moscow State University were established in the name of V. I. Vernadskii. In addition, the Academy of Sciences of the USSR instituted a monetary prize (since 1943) and a gold medal (since 1963) in the name of V. I. Vernadskii.


O gruppe sillimanita i roll glinozema v silikatakh. Moscow, 1891.
Ocherki i rechi: I-II. Petrograd, 1922.
La Géochimie. Paris, 1924.
Biosfera, vols. 1-2. Leningrad, 1926.
La biosphère. Paris, 1929.
Ocherki geokhimii, 4th ed. Moscow-Leningrad, 1934.
Problemy biogeokhimii, parts 1-2, 4. Moscow-Leningrad, 1934-1940.
Izbr. soch., vols. 1-5. Moscow, 1954-60.
Khimicheskoe stroenie biosfery Zemli i ee okruzheniia. Moscow, 1965.


Akademiku V. I. Vernadskomu k piatidesiatiletiiu nauchnoi i pedagogicheskoi deiatel’nosti, vols. 1-2. Leningrad-Moscow, 1936.
Fersman, A. E. “Zhiznennyi put’ akademika Vladimira Ivanovicha Vernadskogo (1863-1945).” Zapiski Vserossiiskogo mineralo-gicheskogo obshchestva, 2 seriia. 1946, part 75, no. 1.
Vinogradov, A. P. “V. I. Vernadskii i geokhimiia redkikh elementov.” In Iubileinyi sbornik, posviashchennyi 30-letiiu Oktiabr’skoi sotsialistich. revoliutsii, part 1. Moscow-Leningrad, 1947. (Materials on the biobibliographies of scientists of the USSR. Seriia khimicheskikh nauk, vol. 6).
Lichkov, B. L. V. I. Vernadskii. Moscow, 1948.
Mochalov, I. I. V. I. Vernadskii—chelovek i myslitel’. Moscow, 1970.


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