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Vol. 34 No. 1
January-February 2012

Stamps International |

See also www.iupac.org/publications/ci/indexes/stamps.html


Russia’s Leonardo

Mikhail Vasil’evich Lomonosov (1711–1765), much like Leonardo da Vinci in Italy some 250 years earlier, was a man of many talents and is often regarded as a polymath (i.e., an individual with a restless curiosity, an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, and the rare ability to excel in a variety of subjects or fields). Although Lomonosov may not have a Mona Lisa in his curriculum vitae, he was a prolific writer, with major contributions to grammar, rhetoric, poetry, and history, and he is considered one of the key players in the development of the modern Russian language. His long list of accomplishments in multiple areas of scientific endeavor, including chemistry, physics, mathematics, mineralogy, geology, and astronomy, is also undeniable. For example, he established at the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences the first chemistry laboratory in Russia (1748), which was one of the first in the world in which university students could carry out experiments by themselves. He opposed the theory of phlogiston prevalent at the time, regarded heat as a form of motion, and proposed pioneering ideas towards the establishment of the law of conservation of matter. He measured the solubilities of various salts at different temperatures, conducted experiments on atmospheric electricity, built a mosaic glass factory, and demonstrated the organic origin of coal, petroleum, and amber. He explained the formation of icebergs and predicted the existence of Antarctica, recorded for the first time the freezing point of mercury, and cataloged more than 3000 different minerals. It is therefore not surprising that Lomonosov’s multifarious contributions to society have been widely recognized in his native Russia, including the official name of its largest university (Moscow State University).

The stamp illustrated in this note was issued in 1986 to celebrate the 275th anniversary of Lomonosov’s birth and it features the best-known portrait of the renowned scientist. The same image has also been used in several other stamps from Russia as well as Cuba, Romania, and, more recently, Guinea, Togo, and Vietnam. Perhaps, Lomonosov is finally becoming better recognized outside Russia. So, we ought to remember that the International Year of Chemistry 2011 was also the tricentennial of his birth. Happy birthday Misha!

Written by Daniel Rabinovich <drabinov@uncc.edu>.


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