The 14th International Conference on

Miniaturized Systems for Chemistry and Life Sciences

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Dmitri Mendeleev


Dmitri Mendeleev

Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev was a Russian chemist and inventor. He formulated the Periodic Law, created a farsighted version of the periodic table of elements, and used it to correct the properties of some already discovered elements and also to predict the properties of eight elements yet to be discovered.

Maria Kornilieva came from a well-known dynasty of Tobolsk merchants, founders of the first Siberian printing house who traced their ancestry to Yakov Korniliev, a 17th-century posad man turned a wealthy merchant. In 1889 a local librarian published an article in the Tobolsk newspaper where he claimed that Yakov was a baptized Teleut, an ethnic minority known as "white Kalmyks" at the time. Since no sources were provided and no documented facts of Yakov's life were ever revealed, biographers generally dismiss it as a myth. In 1908, shortly after Mendeleev's death, one of his nieces published Family Chronicles. Memories about D. I. Mendeleev where she voiced "a family legend" about Maria's grandfather who married "a Kyrgyz or Tatar beauty whom he loved so much that when she died, he also died from grief". This, however, contradicts the documented family chronicles, and neither of those legends is supported by Mendeleev's autobiography, his daughter's or his wife's memoirs. Yet some Western scholars still refer to Mendeleev's supposed "Mongol", "Tatar", "Tartarian" or simply "Asian" ancestry as a fact.

In 1849, his mother took Mendeleev across Russia from Siberia to Moscow with the aim of getting Mendeleev a higher education. The university in Moscow did not accept him. The mother and son continued to Saint Petersburg to the father's alma mater. The now poor Mendeleev family relocated to Saint Petersburg, where he entered the Main Pedagogical Institute in 1850. After graduation, he contracted tuberculosis, causing him to move to the Crimean Peninsula on the northern coast of the Black Sea in 1855. While there, he became a science master of the 1st Simferopol Gymnasium. In 1857, he returned to Saint Petersburg with fully restored health.

In 1876, he became obsessed with Anna Ivanova Popova and began courting her; in 1881 he proposed to her and threatened suicide if she refused. His divorce from Leshcheva was finalized one month after he had married Popova (on 2 April) in early 1882. Even after the divorce, Mendeleev was technically a bigamist; the Russian Orthodox Church required at least seven years before lawful remarriage. His divorce and the surrounding controversy contributed to his failure to be admitted to the Russian Academy of Sciences (despite his international fame by that time). His daughter from his second marriage, Lyubov, became the wife of the famous Russian poet Alexander Blok. His other children were son Vladimir (a sailor, he took part in the notable Eastern journey of Nicholas II) and daughter Olga, from his first marriage to Feozva, and son Ivan and twins from Anna.

Mendeleev made other important contributions to chemistry. The Russian chemist and science historian Lev Chugaev has characterized him as "a chemist of genius, first-class physicist, a fruitful researcher in the fields of hydrodynamics, meteorology, geology, certain branches of chemical technology (explosives, petroleum, and fuels, for example) and other disciplines adjacent to chemistry and physics, a thorough expert of chemical industry and industry in general, and an original thinker in the field of economy." Mendeleev was one of the founders, in 1869, of the Russian Chemical Society. He worked on the theory and practice of protectionist trade and on agriculture.

In another department of physical chemistry, he investigated the expansion of liquids with heat, and devised a formula similar to Gay-Lussac's law of the uniformity of the expansion of gases, while in 1861 he anticipated Thomas Andrews' conception of the critical temperature of gases by defining the absolute boiling-point of a substance as the temperature at which cohesion and heat of vaporization become equal to zero and the liquid changes to vapor, irrespective of the pressure and volume.

Beginning in the 1870s, he published widely beyond chemistry, looking at aspects of Russian industry, and technical issues in agricultural productivity. He explored demographic issues, sponsored studies of the Arctic Sea, tried to measure the value of chemical fertilizers, and promoted the a merchant navy. He was especially active in promoting the Russian petroleum industry, making careful detail comparisons with the more advanced industry in Pennsylvania. He joined in the debate about the scientific claims of spiritualism, arguing that metaphysical idealism was no more than ignorant superstition. He bemoaned the widespread acceptance of spiritualism in Russian culture, and its negative effects on the study of science. Although he was not well grounded in economic theory, he helped convince the Ministry of Finance in 1887-1891 to impose a temporary tariff in 1891 which, based on his wide travels in Europe, suggested it would allow Russian industry to mature faster. After resigning his professorship at at St. Petersburg University following a dispute with officials at the Ministry of Education in 1907, he became director of Russia's Central Bureau of Weights and Measures, he led the way to standardize fundamental prototypes and measurement procedures. He set up an inspection system, and introduced the metric system to Russia.

The basis for the whole story is a popular myth that Mendeleev's 1865 doctoral dissertation "A Discourse on the combination of alcohol and water" contained a statement that 38% is the ideal strength of vodka, and that this number was later rounded to 40% to simplify the calculation of alcohol tax. However, Mendeleev's dissertation was about alcohol concentrations over 70% and he never wrote anything about vodka.

In Saint Petersburg his name was given to D. I. Mendeleev Institute for Metrology, the National Metrology Institute, dealing with establishing and supporting national and worldwide standards for precise measurements. Next to it there is a monument to him that consists of his sitting statue and a depiction of his periodic table on the wall of the establishment.


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