By Academician Yuri VASILYEV, President of St. Petersburg State Polytechnical University; Professors Yuri BOLDYREV and Yuri GORYUNOV, of the same university
The classical methods harking back to the luminaries of the 17th- 18th centuries (I. Newton, L Euler, J. Lagrange, among others) could no longer satisfy the needs of natural sciences at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. This concerned above all physics and its practical uses. Experiments carried out by Maechelson in determining the velocity of light; by W. Roentgen, who has discovered X-rays; the works of M. Plank, the father of the quantum theory, and of A. Einstein, the author of the theory of relativity-all that prepared the ground for stupendous breakthroughs in science and engineering. It was in those dramatic times that the St. Petersburg Polytechnical Institute, now State University, came into being.
Needless to say, new ideas in natural sciences and enhancing the role of science in societal life were something that touched many scientists and public figures in Russia. They understood that unless these fresh trends made their way into the educational system, and unless it was rebuilt on an updated scientific basis, the instruction of our engineering corps would be below the mark.
Our university owes its birth to Sergei Vitte, an eminent statesman elected to the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1893 as its honorary member. Acting on his report, the government passed a decision on setting up a Polytechnical College (Institute) in Russia's northern capital. This is how S. Yitte, Finance Minister at the time, argumented his idea: "Now, with the development of industry and commerce in Russia, there is an ever growing need for persons expressly trained for state and private activity. The need is just as bad for persons with higher education in mechanics and related specialities, in machine engineering, shipbuilding and electromechanics."
The decision to set up a polytechnic was a progressive move on the part of the government and a major step toward reforming Russia into an advanced state whose industries could rely on a solid educational and scientific-technical backing. At its organizational stage, the Polytechnical Institute was financed from the state budget, and the expenditure bill was specified five years ahead, with the Finance Ministry acting as the guarantor. The very scope of this project is impressive: similar colleges were set up in Kiev and Warsaw (the Kingdom of Poland was within Russia at the time). The aim was to train engineers on a par with world standards. S. Vitte wrote in part, "I have an idea-to institute... technical universities in Russia in the form of Polytechnical colleges embracing various fields of human knowledge and organized not as technical schools but as universities, i.e. organized in a mode most suitable for rearing young people and giving them a broad range of human knowledge..." This wonderful idea was crucial for our country's scientific and technical
achievements in the 20th century. Today we can fully enjoy its fruits.
Here we should pay tribute to Dmitry Mendeleyev, the author of the Periodic Table of Elements, also, eminent economist of the day who was one of the masterminds of Russia's industrial progress, to Vladimir Kovalevsky and other prominent Russian scientists who drew up the plan for these educational institutions. We cannot help but admire and wonder at the substantive nature of this document which envisaged a special status for the graduates, autonomy for the institutes and appropriate curricula.
A government commission was set up so as to superintend the construction of the St. Petersburg Polytechnical Institute, under Prince A. Gagarin (1855 - 1921) who then became its first director. He was a man of broad liberal views and of high prestige. Holding an academic degree in mathematics and St. Petersburg University graduate, Prince Gagarin completed a course at the Artillery Academy to become a career army officer. He is the author of a system of materials testing-for one, he designed a press for the purpose (Gagarin's press).
The government supervised the building works, and Vitte endorsed the plans of the premises. The construction of the polytechnic compound proceeded fast: the ground- breaking ceremony was held on June 18, 1899, and by the fall of 1902 the entire complex could welcome undergraduates-the central edifice, the buildings of the Chemical and Mechanical Departments, two dormitories, residential houses for the faculty and employees, a boiler house, an electric power station, a gas works and other vital services stood ready.
The statute of the St. Petersburg Polytechnical Institute and its table of organization were approved by His Majesty on the second of April, 1902.
In fact, this was a pioneering effort in launching Europe's polytechnical education which combined a thorough background in the sciences with practical problem solving in the field of technology and engineering, well-conceived and elaborated, the progressive ideas, principles and methods instilled in the Polytechnic endured in spite of many vicissitudes of fortune. Outstanding Russian scientists were behind these principles and ideas: D. Mendeleyev, Corresponding Member of the
Russian Academy of Sciences; A. Krylov (subsequently elected to the Academy of Sciences), mathematician and shipwright; A. Popov, the inventor of radio; D. Chernov, expert in metallurgy; V. Kirpichev, who researched in mechanics; M. Schatelen (a future corresponding member of the USSR Academy of Sciences) who contributed much to electromechanics; N. Tavildarov, researcher in chemical technology; N. Bele-lyubsky who designed and built bridges; N. Yegorov, a physicist and researcher in spectroscopy.. This list could be continued.
A tutorial commission led by General N. Petrov of the Corps of Engineers (an Honorary Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, he developed the theory of lubrication) drew up the Polytechnic's statute, and the first curricula and syllabuses. As General Petrov noted, the higher technical school should give an intellectual grounding equal to university education. Its graduates should have a good background for independent research in different spheres of technology, he stressed. We might as well say here that the first curricula prepared for the opening of the Polytechnic did not need any changes for as long as twenty years.
It is also important that the Polytechnical Institute's professors had a free hand in their teaching methods, and their concrete suggestions were realized in the tutorial process.
The young college developed research schools of its own, headed by the leading lights of science, such as K. Boklevsky (shipbuilding), A. Postnikov (economics), N. Menshutkin (chemistry) and M. Schatelen (electromechanics), who were in charge of respective departments (faculties).
Highly competent professors and instructors were selected for the faculty, regardless of their political outlooks and connections. Taking part in research was a must. Professors were appointed by decision of the trade minister at the recommendation of the collegiate council.
Freshmen had to take up a number of specialist subjects as a stepping stone toward a deep knowledge of the natural sciences and engineering disciplines. Senior undergraduates were drawn into research work at respective academic chairs, and were supposed to present term papers substantive in their content. Students of the graduation class were to hand in diploma works related to engineering and based on laboratory experiments and mathematical calculations. Design was an essential part of these graduation papers. The tradition of encouraging independent research among undergraduates is still alive with us. For eight years in a row the St. Petersburg Polytechnical University has been the leader at a competition of students' research works, which is organized by Russia's Ministry of Education.
In January 1910, on the solicitation of the collegiate council, our college received its full name of the "St. Petersburg Polytechnical Institute of Emperor Peter the Great".
Many of our alumni took part in the construction of industrial giants and large electric power stations, and in developing unsettled territories. They played a great role in as good as all major state programs in this country: beginning with the GOERLO plan (providing for Russia's all-out electrification and drawn up in 1920) and ending with the Soviet nuclear and space exploration programs. Here are some of the names: Academicians A. Alexandrov, Ya. Zeldovich, I. Kurchatov, Yu. Khariton; Corresponding Members of the USSR Academy of Sciences K. Shchelkin; and N. Dukhov.
Our research schools in physics, power engineering and in military hardware designing have gained international renown. Two prominent physicists, Nobel Prize winners P Kapitsa and N. Semyonov (both members of the Academy of Sciences), began their research and teaching career at our college. Academician A. Joffe, back in the hungry year of 1918, managed to rally talented youth and fire their interest in physics. Even though our country was isolated from the rest of the world in those days, Joffe could found an academic research center, the Physicotechnical Institute now bearing his name. This outstanding scientist is also the father of the Department of Physics and Mathematics (1919), a unique school for generations of Russia's physicists.
The name of our Academician G. Flerov is indissolubly linked with the launching of the Soviet nuclear project. Working together with K. Petrzhak, he discovered the phenomenon of spontaneous fission of heavy nuclei. He was well aware of the danger hanging over our country which, in those grim war years, had to start an atomic project (we were much behind the United States and Germany at the time). And so within a few years the Soviet Union developed an atom bomb, and the United States lost its atom monopoly. Thereafter our country outstripped the United States in developing a family of thermonuclear bombs.
Widely known all over the world are the works of our prominent researcher in physics and mechanics A Friedman: on dynamic meteorology, on the statistical theory of turbulence, and on nonstationary models of the universe. His nontrivial solutions of the problem of an expanding universe were received with a good deal of caution in the scientific community of the day, including the father of the theory of relativity Albert Einstein (though later he agreed with the professor of the Leningrad Polytechnical Institute).
Our scientists have played an immense part in creating the electric power supply system of this country. We have also been the cradle of the Russian school of hydraulic engineering. Its founders are our men, yes! - Academicians B. Galerkin and N. Pavlovsky. This country's first hydro-power stations-at Volkhov near Leningrad (1921 -1926) and the Dnieper station (1927 - 1932) were built to the blueprints that came from our Polytechnical Institute. In subsequent years, none of the major hydro- power projects in the Soviet Union could do without our expertise.
Our experts have made an immense contribution to developing this country's Power Grid. Here we should name Academicians V Mitkevich, L. Melentyev, A. Voronov, M. Kostenko, I. Glebov, Yu. Danilevich, V Glukhikh, N. Tikhodeyev, Yu. Rudenko, and K. Demirchyan; of Corresponding Members of the USSR and Russian Academy of Sciences M. Schatelen, M. Kostenko, G. Alexandrov; of Professors A. Gorev, W Tolvinsky and many other our graduates and researchers.
Many generations of our alumni have done a remarkable lot for this country's defense capability. For instance, M. Koshkin, J. Kotin and N. Dukhov designed the best tanks in the period of the Great Patriotic War (1941 - 1945)-T-34, KV and IS. The outstanding aircraft designer N. Polikarpov developed the legendary light bomber PO- 2 (for night flights) and a number of fighter planes. O. Antonov and his men designed a family of the world's largest transport aircraft, AN. The works of G. Beriev and his design office have gained world recognition, as shown by the 2002 exhibition of seaplanes.
Our Polytechnical Institute has played a huge role in the development of space science and engineering. Here we may recall the works of Professor I. Meshchersky (early 20th century) on the dynamics of variable-mass bodies; these works, far ahead of their time, came to be appreciated only with the appearance of guided missile systems. Our people have also been involved in developing the first guiding systems for artificial satellites of the earth and piloted spacecraft.
Our Polytechnic has given rise to many colleges of this country, including the Moscow Aviation (1930) and the Leningrad Shipbuilding (also founded in 1930) Institutes. Today Northern Palmyra has about 20 higher schools and research centers that have sprung from the Polytechnical Institute. It has branches in eight members of the Russian Federation. St. Petersburg, the city on the Neva, boasts of 2,500 college teachers, among them 600 professors holding the academic degree of Doctor of Sciences and 1,200 assistant professors and Candidates of Sciences (M. Sc.). The Polytechnical University's faculty and research staff include full and corresponding members of the Russian Academy of Sciences and many sectoral academies. Since 1978 our school has been operating under the scientific and methodic guidance of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Cooperating with us are more than 150 higher schools and research bodies abroad-in Britain, Germany, France, USA, Israel, China, Syria, and other countries.
To conclude, the long list of our alumni is also graced with the names of people prominent in the world of arts and culture: People's Artists of the USSR G. Belov and L. Vivien; rector of the Academy of Arts A Belogrud, and its member V. Shchuko, the architect; world chess champion M. Botvinnik; men of letters D. Granin, B. Zhitkov, Ye. Zamyatin and F Raskolnikov; cartoonist P Matyunin; composer, musician and the inventor of the first electromusical instrument ("termenvox") L. Termen.
Such is the record of our alma mater over more than a hundred years of its life.
Опубликовано 10 сентября 2018 года
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