Semenov, Nikolai Nikolaevic

Semenov, Nikolai Nikolaevic

Semenov, Nikolai Nikolaevic: see Semyonov, Nikolay Nikolayevich.
In the Soviet Union, science and technology served as an important part of national politics, practices, and identity. From the time of Lenin until the dissolution of the USSR in the early 1990s, both science and technology were intimately linked to the ideology and practical functioning of the Soviet state, and were pursued along paths both similar and distinct from models in other countries. Many great scientists, who worked in Imperial Russia (like, e.g. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky), continued to work in the USSR and gave birth to Soviet science.

Marked by a highly developed pure science and innovation at the theoretical level, interpretation and application fell short. Biology, chemistry, materials science, mathematics, and physics, were fields in which Soviet citizens have excelled. Science was emphasized at all levels of education, and very large numbers of engineers graduated every year.

The Soviet government made the development and advancement of science a national priority and showered top scientists with honours. Although the sciences were less rigorously censored than other fields such as art, there were several examples of suppression of ideas. In the most notorious, the Ukrainian agronomist Trofim Lysenko refused to accept the chromosome theory of heredity usually accepted by modern genetics. Claiming his theories corresponded to Marxism, he managed to talk Joseph Stalin in 1948 into to banning population genetics and several other related fields of biological research; this decision was not reverted up to the 1960s.

The core of fundamental science was the Academy of Sciences, originally set up in 1725 and moved from Leningrad to Moscow in 1934 and then to Chernogolovka in 1943. It consisted of 250 research institutes and 60,500 full-time researchers in 1987, a large percentage in the natural sciences such as biology. Also, all of the union's republics except the RSFSR had their own mini-academies of science. Despite this, the majority of research (90%) was carried out outside the academy system. Most of this research was of an applied nature related to weapons systems and performed in secret facilities.

Soviet scientists won acclaim in several fields. They were at the cutting edge of science in fields such as mathematics and in several branches of physical science, notably theoretical nuclear physics, chemistry, and astronomy. The physical chemist and physicist Nikolay Semenov was the first Soviet citizen to win a Nobel Prize, in 1956. For a complete list of Soviet Nobel Prize winners, see below.

Soviet technology was most highly developed in the fields of nuclear physics, where the arms race with the West convinced policy makers to set aside sufficient resources for research. Due to a crash program directed by Igor Kurchatov, the Soviet Union was the second nation to develop an atomic bomb, in 1949, four years after the United States. The Soviet Union detonated a hydrogen bomb in 1953, a mere ten months after the United States. Space exploration was also highly developed: in October 1957 the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, into orbit; in April 1961 a Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, became the first man in space. The Soviets maintained a strong space program until economic problems led to cutbacks in the 1980s.

Soviet Nobel Prize winners in science

The following Soviet scientists were recipients of a Nobel prize.



  • 1956 Nikolai Semenov For outstanding work on the mechanism of chemical transformation includes an exhaustive analysis of the application of the chain theory to varied reactions (1934–1954) and, more significantly, to combustion processes. He proposed a theory of degenerate branching, which led to a better understanding of the phenomena associated with the induction periods of oxidation processes.

Scientific Research Institutions (NII)

A large part of research was conducted in NIIs — "scientific research institutions" (Russian: НИИ, нау́чно-иссле́довательский институ́т). There have been a great number of NIIs, each specialized in a particular field.


  • Loren Graham What Have We Learned About Science and Technology from the Russian Experience and Science and Technology in Russia and the Soviet Union

- Soviet Union

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