ALEXANDER LEONIDOVICH CHIZHEVSKY (1897-1964)
Alexander Chizhevsky’s name is not so well known as some other space researchers, primarily because his sphere was space biology and space medicine which has always attracted less attention than some other aspects of space research. Moreover his name was for many years covered with “the seven seals” of Stalin’s GULAG concentration camp system, but because what he did was of such great importance it is necessary to recall his name and celebrate his achievements.
Alexander Leonidovich was born on 26th January 1897 (8th February by Gregorian calendar) in the small town of Tshchanovets, Gradno region, where his father an artillery officer served. Chizhevsky’s family started with Peter I. Chizhevsky, “court tenor” of Elizabeth Petrovna the Russian empress from 1741-61, who awarded him an hereditary nobility in 1743.
Alexander’s father Leonid Vasilievich (1861-1929) finished the Alexandrovskaye Military School having become a military officer in the family tradition. He was promoted General in 1916 but as a lieutenant had invented a commander’s deflection for artillery invisible target shooting from the closed position and he also worked on rocketry, experimenting with rockets invented by General Konstantin Konstantinov (1817-1898) and improving them, but this came to an end through lack of support from the military artillery committee. However in 1915-16 the idea of using rockets was incorporated into some artillery and air force operations on his recommendation. After the October Revolution of 1917 Leonid served in the red Army.
Alexander’s mother Vadjhde Alexandrovna (born Neviandt) (1875-1898) had died from tuberculosis before her son had reached his first birthday, so Alexander was brought up by his aunt Olga V Chizhevskaya-Lesly (who lived with her brother’s family from 1899 until her death) and Leonid’s mother, Alexander’s grandmother—Elizabeth Semenovna (born Oblachinskaya). As Alexander later wrote himself his aunt became his second real mother. His grandmother became his first teacher and tutor. She had home education but was brilliant for that time, speaking, French, English and German, reading Italian and Swedish, and she knew her history very well especially regarding medieval times.
Alexander was a sickly boy so his anxious father sent him abroad with his aunt and grandma to Italy and Southern France for some months every year until 1906. Additionally during Leonid’s holidays they travelled in Italy, France, Greece and Egypt.
In December 1906 Leonid was moved to the town of Bela in Sedletsky region where his son entered the primary school. The home education he had received had included natural and precise sciences but he was mostly interested in the humanities, enjoying music, poetry and painting. Aged four he learned by heart Russian, German and French verses which his grandma made him read aloud and little by little he started to write verse himself.
In 1913 Leonid Vasilievich was appointed to the city of Kaluga where Alexander entered the private modern school of F.M.Shakhmagonov. Being at high school the boy dreamed over becoming a professional artists or man of letters although he was already expressing a keen interest in scientific matters, particularly astronomy. He had already produced a treatise “The Shortest Astronomy by Dr Chizhevsky compiled by Flammarion, Klein et al.”
Life changing events occurred in 1914-15 when Alexander met Konstantin E. Tsiolkovksy and their teacher-pupil relationship developed into friendship over the years. On 19th July (1st August—Gregorian) 1914 Germany declared war against Russia and Leonid’s battalion took the field. Alexander entreated his father to allow him to join up especially after his schoolmate Tansky wangled his way into Leonid’s battalion.
In 1915 Chizhevsky finished the modern school and with various interests he could not decide what to study—at Moscow’s Institute of Commerce or of Archaeology. However before leaving he spent the summer of 1915 observing the Sun and these actions played a decisive role in his future activity. Chizhesky noted and proved that periodical changes in solar activity were also important for the organic world, a revolutionary hypothesis at the time though difficult to imagine otherwise now.
Once at the Institute of Commerce Alexander naturally hoped to report on the Sun’s activities/ His report “The influence of perturbations of the Sun’s electrical regime on biological phenomena” caused ructions amongst scholars at that time. At this time Chizhevsky was also rubbing shoulders with such Russian poets as Ivan Bunin and Valery Brusov.
He joined the war in 1916 fighting on the Galician front suffering shell-shock and gaining the St George’s Cross before being demobbed. By 1918 he had gained the title of Educated Archaeologist and was made a member of the Moscow Institute.
Between 1917 and 1923 Chizhevsky lectured on The History of the Development of Precise Science in the ancient world and the History of Archaeological Discovery. He was also attending lectures in the Physics and Mathematics Departments and he took part in the work of the Nature Research Society in Kaluga.
In the early 1920s Chizhevsky published his book “Physical Factors of Historical Process”, so causing impetuous criticism. “They flung mud at me,” he later wrote, “I was nicknamed not only “sun-worshipper”—which I took for granted but also “obscurantist”! So this publication was of great and mainly negative significance for Chizhevsky’s scientific and personal fate.
In 1918 Chizhevsky had started to research the individual elements of a possible Earth-Sun connexion mechanism. He considered the problem of air ionisation a priority. Since there was no hope of working for a government organisation Chizhevsky decided to create a laboratory at home using his own meagre means and by the end of 1919 the first scientific results had been obtained and in December of that year he presented a report at the Kaluga Nature Research Society.
This report brought him into contact with the outstanding Russian physicist and academician Peter P. Lazarev (1878-1942). Lazarev familiarised himself with Chizhevsky’s results and supported the young man in any way he could, permitting him to worked at Lazarev’s Biophysical Research Institute.
Chizhevsky sent his report to many foreign readers and he was delighted to receive a reply from Svante Arrhenius, the Nobel Prize Winners who invited him to work for him, but this did not come to fruition, despite help from Lunacharsky and Maxim Gorky. Chizhevsky then found himself unemployed as hoping to go abroad he had resigned from all his posts. However with a year Lunarcharsky had come to his rescue and Chizhevsky was working for Literature dept of the Ministry of Education in a sinecure.
In 1922-24 Chizhevsky occupied the post of temporary consultant at the Institute of Biological Physics at the Ministry of Health and between 1923-26 he was the chief expert in biology and medicine and a member of the technical council of the Inventors Association. In 1923 he also obtained a post at Vladimir Durov’s Practical Zoo / Psychology Laboratory and he became a member of the its academic council, so making many observations of animals. Durov was interested in experiments on the influence of air ions on animal and human behaviour and regularly involved Chizhevsky in his experiments.
Gradually this research attracted international attention with French scientists amongst the first to express and interest in the problems of air ionisation and space biology. In 1929 Chizhevsky was elected a member of Tulan Academy of Sciences and invited to lecture on Biophysics and Columbia University New York in the United States.
Between 1924 and 1930 Chizhevsky compiled very extensive statistics pm man years’ dynamics of different biosphere processes and came out with a deduction of their connection with cycles of solar activity.
He now began to receive support from the Soviet government and in 1931 the Central Research :Laboratory was established with government funds, under Chizhevsky’s direction. Dozens of scientific articles on the problem of ionisation and related matters were published by him.
In 1937 he was invited to organised two aero-ionisation laboratories at the Palace of Soviets Buildings and here he got an opportunity to explore the problem very comprehensively. This work is not well known: many solutions had been founded but interrupted by World War Two, work began on them again in the 1950s.
Chizhevsky was arrested in 1942 on account of some of his previous writings and spent eight year in a GULAG being released only in 1950 and resettled in Karaganda in Kazakhstan where he lived until rehabilitation in 1958/ He did more scientific work in the coal mines of Karaganda and on his return to Moscow he introduced the aerionic therapy into some medical establishments, founding a scientific research laboratory on air ionization and air conditioning.
He remained as scientific consultant and head of the Sojuzsanteknika laboratory until his death on 20th December 1964 whereupon he was buried in the Russian capital. His achievement was only fully appreciated after his death. In 1965 the Soviet Academy of Sciences formed a special commission to look into his archives.
Over thirty years have passed since then and our life has entirely confirmed the importance of his work for biology and medicine. His works are still studied in our modern times.
("ORBIT", Journal of the Astro Space Stamp Society, Issue ¹ 50, June 2001).