Belaiew, Nicholas Timothy

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Belaiew, Nicholas Timothy

in Russian Nikolai Timofeevich Beliaev

(b. St. Petersburg, Russia, 26 June 1878; d. Paris, France, 5 November 1955)


Belaiew was the son of Gen. T. M. Beliaev, From 1902 to 1905 he studied at the Mikhailovskoi Artilleriiskoi Akademii, a graduate school of military engineering in St. Petersburg. He remained at this academy until 1914, first as a tutor and later (from 1909) as professor of metallurgical chemistry. Wounded early in World War I, in 1915 Belaiew was sent to England in connection with munitions supply; he remained there after the Revolution, working as an industrial consultant. In 1934 he moved to Paris.

Belaiew’s papers have a strong historical bent. He claimed inspiration from his famed teacher, D. K. Chernoff, and from P.P. Anosov, who had established the manufacture of Damascus steel swords in Russia in 1841. Belaiew himself wrote a classic paper on the history and metallurgy of Damascus steel (1918). In 1944 he studied, in engineering steels, the coalescence of iron carbide that the Oriental swordmakers had unknowingly achieved through their methods of forging. His scientific contributions are mainly in his first book, Kristallizatsia, struktura i svoystva stalipri medlennom okhlazhdenii (1909), which provided the basis for several later papers in French, German, and English as well as for a small book in English (1922).

He showed that the geometric Widmanstätten structure, which had been discovered in 1804 in meteorites, could also be produced in steel under certain conditions of cooling. (He achieved the right structure by accident, because a foreman, anxious to get on with production, disregarded instructions and removed the steel ingot from the furnace before it was fully transformed.) Belaiew’s emphasis on the crystallographic basis of the change and his detailed analysis of the geometry in this one case strongly influenced an important decade of metallurgical thinking.


Belaiew’s principal works are Kristallizatsia, struktura i svoystva stali pri medlennom okhlazhdenii (St. Petersburg, 1909); “Damascence Steel,” in Journal of the Iron and Steel Institute, 97 (1918), 417–437, and 104 (1921), 181–184; The Crystallization of Metals (London, 1922); “Swords and Meteors,” in Mining and Metallurgy, 20 (1939), 69–70, “ coalescence dans les aciers eutectoïdes et hypereutectoïdes, in Revue de métallurgie, 41 (1944), 65 ff. (in 8 parts).

Also see Robert F. Mehl, “On the Widmanstaätten Structure,” in The Sorby Centennial Symposium on the History of Metallurgy (New York, 1965), pp. 245–269.

C. S. Smith

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