Belov, Nikolai Vasil’evich

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(b. Janów, Poland, 14 December 1891; d. Moscow. U.S.S.R., 6 March 1982)

crystallography, crystal chemistry, geochemistry.

Belov was the son of Vasili Vasi’evich Belov, a district physician, and of Olga Andreevna Belova. After graduating from the Warsaw gymnasium with a gold medal in 1910, he entered the metallurgical department of the Petrograd Polytechnical Institute. from which he received a degree in electrochemistry in 1921. While a student he married Aleksandra Grigorievna; they had two daughters.

After graduation Belov went to work in the central chemical laboratory of the Leningrad Tanning Trust. While there, he published short notes on the latest scientific achievements in Priroda, a popular magazine. The mineralogist and geochemist A. E. Fersman took notice of Belov and encouraged him to do research on minerals from Khibiny, nepheline and apatite. Belov subsequently produced works on the use of nepheline in the tanning, textile, papermaking, and woodworking industries.

In 1933 Belov was named a senior scientific worker in the Lomonosov Institute of Geochemistry. Mineralogy, and Crystallography of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R. He translated Odd Hassel’s Kristallchemie into Russian (1936); his commentary doubled the length of the book, and the number of illustrations was increased from six to sixty. For several years this book served as the main manual for Soviet crystallographers and mineralogists. He subsequently translated the fundamental works on the structure of silicates by F. K. L. Machatschki, W. L. Bragg, Ernst Schiebold, and W. H. Taylor.

In 1936 Belov moved from Leningrad to Moscow in connection with the transfer of the Academy of Sciences to the capital of the Soviet Union. Here he joined the crystallography department founded by A. V. Shubnikov. He became absorbed in the problems of crystal chemistry and structural crystallography. During the following years Belov created the generalized crystal chemical picture of the structure of inorganic compounds on the basis of the theory of the closest packing of spheres. Earlier, Linus Pauling had shown that besides the two classical closest spherical packings—cubic and hexagonal—there is an infinite multitude of such packings. Belov demonstrated in a simple and clear way that this multitude obeys only eight laws of symmetry: eight of the space groups of E. S. Fedorov and Arthur Schoenflies (the total number of such groups is 230). The theory of close packings classified the symmetry laws and showed how to use them to interpret crystal structures.

Belov presented his findings in his monograph Struktura ionnykh kristallov i metallicheskikh faz (The structure of ionic crystals and metallic phases, 1947). This study, widely known as the’ blue book’ (for the color of its cover) became a sort of bible for research workers in structural crystallography and crystal chemistry.

During World War II, Belov remained in Moscow although the Institute of Crystallography had been evacuated to the Urals. During this time he completed his dissertation and received his doctorate in 1943. In 1946 Belov was elected a corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R. and became a professor in the department of crystalography of the Physical-Mathematical Faculty at the University of Gorky. Although he headed I his department as a commuter from Moscow, he was able to train a great number of specialists in crystallography. In Strukturnaia kristallografiia (1951) he presented an extremely simple form of the derivation of the 230 space groups. Belov encouraged his pupils to determine the structures of numerous minerals, In 1952 he was awarded the State Prize, First Class, in physics for his works on atomic structures of minerals.

In 1953 Belov became an academician in the department of geological and geographical sciences. At that time he was mainly interested in silicates. By then W. L. Bragg and his school had created what seemed to be an exhaustive theory of silicate structure. Its basic unit was a silicon-oxygen tetrahedron, SiO4, consisting of a siliconatom surrounded by four oxygen atoms. Joined by common apices, such tetrahedrons form chains, ribbons, sheets, and three-dimensional frameworks. Comparatively small cations lodge between them.

From 1953 on, Belov and his pupils determined the structure of a number of silicates with large cations, such as calcium and sodium. Their basic building unit proved to be a pair of silicon-oxygen tetrahedrons with one common apex, Si2O7. The main role in the structures of corresponding silicates is played by combinations of large cations to which inert silicon-oxygen radicals are attached. In the Soviet Union two chapters stand out in the crystal chemistry of silicates. The first was written by W. L. Bragg. Thesecond was created in Belov. Proceeding from the principles he had formulated, Belov and his pupils determined more than 200 different structures of minerals.

Remarkable results he had obtained in the crystal chemistry of silicates were awarded the Lenin Prize (1974) and were summarized in Belov’s fundamental monograph Ocherki pa stntktunuri mineralologii (Essays on structural mineralogy, 1976). Belov did not, however, confine himself to structural mineralogy. His works devoted to geochemical processes of mineral formation, the separation of minerals from magma, and problems of isomorphism are widely known. His structural conclusions were widely employed in industry. Belov also obtained a number of fundamental results in the development of the modern theory of symmetry (the derivation of 1, 651 space groups of black-white symmetry [antisymmetry], the development of color symmetry).

In 1953 Belov became a professor, in 1961 head of the department of crystallography and crystal chemistry of the Geological Faculty at Moscow University. For many years he was a member of the International Union of Crystallographers (vice president 1957–1963, president 1966–1969). The mineralogical societies of the United States, Great Britain, and France, and the Geological Society of the German Democratic Republic, elected Belov honorary member. He was a foreign member of the Polish Academy of Sciences and held an honorary doctorate from Wroclaw University, The Soviet Union gave him the title Hero of Socialist Labor (1969), and the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R. presented him with its highest award, the Lomonosov Gold Medal (1966).

Among his colleagues and friends Belov was noted for his exceptional kindness, sympathy, and un assuming manner. He possessed great erudition in history, art, and the humanities as well as in exact sciences. A phenomenal memory allowed Belov to learn foreign languages with ease. Humor and wit enlivened his scientific reports and public addresses.


I. Original Works. Belov published more than 500 works. Among the most important are Struktura ionnykh kristallov i metallitcheskikh faz (The structure of ionic crystals and metallic phases: Moscow, 1947); Strukturnaia kristallografiia (Structural crystallography; Moscow, 1951); and Ocherki po strukturnoi mineralogii (Essays on structural mineralogy; Moscow, 1976). His personal reminiscences are in Peter P. Ewald. ed., Fifty Years of X-ray Diffraction (Utrecht, 1962), 520–521.

II. Secondary Literature. “Nikolai Vasil’ evich Belov (1891–1982),” in Bibliografiia uchenykh SSSR (Bibliographical index of the U.S.S.R.; Moscow 1987), 1–10; “Nikolai Vasil’ evich Belov (on His Seventieth Birthday),’ in Belov’s Crystal Chemistry of Large-Catitm Silicates (New York, 1963); and B. K. Vainshtein and V. I. Si monov,” Nikolay Vasilyevich Belov, 14 December 1891–6 March 1982,’ in Acta crystallographica, A38 (1982), 561–562.

I. I. Shafranovsky