Frumkin, Aleksandr Naumovich

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(b Kishinev, Russia, 24 October 1895; d Tula, U.S.S.R. [buried in Moscow], 27 May 1976)

physical chemistry.

Frumkin was the son of Naum Yefimovich Frumkin, an official in the insurance business, and of Margarita L’vovna. After graduating in 1912 from the Practical School in Odessa, he continued his studies for two years in Germany and Switzerland. In Bern he studied inorganic chemistry under F. Kaltenschütter. On his return to Odessa, Frumkin graduated as a nonresident student from the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics of Novorossiiskii (Odessa) University (1915). After a year as a chemist in the analytical laboratory of a metallurgical plant, he taught at Novorossiiskii University from 1917 to 1922 in 1920 becoming a professor. In 1919 Frumkin defended his master’s thesis, and in 1934 he received his doctorate. Frumkin married Amalia Davidovna Bogdanovskaia in June 1926. After her death he married Emilia Georgievna Perevalova. There were no children from either marriage.

In Frumkin’s master’s thesis he anticipated the program of his subsequent scientific research associated with the theory of surface phenomena and the theory of electrochemical processes. Frumkin is justly considered the founder of this area of research. He proved the applicability of Willard Gibbs’s thermodynamic equation to the phenomena of adsorption and derived the state equation of an adsorbed layer (Frumkin’s isotherm, which takes into account the interaction between molecules absorbed at adjacent lattice centers). He worked out the quantitative theory of the effects of an electric field on the adsorption of molecules and (through measurement of potential jumps along the gas-solution boundary) obtained information about polarization of organic substances.

In 1932 and in the following years Frumkin developed a theory of the quantitative relationship between the rate of an electrochemical reaction and the structure of the electric double layer on the metal-electrolyte interface. Having studied the electrical characteristics of this layer, he investigated the dependence of the shape of the electrocapillarity curves on the presence of various molecules within the boundary layer; he also worked out methods of studying adsorption phenomena, for example, the rise of electrode potentials and the capacity of an electrical double layer. These works led Frumkin to elaborate the theory of an electromotive force intimately connected with chemical current sources. This theory led to the conclusion that the value of the electromotive force of an electrochemical element is the sum of the difference of potential jumps in the ionic double layer on both electrodes and of the contact potentials of the electrode metals.

In 1927 Frumkin introduced the idea of zerocharge potential (the value of a metal electrode’s potential at which there are no free electrical charges on the metal’s surface) as the fundamental characteristic of metallic electrodes. Another field of his research laid the foundations of modern polarography as one of the means of monitoring—by noninterfering instantaneous investigation—the kinetics of chemical reactions, including some that are very difficult to study (such as simultaneous polymerization of several monomers of various types of polarity). This method was based on investigations of concentrational polarization. Concentrational polarization is the difference ΔE between the values of electrode potentials at equilibrium and at the flow through the electrode of an external electrical current i ΔE is due to the deviation, by electrode concentrations, of the substances in reaction from their values in the electrolyte solution volume (as the result of hindered diffusion of those substances).

where F is the Faraday number, n is the number of electrons involved in the process, and id is the limiting diffusion current.

Frumkin clarified the mechanism of many electrode reactions, for instance, those of regeneration of oxygen and a number of anions. Many of his research papers concern the corrosion of metals and various methods of protecting against it. He studied wetting of metals by electrolytes. These investigations resulted in an important contribution to the mining industry—the development of the theory of flotation processes, which makes it possible to separate the metals from minerals.

Frumkin’s theoretical ideas have found applications in investigations of chemical sources of current, commercial electrolysis, polarography, heterogeneous catalysis, colloid chemistry, and bioelectrochemistry. In his last works, published between 1965 and 1975, he revised some of the fundamental ideas of electrochemistry concerning the charge of electrodes and elaborated a thermodynamic theory of the metal-electrolyte interface of catalytically active electrodes.

Frumkin devoted much effort to the organization of Soviet science. In 1942 he became head of the department of surface phenomena at the L. la. Karpov Institute of Physical Chemistry in Moscow, which he had joined in 1922 at the invitation of A. N. Bach; he remained there until 1946. From 1939 to 1949 he was director of the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences, and from 1958 to 1976 he was head of the Institute of Electrochemistry of the Academy of Sciences.

From 1930 to 1976 Frumkin was head of the department of electrochemistry at Moscow University. In the year 1928–1929 he lectured on colloidal chemistry at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. His students and followers at Novorossiiskii University and in a number of laboratories of the Academy of Sciences” institutes formed a school that gave rise to a number of satellites, the best-known of which are the school of physicochemical mechanics founded by P.A. Rebinder and the school of two-dimensional liquids led by B.V. Deryagin. With N.N. Semenov, Frumkin organized international meetings on physical chemistry held in the Soviet Union in the 1920’s and mid 1930’s. These meetings played an important role in the formation of physical chemistry as a separate field of research in the Soviet Union.

Frumkin’s scientific achievements received wide recognition. In 1932 he was elected full member of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences. In 1931 he was awarded the Lenin Prize. He was an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and the French and Belgian chemical societies; and a foreign (or full) member of the Bulgarian, Dutch, and Polish academies, the German Academy of Sciences (Leopoldina), and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

An admirer of poetry and art. Frumkin amassed a very valuable collection of paintings and a sizable library of Russian poetry.


By gracious permission of Prof. V. E. Kazarinov, this essay draws upon his article on Frumkin in the third edition of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia.

1. Original Works. Elektrokapilliarnie iavleniia i elektrodnia potentsiali (Electrocapillary phenomena and electrode potentials; Odessa. 1919): “Wasserstoffüberspannung und Struktur der Doppelsicht,” in Zeitschrift für physikalische Chemie, ser. A 164 nos. 1–2 (1933), 121–133; Kinetika elektrodnykh protsessov (Kinetics of electrode processes; Moscow, 1952), written with V.S. Bagotskii Z.A. Jofa, and B.N. Kabanov: “K voprosu ob energii aktivatsii razriada iona vodoroda” (Activation energy of the discharge of hydrogen ions), in Zhurnal fizicheskoi khimii, 29 no. 8 (1955) 1513–1526, written with M.I. Temkin; “O kolcevom diskovom elektrode” (On the ring disk electrode), in Doklady Akademii nauk SSSR. 126 no. 1 (1959), 115–118, written with L.N. Nekrasov; “Ob opredelenii zariada reagiruiushchei chastitsiiz zavisimosti kinetiki elektrovosstanovleniia ot potentsiala i kontsentratsii fona” (On the determination of the influence of a charge of a reactive particle from the dependence of the Kinetics of electroreduction on the potential and environmental concentration), ibid147, no. 2 (1961), 418–421, written with O.A. Petrii.

’Hydrogen Overvoltage and Adsorption Phenomena,” in Advances in Electrochemistry and Electrochemical Engineering., 1 (1961), 65–121, and 3 (1963), 287–391; “Vliianie adsorbtsii neutralnikh molekul i organicheskikh kationov na kinetiku elektrodnikh protsessov” (The influence of the adsorption of neutral molecules and organic cations on the kinetics of the electrode processes), in Trudy 14-go Soveshchaniia mezhdunarodnogo komiteta po elektrokhimicheskoi termodinamike i kinetike (Moscow, 1965), 302ff; “Hydrogen Evolution from Alkaline Solutions on Metals of High Overvoltage,” in Electrochimica Acts, 15 no. 2 (1970) 289–301: Potentsiali nulevogo zariada (The zero-charge potentials; 2nd ed., Moscow, 1982); Izbrannie trudi. Elektrodnii protsessi (Selected works. The electrode processes), B.P. Nikol’skii, ed., (Moscow, 1987).

II Secondary Literature. N. A. Bakh, “Raboty A. N. Frumkina” (A. N. Frumkin’s works), in Uspekhi khimii, 6 no. 11 (1937), 1572–1582; and B. N. Kabanov and O. V. Isakova, “Aleksandr Naumovich Frumkin.” in Materiali K biobibliografii uchenikh SSSR, ser Khimicheskikh nauk. fasc. 44 (Moscow, 1955; 2nd ed. 1970). In the latter, in both editions Kabanov wrote the text; the bibliography in 1955 was by Isakova and in 1970 by R. I. Goriachova and I.A Makhrova.

V. J. Frenkel

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