Korzhinskii, Dimitri Sergeyevich

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(b. Saint Petersburg, Russia, 13 September 1899; d. Moscow, Russia, 17 November 1985),

theoretical petrology, chemical thermodynamics of rock recrystallization, metamorphism in open systems, Korzhinskii’s mineralogical phase rule.

Korzhinskii’s major contribution was to apply the basic principles of physical chemistry to an understanding of the origin and evolution of igneous and metamorphic rocks. Beginning in the mid-1930s he introduced revolutionary new concepts of how the mineral suites that make up these rock formations may be recrystallized while maintaining conditions of thermodynamic equilibrium. His most radical departure from prevailing theory was to postulate that equilibration may take place in systems that are open to the gain or loss of components such as H2 O and CO2. Korzhinskii’s theories met with strong opposition from a majority of petrologists in the USSR and abroad, who believed that thermodynamic equilibrium is strictly limited to closed systems. By the end of his career, however, Korzhinskii’s fundamental approach was being adopted worldwide.

Education, Fieldwork, and Professional Appointments . In 1900, the year after Dimitri’s birth, his father, the academician Sergey I. Korzhinskii, chief botanist of the Saint Petersburg Botanical Garden, died while he was on a scientific expedition. His sudden loss left Dimitri, the youngest of four children, to be raised and educated by his mother with the help of private tutors. Dimitri’s preparation was of such a high quality that at the age of twelve he was admitted directly into the fourth grade of the gymnasium. He completed courses there in a short time and entered a technical school from which he graduated in 1918, just as the Russian civil war began.

In 1919 Dimitri led a geological reconnaissance survey on the Kola Peninsula, where he was captured by the British and persuaded to join the White Army. He served as a telephonist until February 1920, when his unit rebelled and joined the Red Army. The Red Army transferred him to Saint Petersburg (Leningrad after 1924), where he continued working as a telephonist until 1921, when he took the examinations for the Leningrad Mining Institute and passed them with such distinction that he was accepted as a second-year student. That left him free to leave the army. At the institute, he encountered physical chemistry for the first time and was struck by its vital importance to petrology, a connection that had gone largely unappreciated in Europe and America.

Korzhinskii graduated from the institute in 1926 and spent the next ten years leading field parties sponsored by the Central Geological and Prospecting Institute in Leningrad, where he gave lectures as time permitted. He mapped several areas in Kazakhstan, and then moved to eastern Siberia, where he studied the Aldan Massif of Archaen metamorphosed marbles, the ancient quartzbearing crystalline schists, and the phlogopite-lazulite deposits near Lake Baikal. Afterward, he recalled his experience in the phlogopite deposits as one of his happiest times in the field, when new ideas kept coming to him— one after another.

In 1935 and 1936 he published his first four papers linking petrology and physical chemistry. In 1937 he entered the Institute of Geological Sciences of the USSR Academy of Sciences in Moscow, where he was awarded the title of candidate of science. He then prepared a thesis for a doctoral degree, which he earned about six months later in 1938. Korzhinskii remained in Moscow for the rest of his life. During his years of field work in remote regions, Korzhinskii had begun formulating his original theories. All that time he was effectively isolated from contact with colleagues who were actively pursuing research and from publications in the Russian and international literature. The wonder is that, inasmuch as his ideas would prove to be of such fundamental importance, they were not anticipated by research teams in Europe or the United States. When he moved to Moscow in 1937, all the scientific support facilities he had lacked became available to him—laboratory equipment, libraries, colleagues, and students. Nevertheless, he continued to work independently.

Original Contributions . Metamorphism invokes the replacement of one mineral suite with another by recrystallization. The classical approach to metamorphism was governed by the theoretical work on equilibrium in heterogeneous systems published in 1878 by Josiah Willard Gibbs (1839–1903). Many petrologists and geologists were convinced that Gibbs’s theorems were applicable only to rocks in closed systems that undergo no change in bulk chemical composition. They would not apply to rocks in open systems, in which the content of certain components vary during the process. However, Korzhinskii perceived that Gibbs’s principles should apply equally well to rocks in both open and closed systems, and he took the bold step of publishing on heterogeneous equilibrium in metasomatic rocks, which are well known to behave as open systems. Equilibration in an open system is dependent on externally imposed values of temperature and pressure, and also on the externally imposed values of chemical potential or activities of fluid components, chiefly H2 O and CO2.

In tracing rock-forming processes, Korzhinskii distinguished between two kinds of components that he designated as inert and mobile depending on whether they retained their initial content or were gained or lost. Korzhinskii saw under the microscope that changes in composition occur mainly along grain boundaries that form continuous networks throughout the rocks. These networks serve as pathways for the migration, by diffusion and percolation, of species that alter the chemical as well as the mineralogical composition of the rock. He observed that fully mobile behavior occurs in metamorphic rocks, magmatic rocks (including some granites), and ore deposits. By using the Gibbs phase rule, he showed that in these rocks the maximum number of minerals is unlikely to be more than the number of their thermodynamically inert components. This generalization, which eventually proved useful to petrologists, became known as Korzhinskii’s mineralogical phase rule.

Korzhinskii published his first paper on metasomatism in 1935, and his first discussion of the activities of inert and mobile constituents in 1936. For the next twenty years, his ideas remained virtually unknown outside Russia, but they aroused great hostility inside Russia. Looking back on this situation, Korzhinskii wrote in 1980 that he had simply applied Gibbs’s work in a logical way to open systems. So he had been greatly surprised by the fierce opposition that arose from many Russian geologists, and some physical chemists. These critics insisted that Gibbs’s phase rule, by definition, could not be applied to open systems, and that thermodynamic calculations may be considered valid only for the final state of equilibrium and not, as Korzhinskii had done, for the intermediate stages of achieving it. In 1950 he was called before a special committee of scientists who subjected him to many sessions of hostile questioning for his heresies. Korzhinskii answered their charges, point by point. The committee continued its deliberations for six years and then, in 1956, it issued a final report saying that the physical chemists among them could find nothing wrong with Korzhinskii’s scientific ideas. They added that geologists must make up their own minds about whether to accept his views.

Science does not always serve as an open-minded forum for debate and experiment, least of all when scientists feel that their canonical beliefs are being challenged. In 1955 James B. Thompson Jr. at Harvard University published the earliest paper in the United States to apply Gibbs’s work on equilibrium to open systems. Thompson had written it independently and then learned of Korzhinskii’s publications just in time to include references to them in his manuscript. For this paper Thompson was vilified by colleagues in the United States and Canada, some of whom even accused him of perpetrating a fraud. In time, however, his ideas became widely accepted, and he received apologies from all but a few of his most steadfast opponents.

Principal Publications . Between 1935 and 1985 Korzhinskii published nearly two hundred papers with virtually no coauthors. He was a stellar theorist but he earned a reputation as being a difficult teacher for all but the most advanced students because he could not express his ideas without using complex formulas.

Korzhinskii kept expanding his research interests and probing deeper into them. Through the 1940s he published at least one new paper every two years, and from 1950 to 1956 he published two or three papers every year. In 1957 he wrote a book on the physicochemical basis of mineral paragenesis. An English translation, issued in 1959, became the first book to circulate Korzhinskii’s ideas among scientists in Europe and the United States. By the early 2000s it was ranked as a landmark work in the earth sciences, as was his 1936 paper on the mobility and inertness of components in metasomatism. In 1967 a portion of that paper, translated into English, was reprinted in the Source Book in Geology: 1900–1950 compiled from the international literature by Professor Kirtley F. Mather (1888–1978) at Harvard University.

Honors . In 1953 Korshinskii advanced to the status of a full academician of the USSR, and became a member of the editorial boards of journals of science at home and abroad, including Doklady Akademii Nauk S.S.S.R., Izvestia Akademii Nauk S.S.S.R., Proceedings of the Russian Mineralogical Society, and the Journal of Petrology published in the United Kingdom. In 1969 he organized the Institute of Experimental Mineralogy and served as its director until 1979. From 1962 to 1970 he served as the vice president of the International Mineralogical Association, and from 1966 to 1974 he was the head of the USSR’s National Committee of Geology. He also served as the vice president of the Mineralogical Society of the USSR and the president of the Metasomatic Section of the Committee on Ore Formation of the USSR. Over the years he received honors from several institutes and societies in Russia and elsewhere in Europe. In 1980, at a meeting of the Geological Society of America in Atlanta, James B. Thompson read the citation for presentation of the prestigious Roebling Medal of the Mineralogical Society of America to Korzhinskii. By that time Korzhinskii’s fame had spread widely and his basic ideas on open systems had greatly influenced the thinking of petrologists around the world.



“Thermodynamics and Geology of Some Metamorphic Reactions with the Separation of a Gas Phase” [in Russian with German summary]. Proceedings of the Russian Mineralogical Society, ser. 2, 64, no. 1 (1935): 1–20.

“Archaen Marbles of the Aldan Platform and the Problem of Depth Facies” [in Russian with English summary]. Transactions of the Central Geological and Prospecting Institute 71 (1936).

“Mobility and Inertness of Components in Metasomatism” [in Russian]. Bulletin of the Academy of Science, U.S.S.R. 1 (1936): 35–60. Also in Source Book in Geology: 1900–1950, edited by Kirtley F. Mather. Translated by John B. Southard. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967.

“Paragenetic Analysis of Quartz-Bearing, Almost Calcium-Free Crystalline Schists of the Archaen Complex South of Lake Baikal” [in Russian]. Memoirs of the Russian Mineralogical Society Series 2, 65, no. 2 (1936): 247–280.

“Concept of Geochemical Mobility of the Elements” [in Russian]. Memoirs of the Russian Mineralogical Society 71, nos. 3–4 (1942): 160–168.

“Relationship between the Mineralogical Composition and the Chemical Potential Value of the Components” [in Russian]. Proceedings of the Russian Mineralogical Society 73, no. 1 (1942): 62–73.

“Metasomatic Zoning in Wall Rock Alteration and Veins” [in Russian]. Proceedings of the Russian Mineralogical Society 75, no. 4 (1946): 321–332. “Phase Rule and Geochemical Mobility of Elements.”

International Geological Congress, Report of 18th Session, Great Britain 1948, Proceedings of Section A, Part II (1950a): 50–65 (in English); 66–73 (in Russian).

“Differential Mobility of Components and Metasomatic Zoning in Metamorphism.” International Geological Congress, Report of 18th Session, Great Britain 1948, Proceedings of Section A, Part III (1950b): 65–72 (in English); 73–80 (in Russian).

“Granitization as Magmatic Replacement” [in Russian]. Izvestia Akademii Nauk S.S.S.R. Seriya Geologicheskaya, no. 2 (1952): 56–69.

Physicochemical Basis of the Analysis of the Paragenesis of Minerals. New York: Consultants Bureau, 1959. First published 1957 by the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Theory of Metasomatic Zoning. Translated by Jean Agrell. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970. First published 1969 in Moscow by Science Press. “Response to Presentation of the Roebling Medal.” American Mineralogist 66 (1980): 642.

With others. A Petrologic Classic of the 20th Century: Centenary D. S. Korzhinskii; Reminiscences. Moscow: Scientific World, 1999. This is a hardcover volume entirely in Russian except for one paragraph after the title page that gives the title in English and describes it as a collection of Korzhinskii’s reminiscences on his times, colleagues, and of science, and those of his students and contemporaries.


Gibbs, J. Willard. “On the Equilibrium of Heterogeneous Substances.” In Scientific Papers of J. Willard Gibbs, vol. 2, 55–349. New York: Longmans, Green, 1906. Reprint,London:Costable and Co.,1961.

Perchuk, Leonid L., ed. Progress in Metamorphic and Magmatic Petrology: A Memorial Volume in Honor of D. S. Korzhinsky. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Thompson, James B., Jr. “The Thermodynamic Basis for the Mineral Facies Concept.” American Journal of Science 253 (1955): 65–103.

———. “Presentation of the Roebling Medal of the Mineralogical Society of America for 1980 to Dimitrii Sergeevich Korzhinskii.” American Mineralogist 66 (1980): 640–641.

Ursula B. Marvin