Lebedev, Sergei Vasilievich

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Lebedev, Sergei Vasilievich

(b. Lublin, Poland, 13 July 1874; d. Leningrad, U.S.S.R., 2 May 1934)


Lebedev was the son of a priest. When he was eight, his father died and the family moved to Warsaw, where he received his Gymnasium training. In 1895 he entered the University of St. Petersburg, where he studied organic chemistry with Favorsky. Upon graduation in 1900 he was employed by the Institute of Communications to study the steel of railroad rails. However, wishing to return to academic work, in 1906 he spent some time at his own expense at the Institute Pasteur and the Sorbonne in Paris. After returning to St. Petersburg he began independent study of the chemistry of unsaturated hydrocarbons, a subject to which he devoted the rest of his life.

His extensive investigations of the conditions and products of polymerization of divinyl hydrocarbons led to his dissertation in 1913, for which he received the Tolstoy prize. He became a docent at the university and, in 1915, professor of chemistry at the Women’s Pedagogical Institute. In 1917 he was named professor of chemistry at the Military Medical Academy, where he remained until his death. He found the laboratory at this institution in very poor condition and succeeded in building it into one of the best organic laboratory in the Soviet Union. He continued his researches on many types of unsaturated compounds, investigating both their polymerization and hydrogenation. During World War I he began studies on the chemistry of petroleum. In 1925 he organized a petroleum laboratory at Leningrad University, where he found that the pyrolysis of petroleum produced hydrocarbons diethylene compounds such as he had previously studied.

In 1926, realizing that a severe shortage of rubber existed in the Soviet Union, he began the work for which he is best know. His earlier studies on polymerization had often yielded rubberlike polymers, and and ample source of divinyl was then available from petroleum. He gathered a group of seven chemists (five of them his students) to investigate the production of synthetic rubber. The work was at first carried on only in the chemists ’spare time. They soon found a better method for producing divinyl from alcohol. In 1927 they obtained a form of synthetic rubber by polymerizing divinyl in the presence of sodium. In 1928 the petroleum laboratory at the university was converted to a laboratory for synthetic rubber. By 1930 the process was being carried out in and experimental plant. Full factory production began in 1932-1933. The polymer had a structure different from that of natural rubber, but Lebedev showed that it was a fully satisfactory substitute.

Lebedev received many honors in the Soviet Union. He was made a corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences in 1928 and a member in 1932. He received the Order of Lenin in 1931. A laboratory for the study of high molecular-weight compounds was founded under his direction at the Academy of Sciences, although his plans for its development were cut short by his death in 1934.


I. Original Works. There is a bibliography of Lebedev’s scientific papers in Zhurnal obshchei khimii, 5 (1935), 15-17. The monograph reporting his early work and foreshadowing his work on rubber is Issledovannie υ oblasti polimerizatsii dυuetilenoυykh uglevodorodoυ (“Studies in the Field of the Polymerization of Diethylene Hydrocarbons”) (St. Petersburg, 1913).

II. Secondary Literature. A biography and critical evaluation of his scientific work is A. I. Yakubchik, “Akademik S. V. Lebedev,”in Zhurnal obshchei khimii,5 (1935), 1-14. Further biographical references are given in Bolshaya sovetskaya entsiklopedia (“Great Soviet Encyclopedia”), 2nd ed., XXIV (1953), 381-382.

Henry M. Leicester

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