Levinson-Lessing, Franz Yulevich

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Levinson-Lessing, Franz Yulevich

(b. St. Petersburg, Russia, 9 March 1861; d. Leningrad, U.S.S.R, 25 October 1939),

geology, petrography.

An academician of the Soviet Academy of Sciences from 1925 (and a corresponding member since 1914), Levinson–Lessing was the son of a well–known doctor. He married Varvara Ippolitovna Tarnovskaya, who was his colleague in the Commission for Scientific Education, in 1919. Their son Vladimir, an art critic, became a well–known specialist on European art.

Levinson–Lessing spent his childhood in St. Petersburg and received his secondary education there. At St. Petersburg University he studied under the petrographer A. A. Inostrantsev. He graduated in 1883 and remained there to prepare for a teaching career. Undoubted influences on Levinson–Lessing in the first years of his scientific career were his teacher and colleague, the pioneer soil scientist V. V. Dokuchaev, and V. I. Vernadsky. Under this influence he concentrated on the chemistry of inorganic nature. Levinson–Lessing maintained lifelong ties with soil science, had a continuing interest in its problems and headed various soil institutions.

Ten years after graduating from the university, during which period he had synthesized his work in regional petrography and marked out new paths in its theoretical structure, Levinson–Lessing became professor of mineralogy at the University of Yurev (Tartu).

Working from 1902 to 1930 at the Polytechnical Institute in Leningrad, Levinson–Lessing organized the first laboratory of experimental petrography in Russia, and then a geochemical section. From a division of mineralogy he created petrography, which has become an independent field of knowledge. His main areas of concentration were the analysis of the crust of the earth, the penetration of its depths, and the clarification of the structure of mountains and rocks and their accompanying ore deposits.

Levinson–Lessing developed the idea of the separation or differentiation of magma, placed it on a factual basis, and transformed it into a scientific theory. Having firmly established magma as a complex silicate solution differing from aqueous solutions by its considerable viscosity and susceptibility to intense supercooling, he advanced the doctrine of two ancestral magmas, granite and basalt, that had played a primary role in the creation of the rock of the earth’s core. From them came all igneous rocks, the various compositions of which are caused by differing mixtures of these magmas, by the melting and assimilation of previously existing rocks, by fractional crystallization, and by gravity settling. All these processes together create the phenomenon of magmatic differentiation. Igneous rocks after the Precambrian era are primarily the result of the melting of particular parts of the earth’s solid crust. Only older igneous rocks had the ancestral granite and gabbroci magmas as their sources.

Levinson–Lessing’s regional petrographic works were the basis for the development of theoretical petrology. His expeditions in Karelia (now the Karelo–Finnish S.S.R.), the Urals, the Caucasus, Transcaucasia, the Crimea, the Khibiny Mountains, and eastern Siberia enabled him to approach the solution of the problems of petrographic formations and origin. In 1888 he advanced the idea of the Olonets diabasic formation, which was productively developed in the theory of formations. His trips to Italy and his ascent of Vesuvius with A. Rittmann provided an impetus for the creation in 1935 of the volcanological station at Kamchatka, where Soviet volcanology developed.

Classifying and systematizing igneous rocks occupied Levinson–Lessing throughout his career. In 1898 he proposed the first rational chemical classification of rocks. In his works he depended on physical and chemical research methods, using them to solve such problems as the differentiation of magma and the genesis and classification of rocks and ore deposits.

An active participant in the International Geological Congress, Levinson–Lessing corresponded with the most distinguished geologists and petrographers of western Europe and the United States. At the seventh session of the Congress, Levinson–Lessing was elected to the commission on the classification of igneous rock. For the eighth session, which took place in 1900, he prepared the Petrographic Dictionary. At the Paris meeting of the Commission on the Petrographic Nomenclature he presented a report and his own additions. He also participated in the twelfth, fourteenth, and seventeenth sessions. At the last session the Permanent Commission on Petrography, Mineralogy, and Geo–chemistry was organized, with Levinson–Lessing as president.

Levinson–Lessing was a historian of petrography and the natural sciences whose works are well–known both in the Soviet Union and abroad; his monographs. Uspekhi petrografii v Rosii (“The Progress of Perography in Russia”; 1923) and Vvedenie v istoriyu petrografii (“Introduction to the History of Petrography”; 1936) and many biographical sketches of well–known scientists reveal a tireless researcher in the history of science. A historical approach to the solution of basic scientific problems characterized Levinson–Lessing and appeared in many of his works, particularly in the important “Problema genezisa magmaticheskikh porod i puti k ee razresheniyu” (“The Problem of the Genesis of Magmatic Rock and the Means of Solving It”; 1934).

Analyzing the phenomena of rock formation, the centuries–long changes in shorelines and volcanoes, Levinson–Lessing concluded that different parts of the earth’s crust rise and fall simultaneously. Mountains were formed by these movements, and plastic or liquid magma was transferred at depth, serving as the source of magmatic and volcanic phenomena. Bringing together all that was known at the beginning of the twentieth century regarding the formation of mountains, he asserted that systems arose after prolonged sinking followed by slow uplift. Folded mountain chains were formed at the borders of the continents and seas. The sinking of some blocks in the sea was accompanied by rising of the adjoining lands. Sinking and rising were kept more or less equal by the warping of separate blocks of the earth’s crust. Levinson–Lessing believed that volcanoes accompany uplifts of parts of the earth’s crust and that a major factor in their eruption is the pressure on lava exerted by the sinking of other blocks. He considered the fluctuation of lava levels in the volcanoes of the Hawaiian Islands to be an especially clear example, believing that the lakes of lava form the upper parts of columns of liquid lava going down to subterranean lava reservoirs. These columns of lava would be in hydrostatic equilibrium.

For Levinson–Lessing science not only collects and describes facts but also compares them, penetrates into their essence, and structures them in broad generalizations. In his article “Rol fantazii v nauchnom tvorchestve” (“The Role of Fantasy in Scientific Creativity”) he described scientific creativity as consisting of three main elements: the empirical, which provides a basis; scientific fantasy, or the creative idea; and the testing and investigation of the creative idea through logical analysis and experiment. All three elements are necessary, he believed, for scientific creativity and progress. The development and flowering of science requires a harmonious combination of observations, experiments, and ideas; induction and deduction together; a combination of concrete facts, perceived externally, and intuitive forms, which arise subjectively.


I. Original Works. Many of Levinson–Lessing’s writings are in Izbrannye trudy (“Selected Works”), 4 vols. (Moscow–Leningrad, 1944-1955). Among his works are “Olonetskaya diabazovaya formatsia” (“Olonets Diabasic Formation”), in Trudy imperatorskago S.–Peterburgskago obshchestva estestvoispytatelei, Otdelenie geologii i mineralogii, 19 (1888); “Issledovania po teoreticheskoy petrografii v suyazi s ucheneim izverzhennykh porod tsentralnogo Kavakaza” (“Research in Theoretical Petrography in Connection with the Theory of Igneous Rock of the Central Caucasus”), ibid.,26 (1898); “Sferolitovyc porody Mugodzhar” (“Spherulite Rocks of Mugodzhar“), ibid.,33, no. 5 (1905); “Sushchestvuet li mezhdu intruzinymi i effuzivnymi porodami razlichie v khimichekson sostave” (“Is There a Difference in Chemical Composition Between Intrusive and Effusive Rocks?”), in Izvestiya S.–Peterburgskago politekhnicheskago instituta Imperatora Petra Velikago (1906), nos. 1-2; “Polveka mikroskopii v petrografii” (“A Half Century of microscopy in Petrography”), ibid.,10 (1908); “O samom yuzhnom mestopozhdeni platiny na Urale” (“On the Most Recent Platinum Deposits in the Urals”), ibid.,13 (1910); and Vulkany i lavy tsentralnogo Kavkaza (“Volcanoes and Lava of the Central Caucasus”; St. Petersburg, 1913).

Later works are Uspekhi petrografii v Rossii (“The Progress of Petrography in Russia”; petrograd, 1923); “Rol fantazii v nauchnom tvorchestve” (“The Role of Fantasy in Scientific Creativity”), in Petersburgskoe nauchnoe khimiko–teknicheskoe izadatelstvo (1923), 36-50; “Professor Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Inostrantsev,” in Izvestiya Geologicheskago komiteta za 1919 g.,38, no. 3 (1924); “Trappy Tuluno–Udinskogo i Bratskogo rayonov v vostochnoy Sibiri” (“Diabases of the Tulun–Udinsky and Bratsky Regions in Eastern Siberia”), in Trudy Soveta po izucheniyu proizvoditelnykh sil, Seriya sibirskaya, no. 1 (1932); “Problema gensaiza magmaticheskikh porod i puti k ee razresheniyu” (“The Problem of the Genesis of Magmatic Rock and the Means of Solving It”), in IzadatelstvoAkademii nauk SSSR (1934); “O svoeobraznom tipe differentsiatsii v vartolite Yalguby” (“On a Peculiar Type of Differentiation in Variolite of Yalguba”), in Trudy Petrina Akademii nauk SSSR, no. 5 (1935); Vvedenie v istoriyu petrografii (“Introduction to the History of Petrography”; Leningrad, 1936); “Spornye voprosy sistematiki i nomenklatury izverzhennykh porod” (“Controversial Questions of Systematization and Nomenclature of Igneous Rocks”), in Doklady Akademii nauk SSSR,21, no. 3 (1938); and “Problemy magmy” (“Problems of Magma”), in Uchenye zapiski Leningradskogo gosudartstvennogo universiteta, 3, no. 17 (1937), also in Izvestiya Akademii nauk SSSR, Seriya geologicheskaya, no. 1 (1939).

II. Secondary Literature. See I. M. Asafova and O. V. Isakova, Franz Yulevich Levinson–Lessing (Moscow, 1941); D. S. Belyankin, “Akademik F. Y. Levinson–Lessing v trudakh ego po teoreticheskoy petrografii” (“Academician F. Yu. Levinson–Lessing in His Works on Theoretical Petrography”), in Izvestiya Akademii nauk SSSR, Seriya geologicheskaya (1945), no. 1, pp. 18-27; A. S. Ginzberg, “Znachenie petrograficheskikh rabot. F. Y. Levinson–Lessinga dlya russkoy i mirovoy nauki” (“The Significance of the Petrographical Work of F. y. Levinson–Lessing in Russian and World Science”), ibid. (1952), no. 5, pp. 7-11; S. S. Kuznetsov, “Krupny russky ucheny F. Y. Levinson–Lessing” (“The Great Russian Scientist F. Y. Levinson–Lessing”), in Vestnik Leningradskogo gosudarstvennogo universiteta (1948), no. 5, pp. 128-144; P. I. Lebedev, Akademik F. Y. Levinson–Lessing Kak teoretik petrografii (“Academician F. Y. Levinson–Lessing as a Theoretician of Petrography”; Moscow–Leningrad, 1947); B. L. Lichkov, “Idei F. Y. Levinson–Lessinga o vekovykh kolebaniakh zemnoy kory v svete sovremennykh vozzreny” (“The Ideas of F. Y. Levinson–Lessing on Secular Oscillations of the Earth’s Crust in the Light of Contemporary Views”), in Ocherki po istorii geologicheskikh znanii, no. 5 (1965), pp. 248-259; A. A. Polkanov, “F. Y. Levinson–Lessing kak petrografmyslitel” (“F. Y. Levinson–Lessing as a Petrographic Thinker”), in Izvestiya Akademii nauk SSSR, Seriya geologicheskaya, no. 4 (1950), pp. 25-27; and D. I. Shcherbakov, “Rol F. Y. Levinson–Lessinga v razvitii uchenia o rudnykh mestorozhdenia” (“The Role of F. Y. Levinson–Lessing in the Development of the Theory of Ore Deposits”), ibid., no. 3 (1961), pp. 55-60.

A. A. Meniailov