International Contacts of Soviet Science
Arshak Tonyan (1888-1942) and the rise of Mathematics in the 1919 founded University of Yerevan
The foundation of a university is undoubtedly one of the most important educational and cultural undertakings of a new independent country. This applies also to the First Republic of Armenia (May 1918 – Dec. 1920), where in May 1919 the Council of Ministers decided to found a university in Yerevan.
This was done after the end of World War I in a context of extreme political instability, characterized by the transformation of the former Russian Provinces. In the beginning parts of Armenia once ruled by Russia were integrated in a Transcaucasian Federation which fell apart due to the separation of Georgia. This gave rise to the First Republic of Armenia which two years later became the Armenian Socialist Soviet Republic. In turn, this became part of the Soviet Union, integrated in a Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic from 1922 to 1936.
The Armenian mathematician Arshak Hovsepi Tonyan was one of the actors during the two first decades of the Yerevan State University (YSU) and one of its most eminent scholars.
Born in 1888 as citizen of the Russian Empire in the Caucasian Elizavetpol Governorate he matriculated in 1910 in the Friedrichs-Universität Halle-Wittenberg in Germany shortly before Georg Cantor retired from his chair in this university.
At the beginning of World War I, in 1914, he was interned as a prisoner of war, but soon released, since due to severe eye problems he was as unable to serve the Russian army. In 1921 Tonyan was invited to join the YSU, bringing with him the knowledge of several languages and the experiences of his encounter with mathematical education in Germany.
The goal of our contribution is to show how he actively worked for establishing mathematical education and a mathematical school in the YSU until his tragic fate as a victim of Stalinist repression after 1937.
The “Unsurmountable Wall”: The Radiation Effect Study in the Soviet Union in the late 1950s and the Early 1960s.
In the second half of 1950s, Soviet scientists stood at the crossroads in understanding radiation effects on the living body: their perspective was changing from that of a mere follower of Western studies to that of a radical critic. On international arenas such as the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, based on the achievements of their own indigenous research, the Soviet radiation scientists confronted with the U.S. and British scientists, sharply criticizing their indulgent way of radiation effect estimation.  Domestically, the rapidly growing need for radiation effects study even pressured the predominance of Lysenkoites in biological sciences. So as to catch up with the Western achievements, the Soviet Academy of Sciences newly established two large-scale research institutes related to the new currents of genetics and other biological sciences; The Institute of Radiation Biology and Physicochemical Biology in Moscow and the Institute of Cytology and Genetics in Novosibirsk.
However, as early as in the first half of 1960s, the Soviets toned down their criticism against the U.S. and British way of radiation effects estimation. What is striking here is that many Western scientists, such as Alexander Hollaender (1898-1986) and others, visited the Soviet Union intensively in1960, the year in which the International Symposium on Primary and Initial Effects of Ionizing Radiations on Living Cells, organized by the Soviet Academy of Sciences under the auspices of UNESCO and cosponsored by IAEA, was held in Moscow in October 18-22. Drawn mostly the documents kept in the Archive of Russian Academy of Sciences, my paper tries to shed light to the influence of Western science upon the Soviet scientists through the contact with those from the West, so as to approach to the factor behind the change in the radiation effect study in the Soviet Union.
The basic contents of this paper were already published in Hiroshi Ichikawa, Soviet Science and Engineering in the Shadow of the Cold War (London & New York,: Routledge, 2019), pp.143-168. The contents of the following two papers are also included there.
1. Hiroshi ICHIKAWA, “Radiation Study and the Soviet Scientists in the Second Half of the 1950’s.” An International Journal of the History of Science Society of Japan, Historia Scientiarum. Vol.25-No.1 (August 2015). pp.78-93.
2. Hiroshi Ichikawa, “Against Lysenkoites’ Hegemony: On the Establishment of the Institute of Cytology and Genetics of the Siberian Branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences.” Studies in the History of Biology.9, No.2 (2017). pp.7-21.
International Genetics Symposia in Kyoto and Tokyo 1956: Reconsidering Japanese Mendelian Geneticists’ Contacts with Soviet－Lysenkoite Delegation
The international exchange between Japanese and Soviet biologists resumed in the early 1950s after World War II. At that time, only a small number of Japanese had the chance to visit the Soviet Union. Among them was Hideomi Tsuge, a brain physiologist. He visited the Soviet Union in 1953 and exchanged ideas with Trofim Lysenko who had caused a great turmoil in Soviet biology with his decision to ban genetics in 1948. The detail of Lysenko’s “new” genetic theory, as well as its evaluation by Soviet biologists, caused considerable concern for Japanese geneticists. However, after 1948, direct contact with Russian biologists was limited almost to only Lysenko’s followers including Tsuge, who brought biased evaluation in favor of the Lysenko school. This restricted communication channel prevented many Japanese biologists from hearing real ideas from the Soviet colleagues directly.
The chance for conversation with an influential Soviet biologist came to fruition at the 30th-anniversary meeting of the Japanese Biochemical Society in 1955. Aleksandr Oparin, a well-known biochemist noted for his coacervate theory and who was seen as one of the closest figures to Lysenko because of his post as the academician-secretary of the Division of Biological Sciences of the Academy of Sciences, was invited to this meeting. Using this opportunity, many Japanese biologists tried to question Oparin about the prospect of Soviet biology and his evaluation of Lysenko. The International Genetics Symposia held in Tokyo and Kyoto in September 1956 became the more important opportunity, especially for Japanese geneticists. Because the symposia were after Lysenko’s resignation from the presidency of the VASKhNIL in April 1956—regarded as a sure sign of Lysenko’s downfall—the Japanese geneticists had their own motivations to contact the Soviet delegation. The Soviet delegation at that time was occupied by Lysenko’s co-workers and advocators (Lysenkoites), first of all, Ivan Glushchenko. Thus, contact with the Lysenkoites by their Japanese counterparts, can be understood in terms of their effort to maintain the presence of Lysenko school through appealing to their collaboration on the international scene.
On the other hand, a majority of Japanese geneticists believed that Mendelian genetics would soon be rehabilitated in the Soviet Union as the result of Lysenko’s resignation. In this context, they made approaches to the Soviet delegation to confirm the current status of the Lysenko school, at the same time trying to extract from Soviet Lysenkoites their real evaluation of Lysenko’s scientific works. In this sense, the exchange between Japanese Mendelian geneticists and the Soviet delegation can provide an interesting case study regarding the words and action of the Soviet Lysenkoites when their situation in the home country was at stake in 1956.
A Japanese Physicist Meets with Soviet Natural Philosophy: SAKATA Shoichi (1911-1970) and Dialectical Materialism
SAKATA Shoichi, one of the leading physicists in the area of particle theory, was fascinated by the worldview of Engels in his younger age. He continued to intend to apply theses of dialectical materialism in constructing his theories or interpreting them. Thus, he made efforts to learn from official Soviet philosophy. In the postwar age, when Sakata came to be recognized as a worldwide prominent scientist in his discipline, the relationship reversed: in the 1960s, Marxists in the Soviet Union sought to use Sakata’s popularity to propagate rightfulness of dialectical materialism and requested to write down on relationship between new physics theories and that worldview. If we read Sakata’s article written in replying this requirement, it comes to be clear that in some sense the physicist widened the horizon of dialectical materialism. This case study sheds light on how official Soviet ideology be diversified or complicated in the post-Stalin period.
International Contacts of Soviet Geneticists from the 1960s through the 1980s
In the middle of the 1960s the transformation in Soviet biological science let to the activation of the international contacts of Soviet geneticists. It should be mentioned, that important steps for overcoming the isolation of Soviet genetic community were taken even during the period of “Lysenkoism”. For example, in the early 1960s some researchers from Leningrad and Novosibirsk went on a foreign trips and trainings.
The first mass foreign trip of Soviet geneticists took place in 1965, when they participated in the anniversary conference, devoted to the centenary of publishing G. Mendel’s paper “Experiments on Plant Hybridization” and held in Brno (Czechoslovakia). One of the main achievements was participation of Soviet geneticists in the International genetic congresses. Specifically, representative delegations took part in the congresses, held in Tokyo (1968) and Berkley (USA, 1973). The 14th International genetic congress in Moscow (1978) became a symbolic event. The genetic community perceived this congress as a vivid example of the revival of “disgraced” science in the Soviet Union.
At the same time, a lot of negative factors influenced the development of Soviet international contacts. For instance, Soviet geneticists often were not permitted to travel abroad, especially on long-term academic trips. This attitude of the Soviet authorities was one of the main obstacles preventing the international collaboration. Besides, language problems and the deterioration of a global political climate were important factors. “Cold War” and “Iron Curtain” hindered the international mobility of Soviet scientists. International contacts of Soviet geneticists were difficult to establish and maintain because of increasing tensions between the Soviet Union and Western democracies.
Acknowledgment: The research project was supported by the Russian Foundation for Basic Research, grant no. 18-511-22002
“Per Aspera ad Astra”: International Academic Contacts of Tomsk Physicists during the Soviet era.
The birth of the scientific community of physicists of Tomsk is associated with the establishment of the first Imperial Tomsk University (IUT, now – the National Research Tomsk State University) in the Asian part of the country in 1888, and the Tomsk Institute of Technology was created in 1898. The first universities initiated the process of the formation and development of scientific schools and directions in Northern Asia. The second stage in the development of the scientific community of Tomsk physicists is associated with the opening of new faculties in 1917. The third stage falls on the 1920s and 1930s, when the state policy actively pursued the mobilizing of highly qualified specialists to solve the problems of forced industrialization, and the provincial regions had an acute shortage of such specialists. Therefore, the Siberian Physical and Technical Institute (SFTI), the first research institute of physical profile beyond the Urals, was organized in Tomsk in 1928. The special importance of the physicists of Tomsk manifested itself during the Great Patriotic War (the fourth stage) and is associated with the activities of the Tomsk Committee of Scientists. The fifth stage of development of the scientific community of physicists of Tomsk falls on the second half of the 1940s – 1950s and it is characterized by the process of the demilitarization of scientific research. The sixth stage (1960s – 1980s) is associated with the next stage of the development of scientific and technological revolution and academic science in Tomsk. The collapse of the Soviet Union marked profound transformation processes in the scientific and educational complex of Western Siberia, which are currently taking place.
International contacts of the scientific community of physicists appeared immediately after the founding of the Imperial Tomsk University. Physicists of Tomsk were in contact with foreign researchers, primarily from Germany, in various fields of physics and mathematics. The most interesting and poorly studied phenomenon is the dynamics of the development of international academic contacts of physicists in the Soviet period. On the one hand, large-scale government projects (industrialization in the 1930s, development of the oil and gas complex of Western Siberia in the 1960s – 1980s, etc.) set specific practical scientific and technological tasks for the country’s scientists that did not imply the need for international cooperation. On the other hand, even in the field of defense there was a need for fundamental research in the field of physics (for example, in the process of implementing a project on a nuclear shield).
Studying of the richest experience of the scientific community of physicists of Tomsk is relevant due to the fact that in the previous period the effective models and forms of organization were developed, including not only scientific research itself, but also the shortest ways of introducing scientific research into practice were founded. At the same time, the issue of the development of international contacts of Tomsk physicists is poorly studied. Tomsk physicists, being included in solving problems of the development of the Ural-Kuznetsk coal basin in the 1930s, fulfilling orders for the needs of the Red Army during the Great Patriotic War, and developing the oil and gas complex of Western Siberia in the post-war period, always maintained international contacts. Even in the 1930s mathematician Fritz Noether and Hans George Berwald, who came from Germany, worked in Tomsk.
In the 1970-1980s international scientific contacts of Tomsk physicists with foreign universities and research institutes have been actively developed. The impetus for this is given from above, by the USSR Ministry of Higher and Secondary Education. The participation of the institute staff in the international scientific events, acquaintance with modern, advanced and relevant scientific problems developed in leading scientific centers and universities of the world, methods of their solution and results significantly contributed to the broadening of horizons and increased their scientific qualification. The result of the participation of SFTI staff in overseas business trips was the establishment of personal acquaintances and close communication links, on the basis of which correspondence was later established, and scientific and technical information was regularly exchanged. All this, ultimately, a positive effect on the quality of research work, gave impetus to the organization of the major scientific conferences with the leading scientists’ participation.
The article is written in the framework of the project “The University community of Western Siberia as the basis of the intellectual capital of the territory and the driver of the sociocultural and economic modernization of the country in the 19th-20th centuries” (Russian Fund for Basic Research, No. 18-39-20008); the project “University and intellectual capital: historical experience and answers to the challenges of modern Tomsk University complex in XX-XXI centuries” (Russian Fund for Basic Research, No. 18-49-703004); the project “Youth vector of development of science, education and innovation and its contribution to the development of intellectual capital of Western Siberia, domestic and world science, socio – cultural and economic modernization of the country in the XX-early XXI centuries” (Grant of the President of the Russian Federation for state support of young scientists and leading scientific schools of the Russian Federation No. МК-2268.2018.6).