Nikolai Nikolaevic Semenov was born in Saratov on April 3, 1896. He graduated from Petrograd University in 1917 and in 1920 he took charge of the electron phenomena laboratory of the Leningrad Physico-Technical Institute. He lectured at the Polytechnical Institute and was appointed Professor in 1928. In 1931, he became Director of the Institute of Chemical Physics of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences (which has moved to Moscow in 1943); from 1944 he has been a Professor at the Moscow State University.
Semenov’s outstanding work on the mechanism of chemical transformation includes an exhaustive analysis of the application of the chain theory to varied reactions and, more especially, to combustion processes. He proposed a theory of degenerate branching which led to a better understanding of the phenomena associated with the induction periods of oxidation processes. Semenov has made valuable contributions to the field of molecular physics; he has also carried out investigations on electron phenomena, dielectric breakdown and the propagation of explosive waves.
Semenov has written two important books concerned with his work. Chemical Kinetics and Chain Reactions was published in 1934 with an English edition in 1935. It was the first book in the U.S.S.R. to develop a detailed theory of unbranched and branched chain reactions in chemistry. Some Problems of Chemical Kinetics and Reactivity, first published in 1954, was revised in 1958; there are also English, American, German, and Chinese editions.
He became a Corresponding Member of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences in 1929 and Academician in 1932: he was awarded five Orders of Lenin and the Order of Red Banner of Labour. He is a member of the Chemical Society (London), Foreign Member of the Royal Society, and foreign member of the American, Indian, German, and Hungarian Academies of Sciences. He also holds Honorary Doctorate degrees of Oxford and Brussels Universities, and since 1960 he has been Chairman of the All-Union Society for Propagation of Political and Scientific Knowledge.
He married Natalya Nikolaevna Semenova; they have one son and one daughter.
This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and first published in the book series Les Prix Nobel. It was later edited and republished in Nobel Lectures. To cite this document, always state the source as shown above.
Nikolay Semenov died on September 25, 1986.
Their work and discoveries range from cancer therapy and laser physics to developing proteins that can solve humankind’s chemical problems. The work of the 2018 Nobel Laureates also included combating war crimes, as well as integrating innovation and climate with economic growth. Find out more.