Vladimir Ipatieff

Portrait of Vladimir Ipatieff

Born: Moscow - 21 November 1867
Died: Chicago- 29 November 1952

One of the greatest Russian scientists to leave his homeland after the October Revolution, Vladimir Nikolayevich Ipatieff was born to a prominent Moscow family, and received his education at the Mikhailovsky Artillery College in St. Petersburg. After he graduated, he worked in a laboratory at the Saint Petersburg University and as a professor at his alma-mater. From 1896 to 1897, he worked in Munich on the structure of aaron and aaron acid, and then in Paris on gunpowder and explosives. During the First World War, Ipatieff worked in the chemical industry researching and producing chemical weapons and methods for protecting troops from chemical warfare.

Before the October Revolution, he was made Lieutenant-General of the Russian army and a member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences. In 1916 Ipatieff became the head of the Chemical Committee for the Main Office of the Artillery, with the goal of expanding the production capacity of the domestic explosive-chemical industry. His work on this project was very successful. Not only were new state-owned and private factories established, but also new technologies were developed. After the Revolution, Ipatieff founded several chemical research centers in the USSR. He was very well respected, and Vladimir Lenin described him as "the head of our chemical industry".

However, during the late 1920s when Stalin's Purges began, Ipatieff started to fear for his safety and, on a trip to a scientific conference to Munich in 1930, he decided never to come back to Russia. He moved to the USA, where despite speaking no English he was able to obtain a professorship at Northwestern University in Chicago. His research at the time was into the chemistry of petroleum, and he worked extensively for United Oil Products, becoming one of the founding fathers of petroleum chemistry in America. It has even been claimed that the fuel mixtures he produced allowed RAF planes to outperform the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain. In 1945 he published his memoirs, The Life of a Chemist.