Semenov is one of the founders of chemical physics.

“Mankind is still in the “child” stage of its development. … The issue isthat in a modern, still “child” state the mankind didn’t commitfatal errors.”

N. Semenov

Nikolay Semenov could not choose between chemistry and physics. As a result, he took up the adjacent science between chemistry and physics, becoming one of the pioneers of a new science – chemical physics.

Chain Reactions

Nikolay Semenov received wide acclaim and the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his creation of the theory of chain reactions and the discovery of branched chain reactions.

What is a chain reaction? This is a reaction of substances, which once spontaneously initiated, continues on, as if in chain order and does not stop until it passes a certain stage.

But there are situations when the reaction happens with the formation of several new chains, i.e. the usual chain reaction with the formation of new branched chains goes faster and faster!

Initially, the scientific world did not accept this explanation, but after two years of experiments Semenov’s theory was brilliantly proved.

Other Results

Semenov has done a lot for both physics and chemistry.

In collaboration with the physicist Pyotr Kapitsa Semenov developed a method for measuring the magnetic moment of an atom in an inhomogeneous magnetic field.


 Kapitsa and Semyonov (1921) / Boris Kustodiev

In collaboration with physicist Yakov Frenkel Semenov developed a theory that shed light on the relationship between the vapor density and the temperature of the surface on which the vapor is condensed.

Semenov spent a lot of time on ionization processes, which is a process of receiving charges, metals and vapors of metal salts.

Semenov discovered a new type of catalysis, ion-heterogeneous, and in collaboration with Vladislav Voevodsky and Fedor Volkenshtein developed a chain theory of heterogeneous catalysis.

The study of phenomena related to the flow of electric current through different media allowed Semenov together with Vladimir Fok to develop a theory of thermal breakdown of dielectrics.

As a result, Semenov created a theory of thermal explosion and combustion of gas mixtures.

According to this theory, in some casesit is possible that the heat from the combustion zone does not have time to go out, which further speeds up the combustion process and increases the temperature. As a result, an explosion happens.

Semenov Scientific Prediction

According to Alexander Shilov, Semenov predicted the discovery of nuclear chain reactions (nuclear energy, nuclear weapons). Semenov and his students participated in the Atomic project.

Originally Semenov put physics ahead of chemistry, because he believed that without understanding physics a breakthrough in chemistry is not possible. And this approach was truly confirmed by the achieved results, including the creation of a new discipline, chemical physics, and the achievements of Semenov himself. That is Semenov stood for the transition from an empirical approach in chemistry to an approach based on a deep understanding of the physics of the process of chemical reactions.

“We need to join forces of educated people of all countries … to uncover the secrets of chemical and biological processes for the benefit of a peaceful development and prosperity of mankind.”

N. Semenov / Nobel Lecture

The first half of the 20thcentury was marked by a number of breakthroughs in physics. In the second half of the 20thcentury, the accumulated results of theoretical and experimental research allowed Semenov to make the prediction that the development of biology will rely primarily on chemical physics, that is the fusion of chemistry and physics. Indeed, a new direction – biochemical physics, was born as a marriage of three sciences: physics, chemistry and biology, with the support of mathematics. And in this direction there may be serious breakthroughs in order to improve the quality of human life and to find treatment for serious diseases.

Nikolay Semenov had a gift to get his students excited with enthusiasm and originality, to lead them forward.


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