"Promote all our science, popular education and instruction." Such is the motto of Moscow's Polytechnical Museum, one of the largest and oldest centers of education, enlightenment, of research and recreational activities here in Russia founded just 130 years ago. On the occasion of its birthday our correspondent Olga Bazanova has interviewed the museum's director, Dr. Gurgen Grigoryan. Here's a transcript of the interview.
- Dr. Grigoryan, how did your museum come into being? And who was the initiator?
- It was conceptualized during the reign of Alexander II (1855 - 1881), a czar who masterminded liberal reforms in Russia. The booming industries were in need of competent experts, engineers for one. To step up their training and bring more people to the fold, universities were opening scientific societies, museums and exhibitions. Spreading knowledge and education among the Russian people was an important part of this work.
A particularly notable contribution was made by His Majesty's Society of Natural Science, Anthropology and Ethnography Friends set up under the aegis of Moscow University. The men in charge, such as Prof. Grigory Shchurovsky (geology), Prof. Augustus Davidov (math.), Prof. Anatoly
Bogdanov (zoology) and their colleagues suggested setting up a poly-technical museum in Moscow. This society organized a polytechnical exhibition held in Moscow in 1872 to commemorate the bicentennial of the first Russian emperor, Peter the Great. This exhibition, with the focus on practical aspects of the sciences, played a significant part in preparing the ground for our Polytechnical Museum. Besides, it doubled as an international exhibition, the first to be
held in Russia. Most of the exhibits were set aside for the Polytechnical Museum.
Now, exhibitions have always been an important line of our work, for this is the most efficacious form of knowledge propagation. That is why ever since the 1880s, our museum has been featuring displays and exhibitions on achievements in science and industries. This tradition is much alive today too.
As to the latest exhibitions, I could name these ones: an exhibition dealing with the history of engineering in Russia; one devoted to Pyotr Kapitsa, Nobel Prize winner (1978) and member of our Academy of Sciences. Academician Kapitsa is one of the founders of such research trends as the physics of low temperatures and strong magnetic fields. Yet another exhibition was dedicated to Igor Sikorsky, an eminent Russian aircraft designer who emigrated to the United States in 1919 ("Chosen by the Skies", such was the theme of that exhibition). We arranged a special exhibition devoted to the 50th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany, with the stress on the contribution of our science to the war effort-particularly, in war materiel, weaponry and related equipment. We didn't forget about the tricentennial of the Russian Navy and the 40th
anniversary of the first manned space flight. And last, we prepared an exhibition to cast up the balance of the 20th century-"Technological Symbols of the 20th Century"; in fact, that was a series of exhibitions on breakthroughs in telecommunications, film industry, automotive industry and the like.
- Now, the Polytechnic was set up to foster education and enlightenment. Could you tell us more about that?
- Education and enlightenment, that's right. We are a unique base for people bent on technological knowledge. That's what our stock was collected for from the very start-as our founders said, "systematic and instructive" collections for the broad public. At first it was a kind of science spoon-fed for the public on Sundays, catering to every sort of visitors. From 1914 on the museum expanded its work-apart from Sunday lectures, it started briefing the inquisitive lot on specific subjects, and next came the excursions.
Popular science lectures for the public at large became regular to make the Polytechnical museum in fact our first people's university. The leading lights were among the lecturers- professors of Moscow University, and of His Majesty's Technical College. Like the physicist Alexander Stoletov, who studied the magnetic
properties of iron, gas discharges and criticality; the natural scientist and Darwinist Kliment Timiryazev (in 1890 elected to the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences as corresponding member), a man who reared a Russian school of plant physiology; the physicist Pyotr Lebedev, who pioneered in the discovery of electromagnetic waves in the millimeter band, and of the pressure of light on solid bodies and gases; Vladimir Vernadsky, the father of such disciplines as geochemistry, biogeochemistry and radiogeology (in 1912 elected to the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences; Nikolai Zelinsky, the chemist involved with organic catalysis and petrochemistry (later elected to the national Academy of Sciences); Sergei Chaplygin, known for his works in theoretical mechanics and in hydro-, aero- and gas dynamics. In 1909 our museum played host to Ilya Mechnikov, honorary member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, to mark the awarding of a Nobel Prize (physiology and medicine) to him. Many other big names visited our museum: for one, Georgi Sedov, who in 1912 shared his plans for an expedition to the North Pole on board the St. Foka; or Nikolai Zhukovsky, the father of contemporary aerodynamics, the organizer and first head of the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute and Corresponding Member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. Since 1910 film showings became part of the lectures and related activities.
Our halls hosted meetings of learned societies and congresses. The museum became the rallying point of the flower of Russian science. We midwifed the birth of many educational organizations. We were the birthplace of the ideas to open a planetarium, botanical gardens and a zoo in Moscow.
Our Polytechnic became Moscow's first museum to popularize knowledge among school students, for which purpose special collections and curricula were prepared. Moscow professors and instructors gave generously of their time and wisdom to children, gratis. We keep up this work by holding classes and excursions for junior school pupils, college students and older age groups. Such get-togethers are a fixture with us.
- From the outset museum was meant to disseminate theoretical and applied knowledge, right?
- Yet, that's true. The members of His Majesty's Natural Science Friends, who suggested setting up our museum, conceived it as a systemic science center, as a source of information on technology and engineering. Visitors had a chance to inspect specimens, models and preparations.
The latest achievements of science and engineering are always featured in our museum. Time was when the first lectures were read here, in our museum, on air navigation, cybernetics, quantum physics, and so forth. Today, too, we are dealing with problems on the cutting edge of science and technology. The range of topics is quite broad. For instance, "Man and Society" and international relations-these matters were covered in a series of lectures by Georgi Arbatov, a historian and economist, full member of the Russian Academy of
Sciences. Applied mathematics and numerical methods of the optimal control theory are the subject-matter of a seminar named for Academician Nikita Moiseyev. Ecology, too, figures prominently. In concert with RAS research institutes, R&D centers, universities and government departments, we are holding scientific conferences, round-table discussions and other gatherings. This way we are replenishing our collections with new materials of historical and practical significance.
- Would you elaborate?
- Today the stock of our Polytechnical Museum numbers over 160,000 items-things, documents, pictures and printed stuff. More than 150 collections of technology-related articles are in our custody, and many are of national significance.
At present we are involved with collections of minerals, rocks, synthetic crystals, hand tools used in ore mining, miner's lamps, drilling gear and underground equipment, metal-cutting tools... Besides, we are collecting light and power-supply sources, telegraph and telephone apparatuses, TV cameras, electroacoustic systems, and so on. We boast a wide collection of timepieces, scales, geophysical
instruments, microscopes, photo-and cinecameras. Just as good are our collections of automobiles, motorcycles, bicycles and what relates to piloted space hardware. It's quite a list.
The inventory of written records comprises more than 20,000 items. These are rare books of the 18th and 19th centuries on the history of science and engineering, directories and reference books, catalogs of commercial firms in Russia and other countries as well as technical specifications of every kind.
Our pictorial collections are pulling crowds. Say, photographs, paintings, prints, lithographs, postal cards, and postage stamps on the history of space exploration.
- We know your library on science and technology is one of this country's largest, conceived as an integral complex bringing together research, scientific and educational activities.
- It all began in 1864 from a mere ten books. Today our library lists over 3.2 mln books and periodicals in Russian and other languages, let alone codes and specifications. Catalogs, monographs, encyclopedias, production records, dictionaries are also in our stock... Manuals on technology, natural science, ecology, economics, industry, transportation... On communications, construction, architecture, applied arts, folk trades and crafts, and last, on the science of science. Our library is likewise arranging exhibitions on science and education, technologies and production-specifically, on innovative technologies. I might as well add economics and enterprise, ecology and ecoactivity. Separate exhibitions are devoted to people who have made a creative contribution to science and engineering.
Every year over 100,000 readers in Moscow and in another five hundred cities of Russia are getting from us about a million copies of publications and more than 40,000 bibliography references. Our database is open to them.
- The Polytechnic is also a major center of the museum science, isn't it?
- Yes, it is. We aim to foster professionalism in the work of technical-profile museums, and are coordination efforts in taking proper care of particularly valuable relics in the custody of other museums. We exchange know-how at seminars, workshops and conferences held jointly with our colleagues. We rely on a broad information base stored in our card-index, computerized database, directories, methodic aids and catalogs. We are giving publicity to kindred museums-as many as 1,195 to our knowledge, of which 646 are in Russia. We are keeping in touch with them. As the head museum of science and engineering, the Polytechnic is helping young ones on their feet. In 1987 it became one of the founders of the Association of Scientific-Technical Museums within the framework of the Russian Committee of the International Council of Museums.
A priority objective to us is to preserve monuments of science and engineering for storage. Our panel of experts meets regularly to assess articles of interest and issue certificates. We publish and circulate popular science and methodic literature on newly discovered treasures.
- Moscow residents and guests know your museum is also a cultural center.
- Sure. It has witnessed lectures and discussions on matters other than science and engineering. It has seen heated debates on literature and the arts. It has heard the great Russian artist Ilya Repin, and such eminent authors of the day as Alexander Kuprin, Maximilian Voloshin, Kornei Chukovsky. The famous pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff played here in a concert commemorating the composer Alexander Skryabin.
In the 1920s the museum's Grand Hall turned into Moscow's poetic center. Taking part in get- togethers and disputes were the poets Alexander Blok, Valery Bryusov, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Sergei Yesenin and Anatoly Lunacharsky, a writer, and an art and literary critic. The walls of this hall heard verses of another generation of poets in the 1960s-Yevgeni Yevtushenko, Bella Akhmadulina, Robert Rozhdestven-sky, Andrei Voznesensky... The bard Bulat Okudzhava sang his thrilling songs here. Musical and poetical soirees are a fixture here to this day.
- Your museum has turned 130. What's in your bag for this occasion ?
- Our birthday has coincided with the 550th birth anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci, a genius that embodies the idea of the infinite potential of Man. So we decided to hold an international scientific conference on the creative heritage of the great Italian. Our guests had a chance to exchange their research findings on Leonardo's lifework as a general cultural phenomenon. We have opened a special exhibition, "Leonardo's World" which displays exhibits borrowed from the Leonardo da Vinci National Museum and Technology in Milan, Italy. These are the mockups of specimens manufactured to Leonardo's drawings as late as 1939 that materialize his engineering ideas; other museums have sent in some of their exhibits too.
And last, the Eighth Scientific-Practical Conference "Russian Scientific-Technical Museums: Problems and Prospects" was expressly devoted to our museum.
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