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He started out with locomotive depots. Then he switched to projects involving Russia's soil deposits, including storage reservoirs and the first Russian tankers. To him belongs the honor of the discovery of the principle of cracking of petroleum. In later years he designed a number of railway bridges and exceptionally light arches for big urban structures. To him belongs the honor of designing the unique tower for Moscow's first broadcasting station. And he managed to complete all of these projects in a span of 63 years of active life. This is Prof. Vladimir Shukhov - a genius of engineering and inventions, an Honorary Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences.
By Vladimir GOLDMAN, journalist
The boy Volodya was born on August 28, 1853 in the small town of Graivoron in the western part of the Belgorod Gubernia. His father held the post of director of the local branch of the St. Petersburg Federal Bank. Having finished school in St. Petersburg, he continued his education at the Moscow Imperial Technical College (now-the Moscow State Technical University named after N. Baumann) from which he graduated with honors and an engineering diploma in 1876. And it should be stressed at this point that the young graduate was offered a prestigious post of assistant of the prominent Russian mathematician, Academician Pafnutiy Chebyshev. But the graduate turned down the offer, being gripped with the zeal for practical work. He started out with a business trip to the United States - a country of rapidly progressing mechanical engineering and railway transport. And it was not accidental that upon his return to St. Petersburg he embarked on designing locomotive depots for a new railway between Warsaw (Poland then belonged to the Russian Empire) and the Austrian capital Vienna.
In 1878 Shukhov moved to Azerbaijan where new oil deposits were being developed at a rapid pace. This gave him plenty of room for work. One of his unprecedented projects was a 10 km oil pipeline, unprecedented in this country. He pioneered an oil storage of a new design and in a span of 2 years there were 130 such units in this country and by the year of 1917 their number exceeded 20 thous. The scientist designed and patented an original force pump for the spraying of liquid fuel (mazut). He designed a number of different pipes for transporting and repumping of liquid fuel. And he was the first in the world to discover the mechanism of cracking as a method of processing of mineral fuel for the production of gasoline (output of 25 to 65 percent), gaseous hydrocarbon and hydrogen and also coke (incidentally it was with his participation that they launched in Baku in 1932 the first industrial unit called "Soviet cracking" - putting into practice the dream of his young years about complete processing of oil). And the list of his achievements continues. One proof of that must have been the launching in Russia a little later (from 1897 to 1907) of an unprecedented engineering structure-a trunk oil pipeline to the Black Sea port of Batumi.
But to come back to the hero of our narration-Vladimir Shukhov. In 1880 he moved to Moscow where he remained until the end of his life-February 1939. During that time he worked on oil storage reservoirs introducing into his original designs many changes in a bid to make them bigger and less expensive. One way of doing that was placing of a kind of cylinders upon sand-"pillows". The bottoms of these containers could be made of relatively thin metal and the walls-from relatively thin materials in stages of gradually decreasing thickness. Dr. Shukhov proposed that all of these structures be "brought together according to a certain standard and reference tables be provided taking into account the volume, type and consumption of the required materials and spendings. Thanks to all that structures built according to his designs have been in operation for decades and some are in service to this day (like those in Batumi, or in the town of Kineshma on the Volga).
The next engineering project of Prof. Shukhov related to the transportation of oil from the Caspian and the Black seas to Russia's northern regions. With this aim in view he began in 1885 (a year earlier than Germany) building the first river tankers of 800 and then 10,000 tons. In tackling this problem he took into account the peculiarities of river navigation in this country, such as prevailing water currents, the presence of shallows etc. And he designed his barges so that their superstructures and partitions served as additional supports.
Years of experience made it possible for the designer to embark in late 1880 on projects with exceptionally light arc structures with thin sloping tightening elements. This idea was first put into practice in Moscow in 1893 with the building of three longitudinal passages of the Upper Trade Rows (galleries) (in the 1920s were renamed the State Department Store). The galleries were located parallel to the Kremlin on an area of 24.5 thous. m2 and their glass roofs, designed by Prof. Shukhov, are there to this day. Later on a similar architectural design was used in Moscow's Petrovsky Passage built in 1903 - 1906. To this day it serves as a link between Moscow's central streets of Petrovka and Neglinka. And in the late 19th and early 20th centuries Prof. Shukhov designed a platform on top of the impressive Bryansky (now Kievsky) railway station in Moscow which is 48 m wide, 30 m high and 230 m long. All such structures incorporate light designs of tricostate frames and tie rods, supporting the roofing.
At the same time Prof. Shukhov was engaged in a number of other projects. Working on them, he always found new solutions which boosted the effectiveness of engineering structures.
In 1892 he engaged on the construction of 417 railway bridges with spans of 25 to 100 m. Their main asset consisted in the fact that-as on many previous occasions-the engineer suggested methods of standardization of all of these structures in general and each one
of them in particular. And he also provided accurate calculations on the dimensions and amounts of the necessary materials, rates of compression, etc. He also demonstrated for the first time how supporting frames could be assembled right on the bank of this or that river and how these frames could be mounted in winter time on wooden scaffoldings from which they could be placed into the required positions.
Several years later Prof. Shukhov designed and patented what was called the water-tube boiler which could be used in the horizontal and vertical positions. The device helped to greatly increase the size of the heating area and made the whole unit simpler. In their publications of that time British specialists praised the invention and even called it the "Shukhov steam boiler", a term accepted on an international level. Shukhov's boiler won a prize at the Russian National Exhibition of 1896 in Nizhni Novgorod - an event of major importance. Broad recognition and high awards were scored by a series of Shukhov's designs which impressed engineers and building experts. These included eight pavilions (four with cylindrical network arches and four more with suspended roofs), a water tower (with vertical carcass props, as if wrapped into metal mesh. Located at the height of 25.6 m from the foundation was a tank with the capacity of 114 thous. 1 and an observation platform). Later on many such towers were built in different places in Russia; the tallest of them was the lighthouse in Kherson, the seaport at the mouth of the Dnieper. It was 68 m high and was demolished during the Great Patriotic Whr with Nazi Germany.
Other modifications of Shukhov's netted structures embellish Moscow to this day-these are the tower antennas of the central broadcasting (now TV station) on the Shabolovka Street. The architect started working on this project in 1919 and the construction was completed in 1922. Using the method of what was called "telescopic assembly"-with six sections mounted in sequence one upon the other - he fixed his "hyperboloid" at the height of about 150 m, and the total height of the structure, including two crossarms and a flagstaff - 160 m.
Working in this way in the late 19th and early 20th centuries Prof. Shukhov was building the future of his country. And his efforts were justly rewarded- for his outstanding contributions to the technology of oil extraction, construction engineering, thermotechnics, designs of open-hearth Martin plants, blast furnaces, bridges and many other innovations the celebrated engineer and researcher was awarded in 1928 the title of Corresponding Member and a year later-of Honorary Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences. In 1990 the International Union of scientific and engineering amalgamations established the Shukhov Gold Medal which is awarded to specialists for their outstanding contributions to the progress of modern science and technology.
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