Vladimir Nikolaevich Ipatieff

Vladimir Niko­lae­vich Ipatieff

Vladimir Niko­lae­vich Ipati­eff was born on 21 Novem­ber 1867 in Moscow, Rus­sia. His early career was that of a mil­i­tary man: in 1887 he grad­u­ated from the Mikhailovskoe artilleri­iskoe uchilishche, and in 1892 from the Mikhailovskaia artilleri­iskaia akademiia. But his inter­est in chem­istry diverted him from a strictly mil­i­tary path. Teach­ing the sub­ject at the Artillery Acad­emy, he went on to get a doc­tor­ate from St. Peters­burg Uni­ver­sity in 1907, while advanc­ing in mil­i­tary rank to major gen­eral in 1910. From 1906 to 1916, he taught chem­istry at the Uni­ver­sity as well, and was made a mem­ber of the Impe­r­ial Acad­emy of Sci­ences in 1916. As a lieu­tenant gen­eral dur­ing the First World War, he served as Direc­tor of the Com­mis­sion for Prepa­ra­tion of Explo­sives and Chair­man of the Chem­i­cal Committee.

Fol­low­ing the rev­o­lu­tion, he remained in the Soviet Union, where he founded the High Pres­sure Insti­tute in 1927. But in 1931, while on a trip abroad, he decided not to return and came to the United States, where he taught at North­west­ern Uni­ver­sity from 1931 to 1935. In 1939 he was elected a mem­ber of the National Acad­emy of Sci­ences. Ipati­eff died in Chicago on 29 Feb­ru­ary 1952. North­west­ern Uni­ver­sity ded­i­cated a lab­o­ra­tory in his honor.

[A slightly dif­fer­ent ver­sion about his move to the USA (from Pro­fes­sor Peter Stair of North­west­ern Uni­veristy): Ipati­eff had been a Gen­eral under Tsar Nicholas II and Chair­man of the Chem­i­cal Admin­is­tra­tion and win­ner of the Lenin Prize under the Sovi­ets. Shortly after Ipati­eff emi­grated from the USSR to avoid the Stalin purges, he was approached by rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Uni­ver­sal Oil Prod­ucts (UOP) who invited him to work in the USA in the dual capac­ity of Direc­tor of Chem­i­cal Research at UOP and Pro­fes­sor of Chem­istry at North­west­ern Uni­ver­sity. He worked together with Her­man Pines to dis­cover and develop the impor­tant processes of iso­mer­iza­tion and alky­la­tion with liq­uid acids based upon the reac­tion of paraf­fin mol­e­cules in petro­leum react­ing with an aque­ous solu­tion of sul­fu­ric acid. In early 1940, at the begin­ning of World War II, the first alky­la­tion plant came on stream in the US. The boost in air­craft fuel octane made pos­si­ble by this plant played a sig­nif­i­cant role in the suc­cess of the British Royal Air Force in the Bat­tle of Britain.]

Ipati­eff authored hun­dreds of arti­cles on chem­istry in a num­ber of lan­guages, as well as text­books, such as Kolich­estven­nyi analiz, which he wrote while still a stu­dent (St. Peters­burg, 1891); a sci­en­tific auto­bi­og­ra­phy, Cat­alytic Reac­tions at High Pres­sures and Tem­per­a­tures (New York, 1936); and per­sonal mem­oirs, Zhizn’ odnogo khimika (New York, 1945), trans­lated into Eng­lish as The Life of a Chemist (Stan­ford, 1946). He also held sev­eral hun­dred patents, mark­ing his most sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions to sci­ence: the for­mu­la­tion of high-octane gaso­line, the “crack­ing” method now used to refine gas, and other dis­cov­er­ies relat­ing to cat­alytic reac­tions (espe­cially under high pres­sures and tem­per­a­tures), and the syn­the­sis of petro­leum and its dis­til­lates.
Con­tributed by Hoover Insti­tute and Peter Stair
From the Hoover Institution’s Archives: (http://www-hoover.stanford.edu/hila/ruscollection/ipat_b.html)