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)