On April 22, 1908, famous Russian writer and paleontologist Ivan Yefremov, the author of the Andromeda Nebula and other popular sci-fi books, was born. Interestingly enough, the classic of Russian science fiction contributed not less into science than into literature.
Paleontologist Igor Barskov Tells about his Teacher
I was lucky to be a frequenter at Ivan Yefremov’s home in the center of Moscow thanks to friendship with his son Allan, a groupmate at the Geology Department of the Moscow State University. Once in the second year of studies, having decided to become a paleontologist, I could not miss the opportunity of asking Ivan Efremov, what is worth studying in paleontology. His response turned out to be visionary.
How Ivan Yefremov Guessed about Siberian Diamonds
The gift of scientific foresight was one of the remarkable features of Ivan Yefremov. He followed the logic and tendencies of the studies of that time, relying on experience and encyclopedic knowledge. For example, the writer predicted, that there are diamonds in Siberia. He knew that in South Africa, precious stones are extracted from kimberlite rocks generated at great depths due to explosive volcanism. These rocks are common in stable geological regions. In the USSR there were such areas as well: for example, the Siberian platform. Ivan Yefremov suggested: why not look for kimberlite rocks there..? Moving upstream a river, you can find a place from where the minerals originate. This is where diamond kimberlites may be found. These deductions are described in detail in Yefremov’s short story “Diamond Pipe” published in 1945. It was with the help of his method that geologist Larisa Popugaeva discovered the first diamond-bearing tube in Yakutia in 1954.
How Ivan Yefremov Founded a New Science
One of his most important predictions enabled Ivan Yefremov to create the science of taphonomy, i.e. the theory of the stages and patterns of living organisms turning into fossil remains. His speculations were proved true during three expeditions to Mongolia under his leadership in 1946 -1949. The results of the expeditions turned to be really epochal. In the Cretaceous sediments in the middle of the desert, the experts found so many bones of dinosaurs and other prehistoric inhabitants of the Earth, that they had to be taken to Moscow in many railway cars. The Russian Academy of Sciences arranged the display of some of those finds by Ivan Yefremov at the Moscow Paleontological Museum. Moreover, excavations in Mongolia are still going on - such a felicitous place he found.
What Ivan Yefremov Wanted to Bring Home to Readers
During the expedition, Ivan Yefremov conceived a book. In the “The Road of Winds” published in the mid 1950s, he wrote about excavations and his colleagues, as well as the harsh nature of Mongolia. A new generation of paleontologists grew up with this book. Around the same time, Ivan Yefremov came up with one of his main works - the novel “Andromeda Nebula”. It holds another paleontological prediction that is coming true right before our eyes. In the book, the characters conduct a field study, but without digging out the bones. Instead, they subject the soil to radiographic test with the help of special equipment. Modern scientists do the same with the help of microtomographs, though so far they can only examine samples measuring just a few centimeters.
However, that is not the main thing about “Andromeda Nebula” and other books by Ivan Yefremov. What he wanted to convey to the readers is the admiration for the beauty and strength of the human spirit, as well as our inexhaustible creative capabilities. Ivan Yefremov was sure that we are not alone in the Universe, and life, wherever it occurs, will necessarily go through a similar evolutionary path and unite with other civilizations.
Told by Igor Barskov, Doctor of Biological Sciences and the Head of the Paleontology Department at the Geology Faculty of the Moscow State University.
Author: Vera Ivanova