Peter Simon Pallas. September 22, 1741 – September 8, 1811. German and Russian scientist, encyclopedist, naturalist, and traveler of the 18th – 19th centuries. He became famous for scientific expeditions across Russia in the second half of the 18th century, made a significant contribution to biology, geography, geology, philology and ethnography.
Life and Work:
1. There is no monument to this great Russian scientist in Russia yet. But his name has been immortalized more than once – in the names of plants and living creatures, as well as in the name of an iron-stone meteorite discovered in the Krasnoyarsk Territory and studied at the Academy of Sciences on his instructions. The monument to the Pallas Iron meteorite currently stands on the Meteoritnaya Hill half a kilometer from the site of the meteorite discovery.
2. “One of the most outstanding naturalists of all countries and times...” – this is how Pallas is described in Polovtsov’s Russian Biographical Dictionary published before the revolution.
3. Why was the German-born scientist included in the Russian Biographical Dictionary? Vladimir Vernadsky explained: “... a natural German, a native Prussian... who gave his whole life to Russia ... Pallas was distinguished ... by the breadth of his scientific interests, attempts at scientific, deep creativity in the search for generalizations in the observational sciences, ...colossal work performance and precise mastery of the eternal elements of the scientific method...”
4. Indeed, Peter Simon Pallas was a Prussian. He was born in Berlin in 1741, during the reign of the enlightened King Frederick the Great. Little Peter was three years old when the philosopher king founded the Berlin Academy of Sciences, to which he invited the best scientists from all over Europe.
5. Pallas’ father, professor of anatomy and chief surgeon of the Berlin Medical and Surgical Collegium, wanted his son to follow his path, and the offspring got interested in natural science.
6. By the age of 13, Peter Simon was proficient in English, French, Latin, and Greek, and started attending lectures at the Berlin Medical and Surgical Collegium.
7. At the age of nineteen, Pallas had already defended his doctoral dissertation in medicine – there, he studied pests living in the human body.
8. Pallas’ works earned him a reputation as a serious scientist so quickly that before he turned thirty, the St. Petersburg Imperial Academy of Sciences elected him a full member.
9. Together with his young wife and small daughter, Pallas arrived in St. Petersburg and began working for a remuneration of eight hundred rubles a year, which was considerable at the time.
10. Today, Pallas is rightly called an encyclopedic scholar. Judge for yourself: in his numerous (over 170) works, Pallas acts as a botanist, zoologist, paleontologist, mineralogist, geographer, geologist, topographer, archaeologist, and philologist.
11. Pallas took part in expeditions almost all over Russia – the Volga Region, Urals, Western Siberia, Altai, Transbaikalia, Caucasus. Pallas traveled all over the empire: from the Barents Sea in the north, to the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea in the south; from the Baltic Sea in the west and to the Chinese border in the east.
12. Empress Catherine respected Pallas so much that she trusted him to teach natural sciences to her grandchildren, Constantine and Alexander, the future Emperor Alexander I.
13. “Pallas’ works,” Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky writes, “are still the basis of our knowledge about the nature and people of Russia.... His travels are an inexhaustible source of a variety of large and small, but always scientifically accurate, details. But Pallas also worked on theoretical generalizations – his importance as a theoretical geologist, physical geographer, and biologist is even higher and deeper than it is usually stated within such a little-studied area of knowledge as the history of modern science. Pallas has not yet occupied in our minds the historical position that his actual significance deserves.”
14. Peter Simon Pallas described – as it was meticulously counted – 425 species of birds, 240 species of fish, 151 species of mammals, 21 species of helminths, as well as many other fauna and flora representatives: amphibians, reptiles, insects, and plants. It is not surprising that some flora and fauna species were named after him: Pallas’ pika, Pallas’ reed bunting, petrosimonia from the Chenopodiaceae family and neopallasia from the Asteraceae family. And many types of plants: Pallas’ pine, Pallas’ crab apple, Pallas’ honeysuckle – the list is too long to print here.
15. Pallas worked hard on the general collection of Russian plants – Flora Rossica [Flora of Russia]. But the funding was scarce and only two issues of this extensive work came out. They are beautifully illustrated and contain descriptions of about 300 plant species.
16. Pallas became the first scientist to have a Russian vessel named after him.
17. An active volcano on the island of Ketoy, part of the Kuril Islands, was named after Pallas, as well as a mountain in the southern part of the Northern Urals, a mountain of the Yablonovy Mountains in Transbaikalia – the point of the World Water Divide for the basins of three major rivers: the Amur, Yenisei and Lena, and, respectively, for two pairs of ocean basins: the Atlantic from the Arctic and the Pacific from the Indian.
18. And that’s not all. A peninsula on the Khariton Laptev Coast on the Kara Sea, a reef off the coast of New Guinea, the town and railway station of Pallasovka in Volgograd Region are also named after Pallas.
19. In January 1810, Pallas applied to the Academy of Sciences for an indefinite leave to Berlin, where he could better supervise the production of drawings for his book Zoographia rosso-asiatica [Russian-Asian Zoology]. In March, the leave with pay was allowed, and in June, Pallas arrived in Berlin. But Pallas did not live long enough to see the main work of his life published: he died two weeks before his seventieth birthday, on September 8, 1811.
20. His tombstone in Berlin bears an inscription in Latin. It reads: “Peter Simon Pallas of Berlin, knight, academician of St. Petersburg, who conducted extensive research in the wilderness for the sake of the nature of things, found his final rest here.”