He was called the Copernicus of geometrics. And yet, he had no intention of turning anything upside down. It just so happened that the world-renowned Russian scholar wanted to prove Euclid’s fifth postulate but ended disproving it. And so, a second geometry emerged.
Before turning geometry upside down and receiving worldwide recognition, Nikolay Ivanovich quickly rose through the ranks as a teacher. A native of Nizhny Novgorod and son of a Department of Geodesics official, he graduated from a gymnasium in Kazan and enrolled in its newly founded university. As it turned out, that was his fate: he dedicated some good forty years to Kazan University.
A poor but talented student, he was valued by the lectors but hated by the small-minded management: in his senior year he was accused of “wishful ego, stubbornness, disobedience,” of committing “outrageous acts,” and even of “demonstrating the signs of godlessness.” But the sharp lecturers stood up for him, and not only the talented student wasn’t expelled – quite the opposite, he was awarded Master of Physics and Math honors and began working at the university. Lobachevsky’s career skyrocketed: at 21 years old he became adjunct professor; at 29 – a full professor, infinitely valued by the students. Later he was appointed Dean of Physics and Math Department, and at 34, while still young, he became rector.
His scholarly career turned out more complicated. His geometry textbook for gymnasium was heavily criticized for using the unorthodox metrical system, invented in rebel France; his algebra textbook wasn’t published at all. Russia didn’t understand the revolutionary non-Euclidian geometry, the Academy of Sciences gave negative feedback, and an article in the Syn Otechestva magazine stingingly stated that it lacks not only scholarship but even basic common sense. Yet, the great Gauss appreciated it duly and began learning Russian in his old age to get acquainted with Lobachevsky’s works.