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Eminent scientist Guriy Marchuk, with close Siberian links, dies in Moscow

By Kate Baklitskaya
27 March 2013

One of the giants of science in the Soviet and post-USSR eras, a former president of the Academy of Sciences, died aged 87 after a long illness.

Marchuk accurately predicted a rough ride for science during the 1990s, but he also returned to his research, helping to make Russia's name in the study of weather and climate, as well as the creation of mathematical models for immunology and medicine. Paris, 1988, Guriy Marchuk is the Commandeur of the Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur, pictured here with his wife Olga. Picture: Russian Academy of Science

President of the Russian Academy of Sciences,  Yuri Osipov, said: 'Guriy Marchuk's passing is an irretrievable loss to Russia's science, to his relatives, friends and associates. 

'He was notable for his lucid mind and colossal capacity to work. He treated friends and colleagues with respect and consideration and evoked their sincere sentiments in response'.

Gennady Mesyats, vice-president, said: 'We are bidding last farewell to a person who combined the outstanding qualities of the scientist with being a splendid organiser of science. He was a fine example of a person capable of engaging in science and effectively organising science. 

'He was also an absolutely statesmanlike person who nowadays as well can serve as a model of statesmanlike attitude to science.'

Alexander Nekipelov, another vice-president, hailed his 'immense role in the development of Soviet science' adding: 'He made a great contribution to the development of the whole of our country.'

Guriy-Marchuk

Marchuk founded the Computer Centre of the USSR, and from 1975 to 1980 he was the head of the Siberian Branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences. Pictured here in 1985 in front of Russian Academy of Science Presidium. Picture: Russian Academy of Science

Guriy Marchuk was born on 8 June 1925, in  Orenburg region and began his working career as assistant harvester operator. He went on to win international acclaim as one of the world's top theoretical mathematicians.

From 1953 to 1956 he worked on the development of the hydrogen bomb, and later was a pioneer of submarine development.  'Our submarines were the fastest, they were called 'the hunters',' he said.  He was also a key figure in the development of civilian nuclear power in the USSR.

In 1962, Marchuk moved to Siberia. First two years, he was the deputy director of the Institute of Mathematics of the USSR Academy of Sciences in Akademgorodok, Novosibirsk. 

He founded the Computer Centre of the USSR, and from 1975 to 1980, he was the head of the Siberian Branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences.

He went on to head the State Committee for science and technology. In 1986 he became the president of the USSR Academy of Sciences, and was the last person to hold this post. At the collapse of the Soviet Union, he gave a lecture called 'Science for Life' that later became known as 'Requiem for Soviet Science'.

'Soviet science displayed a high efficiency and a surprising resilience in a very difficult political and international situation, because it was a united complete system,' he said on 17 December 1991. 

'Despite the weakness and structural defects, we had a united front of research. Now science of all the sovereign states of the former Soviet Union, including Russia, abruptly gets destroyed. I hope we will able to compensate with integration into the global scientific community, building up the missing links, but it won't be able to get done soon, even under the best of circumstances.'

Guriy-Marchuk

A meeting with the Swedish royal couple in 1989. Picture: Russian Academy of Science

Marchuk accurately predicted a rough ride for science during the 1990s, but he also returned to his research, helping to make Russia's name in the study of weather and climate, as well as the creation of mathematical models for immunology and medicine.

Visiting America in 1992, he was praised for 'a fundamental contribution in showing how mathematical tools can be applied to weather and climate'.

He also had a talent for explaining the most complex science in a way that students - and lay people - could grasp.

'After I got flu, I was sick with chronic pneumonia and had to be hospitalised twice a year,' he said.  

'The doctors said that it cannot be cured. I began to study the literature on the Pulmonology and Immunology, and found many discrepancies between what is obtained by mathematical processing of the data and the processes that occur in a person's body according to the doctors. 

'So together with my students who just graduated from university, we began to develop a mathematical immunology. Its effectiveness can be judged by my own case - I got rid of the 'incurable' disease. 

'By the way, the mechanisms are the same as in an atomic bomb. Whatever happened to the man, his immune system works the same way: the body produces a kind of 'chain reaction' that protects the body against disease. No, you will not cure a person with shots and drugs, you need to take care of the immune system. We should walk, every weekend one should do at least fifteen miles'.

In the 1990s, as science struggled to cope with the loss of state funding, he both warned about the danger to Russia of the brain drain, and actively pointed the way to seeking investment to support the pioneering work of Russian scientists.

Guriy Marchuk

Guriy Marchuk, year 2000. Picture: Russian Academy of Science

He adapted more quickly than many to the changes and was not averse to criticising those in power in the early 1990s and their failure to change from a Soviet mindset.  

'The ideology was to save the Soviet Union from the danger of military destruction, and we saw the consumer as secondary,' he recounted. 'As we drastically reduce our military budget, I hope we can use the money to cure our economic troubles. The country is huge and all of our resources are enormous. 

'But unfortunately, our intelligentsia still has a huge inertia, it still thinks in olden-days terms.

'I think we can conquer that - because there is no other way for us.'

At his funeral he was hailed as 'one of the most outstanding scientists of our time'.

Guriy Marchuk was buried at Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow. 

Comments (2)

rest in piece... most sincere condolences to Mr Marchuk's family.
Joan, Lisbon
02/04/2013 02:51
1
0
what a great man he was. Condolences to the family.
Peta, Italy
28/03/2013 22:50
2
0
1

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