Mstislav Keldysh

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Mstislav Keldysh
Sergei Korolev (left), Igor Kurchatov (center) and Mstislav Keldysh (right) in 1956.
Born (1911-02-10)10 February 1911
Riga, Russian Empire
Died 24 June 1978(1978-06-24) (aged 67)
Moscow, Soviet Union
Nationality Soviet
Fields Mathematics, mechanics
Institutions Steklov Institute of Mathematics
Alma mater Moscow State University
Doctoral advisor Mikhail Lavrentyev
Doctoral students Ivan Kipriyanov
Sergey Mergelyan
Dmitrii Ochotsimskii
Notable awards Lomonosov Gold Medal (1975)

Mstislav Vsevolodovich Keldysh (Russian: Мстисла́в Все́володович Ке́лдыш; 10 February [O.S. 28 January] 1911 – 24 June 1978) was a Soviet scientist in the field of mathematics and mechanics, academician of the USSR Academy of Sciences (1946), President of the USSR Academy of Sciences (1961–1975), three times Hero of Socialist Labor (1956, 1961, 1971), fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1968). He was one of the key figures behind Soviet space program. Among scientific circles of USSR Keldysh was known with epithet "the Chief Theoretician"[1] in analogy with epithet "the Chief Designer" used for Sergey Korolyov.


Keldysh was born to a professional family of Russian nobility. His grandfather, Mikhail Fomich Keldysh (1839–1920), was a military physician, who retired with the military rank of a General. Keldysh's grandmother, Natalia Keldysh (née Brusilova), was a cousin of famous general Aleksei Brusilov. Keldysh's maternal grandfather, Alexander Nikolaevich Skvortsov, was a General of Infantry, a hero of the Caucasian War.

Keldysh's father, Vsevolod Mikhailovich Keldysh (1878–1965), was a civil engineer, Major General of the Engineering Service, and a full Professor (since 1918, teaching at the Kuybyshev Military Engineering Academy). He was a Distinguished Engineering Scientist of Soviet Union (Заслуженный деятель науки и техники СССР) since 1944. He was one of the authors of contemporary methods for calculating the strength of reinforced concrete, and a designer of the Moscow Canal and Moscow Metro projects.

Several members of the Keldysh family were victims of political repressions. In the 1930s Keldysh's uncle was sent to a labor camp on the White Sea-Baltic Canal construction site. In 1935 Keldysh's mother was arrested but after a few weeks was released. It was a part of the campaign of collecting gold from the population, but after Keldysh's father brought all the jewelry the family had, the unsatisfied NKVD officer returned "all this garbage" back. Keldysh's brother Mikhail, a historian who specialized in Medieval Germany, was arrested in 1936 and executed in 1937 as a "German spy." In 1938 another of Keldysh's brothers, Alexander, was arrested as a "French spy." Alexander was spared because of a small liberalization of the repressions during the transfer of the NKVD leadership from Nikolai Yezhov to Lavrenty Beria—he was acquitted in the court.

The strongest influence on Keldysh was his older sister, Ljudmila Keldysh (1904–1976), a noted mathematician and Keldysh's first teacher. Among her children (Keldysh's nephews) are Leonid Keldysh, director of Lebedev Physical Institute and Sergei Novikov, a famous mathematician.


File:Mstislav Keldysh Moscow.jpg
Statue of Mstislav Keldysh in Moscow.

Keldysh was born in 1911 in Riga. When he was four the family evacuated to Moscow during the First World War. In the first years of the Soviet Union he was refused entrance to an Institute of Civil Engineers because of his attachment to a noble family (1927). In the next years he managed to enter and graduate from the Physics and Mathematics department of the Moscow State University (24 July 1931). He obtained employment at the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute (TsAGI) under Mikhail Lavrentyev and Sergey Chaplygin.

Working in TsAGI he explained the auto-oscillation effects of flutter (in-flight auto-induced oscillations and structural deformations), and shimmy (auto-oscillation in the nose-wheel of aircraft undercarriages while on the ground). Both works were mathematically beautiful and practical; both were important as both effects were responsible for many aircraft catastrophes at the time.

In 1937 Keldysh became Doctor of Science (his dissertation's title was Complex Variable and Harmonic Functions Representation by Polynomial Series) and a Professor of Moscow State University. In 1943 he became a Corresponding Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences. He got his first Stalin Prize in 1946 for his works on aircraft auto-oscillations. In 1943 he also became a full member of the Academy and the Director of NII-1 (Research Institute number 1) of the Department of the Aviation Industry. He also headed the Department of Applied Mechanics of the Steklov Institute for Mathematics (in 1966 the department became Institute for Applied Mechanics, named after Keldysh).

During the 1940s Keldysh became the leader of a unique group of applied mathematicians involved in almost all large scientific projects of the Soviet Union. Keldysh created the Calculation Bureau that carried most of the mathematical problems related to the development of nuclear weapons. The bureau is also credited with design of the first Soviet computers. In 1947 he became a member of Communist Party.

Keldysh's main efforts were devoted to jet propulsion and rockets including supersonic gas dynamics, heat and mass exchange, heat shielding etc. 1959 saw successful testing of the Soviet first cruise missile,[which?] which displayed better performance than the Navajo missile being designed in USA at the time.

In 1954 Keldysh, Sergey Korolyov and Mikhail Tikhonravov submitted a letter to the Soviet Government proposing development of an artificial satellite to orbit the Earth. This letter began the effort that culminated in the world's first satellite, Sputnik in October 1957, which marks the beginning of mankind's Space Age. In 1955 Keldysh was appointed chairman of the Satellite Committee at the Academy of Science. In recognition of his contribution to the problems of defense Keldysh was awarded the Hero of Socialist Labor (1956) and the Lenin Prize (1957). In 1961 he received a second Него of Socialist Labor medal for his contribution to Yuri Gagarin's flight into space, the first person to orbit the earth.

In 1961 Keldysh was elected President of the Academy of Sciences and kept this position for 14 years. Concomittantly he became a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. His last scientific works were devoted to creation of the Shuttle Buran. In 1962 He was elected a member of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union.

Keldysh was 67 when he died. He was honoured with a state funeral and his ashes were buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis on Red Square.

Awards and honors

Keldysh was a member of many foreign academies of sciences, including the Mongolian Academy of Sciences (1961), Polish Academy of Sciences (1962), Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences (1962), and Romanian Academy of Sciences (1965). He was also an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1966), Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (1966), Hungarian Academy of Sciences (1970), and Royal Society of Edinburgh (1968), foreign corresponding member of the German Academy of Sciences (1966), and Saxon Academy of Sciences in Leipzig (1966).

Keldysh was awarded the USSR State Prize (1942, 1946), Lenin Prize (1957), six Orders of Lenin, three other orders, numerous medals and four foreign orders.

The crater Keldysh on the Moon, and a research vessel Akademik Mstislav Keldysh are named after him. A minor planet, 2186 Keldysh discovered in 1973 by Soviet astronomer Lyudmila Chernykh, is named in his honor.[2]

A street (Akadēmiķa Mstislava Keldiša iela) has been named after Keldysh in the district of Pļavnieki in his native Rīga, Latvia.

See also


  1. Boris Chertok, Rockets and people Online version
  2. Schmadel, Lutz D. (2003). Dictionary of Minor Planet Names (5th ed.). New York: Springer Verlag. p. 178. ISBN 3-540-00238-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Academic offices
Preceded by
Alexander Nesmeyanov
President of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR
Succeeded by
Anatoly Alexandrov