July 30, 2015, 3:11pm: It’s a hundred degrees in Portland and there are thirteen activists hanging from the St. John’s Bridge.
Early yesterday morning, the climbers, equipped with several days worth of supplies, rappelled backwards off the bridge in a last-ditch effort to block the route of the Shell Oil vessel MSV Fennica — an Ice Breaker on its way to drill oil in the Arctic, despite the bugle call of environmentalists and the impending threat of climate change.
They hung there in the air for more than 24 hours, their crimson and yellow banners lilting and swaying in the river’s breeze — a brazen choreography of protest. Then, without a word or sound or declaration, the MSV Fennica reversed course.
Georgia Hirsty, one of the activists, sent a victorious missive from the air: “The sun is now setting on an incredible day of speaking truth to power and effective direct action.” As of the writing of this blog post, the thirteen renegades still hang mid-air from the bridge, like symbols of dissent, of power, of courage, of holding on to life with life.
Today marks the 182nd birthday of Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev, the creator of the periodic table. Devised amidst the writing of The Principles of Chemistry in 1869 during his tenure teaching at the University of St. Petersburg, Russia, the first table arranged the 63 known elements based on atomic mass.
The table was modified and corrected numerous times, most notably by British chemist Henry Moseley, but was revolutionary for predicting and accommodating the properties of elements that had yet to be discovered, including gallium and germanium.
Mendeleev’s handwritten periodic table.
However, Mendeleev also widely contributed to Russian science. He became a Doctor of Science in 1865 for his dissertation On the Combinations of Water with Alcohol, resulting in the incorrect modern myth that Mendeleev created the standard for Russian vodka to contain 40% alcohol by volume.
He aided in building Russia’s first oil refinery, published extensively on the origins of oil, and first proposed the transportation of oil via pipelines in 1863.
Mendeleev also aided in the development of Russia’s first ship model basic for testing ship designs, as well as the design of the first Arctic icebreaker “Ermak”, due in part to his friendship with explorer and creator of the Russian semaphore code Admiral Stepan Makarov.
Mendeleev in University of Edinburgh professorial robes, 1885
With international recognition, Mendeleev was honoured in numerous ways, including honorary degrees from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, as well as receiving the Davy Medal from the Royal Society of London. However, Mendeleev is noteworthy for having never received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry despite being shortlisted three times.
Many attribute his fervent criticism of Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius’ ‘physical’ ionic theory of conductive solutions, for which Arrhenius was awarded a Nobel Prize, to be a significant factor in his omission.
Mendeleev’s personal life was also marked with controversy when, at the age of 43, he left his first wife, Feozva Nikitichna Leshcheva, for 19-year-old Anna Ivanova Popova in 1882. It was a highly complicated situation in Orthodox Russia, and the church forbade Mendeleev from remarrying for six years, a demand Mendeleev violated to significant public outrage. Despite the divorce, Mendeleev was technically a bigamist and many attribute this and the surrounding controversy as a contributing factor in his failure to be elected to Russia’s Academy of Science at the time.
Mendeleev passed away on 2 February 1907, succeeded by six children across two marriages, and the accolades of innumerable scientists across the world. At his funeral in St. Petersburg, students carried a copy of the periodic table as a tribute to his work.
My very first piece of fine art, from St. Petersburg-based oil painter Victor Kobzev, whom I met on board 50 let Pobedy, depicting our ship and the icy landscape of the high Arctic. The sky is based off a photograph I took in Franz Josef Land. I am so proud to own this and will treasure it always, it is such a lovely memento from this time in my life.