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How a Pole enriched Russia

© Общественное достояние

Russia is often referred to as a raw material country, giving this concept a negative meaning. They say that the subsoil is rich in minerals, but there are problems with value chains.

Russia began to study ways of enriching raw materials, which could increase the efficiency of their processing, in the 18th century. The first work on this subject was written by Mikhail Lomonosov. The Mining Cadet Corps has been paying attention to this issue since the first years of its establishment. However, there was no purposeful training of specialized specialists until the beginning of the XX century. Professor Heinrich Chechott became the founder of the scientific school of technologies of disintegration and concentration of mineral raw materials.

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In 1900, after completing his studies at the St. Petersburg Mining Institute, Heinrich Ottonovich went to work at the Saturn mine in the ancient Polish town of Chelyadz. In the middle of the 19th century, large coal reserves were discovered there (Dąbrowski coal basin as part of the Upper Silesian basin), which led to intensive industrial development of the region. Although Henry Ottonovich was born in the city on the Neva River, his family had Polish roots. Maybe that is why the young man obtained a direction to his historical homeland, which was part of Russia until 1918. There he became an active member of the Mining and Metallurgical Section of the Warsaw Branch of the Society for the Promotion of Industry and Trade. His projects led to the introduction of a new method of exploiting coal seams 4.5 meters thick and innovative methods of mine ventilation.

Домбровский угольный бассейн
© Домбровский угольный бассейн

Already in Poland, Czeczott became interested in politics and joined Józef Piłsudski's Socialist Party (PPS), whose supporters advocated the independence of the Polish lands and their secession from the Russian Empire. When a warehouse of party publications was discovered in the mining engineer's apartment, as well as a shelter for party activists persecuted by the police, the management of the Saturn mine fired the specialist. These events allowed Henry Ottonovich to fundamentally rethink his prospects. He decided to leave politics, return to St. Petersburg and devote his career entirely to science and teaching.

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Nine years later, the young specialist crossed the threshold of his alma mater again. The Mining Institute accepted his thesis "On the ventilation of underground structures" and made him an associate professor. Chechott began to lecture on the topic of mechanical mineral processing. Identifying a gap in research in this area at that time, he decided to familiarize himself with the best practices of foreign countries.

Heinrich Othonovich visited Germany, where at the Freiberg Mining Academy he studied methods and processes of primary processing of mineral resources in order to separate all valuable minerals from waste rock, as well as mutual separation of minerals. He familiarized himself with innovations in the field by visiting companies that manufactured mining equipment.

In 1914, Chechott traveled to the United States, the country that had made the greatest strides in this field at the time. He entered the senior course of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where for 3 months he listened to the lectures of Professor Robert Richards. The famous scientist served as president of the American Institute of Mining Engineers, created the first enrichment laboratory in the United States, wrote a number of fundamental works on the subject and developed several devices, such as hydraulic classifiers with free and constricted fall and pulsation sedimentation machine. Acquaintance with a researcher of this caliber further encouraged Cecott to develop the domestic mining and processing industry.

Upon his return to St. Petersburg, he started to realize what he had planned: he defended his thesis on the problems of ore dressing, became a professor at the St. Petersburg Mining Institute (1915) and wrote "The Course of Mechanical Processing of Minerals" (the first textbook to appear in Russia).

горный университет
© Генрих Чечотт/ Горный институт

During World War I, the issues of raw materials processing became especially important for Russia, as they played a huge role in the militarization of the economy. In 1915, the Mining Institute applied to the military department and proposed to develop a technology for enrichment of tungsten required for weapons needs, in particular, for the production of artillery fuses. In 1916, Heinrich Ottonovich organized the first ore-processing laboratory in Russia within the structure of the university. In 1918-1919, according to his project, a testing station with semi-industrial apparatuses - a sedimentation machine, a round concentrate table and a wooden flotation machine - was created. The results of investigations became the initial material for designing of enrichment plants. Such projects were developed in a special production bureau, also organized by the professor.

Chechott's name obtained wide popularity, and directors of mining enterprises began to address him with a request to conduct an expert examination or give a professional recommendation. Only in the period from 1916 to 1922, 14 projects of enrichment plants were carried out under his supervision. He was constantly traveling on business trips in Russia and abroad. In Sweden, Germany, Austria, Norway, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands he gave consultations to industrialists and gave lectures in which he propagandized the achievements of the enrichment business. He was called the man who knows all the mines in the world.

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In 1920, on the scientist's initiative, the country's first Department of Mineral Processing was established at the Mining Institute. Heinrich Othonovich formulated and substantiated the principle that crushing and grinding of minerals is carried out in strict accordance with the size of individual components embedded in it. In addition, he developed a method of graphical determination of the relationship between the final velocity of a mineral grain falling into water, its diameter and density (Chechott's diagram), and derived a formula named after him, according to which the weight of a minimum sample is proportional to the square of the diameter of the maximum piece of the material under study.

In the same year, the design office created by Chechott was transformed into a state organization - the first in Soviet Russia Research and Design Institute for Mineral Processing ("Mekhanobr").

© Сотрудники одного из отделов проектной части НИИ «Механобр»

He worked as its head for only two years, as he left with his family for Poland in 1922. It is possible that this was due to the close friendship of his father, a famous Russian psychiatrist and chief physician of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker Hospital, with Polish President Jozef Piłsudski. By the way, Otton Czeczott lost his leadership position at the hospital after Pilsudski escaped from it in 1901, having been taken there from Warsaw prison because of suspected incapacity. It was rumored that the psychiatrist was involved in organizing the escape of the opposition politician.

It was on Józef Piłsudski's initiative that the Kraków Mining Academy was opened, and on December 1, 1921, Henry Czeczott received a letter inviting him to take a direct part in the development of the curriculum and subsequent training of mining engineers and metallurgists for the new state. The president gathered prominent figures of mining science from all over the world, realizing the importance of the mineral complex for the economy and politics of a country rich in hard coal, nugget sulfur and copper ore.

In his historical homeland, the scientist became a professor at the Krakow Mining Academy (1922-1928), headed the Department of Mining and Machining, and then the Faculty of Mining. Thanks to his efforts, laboratories for ventilation, gas and coal dust analysis, and an emergency rescue laboratory were established. Behind the building of the university a 22-meter long adit was arranged for practical lessons in mining.

Today Henry Ottonovich Czeczott is considered both in Russia and Poland to be the founder of the enrichment branch of mining. The largest mining and processing plants in the USSR - Apatit, Norilsk, Tyrnyauz, Kostomuksha ("Karelian Pellet"), Dzhezkazgan, Erdenet - were designed within the walls of the "Mechanobra" created under his supervision. In the first half of the 20th century the designers of the Research Institute started with the development of the simplest machines for ore, coal and shale beneficiation. Today, the oldest mining and processing institute in Russia produces fundamentally new crushing, screening and beneficiation equipment and supplies it to more than 40 countries of the world. It employs graduates of the enrichment department of the St. Petersburg Mining University founded by the scientist.

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