The man who made miners’ safety a science
Exports of Russian coal to Asia-Pacific region will increase 2.5 times: from 100 million tons in 2018 to 252 million tons in 2035. This forecast was recently given by the head of the Ministry of Energy Alexander Novak. However, the growth of production is unthinkable without constant work to improve safety in the quarries and mines.
As early as Peter the Great, when shown the combustibility of coal during the Azov campaign, said: "This mineral, if not for us, then for our descendants will be extremely useful.” Indeed, by the end of the 19th century, when the metallurgical industry, railroad and water transport began to develop in Russia in leaps and bounds, the demand increased greatly. This incited a haste mine construction across the country: in Donbas, Moscow Region and Kuznetsk Basin, in the Urals and Far East.
The result did not take long. Production volumes grew rapidly: from 121 thousand tons in 1860 to 36 million in 1910. But the active development of coal layers resulted in increased emergency: landslides, fires and gas emissions. Newspapers began to regularly publish news about human casualties. Scientists were strategically tasked with creating a scientific school in mining aerology and related disciplines related to mining safety. The major expert was Alexander Skochinsky, whose scientific work could significantly reduce the risks of mining operations in the future.
Born into the family of a Polish nobleman exiled to Siberia for his participation in the szlachta uprising in 1863-1864, his first six years Alexander lived in Yakutia. Olekma village, where the family settled, served as a place of exile for many opponents of autocracy. Therefore, it was no surprise that one of the boy's first teachers was a famous ethnographer and archaeologist Dmitry Klements, who was exiled to the Far East for vigorous revolutionary activity. It was communication with him that aroused the future scientist's interest in physics, mineralogy and mining.
The Skochinskys moved to Krasnoyarsk, where the young man graduated from classic men's gymnasium with gold medal, and then entered the physics and Mathematics Department of St. Petersburg University. Two years later, he moved to the Mining Institute to the Department of Mining and Surveyor Techniques - the young man was attracted by practical knowledge and an immediate opportunity to implement the results of his research into production. In addition to specialized disciplines, the Institute paid much attention to the study of foreign languages: in five years, Alexander mastered English, German and French. Later, this allowed him to do without any interpreters on his numerous trips abroad: while getting acquainted with the work of coal, ore and salt mines and communicating with representatives of higher schools in Europe and the USA.
In 1900, Skochinsky graduated with honors from the Institute and, the best course graduate, his name was put on the gold board of honor. The young specialist stayed at the university to continue his scientific work and teach. Mining aerology became the central subject of his mining engineering research. He was the first to approach the issue of mining safety from a fundamental point of view and founded the Soviet scientific school in the field of mine atmosphere, aerodynamics, thermodynamics, combating gas manifestations in mine workings, their dustiness and mine fires.
Alexander Skochinsky became a professor at the age of 32 (!); he had never been a "desk" theorist but regularly studied real mines in detail and evaluated the effectiveness of the actions taken.
Skochinsky created a theory of air and gas movement in the mine workings, which brought clarity to understanding the physical and mechanical nature of the complex process of mine ventilation. The scientist discovered that both natural and artificial ventilation leads to dustiness of the air stream under certain conditions, which is dangerous with the probability of dust ignition and explosions.
As a result of his research, the theory of dust-free aerodynamic regimes for mines was first formulated. Modern engineers, when calculating ventilation systems of any complexity for any mines of various depths, rely on theoretical statements and experimental results obtained by Skochinsky and his students.
No less attention the professor paid to the issues of mine gas dynamics. He was interested in the differential porosity of coals and their methanol stability. He developed methods to study these properties and during expeditions to the main basins of the country (Donetsk, Kuznetsk, Karaganda, Pechora, deposits of the Urals and the Far East), he created calculation formulas to determine the gas content of coal layers.
Then he established the dependence of methane abundance of mine workings on their location and developed a statistical method to predict the gas content of mines. For many years, it was used by mining engineers around the world: thanks to the ability to know in advance how much gas will be released in the process of mine development, it was possible to avoid many errors in the design and construction of mines, and thus save lives.
Skochinsky saw the solution of the problem in the use of special vacuum units, which allowed not only to extract methane from reservoirs, but also to utilize it later in industry. The first such equipment was employed at the enterprises of Kuzbass and Donbas under Skochinsky’s control.
It was important for the professor to remain a practicing engineer; he regularly consulted on mining operations at the enterprises of Donbas and the Urals, developed projects for reconstruction of old mines and construction of new mining enterprises. He even managed to contribute to the construction of the Moscow metro.
In May 1928, there was an event that threatened not only the career of the outstanding scientist, but also his life. Skochinsky was among the mining scientists arrested in connection with the Shakhty incident, which was officially called the "Case of economic counterrevolution in Donbas."
As part of a staged judicial and political process, a group of 53 leaders and specialists of the coal industry of the USSR was accused of creating a counterrevolutionary organization. Supposedly, for several years it had been engaged in subversion and sabotage in the mining industry. The participants of the case, mostly representatives of pre-revolutionary technical intelligentsia, were accused of conspiracy with foreign anti-Soviet centers, Russian emigrants and German capitalists. There was no evidence of crime, so the facts of the slightest slackness and negligence "twisted" into espionage and sabotage. As a result, 5 people were shot and the rest received various prison terms.
Skochinsky, due to his exceptional competence, was offered to act as a technical expert in exchange for his release. He agreed and confirmed in court that he had found no sabotage except for technical errors and miscalculations. Moreover, in his opinion, he noted that coal production in Donbas was growing and industry was "developing from year to year.”
This fact of the scientist’s biography had no impact on his career. He received several Stalin prizes, became a Hero of Socialist Labor, and for over 20 years headed the Institute of Mining of the USSR Academy of Sciences, which he had founded.
Despite intensive scientific and industrial activity, Skochinsky spent his whole life teaching and creating new courses in disciplines that were directly related to the topics of his research: mine ventilation, underground fires, mining rescue, mine safety mounts, delivery and barrowing. During his 50-year teaching practice, the professor taught at his alma mater, the Don Polytechnic Institute and the Moscow Mining Institute.
In 1975, 15 years after his death, a new coal mine was launched in Donetsk, which at the time of opening was recognized as the deepest in the world. It was named after Alexander Skochinsky. in a cruel irony, over the years, it became atrociously sadly known. The area where the mine is located is characterized by unique geological conditions in terms of complexity and danger: high temperature of the coal bed, high methane content and a serious risk of sudden emissions of hundreds of tons of coal and tens of thousands of cubic meters of gas. This has caused a number of major accidents with human casualties.