Tribute to the father of cellular glass: Professor Isaak Ilyich Kitaygorodskiy

In 2022, it is 90 years ago that Professor Ilya I. Kitaygorodsky presented cellular glass at the All-Union conference on standardization and production of new materials in Moscow. Therefore, BELGLAS BV conducted some research about this man, with which we share a common respect for cellular glass.

Professor Isaak Ilyich Kitaygorodskiy

Professor Isaak Ilyich Kitaygorodskiy was the founder of the Department of Chemical Technology of Glass and Sitals at the D. Mendeleev University of Chemical Technology of Russia. In the following, I copy a part of an interview with Vladimir Nikolaevich Sigayev.

The Department of Glass is a legendary one. It was founded almost 90 years ago, in 1932, by the famous Soviet scientist, technologist #1 in the field of glass, Isaak Ilyich Kitaygorodskiy. Suffice it to mention that the ruby stars of the Moscow Kremlin were created on the basis of his developments related to glass coloring processes. I should remind you that the towers of the Kremlin were originally decorated with two-headed eagles. The builders of communism got to them only in 1937, and the eagles were replaced by metallic stars, which, however, were not visible at night and did not make a good impression at all. Therefore, it was decided to replace them by ruby-colored glass stars which fitted perfectly well into the architectural appearance of the Kremlin. It was a very beautiful design that complemented the brilliant work of Aristotle Fioravanti. 

Let us return to the foundation of the department. 1932 was a landmark year not only in the context of its founding. It was the same year when the famous article by William Zachariasen, the largest scientist of crystal chemistry, who laid the foundation for the theory of the glassy state structure, was published. By the way, this two-page work remains the most cited article in glass science to date. 

Kitaygorodsky, the founder of the department, worked as a chief engineer at a glasswork in Zaprudna near Moscow before the events of the 1917 revolution. Kitaygorodsky set up the production of light bulbs at this, judging by the preserved photographs, quite ruined facility. In fact, as they say today, he started the process of import substitution, and beginning from 1913 Russia has been using domestic light bulbs. After 1917, when the entire country was electrified under the GOELRO plan, they began to be called “Ilyich bulbs,” referring not to Isaac Ilyich, but to Vladimir Ilyich, which I find a major historical injustice. 

Later, the activity of the department covered all the variety of glass technologies, including all the new challenges coming from the needs of instrumentation, medicine, and ecology. The main challenge was related to the improvement of sheet glass and organization of its multitonnage production (95% of all glass production is oriented on the creation of window sheet glass, i.e., glass used in architecture). The problem of sheet glass production was finally resolved with the aid of the so-called float technology, which makes it possible to obtain nearly perfect glass sheets up to six meters wide by melting the glass mass into liquid tin. In Russia, this problem has been solved when foreign companies came to the Russian market such as “AGC,” “Guardian,” “Pilkington,” etc. It is difficult to overestimate the contribution of Kitaygorodsky and his students in the development of sheet glass, electrovacuum, medical glass, foam glass, and seals.

The Russian university where Professor Ilya I. Kitaygorodskiy teached

Today, a lot of research about cellular glass is again performed in Russia. I guess that our spiritual father will be pleased.

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