Alexander A. Chernyshev

Alexander A. Chernyshev


Monday, August 21, 1882

Passed away: 

Thursday, April 18, 1940

Alexander Chernyshev, in full Alexander Alexeevich Chernyshev, was born in the Chernihiv Region. His father Alexey Markovich was a lawyer and served as a district peace justice in the village of Voronovitsy near Vinnytsia. Sasha Chernyshev entered an elementary school of the village in 1891. Then, he finished the Nemirov men’s gymnasium, after which he was admitted to the newly opened St. Petersburg Polytechnic Institute (1902).

Chernyshev was an active and initiative student. In addition to studying theoretical courses, he completed 28 course projects in various engineering disciplines. Perhaps, such a practical experience predetermined the width of his interests.

During the last year of study at the Polytechnic Institute, Chernyshev was already carrying out independent research. At the end of 1907, he received the electrical engineer diploma.

As a most talented student, Chernyshev was left at the Polytechnic Institute for a professorship. His first work as a young researcher was entitled “Testing Methods for Insulating Substances.”

Chernyshev also investigated accurate measurement problems for very high voltages. The electrical devices of that time were unable to measure voltages of 100 000 V and higher. He invented an electrometer to measure voltages from 10 to 180 000 V, followed by a high-voltage wattmeter.

In 1909, Chernyshev was sent to Switzerland and Germany to study foreign high-voltage installations as well as R&D methods and laboratory practicals at the famous Göttingen University. Upon return, he started designing and constructing a high-voltage research laboratory at the Polytechnic Institute.

In 1912, Chernyshev was awarded the Medal of the Russian Technical Society and the Siemens Prize for outstanding research in high-voltage electrical engineering. One year later, as a fellow of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, he was sent to the USA for two years to study high-voltage technology and the production of electrical equipment at General Electric.

However, General Electric did not hire him, and Chernyshev went to a Westinghouse Electric factory as an ordinary worker. After half a year, he was transferred by the administration to the technical department; six months later, he was appointed an engineer (and then, deputy chief engineer) in the research laboratory. Chernyshev received broad access to the factories of Westinghouse Electric and General Electric as well. Having worked from worker to engineer, he comprehensively studied the operation of electrical devices, their design, and production and, moreover, made several rationalization proposals. When it was time to return home, both companies offered the Russian engineer to stay, but Chernyshev flatly refused.

He returned to Petrograd and published many papers. However, with World War I, Chernyshev faced other problems.

By the beginning of the War, the Russian Empire had neither a radio industry nor radio operators. The vast majority of cargo and passenger ships were served by foreign radio operators. Following the War, foreign radio operators were interned, and the Russian merchant fleet was left without radio communications. To improve the situation, the Polytechnic Institute organized training courses for radio operators among the graduates. Professor Chernyshev taught radiotelegraphy.

That tutor work forced Chernyshev to delve deeply into the theory; in 1916, he published the paper entitled “The Role of the Earth and the Upper Atmosphere in the Propagation of Electromagnetic Waves around the Earth’s Surface.”

Another side of Chernyshev’s interests, very young and still nameless, was electronics. He invented two types of equipotential heated cathodes for cathode relays (as radio tubes were called at that time). The first one was a plate heated by an auxiliary electron stream (1918). The second one, which became popular all over the world, was a cylinder heated from inside by a special glowing filament (1921).

In the autumn of 1918, Chernyshev jointly with Academician A.F. Ioffe started organizing the famous Institute of Physics and Technology. Simultaneously, he headed the Department of Radio Engineering at the Polytechnic Institute; since 1920, he coordinated the restoration of the Detskoye Selo radio station. He directly participated in establishing the Leningrad Physics and Electrical Institute (nowadays, Ioffe Institute, the Russian Academy of Sciences).

In 1929, Chernyshev was elected Corresponding Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences; in 1932, Academician of the USSR Academy of Sciences. In 1930, he was awarded the Lenin Prize. Academician Ioffe said: “… Chernyshev is one of the most widely educated electronic engineers. Possessing broad and versatile knowledge, the practical flair of an engineer, and a remarkable capacity for work, A.A. Chernyshev published about 50 papers and received about 50 patents during his 25 years of R&D activities. He designed the first and best remote image transmission system… With a group of students, he also developed the most perfect television system.”

In 1922, Chernyshev began studying television. He proposed the light modulation method using an electric field influence on special liquids with sharply pronounced Kerr effects. Several devices were designed to transmit images in artificial light and, moreover, in the open air with relatively good clarity.

In 1934, the Presidium of the USSR Academy of Sciences decided to establish the Commission on Automation and Remote Control in the Academy’s Technical Group. (In 1939, it was reorganized into the Institute of Automation and Remote Control, headed by Academician V.S. Kulebakin.) The Commission coordinated the activities in automatic control, summarized the experience, and formulated the problems to be solved. Academician Chernyshov was appointed Chairman of the Commission. In 1937, Dr. Sci. (Eng.) A. F. Shorin superseded him as Chairman.

Chernyshev devoted the last years of his life to high voltage. He solved the problem of energy communication in distant areas and significantly advanced in developing a unified high-voltage network of the USSR. Chernyshev’s technical solutions made it possible to construct transmission lines of 400 000 V. There were no world analogs to his developments.

Chernyshev’s main books are as follows:

  1. Absolyutnye izmereniya v vysokovol’nykh tsepyakh (Absolute Measurements in High-Voltage Circuits), Saint Petersburg: Printing House of M.M. Stasyulevich, 1913;
  2. Edinaya vysokovol’tnaya set’ SSSR (The Unified High-Voltage Network of the USSR), Leningrad: the USSR Academy of Sciences, 1931;
  3. Traits distinctifs du systeme de l’electrification de l’URSS, Krjijanowsky de l’ Academie des sciences de l’URSS, 1935;
  4. Fotoelementy i elementy so vtorichnoi emissiei (Photocells and Cells with Secondary Emission), Moscow, Leningrad: the USSR Academy of Sciences, 1937.

Many inventions by Chernyshev are available at:

Articles about A.A. Chernyshev

1. Academician Alexander Alexeevich Chernyshev (obituary), Avtomat. i Telemekh., 1940, no. 3, 3—6.

Also, see the Wikipedia page devoted to Chernyshev:Чернышёв,_Александр_Алексеевич