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Sergey Lebedev. Life and scientific work


Sergey Lebedev
According to "Store Eternally" author Boris Malinovsky
Translated from the Ukrainian by Doctor Nataliya Shulga


Ability to show the way is a sign of a genius.
F.Nietzsche

Emerging of the national computer building

Taking to the account these outstanding achievements of the western scientists, the scientific outcome and the magnitude of Lebedev's activity in the field of computer building during the next 20 years (after MESM and BESM creation) still impresses anyone. He participated in and directed the construction of 18 (!) more computers, and 15 of them were produced in big lots, despite of moderate technological backwardness of the USSR at that time. Lebedev's disciple, academician V.Melnikov stressed out that: "Lebedev's genius laid in his ability to set up the aim, taking into account the prospects of future machine structure development, being able to choose the methods correctly to achieve the aim in conformity with national industrial potential." (cited according to the "USM" journal, 1976, #6). S. Lebedev directed construction of the supercomputers for computer facilities, computers for the antimissile systems and the anti-airplane rocket weapons.

Lebedev's interest in the digital computer engineering was not accidental. During the first 20 years of his creative career (until 1946) Lebedev worked in the field of power engineering and he constantly faced the necessity to do complex calculations. He successfully tried to automate them using analog devices, but quickly realized that the abilities of these techniques were limited.

His scientific work started with the vacuum tube machines that carried out ten thousands operations. At the time they were supercomputers. Computers M40 and M50, created in 1958 and 1959, were the most fast-acting computers in the world. With the advent of semiconductors and magnetic elements S.Lebedev switched to the elaboration of the second generation supercomputers. The 1967 BESM-6, with a million of operations per second efficiency, was manufactured for 17 years. The best computer facilities in the USSR were equipped with this machine. The BESM-6 took a worthy place in the world computer building. In 1972 London Museum of Science bought the machine to save it for the history. Lebedev's bright scientific career was concluded with construction of the supercomputers based on integrated circuits (microchip) devices that managed millions operations per second. Two of them after update are still in use in anti-missile and anti-airplane defense systems. Every computer was a new step in computer engineering. Every next one was more productive, more reliable and suitable in exploitation. The main principle of machines construction was paralleling of the calculation process. In MESM and BESM they used arithmetic parallel devices for this purpose. In M-20, M-40 and M-50 external devices worked in parallel with a processor. Conveyer calculation method (Lebedev called it water-pipe) was introduced into BESM-6. In the following computer models they used multiple processors and other improvements. All the machines projected under Lebedev's direction were on big serial production in the USSR.

The pioneering work of Lebedev contributed into the formation of powerful computer industry. The Institute of Precision Mechanics and Computer Engineering Academy of Science of the USSR, headed by Lebedev, became the leading one in the country. In 1950s - 1970s its achievements were as significant as ones of the American company IBM.

Characterizing scientific attainments of S.Lebedev, the President of National Academy of Science of Ukraine Boris Paton stressed out: "We would always be proud that in our very Academy of Science of Ukraine, in our beloved Kiev, the Lebedev's talent unfolded to become a prominent scientist in the field of computer engineering and mathematics, and the largest computer-based systems. He founded the famous school of thought in the field of computer science in Kiev. V.Glushkov carried on his work. And now we have productive V.Glushkov Institute of Cybernetics, NASU, one among the largest in the world.

One of Lebedev's wonderful qualities was his care of and trust to the youth. He put them in charge of solving the most difficult problems. He possessed an outstanding pedagogical talent. A lot of his disciples became prominent scientists. They developed their own scientific schools.

His whole life is a heroic example of the devotion to science and to his people. He always aspired to combine noble science with practice and engineering tasks.

He lived and worked in the period of stormy development of electronics, computer engineering, rocket production, space exploration and atomic energy. Being a patriot of his country, Lebedev participated in the biggest projects of I.Kurchatov, S.Korolyov and M.Keldysh, who created a reliable shield for the Motherland. In all these works the computers constructed by Lebedev played a special role.

His prominent works will enrich the treasury of the world science and technology, and his name will stand together with the names of the greatest scientists forever."

Due to the Lebedev's extraordinary modesty and classified nature of the significant part of his works, it is very little known in the western countries about this genius scientists. Until the end of 1990s there were almost no substantial publications. In the 1995 book "Computer Pioneers" by John Lee, which contains over 200 biographies of the scientists, Lebedev's name is not mentioned.

Only on 95th birthday anniversary his achievements were recognized abroad. He was recognized as a pioneer of computer engineering with a medal from the International Computer Society. Its legend states: "Sergei Alekseyevich Lebedev 1902-1074. Developer and designer of the first computer in the USSR. Founder of the Soviet computer building".



Victor Glushkov - Founder of Information Technologies in the Former USSR