Boris Hessen

Boris Hessen

Biography

Boris Mikhailovich Hessen (russ. Gessen) was a Soviet physicist, philosopher and historian of science. He is most famous for his paper on Newton’s Principia which became foundational in historiography of science.

 

Boris Mikhailovich Hessen was born 1893 in Elisavetgrad, in the Kherson Governorate of the Russian Empire (now Kropyvnytskyi, Ukraine) to a Jewish middle class family. He studied physics and natural sciences at the University of Edinburgh (1913β€”1914) together with his school friend and future nobel prize laureate Igor Tamm. He went to study at the St. Petersburg University (1914β€”1917) and then enlisted in the Red Army in the Russian Civil War. He joined the Communist Party in 1919 and became a member of the Revolutionary Military Council (1919β€”1921) and worked at the Party School. He also continued his physics studies at various places eventually graduating from the Institute of Red Professors in Moscow in 1928. After working in the institute for two more years, he became a physics professor and the chair of the physics department at the Moscow State University in 1931. In 1933 he was elected a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

 

From 1934 to 1936 Hessen was a deputy director of the Physics Institute in Moscow headed by S.I. Vavilov. On 22 August 1936 Hessen was arrested by the NKVD. He was secretly tried for terrorism by a military tribunal together with his gymnasium school teacher Arkadij O. Apirin. They were found guilty on 20 December 1936 and were executed by shooting the same day. On 21 April 1956 both Apirin and Hessen were rehabilitated (posthumously exonerated).