A forgotten founder of Tribology

Prof. Alexander Konstantinovich Zaitsev (1873 – 1951) was the founder and a long-term head of the friction and lubrication laboratory (1903) at the St. Petersburg Polytechnic Institute (today the Polytechnic University) as well as of the Department of Applied Mechanics at that insitute. This was long before the advent of tribology in the UK.

In 1947, Zaytsev published his four-volume book “Foundations of the science of Friction, Wear, and Lubrication in Machines” (“Основы учения о трении, износе и смазке машин”). Note that the seminal textbook “The Friction and Lubrication of Solids” by Frank Bowden and British physicist David Tabor appeared only in 1950. The study of these three broad areas – Friction, Wear, and Lubrication – later became designated as “Tribology,” following the 1966 “Jost report” in the UK (although David Tabor used the word “Tribo-Physics” for his lab in Australia already in the 1940s).

A Tribometer (a Friction Machine) “Ю” (Machine Yu) designed and built by Prof. A. Zaytsev for the study of lubricants, babbitts, and trunnions. The Laboratory of Friction at Leningrad Polytechnic Institute, 27th of August 1929.

The lubricants / oils are still kept at the lubrication lab of the tribology department, which I visited today in St. Petersburg Polytechnic University (credit to my colleague Prof. Alexander Breki). The labels (in pre-1917 Russian orthography!) state:

“No. 58. Nothern type. Density at 21.4 deg C is 0.9488. flash 151 deg. C, ignition 189 deg. C”

“No. 111. American Oil No 11”

“No 94 oil from barrel”

Abstract of a 1923 article on railway car oils

Given that 2023 will be the 150th anniversary of Zaytsev’s birth, it is good to tell about his life and research to a broader audience (unfortunately, Zaytsev is not well known even within Russia, and his book is a rarity).

With collegues tribologiests, Prof. Margarita Skotnikova and Dr. Aleksander Breki (right) next to another historic piece of equipment in their lab. The Machine G at St. Petersburg Polytechnic University has a unique history. It was manufactured in Germany in 1940 and brought to the Soviet Union in 1945 after World War II as part of German reparation payments, and has remained fully functional until today. We have used it in our joint study published at:

Alexander Breki and Michael Nosonovsky, 2018, “Einstein’s Viscosity Equation for Nanolubricated Friction” Langmuir 2018, 34, 43, 12968–12973, https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.langmuir.8b02861″