Boris Galerkin

We continue our series of articles about great Petersburgers. This time we have a special issue. Recently we’ve celebrated the 150-the birthday of Boris Grigorievich Galerkin, the author of famous Galerkin method. Note that in Cyrillic his surname is spelled as «Галёркин» which should be written in English as “Galyorkin”. But we will use traditional spelling “Galerkin”.

Boris Grigorievich Galerkin was born on March 4, 1871 in the village of Prudok, Pyshnyanskaya volost, Lepel district, Vitebsk province (present day Belarus), in a poor Jewish handicraft family. At the birth he was named Berk Girshevich. Boris Grigorievich is a russified version of his Jewish given name.

His father was extremely nationalistic and forbade him to learn Russian. Because of this, he could not study full-time at the gymnasium (high school). He passed the course and graduated from (finished) the gymnasium in Minsk as an external student in 1893 at the age of 22. In the same year he moved to St. Petersburg and entered the Institute of Technology. He graduated from the same Institute in 1899 and went to work as an engineer.

He began working at the Kharkov plant of the Russian steam locomotive and mechanical society. In 1903, he is an engineer on the construction line of the East China railway. Six months later he became the head of the technical department of the Northern mechanical and boiler plant in St. Petersburg…

And then his life changes abruptly. The fact is that back in 1899 he joined the RSDLP (Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party, future communist party). And in 1906 Boris Galerkin became a professional revolutionary. In the same year, he was arrested and sentenced to 1.5 years in prison. This was the time of the Russian Revolution of 1905-1907.

And then Boris Galerkin decided to become a scientist. Right in the famous Petersburg prison “Kresty” he wrote his first scientific work “The theory of bending and its application to the modelling of structures” (130 pages), which was published in 1909. In 1915, he published the paper “Beams and plates” (see the photocopy below), where he proposed an approximate method for solving boundary value problems for differential equations, which is now called the Galerkin method.

Since 1909, Galerkin has been teaching at the Imperial St. Petersburg Polytechnic Institute. Now it is our St. Petersburg Polytechnic University. All his further life was connected with our university.

From 1931 to 1941 Boris Galerkin headed a group of specialists in the field of structural mechanics and the theory of elasticity at the Research Institute of Hydraulic Engineering. He created laboratories, participated in the design of the largest dams and buildings. He was one of the founders and the first director of the Institute of Mechanics of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (1939). Also he was editor-in-chief of the journal “Applied Mathematics and Mechanics”. In 1941, when the war began, Professor Galerkin took part in the design of defensive structures around Leningrad.

Boris Galerkin died on July 12, 1945. He was buried at the Volkovsky Orthodox cemetery in St. Petersburg. 

Medal issued in 1941 to the 70th anniversary of Academician Boris Galerkin


I. I. Demidova “Boris Grigorievich Galerkin (1871-1945). To the 150th anniversary of his birth” Presentation at a joint meeting of the St. Petersburg Mathematical Society and the Mathematics Section of the House of Scientists

S. I. Repin, M. E. Frolov “To the 150th anniversary of B. G. Galerkin: The Bubnov-Galerkin method and its connection with other methods” Presentation at a joint meeting of the St. Petersburg Mathematical Society and the Mathematics Section of the House of Scientists

Sergey Repin “One Hundred Years of the Galerkin Method” De Gruyter | Published online: July 1, 2017

%d bloggers like this: