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M. N. Adamov Memorial Fund for the Blind 


a personal view by Svetlana Adamova Sussman

M. N. teaching

Moisey Naumovich Adamov (1920-2005), my father, professor of physics at St. Petersburg State University, passed away on February 12, 2005, a few months short of his 85th birthday on April 18th, at his home in St. Petersburg, Russia.

M.N. Adamov lost his sight as a result of complications caused by measles when he was only two years old, living with his parents in the famished Petrograd (St. Petersburg was renamed during WWI). He grew up in modest circumstances raised by two loving parents, his father, Naum Moiseyevich Adamov, a violinist with the famous Mariinsky Opera & Ballet Theater, and his mother, Sarah Adamova, a doting mother and housewife, totally dedicated to her blind child. Little Mosya attended the first four grades of the special institute for the blind established in the early days after the Russian revolution of 1917 and set up as a boarding school for blind kids, where he learned to read and write Braille and got some primary education.

His parents did not want Mosya to be raised away from home. Mosya transferred to a public school within walking distance from his home on Griboyedov Canal near the Mariinsky Theater. Supported by teachers and classmates, he finished his secondary education at the top of his class. He received a gold medal for his achievements, and in 1938 was among the first admitted without entry exams to the Faculty of his choice at the then Leningrad State University. He chose physics even after being advised against it in favor of mathematics, more traditional field for blind scholars. Mosya was fascinated by physics; he dreamed of becoming an experimental scientist, but without proper support he had to turn to theoretical physics. He chose quantum mechanics of atoms and molecules as his primary field of study and, later, lifelong research.

His life, challenging enough because of his physical handicap, suffered many devastating blows. In 1936, after a traumatic encounter with KGB interrogators, his mother experienced acute mental crisis and died shortly afterwards without ever again recognizing her husband or son.

On June 21, 1941, a day before one of the final exams to complete his third year at the university, fascist Germany declared war on Russia. Less than a week later all of Moisey's male classmates volunteered to be drafted into the military regiments to be dispatched to the defense of the city. Very few of them survived the World War II. The Mariinsky Theater (renamed the Kirov Theater in 1934 after the assassination of Leningrad communist party leader Sergey M. Kirov) with all its staff including performers and musicians, had been evacuated to the city of Molotov (now Perm) in the Urals. Moisey and his father left Leningrad on the last train before the siege closed the city for 900 days of famine and death. In Molotov Moisey finished his fourth year at the Molotov State University and was immediately hired as an assistant professor of mathematics at another school evacuated from Leningrad, the Military Mechanics Institute. As soon as the siege was broken, the Adamovs returned to their wounded city.

On his return, in 1944 Moisey applied and was admitted as a graduate student specializing in "theoretical physics" at the Leningrad State University. He completed his thesis "The Quantum Mechanical Calculations of Some Constants for Two-Atom Molecules" with a successful defense in 1948. His thesis supervisor was Vladimir A. Fock (of the Hartree-Fock Equation), father of Russian quantum mechanics. After receiving his Candidate of Science diploma, he was offered a position as an assistant professor (of mathematics, again) at the Physics Department of the university. Along with teaching college math to hundreds of students (in 1949 alone he led math problem-solving classes in 20 groups of approximately 20 students each), he continued his research in the theory of atoms and simple molecules.

In 1972 he presented years of his research in his doctoral thesis, "The Research in the Field of the Theory of Electric Polarizability of Atoms and Molecules" and was awarded his Doctoral Degree in physics by the All-Russia Accreditation Committee in August of the same year.

His course on the theory of molecules equipped generations of modern scientists with the basis for their future research. His graduate students currently head theoretical physics departments at the major schools around Russia, including Kaliningrad, Saransk, and Vladivostok, not to mention St. Petersburg. M.N. Adamov published over 100 scientific papers.  In the late 1990s and as late as 2004 he offered his ideas, experience and advice to colleagues and co-authored several papers published in the leading science journals (search Google Scholar for MN Adamov).

My father loved reading. He read fluently in German and English. We regularly carried heavy boxes from the post office that arrived from the Library of Congress in the US, the National Library for the Blind in the UK and the Leipzig Library for the Blind (then GDR).

He loved traveling. For many years he attended and presented at every summer school, as well as every major conference and symposium in the field of quantum mechanics, and later, quantum chemistry, a field of which he could rightfully be considered one of the founders, held throughout the former Soviet Union from Lithuania to Siberia. He also loved traveling for leisure and I learned many stories of his swimming or climbing feats whether it was on the Black Sea or in the Caucasus. He was often accompanied by one of his graduate students who grew up as scientists and human beings under his humane and inspiring tutelage. In 1957, the year his father passed away, he got married to my mother, Olga Pavlovna Adamova (1924-1996), a remarkable woman and scientist in her own right. Three years later I was born. I grew up surrounded by love and provided with every possible means to develop.

Another true passion of his was, not surprisingly, music, and especially opera. From very early in life, Mosya got used to listening to long performances sitting among musicians in the orchestra pit. Later in his life, after listening to a few bars of music, he could recognize excerpts from the operas by Russian giants like Mussorgsky, Glinka, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, and certainly great Italians, the staple repertoire of the Mariinsky Theater. He maintained his interest in music throughout his life. He was a regular at the Mariinsky even when it became difficult for him to walk, assisted by his young friends who discovered the world of music thanks to him. He used to receive free tickets through VOS, the All-Russia Society for the Blind.

When his health eventually prevented him from going outside his apartment on Galernaya Street near the Neva, he acquired a wonderful collection of CDs with recordings of selected arias as well as a gift from his grandson of the complete operas of Puccini which he enjoyed listening to a lot (and also continued sharing with his young friends, contributing to raising quite a few opera lovers).

A daughter of his lifetime friend and colleague, the renowned blind mathematician Igor I. Proskuryakov of Moscow State University, said at his wake that the most admired side of M.N. was his ability to learn new things.

When I left for the US in 1995 and got married to Harris Sussman, M.N., then 75, learned how to use a PC and email to communicate regularly with me and his grandson, Leo Adamov, first in the US and then as a violin student at the Rotterdam Conservatory (the Netherlands). When Leo visited his grandfather in the fall of 2004 and was practicing for his graduation performance exam, M.N. was moved by the associations with his father's playing that Leo's playing awoke in him.

M. N. and grandson

My father loved people. He was modest, never demanding, always giving of his delightful company, vast knowledge, and great life experience. He will be remembered by many - his colleagues, students, friends, and by us, me, his grandson Leo, and my husband.

His life is a shining example of a victory of spirit, courage, determination and kindness over any adversity.

Svetlana Adamova Sussman
February 2005

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