Biographical Essay Example

Ivan Pavlov as One of the Most Significant World’s Scientists

Ivan Petrovich Pavlov is one of the most significant world’s scientists. He was among first Nobel Prize winners, awarded in 1904. Ivan Pavlov was a founder of the science of the high nervous activity. He developed the visions of the regulation of the digestion process. Ivan Pavlov was a founder of the largest Russian physiological school, but most of all, he was a great personality, citizen, teacher, and humanist. He made not only the well-known discoveries in medicine, which saved millions of people’s lives, but educated a great number of his followers, who became prominent researchers and doctors. Pavlov’s life is a remarkable example for young generations of researchers in the world. Ivan Petrovich Pavlov loved life. He was an industrious and dedicated personality, who worked all his life in the conditions of the totalitarian regimes of the backward Russian Empire and the Soviet Russia, where each dissent scientist was persecuted. Many prominent scholars had to commit suicide because Stalin’s regime sentenced all dissent people to twenty year hard labor in extermination camps or the death penalty. The aim of the paper is to analyze the most prominent facts in Pavlov’s biography, his most significant discoveries and research in the field of medicine. Only selfless labor can turn each individual into a personality, who can gain not only the world’s glory as a scientist, but become a prominent citizen to be followed by the world’s youth. 

Short Biography of Scientist

Ivan Petrovich Pavlov was born in Russia on September 26, 1849. His father, Pyotr Pavlov was an Orthodox priest in the town of Ryazan. His mother, Varvara Pavlova was a daughter of an archpriest, Ivan Uspensky. Thus, all his relatives were clergymen, and they belonged to one of the most literate classes of the Russian society at that time. Ivan Pavlov was the eldest of eleven children of the family. His father, Pyotr Pavlov finished the religious school and ecclesiastical seminary. He was fond of studying and did his best to promote the love of study and plough toil in his children. Pyotr Pavlov wanted them to grow healthy and industrious people. Therefore, Ivan Pavlov could read at the age of seven. He helped his parents about the house: worked in the garden and orchard, fed his young brothers and sisters, washed the dishes, and did the cooking. As his follower, Asratyan (2001) states in his book about the scientist, unfortunately, Ivan Pavlov fell from a wall and got a serious injury. After that, he could not attend school for four years (p. 9). Nevertheless, Ivan Pavlov finished the Ryazan Church School successfully and entered the ecclesiastical seminary in 1864. He liked to read books and modern magazines with articles by Nikolay Chernyshevsky, Dmitry Pisarev, Nikolay Dobrolyubov, and other commoners. He was fond of works of Ivan Turgenev, but Dmitry Pisarev influenced his further life most of all. At the same time, Ivan Pavlov collected plants, butterflies, and beetles. At the end of his studies at the seminary, Ivan Pavlov developed a passion for philosophy, sociology, and physiology. Pavlov considered physiology as the primary prerequisite for a thorough insight into mysteries of psychic activities of the human beings. He could not accept the fact that only theology could deal with this problem. At the same time, Ivan Pavlov, as one of the brilliant students of the seminary, practiced teaching private lessons.

Ivan Pavlov left the seminary in 1870 to enter the Saint Petersburg’s University under the influence of materialistic literary works of Dmitry Pisarev. He was enrolled in the course of the Law School there, but soon Pavlov transferred to the Section of Natural Sciences of the Physics and Mathematics Department. At that time, many prominent scholars taught at the University. Thus, Pavlov attended lectures of such famous scientists as Pafnuty Chebyshev (Mathematics), Dmitry Mendeleev and Alexander Butlerov (Chemistry), Andrey Beketov (Botany), Karl Kessler (Zoology), Filipp Ovsyannikov (Anatomy), and Elias von Cyon (Physiology), who is famous for the discovery of the aortic nerve, which was called as Cyon’s nerve. Afterwards, Filipp Ovsyannikov and Elias von Cyon were the favorite teachers of Pavlov. Elias von Cyon taught Pavlov to perform operations and put stitches so accurately, that the juice in bowels could gnaw neither bowels, nor anterior wall of the stomach, saying nothing about metallic parts of the fistula. Ivan Pavlov cherished Elias von Cyon, and when his teacher left the University in 1875, he could not work there, as well.

Pavlov's Works

Ivan Pavlov read works of Ivan Sechenov before entering the University, and considered him to his teacher all his life. From the second course, Ivan Pavlov started to take part in experimental studies supervised by Filipp Ovsyannikov. Since 1872, Ivan Pavlov had been conducting his research in the physiological office under supervision of Elias von Cyon, who helped Ivan Pavlov to develop his ideas, which became a basis for his classical methodology of nervosism. Sechenov, Ovsyannikov, and Cyon educated Ivan Pavlov, and under their influence, he came to the conclusion that the central nervous system had regulated various organs and systems, coordinated their activities, and united them in the integrative organism. Pavlov’s works on “The Circulatory Effect of the Laryngeal Nerves”, “Centripetal Accelerators of the Heartbeat”, and “Secretory Nerves of the Pancreas” were base for his further discoveries in medicine. In 1875, Pavlov was awarded the Gold Medal for his work “Secretory Nerves of the Pancreas”, which was highly appreciated by Filipp Ovsyannikov and his colleagues.

In May 1875, Pavlov graduated from the University and got a title of Rerum Naturalis Doctor, which gave him the right to work as a laboratory assistant at the Department of Physiology of the Medical Surgical Academy, but after Elias von Cyon’s had left the Department, Ivan Pavlov entered the Department of Physiology of the Veterinarian Institute , run by Professor Ustimovich. In 1876, Ivan Pavlov entered the third course of the Medical Surgical Academy to get a degree of MD for running the Department of Physiology. Nikolay Sklifosovsky and Sergey Botkin were among Pavlov’s teachers. They influenced the further scientific activity of Ivan Pavlov. In 1879, Ivan Pavlov took part in discussions with Filipp Ovsyannikov on vasoconstrictor and vasodilator nerves. It was the first scientific victory of Pavlov over his teacher Filipp Ovsyannikov, but their relations were damaged entirely because of  Pavlov’s harsh words. In summer of 1878, Ivan Pavlov entered the Laboratory of Physiology supervised by Sergey Botkin. At the same time, Ivan Pavlov started teaching Physiology on the courses for the registered nurses, where he met his future wife, Serafima Korchevskaya. In 1879, Ivan Pavlov got the Diploma with Honors. At the same time, he made a scientific report on expansion of nerves and prepared his work on blood pressure surge of dogs. As a result, Ivan Pavlov was awarded the First Gold Medal for the research works in 1880. On June 6th, 1881, Ivan Pavlov married Serafima Korchevskaya. They had six children, but unfortunately the first two sons died.

In 1883, Ivan Pavlov defended his doctoral thesis and got the Diploma of MD. At the same time, Pavlov made one of his most significant discoveries. He proved four centrifugal nerves to regulate cardiac activity. In 1884, Sergey Botkin sent Ivan Pavlov to Breslau and Leipzig for his practice, where Pavlov worked under control of Carl Ludwig in Heidenhain laboratories (Hergenhahn, 2009, p.388). There, he made his research on neuromuscular physiology. In May 1886, Pavlov returned to Saint Petersburg, where he was the head of the Physiological Laboratory of Botkin’s Clinic. Pavlov conducted research on physiology of digestion, in which he studied the work of stomach, liver, pancreas, and bowels with the help of fistulas. While conducting his research, Pavlov proved Sechenov’s statement that psychology should be studied “using physiological concepts and techniques” (Hergenhahn, 2009, p. 388).

In December 1890, the Imperial Institute of Experimental Medicine was founded, and Ivan Pavlov ran the Department of Physiology there. In May 1897, Ivan Pavlov and his family got the Russian nobility for his contribution to the Russian Medical Science. Pavlov’s medical lectures were translated into German and French, and he gained the world’s appreciation. Pavlov’s research on physiology of digestion and the role of nerves in the regulation of this process could improve the treatment of many serious diseases, which were considered fatal. The discovery of enterokinase was the next major event in medicine, but the most significant discovery was unconditioned and conditioned reflexes, which changed the whole approach to the treatment of diseases. It opened a new page in the world’s medicine because the further studies of the central nervous system proved psychic nature of some diseases in all systems of the human beings. As a result, Ivan Pavlov became the first Nobel Prize winner in the field of Medicine and Physiology. Pavlov gave money of his Prize for the further development of medical science and support of young researchers.

When communists seized power in Russia, Pavlov could not support them because he knew the whole grief which that Revolution would bring to the people. Nevertheless, Lenin could not let Pavlov leave Russia because of his great world’s authority. He was one of a few Russian scientists, who could tell the truth in the face of communist totalitarian regime. On the other hand, communist leaders wanted to use Pavlov’s discoveries in psychology and his study of the nature of hypnosis to manipulate the people. Ivan Pavlov had to walk about twenty kilometers every day to get to his working place in 1919. He managed to get a food norm not only for his family, but for all researchers, as well as an experimental laboratory for the further research, but the totalitarian regime was the main obstacle for further discoveries.

Ivan Pavlov discovered two signal systems, reflexes of goal, inherited conditioned reflexes, excitatory and inhibitory states of the central nervous system, which he could explain by the psychological phenomenon, which he called the cortical mosaic (Hergenhahn, 2009, p. 392). He also described experimental neurosis, and many other phenomena making the great contribution to the development of the world’s psychological science. According to Pavlov, the temporary conditions formed by “conditioning were precisely the associations that had been the focus of philosophical and psychological speculation” (Hergenhahn, 2009, p. 394). He cherished human relations not only with his researchers, but the human attitude to experimental animals. He confessed to feeling grief when the animal perished during the experiment, but the thought about millions of individuals, who could be cured, forced Pavlov to conduct it. Ivan Pavlov died from pneumonia on February 27th, 1936. He could determine the real disease by symptoms, and the autopsy acknowledged his rightness. A famous doctor Nikitin could not determine brain fever or did not want to do it. To make things worse, the communist regime continued repression of prominent scientists under cover of Pavlov’s studies after his death, but life and labor of Ivan Pavlov were a remarkable example for young scientists all over the world. At the end of his life, Ivan Pavlov returned to Christianity, recognizing the amorality of the communist regime.


  1. Asratyan, E.A. (2001). I.V.Pavlov: His life and work. Honolulu, HI: University Press of the Pacific.
  2. Hergenhahn, B.R. (2009). An introduction of the history of psychology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.