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Boris Sergeevich Sokolov 1914 2013

SokolovDistinguished geologist and palaeontologist, expert on fossil corals and ‘Godfather’ of the Vendian Period.

Boris Sergeevich Sokolov, Russian Academician and Honorary Fellow of the Geological Society with broad interests, died September 2013 just a few months before his centenary.

Boris Sergeevich was one of the most outstanding Russian personalities in Earth Sciences in the second half of the 20th Century. His interests, including palaeontology, stratigraphy, regional geology, palaeogeography, facies analysis etc., were “guided by my curiosity…it was a zigzag path” he said (1992). He is well known globally for his pioneering work on Palaeozoic corals and contributions to Upper Precambrian stratigraphy. He authored more than 600 scientific papers, including 12 monographs.

Boris graduated from Leningrad University (1936) and was sent on a major research project into Central Asia and China. He distinguished himself there as a talented geologist and manager, and his contribution formed a firm base for assessing the oil and gas prospects. Returning home in 1948 he published five volumes (1951–55) on Palaeozoic Tabulates of the European part of the USSR, a classic source that inspired research on fossil corals globally, leading to wide international cooperation and regular conferences (the first in Novosibirsk, 1971). Then followed studies of core material from the deep drilling program on the Russian Platform, including a major discovery that changed global stratigraphy. Sokolov recognised a new geological ‘system’ - which he named ‘Vendian’. This had a major impact on our understanding of the evolution of life and geostructures through the Late Precambrian, despite the IUGS’s preferred name, ‘Ediacaran’.

Sokolov’s contributions in the development of science in Russia and globally was remarkable. In 1958 he was organising the Department of Palaeontology and Stratigraphy at the Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Siberian Branch of the Academy of Sciences, Novosibirsk. In 1975 he was elected (staying 15 years, longer than anybody else!) Academician-Secretary of the Division of Geology, Geophysics, Geochemistry and Mining Sciences of the Academy of Sciences. This meant that he was ‘in charge’ of these disciplines in all academic institutions in the USSR. He also established the only Laboratory of Precambrian Palaeontology in Russia, at the Palaeontological Institute in Moscow.

He led several pioneer research programs in Earth sciences and several international projects within the IGCP (IUGS/UNESCO). He was long-standing chairman of the Interdepartmental Stratigraphical Committee of the Russian Federation, President of the All-Russian Palaeontological Society, President of the International Palaeontological Association, and a member of various commissions of the IUGS Commission on Stratigraphy. His open-minded and democratic manner made him very popular in all these organisations, especially over the tough issues, like the Silurian–Devonian Boundary!

Sokolov was a Laureate of the Lenin Prize and a Hero of Socialist Labour. He was awarded many USSR orders and medals, as well as the A P Karpinsky Gold Medal to go with his international Karpinsky–Schweitzer prize (Hamburg Foundation). His great contribution to science and to the Academy is noted by the M V Lomonosov Large Gold Medal, highest award of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

In the final period of his long life Boris Sergeevich thought more and more about biosphere evolution and became interested in the history of science. Until his final days, Boris remained active in research, maintained fruitful interaction with the Academy and colleagues, shared experience, and supported young scientists. His advice to them was, “Self-criticism, healthy doubt and curiosity are the guiding lights of innovation and new discoveries!”

Mikhail A Fedonkin, Dimitri Kaljo, Alexei Y Rozanov, Sergey V Rozhnov, Ekaterina A Serezhnikova