physicist, marine scientist
For a Finn, Eugenie Lisitzin was quite an international scientist.
From her father's side, she was a member of a noble family with
originally Polish roots, the history of which is known
from the 800s onwards. One branch of the family had settled down
in Carelia in the 1600s, where it was influential mainly in the
Käkisalmi area. Lisitzin was born in Dresden, where her
father was studying for an engineering diploma in a German
Bergakademie (college of mining and technology). She graduated
from high school in 1926 from extension classes of a Swedish girls'
school in Vyborg, and completed her M. Sc. degree at University
of Helsinki in 1929. She was the first woman in Finland to defend
a doctoral thesis in physics in 1938.
Besides of majoring in physics, Eugenie Lisitzin completed
several other advanced syllabi. The young woman with such a
wide range of knowledge ended up almost by chance at the
Finnish Institute of Marine Research. She was employed there
for almost 40 years - first as an acting assistant in 1933-45,
then as an assistant in 1945-55 and finally in the position of
a thalassologist (marine scientist) and the head of the sea
level section in 1955-72, until she was pensioned. Lisitzin
received a professorship in 1965.
The Institute of Marine Research was formed in 1919, and it
had to try to accomplish its tasks with rather meager resources
in its early days. The Institute was monitoring sea level changes
and the ice situation, but it also studied the chemical consistency
of the sea water and did theoretical marine research.
The staff had included other women scientists before Lisitzin.
The first of them was the amanuensis of the chemical section,
Phil. Cand. Hanna Olin, who was followed by Stina Gripenberg.
She made an industrious amount of routine analyses for her
dissertation about the chemical composition of sediments in
the Baltic Sea, published in 1934. Lisitzin wrote about her
colleague: "Although there has been significant progress
in the methods of collecting samples from the sea bottom,
Dr. Gripenberg's dissertation can still be counted among the
major achievements in the area of the geology of the Baltic Sea."
Sea level changes became the focus of Eugenie Lisitzin's own
research. "It became evident that the Baltic Sea was in many
respects too limited an area for obtaining universally applicable
results, and that widening the area of research to include
all oceans was necessary in most cases," Lisitzin concluded.
She collected a quite large number of research results
both in Finland and abroad, and edited the first comprehensive
textbook about the mean sea level in the oceans, Sea Level
Changes (1974), that is still in use as a textbook.
Sea level changes are affected by very many factors, which means
that a researcher needs to be familiar with various related
disciplines, e.g. meteorology, as weather conditions will
affect the surface of water. Also, the water levels will change
daily and seasonally; one should forget neither the topography
of the sea surface, nor the relative mean heights of the areas
covered by water. Besides of monitoring sea level changes,
Lisitzin also calculated anew the rate of land uplift at
the Finnish coasts.
Apart from being the first Finnish woman to defend her doctoral
thesis in physics, she was also the first Finnish woman
elected to the mathematical and physical section of the
The Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters. Because of her
family background and her upbringing, she was fluent in nine
languages, and was at home at scientific meetings, cultivated
contacts and published in various languages. Åke Niemi, who
made the commemorative speech at a session of the Society,
concluded: "Lisitzin's research, which produced over a hundred
different scientific publications, spanned a period of time
from the late 1930s until late 1970s. She enjoyed great
appreciation among colleagues working in the same field.
Her publications are still being cited and her results have
1 Thalassologists and crew on board of s/s Aranda
in July 1960. Eugenie Lisitzin in the middle, to her right
Kristina Ahlnäs and director of the
Institute of Marine Research, Ilmo Hela. Photo: Institute of Marine Research.
2 On board of s/s Aranda ca. 1960. To the right
Ilmo Hela and next to him Eugenie Lisitzin. Photo: IMR.
3 Marine scientists from various countries ein Gdynia, Poland
in July 1960. Eugenie Lisitzin in a dark coat. Photo: IMR.
4 The annual course of the frequencies of the sea-level heights
at Helsinki (Eugenie Lisitzin, 1959)
5 The distribution of different heights of mean sea level in the world oceans.
(Eugenie Lisitzin, 1965)
6 Station for measuring heights of sea level. Photo: IMR.
7 Recorder for registering heights of sea level. Photo: IMR.
8 Tidal variations at the stations in the Gulf of Finland in May
1936. (Eugenie Lisitzin, 1944)
9 Eugenie Lisitzin. Photo: IMR.
Eugenie Lisitzin bibliography