Backburner to Music
At this young age, his passion turned to chemistry. He littered the tables and windowsills at home with jars of chemicals and vials in a makeshift laboratory. So much so that the other occupants were afraid of fire.
As he excelled, Alexander’s “illegal" status got in the way of his studies and his ability to receive a higher education. Without a lawful method to change his standing, Borodin’s mother and her husband bribed Tver officials so they would register him as a third guild merchant in the central Russian town of Novy Torg, (now Torzhok), famous for gold-work embroidery and being a strategic trade route.
In 1850, the 17-year-old merchant entered the academy of medicine and surgery, because that was where you went if you wanted to pursue chemistry. True to his nature, Alexander was caught up in multiple studies: botany, zoology, crystallography and anatomy. In his second year, he narrowly escaped death from a poisonous infection he acquired during an autopsy, where it was said he had an aversion to blood (and perhaps fainting spells?).
However, his main strengths were in the study of chemistry. In his third year, he asked his chemistry professor to allow him to study under his command in a chemical lab. In 1858, he graduated as a Doctor of Medicine after completing a thesis on acids. Alexander’s dissertation, in keeping with his precocious ways, was written and defended not in Latin, but Russian—the first, in the history of the school. As a result, the Imperial government sent him and a group of other students to Europe for four years to study the latest scientific developments.
Borodin drew the long straw in being able to study under the great Russian scientist, Dmitri Mendeleev, who revolutionized our understanding of the properties of atoms and created a table that probably adorns every chemistry classroom, the “Periodic Table."