Today, a creative legacy. The University of
Houston's College of Engineering presents this
series about the machines that make our
civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity
December 20th, 1997: Mikhail
Goldshtik lies in an open casket, his face serene
as always. No formal service -- just friends who
stand, one by one, speaking as the spirit moves
them. An old Russian scientist speaks in Russian. I
understand nothing until he turns to the casket and
cries, "Droog, Droog, Droog!" -- the word for
friend. That meant more than it may seem on the
surface, for this man will prove to've been a good
friend to all of us.
Those who knew him talk about his life as a Russian Jew. He was born
in 1930 in Leningrad. At eleven, guarding an
apartment rooftop during the Siege of Leningrad, he
lost a leg to a German shell. His task had been to
get rid of incendiary bombs landing there. His
parents were killed in the Siege, and his uncle
raised him. He learned engineering physics in the
Leningrad Polytechnic Institute. But then he had a choppy career because of anti-Semitism.
Goldshtik finally joined a Turbine Institute where
he began work on vortex flows. In 1960, he traveled
to a meeting in Moscow to show his new ideas to
leading scientists. His work was so extraordinary
that they held a special session to study it. Two
years later he was called to the famous Siberian
think-tank, Akadem Gorodok, to develop vortex flow
Goldshtik mixed high-flown theory and garage-type
invention in a way almost no one else can. He
invented a radical compact nuclear reactor by
suspending a critical mass of uranium in a spinning
gas. He created a swirling-flow air scrubber. He
saw wild potential in the subtleties of swirling
gas and liquid. At the end he was working on a
liquid piston engine -- and on replacing helicopter
blades with air swirling upward from a fuselage.
Only a few of Goldshtik's radical new technologies
have made it to the market. His air scrubber and a
vortex grinder are used in Russia. Other inventions
are under development. When he moved to America, he
had to begin selling his ideas all over again.
Mikhail was the exemplar of the risk-taking,
seminal-idea person who precedes success -- whose
reward is the game itself. One by one, his machines
will rise like cream after his death.
And his death was, itself, emblematic of his life.
In his last days his movements were terribly
limited by degenerative heart disease. He waited
for a dangerous heart transplant operation. Friends
and family said, "Don't do it!" But Goldshtik was
not one to shy away from risk and this was the only
way to keep inventing.
Once before he'd reached the operating room door,
only to find the match wasn't good enough. Later he
told me he'd felt like he'd been called back from
the firing squad. This man understood risk. Then,
the next time he went in, he didn't survive the
And so Mikhail Goldshtik died because he so wanted
to live. He was indeed a Droog, a friend, whose
passion for invention will now swirl upward and
outward and will, in time, touch all our lives.
I'm John Lienhard at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds