He was born in Tsarskoye Selo (today the town of Pushkin near St. Petersburg, Russia) to a Lutheran pastor. He graduated form the Faculty of Mathematics of St. Petersburg University (1858), and was sent to work on probation at Berlin and Heidelberg Universities. There he worked in the physical laboratories of the outstanding scientists of that time Magnus and Kirchhoff (1862–64).
His first successes as a physicist-experimenter were linked with research in the field of thermoelectric phenomena. And today scientific circles use the notion “Avenarius’ coefficient” by which they determine the correlation between the strength of current and temperature. In 1865, on returning to St. Petersburg, Avenarius defended brilliantly a master’s dissertation On Thermoelectricity, for which, taking into account the significance of the results achieved, he was straight away granted a degree of Doctor of Physics and Mathematics. A year later, he became a professor of Kyiv St. Volodymyr University. In 1869–90, he worked as head of its physics department. A group of young scientists rallied round Avenarius who needed properly equipped laboratories to conduct their research. He made considerable efforts to organise practical work for physical students, which had no anaogues in other educational institutions. That was how Kyiv physical laboratory, the cradle of the famous physical school of physicists-experimenters, was formed. Among its students were well-known scientists such as O. Nadezhdin, Y. Kosonohov, V. Zayonchevsky, and others. The fact that numerous experimental and theoretical results of his pupils’ research work are of scientific value even today testifies to high professionalism o) M. Avenarius’ school.
Avenarius is the author of works in the field of molecular physics. For more than two decade: he held the post of director of the Meteorolуgica Observatory of Kyiv University. He initiated special research into Kyiv climate, daily changes o its main elements: temperature of the air and soil atmospheric precipitation, and others.
He did a great deal for the practical use of electric lighting, a sensational invention for those times, for which he was awarded a silver medal and officer’s rank of the Legion c Honour (1881) at the international electrotechnical exhibition in Paris. M. Avenarius’ scientific legacy is a brilliant page in the chronicle i Ukrainian natural sciences.