Libmonster ID: RU-17236
Author(s) of the publication: Yevgeny VELIKHOV

by Academician Yevgeny VELIKHOV, President of the National Research Center "Kurchatov Institute" (Moscow)

Igor Kurchatov is one among those few scientists of the 20th century who have impacted greatly the march of history both in our country and all over the world. A superb researcher and intellectual, a high-principled Russian patriot and in the same breath a citizen of the world, Kurchatov kept honor and dignity in a period of tyranny, triumphant ignorance and overweening ambition.

The 110th birth anniversary of Kurchatov* is an opportune occasion for giving a balanced appraisal of this great man. At the same time, it is a moment of self-appraisal to us, too, useful for future historians: after all, we have witnessed and remember his time.

Naturally, I do not aspire to a historical analysis but shall only air my personal view of Kurchatov's growth as creator, a view from his, Kurchatov Institute, where I have been working all my conscious life.

See: Ye. Velikhov, "He Dreamt of a Sun on Earth", Science in Russia, No. 1,2003.--Ed.

Igor Kurchatov. 1930s.

стр. 45

The first period of Kurchatov's life was devoted to work at the famous Fiztekh*, the Leningrad Institute of Physics and Technology, founded in 1918 by Academician Abram loffe. It was an excellent scientific establishment on a par with the highest international standards. A talented experimentalist, Kurchatov began his first experiments there on dielectric physics related to electric properties of crystals, breakdown mechanism and creation of new insulation materials. There were problems, though, if we recall Ioffe's failure to use fine-layer insulation in electrical engineering. But also, his first spectacular success: the discovery of ferroelectricity, quite enough to many other scientists for the rest of their life.

At that time (in 1932), a neutron was discovered by James Chadwick in Great Britain, a positron by Carl Anderson and deuterium by Harold Urey of the USA. As to Kurchatov--and that was typical of him--he changed abruptly his research priorities on the crest of his success

See: B. Dyakov, "Fiztekh: a Multidimensional View", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2003.--Ed.

стр. 46

and took up nuclear research. That was possible only in the highly scientific milieu of Fiztekh, where researchers watched the pulse of science and felt "the call of the future". His new field of research made him and his research team world famous overnight and gave access to international conferences where they forged personal friendships with young nuclear physicists like Frederic Joliot-Curie (France), Rudolf Peierls (Great Britain), Paul Ehrenfest (the Netherlands). The Kurchatov team achieved world-class results, such as a series of works on neutron sources in new radioactive nuclei, discovery of nuclear isomerism* and finally, observation, for the first time ever, of spontaneous fission of uranium. Henceforth, in crucial moments of his life mission, this experience of a trailblazer in science was to play an immense role.

For all the advances and international recognition of Soviet nuclear physics, with Kurchatov as its leading light, the overall situation in our country and science was rather bad. There was a continual conflict of interests between the Moscow and Leningrad communities of physicists; their rivalry resulted in a dramatic delay in the construction of a new cyclotron in Leningrad before the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945--it was not commissioned then. The work of Fiztekh nuclear physicists came under continuous attacks as something not necessary for the country (meanwhile the American physicist Leo Szilard had long patented an atomic bomb and deposited his patent in the British Admiralty). The advocates of quantum and relativistic physics from the schools of Academicians Abram Ioffe and Sergei Vavilov had to defend themselves against attacks of the conservatives headed by the influential Vice-President of the USSR Academy of Sciences. The dean of the Physics Department of Moscow State University Boris Gessen was dismissed and executed in 1937, and the department became a citadel of reaction for two decades. All that was a major drug on the development of modern physics in our country for many years; but in the long run it was Kurchatov who played a pivotal role in the victory of truth over obscurantism. A collective of enthusiasts that rallied around him (he was "a general" to them) had made impressive progress and put their minds on uranium research.

The war frustrated these plans. The uranium research program was stopped. Kurchatov joined the laboratory involved with electrical and mechanical properties of polymers. It developed methods for protecting ships against mines; this work was headed by Anatoly Alexan-drov. Kurchatov worked effectively for the Black Sea, Caspian and Northern Fleets, while his former colleagues toiled elsewhere, all on the battle fronts and in the hinterland.

Intelligence information on the significance of uranium research and its progress abroad was distrusted in the Soviet Union. It was blocked by Lavrenty Beriya who supervised a number of important branches of the defense industry, including research work on the nuclear weapon and rocket engineering. Therefore, such information did not reach Joseph Stalin, Supreme Com-

* Nuclear isomerism, metastable (isomeric) excited states of atomic nuclei with a rather long lifetime.--Ed.

стр. 47

mander-in-Chief of the Soviet Armed Forces. It took time for the country leaders to respond to the appeal of Georgi Flyorov, Kurchatov's associate, and get acquainted with developments abroad. It was at a very hardf time, in September of 1942, when Stalin made a decision on starting works on the uranium problem. Ioffe entrusted it to Kurchatov, and in the spring of the next year Deputy Chairman of the USSR State Defense Committee and supervisor of the atomic project Vyacheslav Molotov appointed him an official research manager of the uranium problem. Neither Beriya nor Stalin recommended Kurchatov for this post; but that foresighted decision was quite natural to loffe. He managed to carry it into effect. It was Russia's lucky break. Kurchatov's 17 years of triumph started then to turn Russia into a superpower. It was a phenomenal success even by world standards; but Kurchatov was in for three strokes and untimely death.

It was then, 70 years ago, that the Kurchatov Institute* was founded; it became the main tool in performing his mission. The history of those years is well known now. Since it is documented in detail, I shall confine myself to my vision of that wonderful time.

Kurchatov set up a research team, and having explored every avenue, with limited means at that, he developed a basic theoretical and experimental research program in the war-devastated country. He studied intelligence data and informed the government of the progress of work all the time, while emphasizing a glaring discrepancy between the goals and means available. At that time only a hundred men were engaged in the atomic project, while as many as 50,000 were enlisted in the USA! But Kurchatov was confident that the moment of truth would come, and he was getting ready.

And there it came in August of 1945. By intention of US President Harry S. Truman and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill the bombardment of the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not only to end the war but also to send out a powerful warning signal to the Soviets. Stalin understood that. He marshalled resources in no time and made cardinal decisions which determined the development of the nuclear weapon, the nuclear industry and science for at a long time. In contrast to most of the so-called "science-based decisions" of the Soviet and post-Soviet years, they indeed had a scientific basis. It was prepared by Kurchatov and his team. Reading the minutes of meetings of the Special Committee attached to the State Defense Committee, which discharged functions as of 1945 under the chairmanship of Beriya, we see that those meetings were quite routine: Kurchatov said what should be done, and Beriya made it into appropriate government instructions. Never before and after in world history did state power pass the reins of government to such an extent into the hands of scientists. I do not think that the country leadership was happy. But there was no way out, and Stalin, unlike other

* In 1943 the Laboratory No. 2, orthe future Kurchatov Institute, was set up by order of the USSR Academy of Sciences. At the suggestion of Kurchatov it was renamed into the Instrumentation Laboratory of the USSR Academy of Sciences (LIPAN) in 1949 and into the Institute of Atomic Energy of the USSR Academy of Sciences in 1956. After Kurchatov's death (in 1960) the Institute was named after him. In 1991 it was reorganized into the Russian Scientific Center "Kurchatov Institute" and in 2009, into the National Research Center "Kurchatov Institute".--Ed.

стр. 48

leaders, was awake to the realities. As a matter of fact, Lubyanka Street, the headquarters of the Soviet state security bodies, just was steps away. Kurchatov and his fellow workers knew that, of course.

Kurchatov saw clearly the main guideline and followed it. At the same time, he stressed the need for a sweeping range of scientific inquiry essential for research. Here he relied on disciples of the Ioffe school, like Anatoly Alex-androv* engaged in uranium-graphite reactors, Abram Alikhanov in heavy-water reactors, Lev Artsimovich** in electromagnetic separation of uranium isotopes, and Isaak Kikoin*** in diffusion separation of isotopes. He paid special attention to the bomb proper. Here he relied heavily on Yuliy Khariton**** and Yakov Zeldovich, and later also on Igor Tamm and Andrei Sakharov*****. He saw about the high scientific level of research, made use of new research, design and production resources, and steered the main line, plutonium research. In December 1946 Kurchatov, actually with his own hands, together with a small team of his staff, assembled and started up the F-1 natural uranium graphite moderated reactor; he carried out a uranium chain fission reaction and watched it! For this purpose absolutely pure graphite and metallic uranium was needed. So, he launched industrial production of both. As to the above reactor, it is still at work and will operate for yet another 300 years unless some smart guy orders to dismantle it.

The first micrograms of plutonium were obtained on a cyclotron and later on F-l. It gave rise to a plutonium industry at Chelyabinsk in the Urals two or three years later, the world's largest. As early as August of 1949 Kurchatov and his team conducted a successful test of the plutonium bomb RDS-1, which was an American analog******. But in 1951 the original domestic designs of atomic bombs passed tests as our works mastered in full the nuclear fuel technology. In 1953, a year ahead of the USA, the first thermonuclear (hydrogen) bomb was detonated; its idea was conceived by Andrei Sakharov, and the design, by Khariton. Kurchatov supervised that project. After this event Kurchatov told Alexandrov: "Anatolius! It was a blood-curdling show! It is impermissible if people start using this weapon."

In spite of the obvious success and the strict government decision on the follow-up work on upgrading the Sakharov "sandwich"*, Kurchatov supported, at the cost of a severe reprimand for "anti-state activity", another idea suggested by scientists of Arzamas-16, a secret design bureau at Nizhni Novgorod (today the All-Russia Research Institute of Experimental Physics), and in 1955 achieved another breakthrough in upgrading the thermonuclear weapon when on the Semipala-tinsk testing ground** on November 22 the first two-stage nuclear charge RDS-37 was set off, which set the stage for the Soviet thermonuclear arsenal. The following year the first stroke hit Kurchatov.

There came a sea change in the political situation. On the one hand, a political thaw, and, on the other, the grass ignorance on the part of the partisan of the pseudo-scientific school in biology Trofim Lysenko, and Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the USSR Communist Party, who displayed adventurism, and overweening confidence and ambi-

See: N. Ponomarev-Stepnoi, "At the Head of the Nuclear Branch", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2003.--Ed.

** See: Ye. Velikhov, "Thermonuclear Combustion"; V. Strelkov, "No

Royal Ride in Thermonuclear Research"; M. Petrov, "Talent Is Judged by Work", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2009.--Ed.

*** See: M. Khalizeva, "Talent's Energy", Science in Russia. No. 3, 2008.--Ed.

**** See: A. Vodopshin, "On a Visit to Khariton", Science in Russia, No. 5, 2O09.--Ed.

***** See: B. Altshuler, "Sakharov, FAS and Missiles" Science in Russia, No. 1, 1993.--Ed.

****** See: M. Khalizeva, "The Bomb That Changed the World", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2009.--Ed.

Science in Russia, No.6, 2012

* The Sakharov "sandwich", a thermonuclear charge scheme suggested by Andrei Sakharov and based on the principle of ionization compression of fuel consisting of alternate layers of deuterium and uranium 238.--Ed.

** See: R. Petrov, "At the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site", Science in Russia, No. 1, 1995.--Ed.

стр. 49

tion. Khrushchev turned the nuclear weapon into a tool of his home and foreign policy. At the meeting of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR on March 31, 1958, Kurchatov said: "We, Soviet scientists, are concerned that so far there is no international treaty banning the atomic and hydrogen weapon..." These words were not just party rhetoric but an appeal to the authorities--he might have been not so much sure of their prudence as it looked at first sight. Further developments proved the validity of this concern.

Heavy responsibility rested with Kurchatov. As a high-minded person, he sought to uphold good moral standards of his subordinates, his Institute and the nuclear industry. For example, the discovery of a new type of radioactive decay or spontaneous fission of uranium nuclei in 1940, when Kurchatov initiated and directed the work of the experimentalists Georgi Flyorov and Konstantin Petrzhak but flatly refused the offer to be in as a coauthor of the article and know-how. This is in a harsh contrast to the behavior of the American physicist William Shockley upon the discovery of a transistor in 1948. The impact of Kurchatov's ethics on the intellectual life of the Institute and on the nuclear industry as a whole, I felt, stayed on even after his death.

The atomic science, its educational system and the atomic industry are a true and wonderful act of creation. The highly organized field of human activity was born in the creator's head. Kurchatov enlisted scientists, engineers, technologists, executives, educators, physicians... The continuous creative process went on for 17 years. After Kurchatov tested the bomb he turned to atomic submarine and icebreaker fleet, and set afloat the first atomic submarine Leninsky Komsomol (1958)* and the icebreaker Lenin (1959). Atomic submarine and surface shipbuilding, a new science, new grades of steel and technologies, and 200,000 workplaces were created.

The first atomic power plant in the world was commissioned at Obninsk near Moscow in 1954, and the construction of the first power unit of the Novovoronezhs-kaya nuclear power station, the world's largest, at the time of its commissioning in 1964, was started in Voronezh in 1957. The creation of the homeland nuclear industry is yet another dramatic chapter of the uphill struggle. Its foundations were laid on a large scale and at for many years to come. An aircraft equipped with a nuclear propulsion unit did not take off, perhaps for the better. But such energy sources operated successfully in outer space, and it became possible to develop and test nuclear rocket engines. The near future will prove who was right in that long-standing dispute, either Kurchatov or his skeptics.

Kurchatov cooperated closely with the founder of practical space navigation Sergei Korolev** and the theoretician of science and technology Mstislav Kel-dysh***. They had a common goal before them, achieved

See: G. Gladkov, "A-Fleet Pioneers", Science in Russia, No. 3, 1999.--Ed.

** See: N. Koroleva, "His Name and Cosmos Are Inseparable"; N. Sevastyanov, "The Cause of Legendary Designer Lives On", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2007.--Ed.

*** See: B. Chetverushkin, K. Brushlinsky, "Our Director"; L. Zelyony.

O. Zakutnyaya "Chief Theorist and Strategist of National Cosmonautics",

Science in Russia, No. 1, 2011.--Ed.

стр. 50

successfully and promptly, i.e. the creation of a hydrogen bomb and means of its delivery to any place on the planet. But the community of their scientific approach in creating the nuclear and space industries was also evident. No wonder they remain together in our memory, the three K: Kurchatov, Korolev and Keldysh.

Kurchatov did not overlook the discovery of transistors in 1948 and their first mass use during the war in Korea (1950-1953). As of the early 1950s he supported the research work of the married couple Viktor and Maria Gusev on the ion-implantation doping of semiconductors, a new method widely used in microelectronics for the mass production of integrated circuits, and assisted in the launching of the industrial production of implanters, i.e. units for implantation of high-energy ions into a material surface, still operating in several Russian and European institutes. Kurchatov is not to blame for the failure of the Soviet system to cope with the information revolution. But that is another story.

Controlled thermonuclear fusion was his lifedream. As of the 1950s Kurchatov pushed ahead with this research work. Though very busy and in poor health, he turned to and took part personally in experiments; in fact, he impacted thermonuclear research on a global scale. His report on nuclear power engineering and progress in controlled thermonuclear fusion in the USSR made in 1956 at Harwell in Great Britain produced a great impression on the Western world and ushered in the age of international cooperation; it contributed to the birth of a transnational thermonuclear community of nuclear physicists and engineers. Had it not been for his report in Great Britain, there would have been no International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project*. This is the final stretch of the path to thermonuclear power engineering or a Sun on Earth. The dream of Prometheus.

Kurchatov took care of official formalization of these research works started in 1951 by Stalin's decision. The T-seminar was Kurchatov's main tool, which always produced concrete decisions and helped him in enlisting the needed personal countrywide.

See: V. Glukhikh, et al., "On the Brink of Thermonuclear Era", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2003; L. Golubchikov, "Tokamak--International Challenge", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2004.--Ed.

стр. 51

That was a hard and laborious job. Stressing Kurchatov's exceptional role, my Western colleagues said that at Harwell he had initiated research into linear pinches or systems designed for hot plasma compression to obtain conditions required for a controlled thermonuclear reaction. True, this work looked rather unpromising at that time, and Kurchatov made no secret of it. But his visit to Harwell paved the way to the 2nd Geneva Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in 1958, where almost all ideas, including those linear pinches, were discussed openly. Later on, Russian and American experimentalists demonstrated that a linear pinch was the best source of a real thermonuclear target with a required amplification factor.

Kurchatov's last love was the open magnetic trap Ogra (an anagram of the Russian words "one gram"), started up in 1958; it yielded no expected technical results either, for it failed to produce one gram of neutrons per day. But technologically, had it not been for Ogra and massive efforts of his right-hand man Dr. Igor Golovin in creating the engineering base of thermonuclear research, there would have been no success of the now famous tokamaks*.

Today almost everybody, government leaders including, is aware of the need of thermonuclear engineering. The construction of an International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) at Cadarache, France, is underway. ITER will be the world's largest experimental plant to demonstrate the scientific feasibility of thermonuclear engineering.

Kurchatov was above all a remarkable physicist awake to scientific progress as a way of cognition of the world. In a hectic race of the 1940s he carried on fundamental research works including neutron lifetime measurement. As early as 1949 his laboratory worker Pyotr Spivak detected the phenomenon of neutron beta decay, or the

See: V. Strelkov, "Creator of the Tokamak", Science in Russia, No. 4, 2012.--Ed.

стр. 52

spontaneous transformation of a free neutron into a proton, electron and antineutrino caused by weak interaction. And only the absurd policy of pervasive security classification, which even Kurchatov could not overcome, deprived Spivak and Yevgeny Zavoysky*, who observed the phenomenon of electronic paramagnetic resonance in 1944, of the Nobel Prize.

Kurchatov built research reactors in physics centers of Russia and union republics. In 1956 in Dubna near Moscow he set up what became the international Joint Institute for Nuclear Research** on the basis of the Laboratory of Instrumentation of the USSR Academy of Sciences. Also, he turned over to this new institute the largest synchrocyclotron of that time and, supporting Georgy Flyorov in transuranium fusion research, turned to a unique multicharged ion accelerator U-300 designed for Flyorov expressly. Commissioned in the year of Kurchatov's death (1960), the accelerator became a basis for nuclear fusion of atomic nuclei with the number above 100. With its help Flyorov obtained, one after another, elements 102, 103, 104 and 105, one of them named kurchatovium. Unfortunately, that proposal was not accepted by the international community. Today, on the basis of the U-300 accelerator, a modern accelerator complex has been at Dubna created; new superheavy elements are being discovered there. Probably, it would be now in place to go back to Flyorov's recommendation concerning kurchatovium.

Developing the first cyclotrons in the USSR, Kurchatov was awake to the significance of accelerating hardware. He supported the ideas of Academician Vladimir Veksler and stood behind the construction of the world's largest synchrophasotron at Dubna. In 1954 he decided to build high-energy accelerators in Kharkov (Ukraine), Gatchina (Leningrad Region) and Protvino (Moscow Region). In his institute Kurchatov set up a laboratory of modern acceleration methods headed by the physicist Gersh Budker who suggested an original method for electron beams stabilization. Only few believed in those daring schemes. But Kurchatov did. In 1958 this laboratory gave rise to the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Siberian Branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences in Novosibirsk. And Budker, now as its director, began creating the world's first colliding beams accelerators. In time a physical school was formed there, one of the world's leading schools today in the field of accelerators and high-energy physics. Actually Kurchatov laid a groundwork for up-to-date accelerator physics in our country.

We are indebted to Kurchatov for saving physics in Russia in 1949. It was not easy to do that. Only in 1954, after Stalin's death, he managed to cleanse the Physics Department of Moscow State University of die-hard obscurantism. In 1948 Kurchatov was unable to prevent the crack-down on genetics by Lysenko. But in the mid-1950s he, together with IgorTamm, began rehabilitating this science and set up a genetics division, at his Institute dubbed a radiobiological division,--to play safe. Today it is the world-known Institute of Molecular Genetics of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Moscow).

The close of the 1950s was a time when, after the accident at the Mayak production plant in the Chelyabinsk Region (1957), we became aware of the ecological hazard of nuclear tests, arms race and radiation problems of the nuclear industry. In 1958, at Kurchatov's suggestion, Academician Andrei Sakharov made the first scientific estimates of the consequences of thermonuclear tests in the atmosphere, and soon it brought him to the ranks of initiators of the Partial Test Ban Treaty (1963).

The influence of Kurchatov on the progress of science and education in our country was enormous. He masterminded creating research centers at Sarov, Obninsk, Dubna, Dimitrovgrad, Snezhinsk, and R&D nuclear centers in the Urals and Siberia. He promoted creating the world-class higher schools (like the Moscow Physics and Technology Institute, the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute, the Research Institute of Nuclear Physics of Moscow State University*) and stood up for reforming a number of other educational institutions. After the 1st Geneva Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy of 1955 Kurchatov succeeded in getting broader participation of Russian scientists in international forums and research programs, for he knew better that science was international by its nature and could develop only in contact with the world community of scientists.

He understood and enjoyed music.

Kurchatov is a great Russian scientist and demiurge, one in a thousand in human history.

See: V. Mikhailin, '"Potentialities' of Relativistic Electron", Science in Russia, No. 5,2012.--Ed.

See: V. Popov, "A Pioneer in Paramagnetic Resonance", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2008; I. Silkin, "The Resonance Effect", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2012.--Ed.

** See: A. Sissakian, "Dubna's Wfarldwide Glory", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2006.--Ed.


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