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 Igor Kurchatov

Born:   January 12, 1903
Deceased:   February 7, 1960

Russian scientist, physicist ans founder of nuclear bomb


Kurchatov Igor Vasilievich (1903–1960) is famous Russian physicist, one of founders of nuclear physics in the USSR. Igor Vasilievich is born on January 12, 1903 in the city of Sim in the Chelyabinsk region in the family of a land surveyor. In 1908 the Kurchatov family moves to Simbirsk, and later – in 1912 – to Simferopol. In 1920 young Igor graduates from a gymnasium, and the same years attends Crimean University, which leaves three years later with the diploma in physics. During his studies he works for food and books first at woodworks and later in children's home as a teacher and in physical laboratory of the university as laboratory assistant. In the end of 1923 he moves to Saint Petersburg, which is Petrograd at that time, and is admitted to shipbuilding faculty of Polytechnic Institute. Igor Vasilievich works in Slutskaya magnetic and meteorological observatory, where he performs his first scientific research on snow radioactivity. In 1924 Kurchatov returns to the Crimea, where is employed in Feodosia’s hydrometeorological bureau of the Black and Azov seas. The same year he’s offered a position at the physics department of Azerbaijan Polytechnic Institute, where performs two research projects on electric current passing through solid dielectrics during first six months of his employment. His research appears to be close to tasks of famous Ioffe’s research group, and in 1925 Kurchatov is invited to Leningrad Physical and Technical Institute, where he spends 17 years till 1942, being appointed head of the laboratory in 1930. In that time period Kurchatov participates in two fields of scientific research: he studies electric properties of solid bodies before 1932 and turns to radiation of atom nucleus after 1932. The physicist investigates electroconductivity of solid bodies and solid dielectric breakdown; he lays the basis of ferroelectricity and makes significant contribution to studies of crystals’ electric properties. In 1931-1932 he performs a research in semiconductor physics.


In 1932 Kurchatov becomes interested in nuclear physics. Despite the fact at that time this science was considered to have nothing to deal with on practice, famous scientist A.F Ioffe succeeds in opening a nuclear physics department in his institute and heads it for first six months, later transferring the throne to Igor Vasilievich. In 1933 scientists acquire high-voltage unit and accelerating tube for accelerating protons up to 350 kiloelectronvolt, and following year is notable for launching a research project in neutron physics. In 1935 Kurchatov and his colleagues discover phenomenon of nuclear isomerism in artificially radioactive bromine. During studying nuclear reactions with fast and slow neutrons Igor Vasilievich proves that proton captures neutron and calculates the value of capture cross section, which is very important for the Soviet deuteron theory. In 1937 Kurchatov heads the launch of massive Soviet cyclotron. Two years later the scientist starts working on heavy nucleus fission, and in 1940 his research fellows Flerov and Petrzhak discover the effect of uranium nuclei spontaneous decay. The same year his think-tank proves the possibility of nuclear chain reaction with uranium and heavy water. When the Great Patriotic War starts in 1941, Kurchatov has to leave nuclear physics for a while and concentrate on ship mine defense.


In 1943 the USSR launches the project on overcoming the USA’s atomic monopoly, and organization of necessary activities is entrusted with Kurchatov. In 1946 near the town of Arzamas appears a science, which later becomes the All-Russian Science and Research Institute of Experimental Physics (Arzamas-16), where Andrey Sakharov, Ilya Tamm and other eminent scientists work hard to create an atomic bomb. The aim is reached in very short time, and Soviet atomic bomb is tested in 1949, and hydrogen bomb – in 1953.

First Soviet uranium-graphite reactor is launched in 1946, later other, more powerful reactors start operating. First nuclear power plant appears in 1945. In early fifties of the last century Soviet scientists start studies of controlled thermonuclear fusion, which are also under control of Igor Kurchatov.

Igor Vasilievich understands importance of free development of all fields of science, including biology. He petitions Soviet government with plans on developing mentioned science and creates radiobiology department within his institute, inviting many eminent geneticists to join the research.

Scientific achievements of Igor Vasilievich Kurchatov have many governmental awards and Element 104 of the periodic table bears his name.

Igor Vasilievich Kurchatov dies in Moscow on February 7, 1960.



Tags: Russian science Russian scientist physics   

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