By Academician Yevgeni VELIKHOV, President of the Russian Research Center "Kurchatov Institute"
January 2003 is the birth centennial of the great physicist Igor Kurchatov, the mastermind and the first head of the Soviet atomic project. His multidimensional activities covered pioneering discoveries in nuclear physics, and the construction of experimental setups, and the institution of new research centers and schools.
Igor Vassilyevich Kurchatov made his first steps in science at the Leningrad Institute (College) of Physics and Technology headed by Academician Abram Joffe. Beginning with research in physics of dielectrics, he concentrated on such things as the electric properties of crystals, the mechanism of electrical breakdown and the development of innovative insulation materials. The discovery of ferroelectrics* was Kurchatov's first major achievement. An excellent head start for a budding scientist.
It was at that time (1932) that a galaxy of scientists (in the future, Nobel Prize winners) came up with their discoveries: James Chadwick of Britain discovered the neutron and predicted its beta decay; Carl Anderson of the United States discovered the positron and soon after, the muon; and another American, Harold Ury, made a discovery of deuterium. In an abrupt changeabout-something quite typical of him - Igor Kurchatov shifted to nuclear physics. He and his team gained renown rather soon, they were invited to many international conferences and made friends with the world's leading nuclear physicists, among them the famous Frederic Joliot-Curie, one of the pioneers in the discovery of artificial and positron radioactivity, and Sir Rudolph E. Peierls, a German-born physicist resident in Britain, who developed methods of computing nuclear fission reactions, who assessed the critical mass of uramum-239 and did many other things.
The Kurchatov team worked with abandon. In the latter half of the 1930s they carried out a series of studies with neutron sources on new ... Read more