Monday, November 9, 2009

Deceased--Vitaly Ginzburg

Vitaly Ginzburg
October 4th, 1916 to August 8th, 2009

"Soviet H-bomb scientist Ginzburg dies"


Dmitry Solovyov and Michael Stott

November 9th, 2009


Vitaly Ginzburg, a Russian physicist who survived Stalin's purges by working on the Soviet atomic bomb project and later won the Nobel Prize for physics, died in Moscow late on Sunday after a long illness. He was 93.

Ginzburg won the 2003 Nobel physics prize for developing the theory behind superconductors, materials which allow electricity to pass without resistance at very low temperatures. He shared the prize with British-American Anthony Leggett and Russian-born U.S. scientist Alexei Abrikosov.

But Ginzburg's career as a Soviet scientist almost ended when he took as his second wife a woman arrested in 1944 and sentenced to three years in labor camps for supposedly plotting against Stalin's life. State anti-Semitism was flourishing and an attack on Ginzburg was published in a journal.

"I can only guess what fate awaited me in this situation at this time," Ginzburg wrote in an autobiographical article written for the Nobel prize committee. "I think that it would have cost me dear but I was saved by the hydrogen bomb."

Ginzburg wrote that he worked together with fellow Soviet physicist Andrei Sakharov -- later a famous dissident -- on the Soviet H-bomb project and said they developed the two key ideas which made it possible to create the device.

But in 1951, Ginzburg was dismissed from the atom bomb project as Stalin led a fresh campaign of anti-Semitism which aimed to blame Jews for the Soviet Union's problems and exile them into labor camps.

"It was a tremendous luck that the Great Leader did not have enough time to carry out what he had planned to do and died, or was killed, on 5th March 1953," Ginzburg wrote in the article.

He said he and his second wife Nina Yermakova had celebrated the day of Stalin's death ever since as a "great festival."

Ginzburg was active in public life after the demise of the Soviet Union, signing letters and giving interviews hitting out at official indifference to fundamental science in modern Russia. He attacked the Kremlin's growing links with the Orthodox church and urged Western Europe to stop then-President Vladimir Putin returning to "a totalitarian past."

"We hope that the governments of democratic countries will do all they can to prevent Russia sliding into the totalitarian past and the establishment of a dictatorial regime dangerous for Russia and for all international society," said the appeal he signed in November 2005.


In May 2007 Ginzburg said in an interview that the pursuit of science in Putin's Russia was driven by profit alone and that government interference today was in some ways worse than under Stalin.

"Of course, in Stalin's times the Academy was under the control of the central committee of the Communist Party," Ginzburg told Britain's Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

"But in those days you could come up with an idea and create -- that's how we put the first Sputnik satellite into space. Now the government thinks science must bring only income and profit, which is absurd."

A convinced atheist and secular Jew, Ginzburg was among Russian scientists who signed an open letter to Putin in July 2007 warning that the Orthodox church's growing influence in Russia threatened to erode the separation of church and state and upset other officially recognized religions.

Ginzburg was born in Moscow on October 4, 1916 to a doctor mother who died of typhoid in 1920 and an engineer father. Ginzburg's first marriage was to a fellow student, Olga Zamsha, in 1937. The couple divorced nine years later after having a daughter, who also became a physicist.

Briefly summing up his long and eventful life in a television interview, Ginzburg said with a smile: "If I believed in God, I would start every morning by saying, 'Thank you, My Lord, for making me a theoretical physicist.'"

"Vitaly Ginzburg dies at 93; Nobel Prize-winning Russian physicist"

Ginzburg played a key role in the Soviet Union's development of the hydrogen bomb. He was awarded the Nobel for his work on the theoretical underpinnings of superconductivity.


Thomas H. Maugh II

November 10th, 2009

Vitaly Ginzburg, the Russian physicist who played a key role in the Soviet Union's development of the hydrogen bomb and who later won a Nobel Prize for his work on the theoretical underpinnings of superconductivity, died in Moscow late Sunday of cardiac arrest. He was 93 and had been in ill health for some time.

A pioneering theoretical physicist who often deprecated his own abilities in mathematics, Ginzburg made seminal contributions in a number of areas of physics, including quantum theory, astrophysics and radioastronomy.

A confirmed atheist despite his Jewish heritage, he was outspoken against anti-Semitism and firm in supporting the state of Israel. In his later years, he was highly vocal about what he and other scientists considered the "clericalization" of the Russian state.

In a telegram to Ginzburg's family, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called him "a remarkable and purpose-driven man who has left us, one of the greatest physicists of our times, whose discoveries had a huge impact on the development of science in our country and around the world, and whose professional career and personal life are examples of a citizen's service to his homeland."

That statement seems somewhat ironic because Ginzburg was ostracized and refused high-level clearances throughout most of his career and was unable to travel abroad until late in his life because his wife had been erroneously accused of participating in a plot to assassinate Josef Stalin. He often said that it was only his participation in the H-bomb project that saved him from the firing squad.

The Soviet H-bomb project was ultimately a success through a series of fortuitous circumstances. In 1948, it was clear that the Soviet Union would acquire the atom bomb to compete with the United States. Some sources had indicated that America was also working on a hydrogen bomb, and the Soviets decided they should make a similar effort -- although it was not initially considered a high priority.

One of the original team members was physicist Igor Tamm, head of the theory department at the Lebedev Physical Institute in Moscow. Tamm proposed bringing his deputy, Ginzburg, but was initially turned down. Eventually, however, Ginzburg's scientific pedigree outweighed his Jewish background and his wife's exile, and he was accepted.

Physicist Andrei Sakharov was placed on the team because he and his wife had a young child and no place to live. Project members were given housing, in this case a single room in a communal flat.

Their inclusion was fortuitous because the team had little idea how to proceed. Sakharov suggested using alternating layers of uranium and fuel in the bomb. Ginzburg suggested using lithium-6 as fuel because, when hit by neutrons, it would release tritium and helium nuclei and significant amounts of energy.

"I do not think that either of these ideas was terribly bright," Ginzburg said in a recent interview with the American Institute of Physics, "but together they made it possible to create the H-bomb."

Once it was decided to use these two ideas, the work was moved from Moscow to what is now the city of Sarov. Ginzburg, who had been tarred as a "homeless, stateless cosmopolitan," was not allowed to move to Sarov and stayed behind in Moscow to do thermonuclear calculations. Eventually, he lost clearance to do that as well.

Ginzburg next turned his attention to superconductivity, the ability of some materials to carry electricity without any losses due to friction. Early work on superconductivity had yielded few practical results because even weak magnetic fields interfered with a material's ability to conduct electricity.

With another Russian physicist, Lev Landau, Ginzburg worked out a series of equations that correctly predicted a superconductor's tolerance for a magnetic field and its conductive ability. Based on Ginzburg and Landau's work, physicist Alexei A. Abrikosov developed ways to achieve superconductivity despite the presence of high magnetic fields. That work paved the way for a wide variety of uses, such as in medical imaging.

In recognition of their work, Ginzburg and Abrikosov shared the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physics with Anthony J. Leggett, who explained why helium became a superfluid when placed in a magnetic field at low temperatures. Landau, who had received a Nobel for other work, did not share in the prize because he had died and Nobels are not given posthumously.

Ginzburg had given up hope of receiving the award. "They have been nominating me for about 30 years, so in that sense it didn't come as a surprise," he said of the early morning phone call from Stockholm. "But I thought, 'Well, they're not giving it to me, I guess that's it.' I had long ago forgotten to think about this."

Vitaly Lazarevich Ginzburg was born Oct. 4, 1916, in Moscow. His mother was a doctor who died when he was 4 and his father an engineer. Because of disruption caused by the Communist Revolution, he attended school for only four years.

A family friend helped him get a job as an assistant in an X-ray laboratory, where he first developed an interest in science. That interest was further whetted by a popular book, "The Physics of Our Days," written by O.D. Hvolson. In 1933, it became possible to enter Moscow University by way of a competitive examination. With the help of a tutor, Ginzburg compressed three years of high school into three months and passed the exam, although not with scores high enough to guarantee his admission.

Because he had already quit his job, he enrolled as, in effect, a corresponding student, and after a year he gained full admission. He received his bachelor's degree in physics in 1938, his doctorate in 1940 and his doctor of science in 1942. He joined the Lebedev institute, where he spent virtually all of his career. During the war years, he worked on the transmission of radio waves through the ionosphere. Minor physical disabilities kept him from being conscripted into the army.

In 1937, Ginzburg married a fellow student, Olga Zamsha. They had one daughter, Irina Dorman, but divorced nine years later.

During the war, the Lebedev institute was moved to Gorki. There, he met Nina Ermakova, who was exiled because of her supposed participation in the anti-Stalin plot. They were married in 1946. Ginzburg was able to return to Moscow after the war, but she could not for another eight years, so they lived apart with him commuting frequently. They had no children.

As communist fervor eased, Ginzburg was able to play a bigger role in his country's affairs. He was part of a group of scientists who helped bring down the reign of Trofim Lysenko, who believed that acquired physical characteristics could be inherited -- a belief that impeded genetic research in Russia for decades.

He also defended atheism from attacks by priests and others and wrote several books devoted to atheism and religion. In 2007, he was one of 10 Russian scientists who wrote an open letter to then-Russian President Vladimir Putin decrying the growing influence of clerics in the government.

"I think that to be -- or not to be -- religious is a fundamental human right," he said in the AIP interview. "It is, however, a different matter if the church interferes with secular education, offering creationism as a foundation of science. . . . I am convinced that the bright future of mankind is connected with the progress of science, and I believe it is inevitable that one day religions (at least those existing now) will drop in status to no higher than that of astrology."

He is survived by his wife, daughter and two grandchildren.

"Vitaly Ginzburg Dies at 93; Worked on Soviet H-Bomb"


Michael Schwirtz

November 10, 2009

The New York Times

MOSCOW — Vitaly L. Ginzburg, the Russian physicist who helped develop the first Soviet hydrogen bomb and went on to win the Nobel Prize, died in Moscow on Sunday. He was 93.

Mr. Ginzburg had been in poor health for some time, a spokeswoman for the Russian Academy of Sciences said. Mr. Ginzburg was a member of the academy as well as the National Academy of Sciences in the United States and the Royal Society in Britain. Russian press reports said he had died of a heart attack.

Born in the waning days of czarist Russia on Oct. 4, 1916, Mr. Ginzburg overcame severe prejudices against his Jewish, middle-class heritage in the Stalin era to become one of the world’s most renowned physicists.

In 2003 he shared the Nobel for his contributions to the theory of superconductors, which under certain conditions are able to conduct electricity without resistance. The powerful magnets that make particle accelerators and magnetic resonance imaging possible depend on superconductors.

Mr. Ginzburg’s theories have also been employed in string theory and other fields of physics.

After World War II, he worked with Andrei Sakharov, later one of the Soviet Union’s most famous dissidents, to develop the Soviet hydrogen bomb. Mr. Ginzburg came up with the recipe for the weapon’s nuclear fuel, for which he received the Order of Lenin and the Stalin Prize.

“Then an especially terrible time came: Stalin went totally insane,” he wrote in his autobiography for the Nobel committee.

Stalin initiated a wave of anti-Semitism and hostility toward intellectuals in the early 1950s that nearly derailed Mr. Ginzburg’s career. He was removed from the hydrogen bomb project, accused of anti-Communist leanings and denied promotions, he wrote. He also suffered for his marriage to a woman who had once been arrested on charges of plotting to assassinate Stalin.

“It was a tremendous luck that the great leader did not have enough time to carry out what he had planned to do and died, or was killed, on 5th March, 1953,” Mr. Ginzburg wrote. “In the former U.S.S.R. many people (at any rate, my wife and I) have up till now been celebrating this day as a great festival.”

After Stalin died, Mr. Ginzburg used his prestige as a scientist to speak on social issues when the political climate allowed.

Though an atheist himself, Mr. Ginzburg openly denounced prejudice against Jews in perestroika-era Soviet Union. In 1990, he and others sent a petition to the Soviet government calling for an official condemnation of anti-Semitism in the country.

In recent years, he warned of the increasing degradation of science in Russia and criticized officials for not more actively promoting scientific innovation.

He also spoke out against the increasingly close relationship between the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church. In 2007 he and several other scientists signed an open letter to Vladimir V. Putin, who was then Russia’s president and is now its prime minister, expressing concern with the “increased clericalization of Russian society.”

Oleg Rudenko, a fellow physicist, told Echo Moskvy Radio, “Vitaly Lazarevich Ginzburg is of course an eminent physicist.” He added, “But no less important were his public activities and his articles in support and defense of science.”

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