Yakov Borisovich Zeldovich. March 8, 1914 – December 2, 1987. Soviet physicist and physical chemist. Academician of the USSR Academy of Sciences, three times Hero of Socialist Labor, winner of the Lenin Prize and four times winner of the State (Stalin) Prize.


Life and Work:

1. “The discovery of uranium fission and the conceptual possibility of a uranium chain reaction determined the fate of the century, and my future.” These are the words of Yakov Zeldovich, one of the creators of the Soviet atomic bomb and the Soviet hydrogen bomb.


2. Little is known in our country about this outstanding physicist. That is understandable, as for many years his work was strictly classified.


3. Yakov Zeldovich was born in Minsk six months before the outbreak of the First World War.


4. Terrified by the war, his mother, a translator, and his father, a lawyer, relocated to Saint Petersburg. There, young Yakov finished school. But he did not enroll to an institute, instead getting a Lab Assistant job at the Institute of Mechanical Mineral Processing, known as Mekhanobr.


5. “Later, fate directed me to the Institute of Chemical Physics,” wrote Zeldovich. The fate had a little assistance from Mekhanobr that organized a study trip to the Division of Chemics Physics at the Leningrad Institute of Physics and Technology. While there, the inquisitive young man started a discussion, got noticed and was offered a job. But contrary to the legend, they did not get him in exchange for an oil pump.


6. While his transfer was being formalized, the Division split off to become an independent institute. The work engulfed the talented young man, so much that he never finished the institute.


7. That did not hinder his scientific career. “It was a blessed time,” wrote Yakov Zeldovich, “when the Higher Attestation Commission granted permission to defend their theses to people without a university degree!”


8. He was interested in physical chemistry, chemical physics, and, first of all, the combustion theory. “It was a great happiness to be able to combine experimental and theoretical work on the same issue.”


9. The happy scientist literally was overflowing with ideas, and putting them into practice. What could be more practical than a Katyusha rocket? Zeldovich was directly involved in its design.


10. After the Second World War, Genius Yashka, as Igor Kurchatov nicknamed him, continued his practical work in the theory of uranium fission that he started before the war together with Yulii Khariton.


11. In the top-secret city Arzamas-16, on the orders of the party and the government the newly elected Corresponding Member of the Academy of Sciences Yakov Zeldovich was working to create thermonuclear weapons. For his contribution, he was awarded a Pobeda car by Stalin, and later, a Volga car by the government. Zeldovich himself considered the biggest reward to be knowing he performed his duty to his country.


12. In 1955, Yakov Zeldovich signed the famous “Letter of Three Hundred.” The letter written by a group of Soviet scientists and sent to the Presidium of the Central Committee of the CPSU presented an assessment of the state of biology in the USSR, criticism of the scientific views and practical work of Trofim Lysenko. The letter ultimately led to the dismissal of Lysenko from the position of the President of VASKhNIL (Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences).


13. “Working in the theory of explosion served as a psychological preparation to the study of explosions of stars and then, to the biggest explosion of all, of the Universe as a whole...” he later wrote in his memoirs. That was when the classified scientist became known to the entire world, his work making such an impression in the West that many believed that Zeldovich was the name of a collective Soviet author. And when it became apparent that he was just one person, he was recognized as a genius and elected to a dozen academies around the world.


14. Zeldovich's scientific legacy is impressive: 490 research papers and more than 30 monographs and textbooks.


15. The unique scientist, Zeldovich never received the Nobel Prize. His international colleagues wanted to nominate him, but could not decide which category he should be submitted in: physics or chemistry.

Photo: Troitsky Variant