Igor Vasilyevich Kurchatov. January 8 (21), 1903 – February 7, 1960. Soviet physicist, the “father” of the Soviet atomic bomb and of the “peaceful atom.” Academician of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. Winner of the Lenin Prize and four Stalin Prizes. Thrice Hero of Socialist Labor.
Life and Work:
1. When Igor Vasilyevich Kurchatov worked as a garden caretaker during his student years, he occasionally woke up to the sound of falling apples. A curious coincidence: Kurchatov became our own Newton, one of the most remarkable Russian physicists of the 20th century.
2. Igor Kurchatov’s merits and titles are too many to list. Father of the Soviet atomic bomb. Founder of the Institute of Atomic Energy. One of the founders of nuclear energy and an ardent supporter of using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Academician and thrice Hero of Socialist Labor. Ultimately, he was awarded with the most unique title of Honorary Citizen of the USSR. According to General Sudoplatov, only one person besides Kurchatov was awarded this title – Lavrentiy Beria. Also, for the nuclear project.
3. Most recently, a parish register of the Dmitrievsky Church of the Simsky Factory of the Ufa District, Ufa Province was found in the Chelyabinsk archive. A record dated January 12, 1903 states that a private surveyor Vasily Alekseev Kurchatov and his legal wife Maria Vasilyeva, both Orthodox, had a son on January 8, who was baptized Igor on January 12.
4. Igor Vasilyevich did not live to retire. But his short life encompassed a revolution, two world wars, and one civil war. As well as complex realities of the Stalin era.
5. In 1912, a private surveyor Vasily Kurchatov moved with his family to Simferopol, but he could not get out of poverty there either. Igor studied in the men’s state gymnasium, and in senior grades he also attended an evening craft school. Igor Kurchatov received his gymnasium certificate already being a mechanical plant mechanic. The excellent student did not get the actual gold medal: there was no time for medals amid the civil war.
6. During the battles for Perekop, Kurchatov, a first-year student of the Physics and Mathematics Department, was grinding away at his studies at Tavrichesky University in Simferopol. He was hungry, cold, and in need, but he completed the five-year curriculum in three years cum summa laudae.
7. University Professor S. N. Usaty invited his students, including Kurchatov, to the Azerbaijan Polytechnic Institute, where Igor Vasilyevich became the professor’s assistant. Then Usaty recommended his talented junior colleague to “Papa Ioffe” at the famous Institute of Physics and Technology in Leningrad.
8. In 1927, Igor Vasilyevich married his friend’s and colleague’s sister, Marina Sinelnikova. Kurchatov lived with his wife just like in a fairy tale, not only figuratively, but also in the literal sense – they lived for thirty-three years together.
9. By the age of 27, Igor Vasilyevich had already become a venerable scientist, a department head at Phystech. By that time, Kurchatov had already discovered and researched segnetoelectrics.
10. In the early 30s, Kurchatov began to study the physics of the atomic nucleus – one of the first USSR scientists to do it. Igor Vasilyevich was one of the few who believed that nuclear energy could be harnessed by the man. And not only for military purposes.
11. At the beginning of World War II, Igor Kurchatov invented a method for demagnetizing warships. “LFTI System” created by Kurchatov together with Anatoly Petrovich Alexandrov was installed on hundreds of ships and provided one hundred percent protection against German magnetic mines.
12. At the end of 1941, Kurchatov came down with typhus complicated by severe pneumonia. That was when he grew his famous beard, and Prince Igor, as his colleagues nicknamed him, had been known as The Beard ever since.
13. In September 1942, the USSR initiated the work on creating the atomic bomb. Academician Ioffe was supposed to lead the project, but he dared to suggest the young Kurchatov as a leader. “I don’t know this academician,” Stalin replied. Kurchatov was urgently promoted to academician and headed the project.
14. In 1943, in order to create the atomic bomb, Laboratory No.2 of the USSR Academy of Sciences for testing devices was established in Moscow. In 1957, it was transformed into the Institute of Atomic Energy of the USSR Academy of Sciences. His brainchild was named after Kurchatov only in 1960, after the scientist’s untimely death.
15. They say that when organizing the territory of the institute, Kurchatov did not allow to pave the paths immediately. A few months later, they paved the paths trodden by employees.
16. On December 25, 1946, with the personal participation of Igor Vasilyevich Kurchatov, a chain nuclear reaction was carried out for the first time in the Soviet Union at a uranium-graphite reactor. “Atomic energy is now subject to the will of the Soviet man,” the future father of the Soviet atomic bomb said with pride, commenting on this event.
17. He was not mistaken: on August 29, 1949, the first domestic RDS-1 atomic bomb was detonated at the Semipalatinsk test site. On August 12, 1953, a hydrogen bomb was tested in the USSR; in 1954, the world’s first nuclear power plant was launched in Obninsk; in 1958, the world’s first nuclear reactor for submarines was created, and in 1959 – the reactor for nuclear icebreakers. And all this was done with the participation and under the direct supervision of Igor Vasilyevich Kurchatov.
18. In February 1960, Kurchatov came to the Barvikha recreation center near Moscow to visit his friend, Academician Yuli Khariton. They were sitting on a bench and talking, and then there was a sudden pause in the conversation. Khariton looked at Kurchatov and saw that he was dead. The urn containing the ashes of the remarkable scientist was buried in the Kremlin wall. Kurchatov’s phrase “The science of physics is good, but life is too short!” has literally come true.
19. Two cities of the planet are named after Kurchatov – one in Russia, the other in Kazakhstan.
20. There are countless monuments to the scientist, but arguably the most significant one is located on the square named after him in front of the Kurchatov Institute building. The sculptor Rukavishnikov created only the head of the “father” of Soviet nuclear projects. You can’t put it better: Kurchatov had a great mind in his head!