HomeScientistBiography of Andrei Sakharov

Biography of Andrei Sakharov

He was born on May 21, 1921 in the household of a teacher, the author of numerous popular scientific publications, textbooks and problem books on physics. After school I went to study at the physics department of Moscow State University.

According to the recollections of Sakharov’s classmate Mikhail Levin, “Andrei immediately stood out for his inability to clearly and intelligibly express his thoughts. His abstractions were never reduced to a recounting of the suggested material and in structure resembled a large-block construction, and intermediate evidence was ignored in the logical links between individual blocks. He didn’t need them. At the same time, Andrei bit into science with amazing tenacity, dug deep, constantly attempting to reach the bottom, and everything he studied was lodged in him solidly and for a long time.”

In 1942, Sakharov graduated from the Faculty of Physics at Moscow State University and was deployed to a military facility in Ulyanovsk, where he worked as an engineer until 1945. 1945–1950 – graduate student and subsequently researcher in the Department of Theoretical Physics at the Lebedev Physical Institute, directed by Igor Tamm, where he submitted his thesis ahead of time on the topic “The Theory of Nuclear Transitions of the 0–0 Type.”

Fusion physicist Sakharov said that at this era two offers were made to him to go to a different employment. One – by Kurchatov, the second – by a KGB official, who promised him an apartment in Moscow for this (Sakharov and his family were not even given a room in a common apartment for a long time). Sakharov declined both offers because he wanted to collaborate with Tamm.

In 1948, Sakharov was engaged in the research group for the creation of thermonuclear weapons under the supervision of Yuli Khariton. Sakharov remembered how, on this matter, he was summoned jointly with Tamm to the office of the head of the First Main Directorate under the Council of Ministers of the USSR, Boris Vannikov. Tamm sought to discourage Vannikov from this decision, assuring him that Sakharov was an extraordinarily gifted and promising theoretical physicist and his place was at FIAN.

During this chat, the turntable phone rang. Vannikov listened to his interlocutor with a tight countenance, and when he disconnected up, he claimed that Beria had phoned. “Lavrenty Pavlovich very much asks you to accept our offer,” he stated. “There was nothing more to talk about,” Sakharov recalled. “And when Igor Evgenievich and I went out into the street, he said: “It looks like things are taking a severe turn.”

Object with barbed wire

Until 1968, Sakharov worked in the Arzamas-16 sensitive facility, where the development of a new sort of weapon continued, the idea of ​​which started within the walls of the Lebedev Physical Institute.

Today, nearly no of Sakharov’s collaborators remain living, who collaborated with him on the building of Soviet thermonuclear weapons, the monopoly of which at that time was the United States. The last of the Mohicans is 94-year-old Vladimir Ritus, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, who earned a Stalin Prize recipient for that effort.

And then he was a young scientist working with Sakharov at a laboratory encircled by barbed wire. “Although Andrei Dmitrievich did not hold high administrative positions, we all considered him not even a leader, but the god of physics,” recounts Vladimir Ivanovich. “We were amazed that he always knew in advance what would work for someone. And if we didn’t obtain the answer we wanted, he took our calculations and immediately said: “Here you have a mistake, figure it out.”

Today there is the Andrei Sakharov Foundation, but few people realize that the Sakharov Foundation originated just then, in the Sarov “sharashka”. It was, in essence, a mutual aid fund without any accounting. In one of the compartments of the communal safe there was Andrei Dmitrievich’s money, meant for general uses. When leaving on vacation, employees took as much as they required. Sakharov never counted his money. No one recalls the examples of abuse and dishonesty.

The Brain That Can’t Be Classified

Yakov Zeldovich, with whom Sakharov worked for many years, compared his brain to a machine that functions 10 times better than the brain of an ordinary person. “But Sakharov’s brain cannot be classified,” he continued. “It is structured differently.”

In the early 1950s, pioneering work began on the building of the first hydrogen bomb. Sakharov’s concept consisted of the famous “Sakharov puff pastry” – a spherical structure comprising alternating layers of light thermonuclear fuel and layers of heavy uranium, which at the moment of ignition caused a dramatic increase in pressure. Combined with Ginzburg’s notion of ​​using solid lithium deuteride, it became possible to bring theoretical ideas into practice.

Sakharov’s work was not restricted to weaponry. In the second part of 1950, Sakharov and Tamm examined problems concerning the probable magnetic thermal insulation of plasma for controlled thermonuclear fusion. Julius Khariton, in a work report for the third quarter of 1950, wrote: “The Sakharov reactor consists of a closed ring-shaped pipe, shaped like a “donut,” filled with gaseous deuterium at low pressure. A winding is coiled on the surface of the pipe, providing a strong magnetic field. By ionizing and heating deuterium, it is feasible to attain extremely high temperatures that allow thermonuclear events to occur.”

A “donut” in geometric jargon is a toroid. Sakharov, according to the recollections of his colleagues, termed the new concept TTR (toroidal thermonuclear reactor). Then this word resurfaced in the international physical term “tokamak” – a toroidal chamber with a magnetic coil.

Sakharov’s theories established the framework for research into the peaceful uses of thermonuclear fusion. Kurchatov sarcastically attributed the very first such usage as the fact that the Sakharovs were eventually given a separate apartment on Zhivopisnaya Street in Moscow; By that time, the family already had two girls growing up. In addition to the apartment, the notion of a magnetic thermonuclear reactor (MTR), muon catalysis and magnetic cumulation – a novel way for creating extraordinarily powerful magnetic fields – developed. Thus, Sakharov’s group produced record magnetic fields of 16 million gauss.

Tsar bomb

The most powerful device produced by Sakharov and his colleagues was the AN602, which was colloquially termed the Tsar Bomb. Eight meters long, two meters broad and weighing 26.5 tons, it did not fit aboard the Tu-95 aircraft. The designers had to cut off part of the strategic bomber’s fuselage and place a unique mount in it – and yet it still poked partly out of the plane.

Two months have gone. Preparations for the exams were in full swing. During Yuli Khariton’s report, Sakharov sat silently not far from Khrushchev. Khrushchev asked Khariton: “I hope Sakharov realized his mistake?” “My point of view remains the same,” responded Andrei Dmitrievich. “But I work, I carry out the order.”

The Tsar Bomba was tested on October 30, 1961 on Novaya Zemlya. The bomb turned out to be four times more powerful than the American one. The seismic wave from the explosion circled the globe three times. The height of the nuclear mushroom was 67 km, the circumference of its “cap” was 95 km.

The 1960s became fruitful for Sakharov in a scientific sense. He noted a decline in the intensity of effort on certain themes as one of the reasons. He began working on challenges of cosmology and astrophysics. His first study on cosmology was carried out in 1963–1964 and was termed “The initial stage of the expansion of the Universe and the emergence of inhomogeneity in the distribution of matter.”

According to Sakharov’s colleague Boris Altshuler, fingerprints of baryon acoustic oscillations computed by Sakharov were subsequently identified during examinations of temperature changes of the cosmic microwave background radiation. This happened in the early 2000s, when the sensitivity of satellite radio telescopes enabled.

The most intense dream

In 1969, Sakharov returned to his native Lebedev Physical Institute, to the department of theoretical physics, where he remained an employee till the end of his days.

It is for this reason that social activities became firmly entrenched in his life in the 1960s. He became one of the initiators of the Moscow International Treaty Banning Nuclear Tests in Three Environments.

“Back in the 50s, the view that I had of nuclear testing in the atmosphere as a direct crime against humanity, no different from, say, secretly pouring a culture of pathogenic microbes into the city water supply, did not meet with any support from the people around me.”

11/14/1988 President Reagan Meeting with Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov in Oval Office

Sakharov’s civic viewpoint was not restricted to the battle against nuclear weapons. He resisted the persecution of genetics, against political repression, spoke out loudly against the entrance of Soviet soldiers into Afghanistan – in a word, he continually handled his own business, which assured his long-term shame. Not just politicians, but many recent colleagues and scientist acquaintances often did not want to listen to him. He was a foreigner among his own.

A mild, educated, highly non-conflict guy by nature, he could not feel comfortable in a scenario of frequent confrontation. But, obviously, he just did not see any other way of existence for himself.


On December 14, 1989, Andrei Sakharov died unexpectedly.

There were quite a lot of people in the flat, writes Boris Altshuler, who came to Sakharov immediately after his death. In addition to his own, there were ambulance physicians, an investigator from the prosecutor’s office, witnesses, and police on the stairs and in the corridor. On the bed in the middle of the room sits Andrei Dmitrievich, on the chair next to him is Elena Georgievna (Bonner). It is impossible to write about this in depth. Sakharov’s departure is a loss for everyone.

Andrei Sakharov’s research interests were nuclear physics, particle field physics, cosmology and gravity. In all of these fields he made important and major contributions, offering work to his disciples for many decades to come. Books might be written on his scientific achievements, which were subsequently refined.

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