When the Soviet Union entered the war, many physicists dropped their research and joined the war effort. Combining his knowledge of ships and physics, Kurchatov worked on projects to protect naval ships from magnetic mines. His work earned him a Stalin prize, but he contracted pneumonia and was put in charge of the Physicotechnical Institute's armor lab in 1942.
But while Soviet scientists were occupied with developing defenses against German invaders, British, American, and German scientists were pressing ahead with building an atomic bomb. It became obvious to some Soviet scientists that something was happening when articles on nuclear physics suddenly disappeared from western science journals.
then serving in the Soviet Air Force, wrote a letter directly to Stalin
warning him that Germany was probably working on a bomb, and that the
Soviets needed to start a similar program.
Although Stalin and his chief of security, Beria, suspected the information, they both felt that it was a chance worth taking. The German army was advancing on Stalingrad. It was a desperate time.
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