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Citizen Kurchatov: Stalin's Bomb Maker

 

Peter Kapitsa

In 1921, Ioffe arranged to have Peter Kapitsa study and work for the famous physicist Ernest Rutherford at Cambridge. Kapitsa spent over twelve years in England, dreading the day when he would have to return to Russia.

However, in 1934, while visiting friends and family in Russia, he was prevented from returning to England. He refused to do any research for two years, but eventually returned to his research, this time inside the Soviet Union.

During the Second World War, he made several important contributions to the war effort, and became one of Stalin's favorite science advisors. However, when asked about the possibility of building an atomic bomb, he said it was possible, but only after at least ten years of work and a tremendous amount of resources.

From the beginning, Kapitsa believed the best approach to building an atomic bomb was to formulate their own plan and not waste time and resources with alternate methods. When Kurchatov decided to spend resources on all four potential methods of isotope separation, Kapitsa criticized him and sent his resignation to Stalin.

Kapitsa never got along with Beria, and Beria eventually arranged for Kapitsa to lose his job as director of his Institute of Physical Problems and effectively confined him to his house. Kapitsa continued to do some research at his dacha and kept up his protests on how scientists were treated in the Soviet Union.

After Beria's death, Kapitsa was reinstated as director of his institute. He won a Nobel prize in physics in 1978 for his work in low temperature physics, six years before his death in Moscow.

  

 

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