Did you discover any oil?
Kapitsa: Yes, it was very successful. The first time
we came, the time was rather desperate, though the Soviets said
there was something there, but nothing of any real reason came.
But then when I came the next year, and I went to the base of the
expedition, in a town called Chistophol, there were rumors that
they've hit, and we rushed over to the place, and I arrived when
the oil well that they were boarding last year was overflowing
with oil. It was not these fountains you see on pictures.
It was not a gusher of that sort. That came later, but surely
the oil well was overflowing. And I remember how the oil men
were washing their faces in this oil. So, it was quite a spectacular
time. It was an important discovery.
And this must have been crucial to the war effort?
Kapitsa: Yes, it was called the second Baku. Germans
were thrusting towards Baku. That was the beginning of the
Stalingrad battle. They were trying to cut Russia in half
and get hold of the Baku oil fields. And this was a very promising
region, not as promising as the oil regions on the other side of
the Urals in western Siberia, but here it was. It is still
a very productive region of Tatar and Bashkir republics.
So in '43 then, you came back?
Kapitsa: In '43 I came back and began studying at the Moscow
Institute for Aeronautical Studies, and there I studied for quite
a while. I got my degree in '49, and I was, in fact, engaged
in rocketry. We had got hold of the German V2 strike missiles,
the first modern rockets, and the project that I had to develop
as a student was concerned with sort of understanding and working
on a rocket project. And later I started working at one of
the central institutes for aeronautical studies, connected with
basic research concerned with temperature, heating during the re-entry
phases and the flight of supersonic missiles. That went on
for two years. I did quite a lot of research in those days.
That ultimately led to my election to the International Federation
of Aeronautical Studies. It's where most of the space explorers
are members and all those who are concerned with rocketry.
This early work of mine was recognized. And that led much
later, in the '90's, to my work in population studies. So,
these things are tied up in a very strange way.
In your work with this, you were always staying in touch with your
father. Please say a few words about the evolution of his
work at this time.
Kapitsa: Yes, well my father was a remarkable man, I must
say. He worked for fourteen years in Cambridge, established
himself as a world class scientist. He was in surroundings
of Rutherford. Although, he never did nuclear physics.
His very first work was connected with heating due to nuclear particles,
but it was not real nuclear physics at all. He developed his
own line of research connected with magnetic fields in very low
temperatures. This was a major field that he developed for
which he was finally recognized by the Nobel Prize. This was
the discovery of superfluidity that happened in Moscow, when he
built the Institute for Physical Problems. In Cambridge, he
built a laboratory in the early 30's, and that was cut off when
he was detained in Russia and Stalin told him that he can't go back,
and he rebuilt the institute in Moscow. This is the Institute
for Physical Problems, where he did, perhaps, his most important
So 1940s, to carry the story forward…
Kapitsa: Well, the most dramatic things happened in '45.
First the war ended, and I well remember V-E day. We saw the
grand salute from this building, a government building opposite
the cathedral. Now, and later I went to the Red Square, and
it was a really great event, of course. The thing that was
special, that was on the ninth, and for the most of the world V-E
day is the eighth of May, but Stalin decided to run it his own way.
And then, of course, the next thing that really mattered, and I
well remember those days when the first atom bomb fell on Hiroshima.
It was just here I was with my friends in the country and the news
came over. We listened to it, and we followed all the reports.
We needed to understand what's happened, and sort of estimates were
made. It was a very fascinating thing. All the physicists
were talking about it. And, I remember one event, my grandfather,
my mother's father, was living with us in Moscow, at the institute.
He was an old man. He was 85 by that time. He was very
excited by this whole thing, and he suggested that you know, you
try and collect the water from rain, rainwater, and measure it for
radioactivity. Everybody thought it was a crazy thing, but
that's how you really can monitor nuclear explosions and guess the
thing absolutely right and for him the analogy was that as a young
man, he remembered the explosion of Krakatau, when the debris of
Krakatau that exploded in the south seas of Java, were carried all
over the world. And he thought that this was an explosion
of the same magnitude. Well, an event of great magnitude,
of global magnitude, and rainwater would be the best way of getting