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TRAC
Interview Transcript

Sergei Kapitsa   (cont)

Interviewer:  And, immediately then, you knew the bomb could be built?

Mr.  Kapitsa:  Yes, that was the great secret that came off, you see.  Although, other sources of information already were known.  In fact, Truman told Stalin during the Potsdam conference even before that there was knowledge that it could be done.  My father discussed the possibility of a bomb in '41 in one of his speeches before the war, just at the beginning of the war, when he was saying how important the scientific effort is for the war effort.  And there he spoke explicitly about the atom bomb.

Interviewer:  And the Russian government, Stalin, didn't try it?

Mr.  Kapitsa:  No, they had a committee that investigated, studied this whole thing, but they didn't have the resources.  But, all the people who could be instrumental for this effort, they were recalled from the front.  So, when things started happening, they already had recovered young scientists who could really do the job.

Interviewer:  So the effort then began right after the .  .  .

Mr.  Kapitsa:  It began in '45, really.  Before Russian laboratories were already developing, but  the real kick, of course, came after the bomb went off.

Interviewer:  So you were hearing these discussions all the time?

Mr.  Kapitsa:  Yes, now later they became secret and I didn't hear much, I could only infer it.  My father was right under, he was a member of the very first select committee that had to advise our government, and that went on for a year.  And then he got in trouble with the authorities, with Beria, and he was dismissed first from this committee and from his institute.  That was a very unfortunate thing.  And it was seven years, he lived out here in the country doing research, quite reasonable research, but in a various, sort of make-to-do laboratory built in the ghettos.

Interviewer:  And Beria was suspicious of him?

Mr.  Kapitsa:  Well, not exactly suspicious.  They were rivals, you see.  But Stalin, I think, supported my father in certain matters; it was a very complex set of things.

Interviewer:  And this must have given you a so many angles on the situation?

Mr.  Kapitsa:  Oh, yes, it was a very exciting time, I can honestly tell you that.  

Interviewer:  Okay, now in the 1950s, to say something about what you were doing in the 50's .  .  .

Mr.  Kapitsa:  Well, first I did this research on high speed dynamics.  Then I had to switch over because of the pressures put on my father to work on magnetism.  And I moved to the Institute of Physics and worked on magnetism there, and in two years, I presented my Ph.D.  thesis.  In fact, I did, I had to do it twice.  First, on aerodynamics, and then, another two years on this magnetism.  But when you're under pressure, it makes you work, you know, I can only say.  Now people can do their Ph.D.  degrees in four or five years, and that's considered to be normal, but I think I produce quite good work under certain pressure.

Interviewer:  Were you in touch much directly, personally, with Western scientists?

Mr.  Kapitsa:  No, not in those days.

Interviewer:  Not at all?

Mr.  K:  No, no.  In those days all contacts were practically cut off.

Interviewer:  So when did those contacts begin?

Mr.  Kapitsa:  That happened after the death of Stalin.  There was an important period in '45, just before the bomb came, when there was the 125th anniversary of the Russian Academy of Sciences.  That was an international affair when many scientists came to Moscow, and I remember meeting some of them.  And, that was an opening up period.  But I think the authorities saw how dangerous those contacts could be.  And when the bomb came, everything was clamped down, and the Iron Curtain went down, so to speak.

 

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RAO > Catalgoues > Transcripts > TRAC > Sergei Kapitsa p.3

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