Nobel Prize Laureates from MSU

Alfred Nobel laid in his will the foundations for awards in physics, physiology, chemistry and literature; these are the areas in which he himself took interest. The first Nobel Prizes were awarded on December 10, 1901. In 1968, on its 300th anniversary, Sweden's central bank, Sveriges Riksbank, suggested to establish The Nobel Prize in Economics. Officially referred to as the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel it was first awarded in 1969.
The Nobel Peace Prize ceremony is held at the University of Oslo in the presence of the King of Norway and the Royal Family. According to the statutes of the Nobel Foundation laureates are required to give a public lecture in Stockholm and Oslo, their lectures being published in a special edition called The Nobel Prize Laureates.
All in all, among the Nobel Prize laureates there are eleven scientists, writers and politicians whose lives were in some way connected with Moscow State University. Their biographies are listed below.

Nikolai Semenov, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry 1956

Nikolay Nikolaevich Semenov, natural scientist of the XXth century (1896–1986).
In collaboration with Pyotr Kapitsa he discovered a way to measure the magnetic field of an atomic nucleus. Semenov also studied kinetics of condensation and adsorption of vapors. He managed to prove the existence of connection between the vapor density and the temperature surface of condensation. In 1925 in collaboration with a famous theoretical physicist Yakov Frenkel he created an all-embracing theory for that kind of phenomena.
Another sphere of Semenov’s interests was the study of dielectric fields and phenomena of ionisation in gases and solid substances. He came to conclusion that there are two types of chemical explosions, namely, thermal explosions and chain explosions. In 1944 Semenov established the Department of Chemical Kinetics at the Faculty of Chemistry of Moscow University, over which he had been in charge for over 40 years. In 1956, together with Sir Cyril Norman Hinshelwood he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry "for their researches into the mechanism of chemical reactions".

Igor Tamm, Il`ja Frank, Nobel Laureates in Physics 1958 (together with Pavel Cherenkov)

Igor Evgenyevich Tamm, physicist (1895–1971).
Shortly before the beginning of the World War I he became a student of the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics of Moscow State University. From that moment on his entire life was being influenced by Leonid Mandelshtam, an outstanding physicist, whom he first met in Odessa. His first theoretical work on the theory of relativity was praised by Albert Einstein himself and printed in German science magazine.
Tamm developed the nuclear theory and theory of elementary particles. In 1948 he participated in the construction of the Hydrogen bomb. In 1936–1937 Igor Tamm and Il`ja Frank came up with the theoretical interpretation of the light emission, that had been discovered earlier by Pavel Cherenkov, when he was examining the refractive medium subjected to gamma-radiation. Cherenkov described this effect, but could not explain its nature. Igor Tamm and Il`ja Frank managed to find the explanation. The collaboration of these three scientists contributed to the development of the superlight velocity optics, which is used in such spheres as plasma physics. As his work on the Cherenkov effect was finished, Tamm continued the research of nuclear forces and elementary particles. He developed the quantum-mechanical method for description of interaction of elementary particles moving approximately at the speed of light. He also developed the theory of cosmic ray showers. During his long scientific career Tamm managed to make the Physics Laboratory of Moscow State University an important center of research. At his instigation quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity were added to the compulsory curriculum all across the Soviet Union.

Il'ja Mikhailovich Frank, physicist (1908–1990).
He graduated from Moscow State University in 1930. Frank had been a pupil of Sergey Vavilov and started working in his laboratory as student, studying luminescence quenching in liquids. In the beginning of 1930s he started research on the physics of nucleus and elementary particles. At Vavilov’s invitation, in 1934 Frank joined the Lebedev Physical Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences. Together with his colleague Leonid Groshev he conducted a thorough research, in which he compared the theory with the experimental data on the recently discovered Cherenkov effect.
From that moment on Frank became deeply interested in the connection of the optical properties of the medium and the radiation of the moving source point. One of his most important contributions in this field was the theory of transient radiation, which he developed together with another Soviet physicist Vitaly Ginzbrug in 1945. Later their theory was experimentally proved, though some of its most important conclusions could not have been proved experimentally for another decade.
Besides optics Frank worked a lot in the field of nuclear physics. In 1946 he established and took charge of the Atomic Nucleus Laboratory at the Lebedev Physical Institute. In 1940 Frank became a professor of Moscow State University, and from 1946 till 1956 was in charge of the Nuclear Radiation Laboratory of Moscow State University. The Neutron Laboratory of the Joint Institute for Nuclear Investigations in Dubna was also founded under his guidance. In 1958 Igor Tamm, Il`ja Frank and Pavel Cherenkov were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics "for the discovery and the interpretation of the Cherenkov effect".

Boris Pasternak, Nobel Laureate in Literature 1958

Boris Leonidovich Pastrenak, poet (1890–1960).
As a child Pasternak learnt painting, later took up the study of musical composition, from 1909 to 1913 he studied at the Department of Philosophy at the Faculty of History and Philosophy of Moscow University. Pasternak considered the novel Doktor Zhivago to be the main result of all his literary oeuvre. He was working on the novel from 1946 to 1955. In the Soviet Union the novel was banned, first published only in 1988. However, in 1957 the novel was published in Italian, and the Russian, English, French, German and Swedish versions soon followed. Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1958 "for his important achievement both in contemporary lyrical poetry and in the field of the great Russian epic tradition". Pasternak was put under intense pressure by the Soviet authorities. He was expelled from the Union of Soviet Writers and was threatened with exile. The writer had no other choice but to reject the award and on October 29, 1989 he sent the following telegram to the Swedish Academy: "Immensely thankful, touched, proud, astonished, abashed." The Nobel Prize Medal and Nobel Prize Diploma were finally presented to Pasternak’s son in 1989.

Lev Landau, Nobel Laureate in Physics 1962

Lev Davidovich Landau, theoretical physicist (1908–1968).
In 1922 Landau entered the University of Baku, where he studied physics and chemistry. Two years later he moved to the Department of Physics of Leningrad University, from which he graduated in 1927. In 1930s, working abroad Landau together with Ronald F. Payerls conducted an important research of the magnetic behaviour of mobile electrons from the perspective of relativistic quantum mechanics. This work made him one of the leading theoretical physicists.
In 1937 at Kapitsa’s invitation Landau became head of the Theoretical Department of the Institute for Physical Problems in Moscow. Simultaneously he taught theoretical physics in Moscow State University.
Landau managed to explain the superfluidity by taking totally new mathematical approach: he basically considered the quantum state of volume of liquid as if it was a solid body.
During World War II he studied combustion, explosions and in particular shock waves at large distances from a source. Since the end of the war to 1962 he was working on various problems, including research of a rare isotope 3He ( as opposed to the more commonl isotope 4He). He developed the theory of quantum liquids of the "Fermi type", to which liquid helium of isotope 3He refers. Landau participated in development of the atomic bomb in the Soviet Union. In 1962 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics "for his pioneering theories for condensed matter, especially liquid helium".

Alexandr Prokhorov, Nobel Laureate in Physics 1964

Aleksandr Mikhailovich Prokhorov, physicist (1916-2002).
In 1939 he graduated from the Department of Physics of Leningrad State University and entered the post-graduate school at the Institute of Physics of the USSR Academy of Sciences. In 1947 Prokhorov started to a study of coherent radiation of electrons in the synchrotron (particle accelerator in which particles move, at increasing speed, around a hollow ring) in the region of centimeter waves.
Prokhorov also conducted spectroscopic and microwave studies. The investigations carried out by Basov and Prochorov in the field of microwave spectroscopy resulted in the idea of a molecular oscillator. They developed theoretical grounds for creation of a molecular oscillator, which is called maser today. Prokhorov and Basov suggested the method of stimulated emission of radiation. However in 1954, ten months before their article was published, Charles H. Townes, an American physicist from the University of Columbia, independently created a maser, which proved the suggestions of Prokhorov and Basov. In 1957 Prokhorov became a professor of Moscow State University und established the Laboratory of Radiospectroscopy at the Institute of Nuclear Physics of Moscow University.
Since the middle of 1950s the scientist focused on development of masers and lasers and investigation of EPR spectra and relaxation times in various crystals. Prochorov also studied the EPR spectra of ruby and proved it to be one of the best materials for lasers. It was widely used in cavities for optical and microwaves. The Nobel Prize in Physics 1964 was shared: half of it went to Townes and the other half was shared between Prokhorov and Basov, they were awarded "for fundamental work in the field of quantum electronics, which has led to the construction of oscillators and amplifiers based on the maser-laser principle".

Andrei Sakharov, Laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize 1975

Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov, physicist, public figure (1921–1989).
In 1938 he entered the Faculty of Physics of Moscow State University and graduated in 1942 in Ashkhabad where he had been evacuated to because of the war. He wrote several scientific articles on theoretical physics and on that basis in 1945 was accepted to the Department of Physics of the USSR Academy of Sciences. In 1948 Sakharov was included in a group of research scientists whose task was to develop nuclear weapons. For the next 20 years, as he used to put it, he “worked under conditions of the highest security and under great pressure”. In 1950 Sakharov together with Il’ja Tamm developed the idea of magnetic thermonuclear generator, which became the basis of controlled thermonuclear reaction. He also studied the influence of radiation on heredity and played an important role in signing the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty. He always remained a human rights activist despite the constant pressure from authorities. Finally in 1980 he was arrested and together with his wife sent to internal exile in the city of Gorky. When Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985, they were freed and allowed to return to Moscow. In 1975 Andrei Sakharov was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for ”fearless personal commitment in upholding the fundamental principles for peace between men” and “uncompromising and unflagging strength in fighting against the abuse of power and all forms of violation of human dignity”.

Pyotr Kapitsa, Nobel Laureate in Physics 1978

Pyotr Leonidovich Kapitsa, physicist (1894–1984).
After finishing his studies at non-classical secondary school of Kronstadt he entered the Department of Electromechanics of the Petrograd Polytechnical Institute. From that time on he started his scientific career under the guidance of A.F. Ioffe, who managed to gather many young talented people. In 1921 Kapitsa moved to England and spent 13 years there. In England he developed methods for obtaining very strong magnetic fields. In 1929 Kapitsa became Messel Research Professor of the Royal Society.
Kapitsa managed to obtain and studied pulsed magnetic field of the strength incredible for that time. In Moscow Kapitsa created a new and original apparatus for the liquefaction of helium-ll based on the adiabatic principle, which became the basis for the development of physics of quantum liquids. The theoretical basis for this phenomenon was established by Lev Landau, head of the Theoretical Department of the Institute for Physical Problems. It perfectly fit the experimental data received by Kapitsa. Later in 1978 Kapitsa was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for this discovery. From 1947 to 1949 he taught at the Faculty of Physics of Moscow State University. After WW II Kapitsa was engaged in research in various fields, including hydrodynamics of fluid film and the nature of globular lightning. However, his main interest was concentrated on microwave generators and different qualities of plasma.
Under the guidance of Pyotr Kapitsa the Institute for Physical Problems became one of the most successful and prestigious institutes of the USSR Academy of Sciences, attracting the leading Soviet physicists of that time. Kapitsa also took an active part in establishing the Novosibirsk Research Center and Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.

Mikhail Gorbachev, Laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize 1990

Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, politician, president of the USSR (born 02.03.1931).
In 1950 Gorbachev entered the Faculty of Law of Moscow State University, graduating in 1955. In 1988 he was elected General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. In March 1990 he was elected President of the Soviet Union by the new Russian parliament. In 1990 Mikhail Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for his leading role in the peace process which today characterizes important parts of the international community".

Vitaly Ginzburg and Alexei Abrikosov, Nobel Laureates in Physics 2003

Vitaly Lazarevich Ginzburg, physicist (1916-2009).
He spent his entire life in Moscow. Due to the early Soviet reforms of the educational system, the future academician went to school for only 4 years. Later he entered the Faculty of Physics of Moscow State University, where he covered the rest of the school curriculum in three months. In 1938 Ginzburg graduated from the Faculty of Physics of Moscow State University and in 1940 he finished his postgraduate studies there. As Ginzburg himself used to put it, he got interested in theoretical physics “almost accidentally”. In 1940 after the Cherenkov-Vavilov effect was discovered and explained, Ginzburg developed quantum theory based on this effect and the theory of superlight radiation in crystals. Six years later together with Il’ja Frank he developed the theory of transient radiation, emerging when a particle crosses the boundaries of two media. In 1942 he started working at the Theoretical Department at the Institute of Physics of the USSR Academy of Sciences. Since 1940s Ginzburg worked on the theory of superconductivity and the theory of superfluidity. In 1950 together with Lev Landau he developed the semiphenomenological theory of superconductivity (also known as the Ginzburg-Landau theory).
He also developed the theory of cosmic radio-frequency radiation and radioastronomical theory of the origin of cosmic radiation.

Alexei Alexeyevich Abrikosov, physicist (born 25.06.1928).
He graduated from Moscow State University in 1948, and had being teaching there till 1969. He defended his Ph.D. dissertation at the age of 26. His main works cover the theory of superconductivity, solid state and quantum liquid physics, astrophysics, statistical physics, plasma physics and quantum electrodynamics. In 1952 he suggested the idea of existence of “superconductors of the second group" (now Type II superconductors). In 1957 he developed the theory of magnetic properties of superconducting alloys, today referred to as Abrikosov vortex lattice. In 1965 he headed the Condensed Matter Theory Department in the newly organized Institute for Theoretical Physics. In 1991 the scientist accepted the invitation of Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois and moved to the USA. While working there he managed to explain most of the properties of high-Tc layered cuprates. In 1998 this work resulted in the introduction of a new phenomenon: “Quantum Linear Magnetoresistance”. First discovered in 1928 by Pyotr Kapitsa, it had never been considered as a separate phenomenon. In 2003 Alexei Abrikosov together with Vitaly Ginzburg and Anthony Leggett was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics "for pioneering contributions to the theory of superconductors and superfluids". In his Acceptance Speech Vitaly Ginzburg made a joke that he got deeply attached to the low temperatures during the freezing winter of 1942.


The degree of Honorary Doctor of Moscow State University has been awarded to the following Nobel Laureates: 1997 Nicolaas Bloembergen (Nobel Laureate in Physics 1981); 2001 Zhores I. Alferov (Nobel Laureate in Physics 2000); Rolf M. Zinkernagel (Nobel Laureate in Physiology and Medicine 1996); 2003 Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn (Nobel Laureate in Literature 1970). The degree of Honorary Professor of Moscow State University has been awarded to the following Nobel Laureates: 1961 Niels Bohr (Nobel Laureate in Physics 1922); 2004 Thomas Cech (Nobel Laureate in Chemistry 1989). Ilya Prigogine (Nobel Laureate in Chemistry 1977), a Belgian scientist of Russian origin who became Honorary President of the Institute for Mathematical Studies of Complex Systems at Moscow State University.