Landau: Russian Nuclear Project

There was a solution. But imagine those years – how do you calculate the solution without a computer? So that was what Dau was working on – he was creating an absolutely special mathematical apparatus to avoid time-consuming calculations. Immediately after the death of Stalin Dau refused to participate in the nuclear project because he could not forgive the government his arrest.

Arrest and Release

Landau during his imprisonment

Landau during his imprisonment (State Public Scientific and Technical Library / Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences)

In the years of repression the merciless machine has reached Dau as well. Dau was arrested in 1938. He was shocked by the arrest. According to the memoirs of Maya Bessarab, a close friend of Dau, KGB servicemen had to literally drag him out of his apartment.

Dau spent a year in prison and wrote that he would not survive another six months.

But all that time the scientific world of Russia and abroad using all possible means tried to rescue Dau. An intervention by Niels Bohr helped him. Unprecedented efforts to release Dau were made by Pyotr Kapitsa, who led a long and risky for himself campaign to free Dau – he kept sending letters to the government, went to the Kremlin, where he threatened to leave the Institute for Physical Problemsif Dau was not released.

It was an unprecedented event that Dau was released. He was able to avoid the fate of thousands of scientists who have never returned from Stalin’s torture chambers.

“In view of the brevity of life, we can’t afford ourselves wasting time on tasks that do not lead to new results.”

Dau

Uncompromising Dau

Dau did not like sensations. They usually led to uncovering a fraud or an error. And the only thing he recognized was credibility.

Maya Bessarab recalled that after his release from prison Dau accidentally entered the wrong classroom. In it there were academics and journalists waiting for an announcement by a well-known professor about a sensational discovery. The professor gave a brilliant speech and accompanied by a thunderous applause came down from the lectern.

– Sorry, but there are too many errors! –Suddenly said Dau, came up to the board, on which the professor wrote his formulas, and began correcting them.

After a few minutes of absolute silence Dau said: “Now, if you solve everything correctly, then there is no work, and there are only math errors.” He put his chalk down and walked out of the room.

And the famous professor was left twisting his arms in a room shocked in silence.

Horrible Accident

In 1962, a car that was driving Dau, spun out of control on an icy road and drove into a truck. Dau got injuries with which 90% of people would not survive. But he lived. Physicists have created a special team the members of which continuously monitored Dau’s health status and helped physicians securing needed drugs and equipment. Crises came one after another. As Maya Bessarab recalled: once, during one of the complications,some medicine had to be quickly delivered from London. So the head of the Heathrow Airport at the request of British physicists delayed one flight for 2 hours just to have enough time to get the medication to the plane. The medication was delivered to Russia. And it made it on time. Gradually, Dau went on the mend. He lived for a couple more years, but he couldn’t work anymore.

What has Landau Achieved?

The results of Landau’s research are enormous. Of course, they are difficult to understand for non-physicists. According to Alexander Akhiezer they basically affect many areas of theoretical physics (almost all of them): quantum mechanics, quantum electrodynamics, predicting the existence of neutron stars (pulsars), creation of the theory of phase transitions of the second kind, developing the theory of the intermediate state of superconductors, the theory of superconductivity (the Landau-Ginzburg equation), constructing the theory of superfluidity and Fermi liquid theory (magnetism), development of the theory of two-component neutrino and introduction of the concept of the combined parity (particle physics), suggesting a general method for the study of singularities of Feynman diagrams, development of plasma physics and physics of magnetism, where several effects were named after Landau, and so on.

As acknowledged by the world’s leading physicists, Dau was years ahead of science.

See also:

Soviet Physicist Lev Landau

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To discover Russia with Alexey Gureev

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