Vitaly Ginzburg, a Russian physicist and Nobel laureate, died yesterday of cardiac arrest. He was 93 years old. Ginzburg shared the 2003 Nobel Prize in physics for his work on superconductors, but contributed to many other fields of study, including quantum theory, astrophysics, radio-astronomy and diffusion of cosmic radiation in the Earth’s atmosphere. In addition, he is known for his contributions to the development of the Russian hydrogen bomb in the 1950s, for which he received the Stalin Prize.
Ginzburg was born in 1916, before the Bolshevik Revolution, to a Jewish family in Moscow. He lived through the hardships of his childhood to enter Moscow State University in 1933, where he took up the study of physics, he wrote in his autobiography for the 2003 Nobel Prize.
Ginzburg went on to work on the hydrogen bomb during the 1950s, for which he credits his escape from Stalinist purges and anti-Semitism of the period. He became a member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences in 1953. Ginzburg later bcame editor of a leading scientific magazine on theoretical physics, Uspekhi Fizicheskikh Nauk and the head of the P.N. Lebedev Physical Institute, Moscow, Russia.
Ginzburg shared the 2003 Nobel Prize in physics with Alexei A. Abrikosov and Anthony J. Leggett for their work in the field of superconductivity, the ability of materials to conduct electricity with little or no resistance. Ginzburg also authored a book on the subject, titled On Superconductivity and Superfluidity.
His position on his role of the development of the H-bomb for Stalinist Russia is best left in his own words. Ginzburg said just last week in an interview with Physics World :
We thought at the time that we were working to prevent a monopoly on the atomic bomb – Hitler’s monopoly if he got the bomb before Stalin. The thought of what would happen if Stalin had a monopoly on atomic weapons somehow never entered my head. Scary thought. Stalin would seek to subjugate the entire world. I admit this may betray stupidity, but this stupidity was, back then, a common way of thinking in the Soviet Union.
Ginzburg will be buried Wednesday in the Novodevichye Cemetery in Moscow. To read more about Ginzburg and his long life and incredible list of achievements, see this video interview on the Nobel Prize site, and read his autobiography.