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July Hariton - biography

Khariton Yuliy Borisovich, a famous Russian physicist and chemical physicist, is one of father of nuclear physics in the USSR. Yuliy was born on February 14, 1904, to the family of a journalist and an actress in St. Petersburg. In 1910 his mother moved to Berlin with her new husband, and his father was exiled abroad as an ideological enemy. When the boy turned 13, he had to work simultaneously with his studies in secondary school – first, in a library, then, when he reached 15 – as a serviceman. In 1919 Khariton finished his secondary education and tried to enter the Institute of Technology, but wasn’t admitted due to very young age. The following year Yuliy Khariton became the student of Polytechnic Institute – he entered electromechanic faculty, but later exchanged to faculty of physics and mathematics. In 1921 Khariton was invited by N. Semenov to work in his laboratory in Physics and Technology Institute. First scientific work of Yuliy Khariton appeared in 1924 and covered issues of metal vapour condensation on surface. In 1925-1926 Khariton studied oxidation of phosphorus vapours by oxygen and discovered low limit of oxygen pressure, and how inert gas additives affected that limit.

In 1926 Yuliy Khariton went to England to Rutherford’s laboratory, where investigated eye sensibility to weak light pulses (scintillations) and interactions between gamma-radiation and matter, as well as developed a technique for registering alpha-particles. Khariton did not take direct part in nuclear physics research at that time, however, he expressed a strong interest in the subject, and later nuclear physics became his life.

In 1928 Yuliy Khariton defended his doctor thesis “Counting scintillations from alpha-particles”. The scientist returned to the USSR and resumed his work in Physics and Technology Institute, dealing with theory of explosives: kinetics and detonation. In 1931 Khariton headed laboratory of explosion, which later became world-famous school of explosion physics. The scientist and his student obtained numerous scientific results, and among them – discovery of a fundamental principle, defining detonation existence: “Khariton principle”, according to which, characteristic time of chemical reaction in detonation wave should be less than expansion time of condensed matter. Said principle had a very important effect: A thin cylinder of a substance was stable, but large mass of the same substance could explode. Fundamental discoveries of Yuliy Khariton were widely applied on practice, during World War II, for instance, when his laboratory performed research in increasing efficiency of various combinations of weapons and explosives.

Before the Great Patriotic War started, Khariton investigated uranium chain fission, and, in cooperation with Yakov Zeldovich, was first to calculate nuclear chain reaction, which now is the basis of modern reactor physics and nuclear power engineering. Nuclear physics became his lifework. In 1946 All-Russian Science and Research Institute of Experimental Physics was opened, and Yuliy Khariton became its head. Nuclear programme united best physicists of the country. All work was labeled “top secret”, and soviet nuclear bomb was born in1949, followed by hydrogen bomb in 1953. The Institute also performed fundamental research: compression of condensed media, generation and applications of superstrong magnetic fields, engagement of powerful lasers for solving the problem of thermonuclear physics, development of nuclear reactors and accelerators for research purposes and etc.

Yuliy Khariton abandoned personal scientific creativity and dedicated his life to a large group of researchers. The eminent scientist was awarded many Soviet prizes.

Yuliy Borisovich Khariton died in Sarov on December 19, 1996.

Article author: Kizilova Anna
The article is about these people:   Yuliy Hariton

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