Vitaly Ginzburg - biography
Vitaly Lazarevich Ginzburg (Russian: Вита́лий Ла́заревич Ги́нзбург; October 4, 1916 – November 8, 2009) was a Soviet theoretical physicist, astrophysicist, Nobel laureate, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and one of the fathers of Soviet hydrogen bomb. He was the successor to Igor Tamm as head of the Department of Theoretical Physics of the Academy's physics institute (FIAN), and an outspoken atheist.
He was born to a Jewish family in Moscow in 1916, and graduated from the Physics Faculty of Moscow State University in 1938. He defended his candidate's (Ph.D.) dissertation in 1940, and his doctor's dissertation in 1942. He worked at the P. N. Lebedev Physical Institute in Moscow from 1940. In 1944 He became a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Among his achievements are a partially phenomenological theory of superconductivity, the Ginzburg-Landau theory, developed with Lev Landau in 1950; the theory of electromagnetic wave propagation in plasmas (for example, in the ionosphere); and a theory of the origin of cosmic radiation. He is also known to biologists as being part of the group of scientists that helped bring down the reign of the politically connected anti-Mendelian agronomist Trofim Lysenko, thus allowing modern genetic science to return to the USSR.
In 1946 he married his second wife, Nina Ginzburg (nee Yermakova), who had spent more than a year in custody on fabricated charges of plotting to assassinate Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
Ginzburg was the editor-in-chief of the scientific journal Uspekhi Fizicheskikh Nauk. He also headed the Academic Department of Physics and Astrophysics Problems, which Ginzburg founded at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology in 1968.
Ginzburg identified himself as a secular Jew, and following the collapse of communism in the former Soviet Union, he was very active in Jewish life, especially in Russia, where he served on the board of directors of the Russian Jewish Congress. He is also well known for fighting anti-Semitism and supporting the state of Israel.
In the 2000s Ginzburg was politically active, supporting the Russian liberal opposition and human rights movement. He defended Igor Sutyagin and Valentin Danilov against charges of espionage put forth by the authorities. On April 2, 2009, in an interview to the Radio Liberty Ginzburg denounced the FSB as an institution harmful to Russia and the ongoing expansion of its authority as a return to Stalinism.
Stance on religion
Ginzburg was an avowed atheist, both under the militantly atheist Soviet government and in post-Communist Russia when religion made a strong revival. He criticized clericalism in the press and wrote several books devoted to the questions of religion and atheism. Because of this, some Orthodox Christian groups denounced him and said no science award could excuse his verbal attacks on the Russian Orthodox Church. He was one of the signers of the Open letter to the President Vladimir V. Putin from the Members of the Russian Academy of Sciences against clericalisation of Russia.
Irina Presnyakova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Academy of Sciences, announced that Ginzburg died in Moscow on November 8, 2009, from cardiac arrest. He had been suffering from ill health for several years, and three years before his death said "In general, I envy believers. I am 90, and [am] being overcome by illnesses. For believers, it is easier to deal with them and with life's other hardships. But what can be done? I cannot believe in resurrection after death."
Prime Minister of Russia Vladimir Putin sent his condolences to Ginzburg's family, saying "We bid farewell to an extraordinary personality whose outstanding talent, exceptional strength of character and firmness of convictions evoked true respect from his colleagues". President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev, in his letter of condolences, described Ginzburg as a "top physicist of our time whose discoveries had a huge impact on the development of national and world science."
Ginzburg was buried on November 11 in the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow, the resting place of many famous politicians, writers and scientists of Russia.
Honors and awards
- Stalin Prize in 1953
- Lenin Prize in 1966
- Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1991
- Wolf Prize in Physics in 1994/5
- Lomonosov Gold Medal in 1995
- Nobel Prize in Physics in 2003, together with Alexei Alexeevich Abrikosov and Anthony James Leggett for their "pioneering contributions to the theory of superconductors and superfluids"