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Lev Landau - biography

Lev Davidovich Landau (Russian language: Ле́в Дави́дович Ланда́у; January 22 [O.S. January 9] 1908 – April 1, 1968) was a prominent Soviet physicist who made fundamental contributions to many areas of theoretical physics. His accomplishments include the co-discovery of the density matrix method in quantum mechanics, the quantum mechanical theory of diamagnetism, the theory of superfluidity, the theory of second order phase transitions, the Ginzburg–Landau theory of superconductivity, the explanation of Landau damping in plasma physics, the Landau pole in quantum electrodynamics, and the two-component theory of neutrinos. In 1932 he proposed that every star has a condensed core consisting of “one gigantic nucleus” that does not behave in accord in with “the ordinary laws of quantum mechanics.” Later he modified this idea, suggesting that all stars have a neutron core that generates energy as nuclei and electrons condense onto it. He received the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physics for his development of a mathematical theory of superfluidity that accounts for the properties of liquid helium II at a temperature below 2.17 K (−270.98 °C).



Early years

Landau was born on January 22, 1908 to a Jewish family in Baku, in what was then the Russian Empire. Landau's father was an engineer with the local oil industry and his mother was a doctor. Recognized very early as a child prodigy in mathematics, Landau was quoted as saying in later life that he scarcely remembered a time when he was not familiar with calculus. Landau graduated at 13 from gymnasium. His parents regarded him too young to attend university, so for a year he attended the Baku Economical Technicum. In 1922, at age 14, he matriculated at Baku State University, studying at two departments simultaneously: the department of Physics and Mathematics, and the department of Chemistry. Subsequently he ceased studying chemistry, but remained interested in the field throughout his life.

In 1924, he moved to the main centre of Soviet physics at the time: the Physics Department of Leningrad State University. In Leningrad, he first made the acquaintance of genuine theoretical physics and dedicated himself fully to its study, graduating in 1927. Landau subsequently enrolled for post-graduate study at the Leningrad Physico-Technical Institute, and at 21, received a doctorate. Landau got his first chance to travel abroad in 1929, on a Soviet government traveling fellowship supplemented by a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship.

After brief stays in Göttingen and Leipzig, he went to Copenhagen to work at Niels Bohr's Institute for Theoretical Physics. After the visit, Landau always considered himself a pupil of Niels Bohr and Landau's approach to physics was greatly influenced by Bohr. After his stay in Copenhagen, he visited Cambridge and Zürich before returning to the Soviet Union. Between 1932 and 1937 he headed the department of theoretical physics at the Kharkov Polytechnical Institute.

Great Purge

During the Great Purge, Landau was investigated within the UPTI Affair in Kharkov, but he managed to leave for Moscow. Still, he was arrested on April 27, 1938 and held in an NKVD prison until his release on April 29, 1939, after his colleague Pyotr Kapitsa, an experimental low-temperature physicist, wrote a letter to Joseph Stalin, personally vouching for Landau's behavior. Gorelik, in a Scientific American article in 1997 had described Landau's life and interactions with the Soviet intelligence agency during Stalin era and post-Stalin phase.

Last years

On January 7, 1962, Landau's car collided with an oncoming truck. He was severely injured and spent two months in a coma. Although Landau recovered in many ways, his scientific creativity was destroyed, and he never returned fully to scientific work. His injuries prevented him from accepting the 1962 Nobel Prize for physics in person.

In 1965 former students and coworkers of Landau founded the Landau Institute for Theoretical Physics, located in the town of Chernogolovka near Moscow, and headed for the following three decades by Isaak Markovich Khalatnikov.


Landau died on April 1, 1968, aged 60, from complications of the injuries from the accident. He was buried at Novodevichy cemetery.

The Landau School

Apart from his theoretical accomplishments, Landau was the principal founder of a great tradition of theoretical physics in Kharkov, Soviet Union (now Kharkiv, Ukraine), sometimes referred to as the "Landau school". He was the head of the Theoretical Division at the Institute for Physical Problems from 1937 until 1962 when, as a result of a car accident, he suffered injuries which stopped him from making further contributions to science. His students included Lev Pitaevskii, Alexei Abrikosov, Arkady Levanyuk, Evgeny Lifshitz, Lev Gor'kov, Isaak Khalatnikov, Boris L. Ioffe, Roald Sagdeev and Isaak Pomeranchuk.

Landau developed a comprehensive exam called the "Theoretical Minimum" which students were expected to pass before admission to the school. The exam covered all aspects of theoretical physics, and between 1943 and 1961 only 43 candidates passed. In Kharkov, he and his friend and former student, Evgeny Lifshitz, began writing the Course of Theoretical Physics, ten volumes that together span the whole of the subject and are still widely used as graduate-level physics texts.


The minor planet 2142 Landau discovered in 1972 by Soviet astronomer Lyudmila Chernykh is named in his honor. The lunar crater Landau is named in his honor.

Landau's List

Landau kept a list of names of physicists which he ranked on a logarithmic scale of productivity ranging from 0 to 5. The highest ranking, 0.5, was assigned to Albert Einstein. A rank of 1 was awarded to "historical giants" Isaac Newton, Satyendra Nath Bose, Eugene Wigner, and the founding fathers of quantum mechanics, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Paul Dirac and Erwin Schrödinger. Landau ranked himself as a 2.5 but later promoted himself to a 2. David Mermin, writing about Landau, referred to the scale, and ranked himself in the fourth division, in the article My Life with Landau: Homage of a 4.5 to a 2.


  • Landau and Lifshitz Course of Theoretical Physics
  • Main article: Course of Theoretical Physics

L.D. Landau, E.M. Lifshitz (1976). Mechanics. Vol. 1 (3rd ed.). Butterworth-Heinemann. ISBN 978-0-750-62896-9.

  • L.D. Landau, E.M. Lifshitz (1975). The Classical Theory of Fields. Vol. 2 (4th ed.). Butterworth-Heinemann. ISBN 978-0-750-62768-9.
  • L.D. Landau, E.M. Lifshitz (1977). Quantum Mechanics: Non-Relativistic Theory. Vol. 3 (3rd ed.). Pergamon Press. ISBN 978-0-080-20940-1.
  • V.B. Berestetskii, E.M. Lifshitz, L.P. Pitaevskii (1982). Quantum Electrodynamics. Vol. 4 (2nd ed.). Butterworth-Heinemann. ISBN 978-0750633710.
  • L.D. Landau, E.M. Lifshitz (1980). Statistical Physics, Part 1. Vol. 5 (3rd ed.). Butterworth-Heinemann. ISBN 978-0-750-63372-7.
  • L.D. Landau, E.M. Lifshitz (1987). Fluid Mechanics. Vol. 6 (2nd ed.). Butterworth-Heinemann. ISBN 978-0-080-33933-7.
  • L.D. Landau, E.M. Lifshitz (1986). Theory of Elasticity. Vol. 7 (3rd ed.). Butterworth-Heinemann. ISBN 978-0-750-62633-0.
  • L.D. Landau, E.M. Lifshitz, L.P. Pitaevskii (1984). Electrodynamics of Continuous Media. Vol. 8 (1rst ed.). Butterworth-Heinemann. ISBN 978-0-750-62634-7.
  • L.P. Pitaevskii, E.M. Lifshitz (1980). Statistical Physics, Part 2. Vol. 9 (1rst ed.). Butterworth-Heinemann. ISBN 978-0-750-62636-1.
  • L.P. Pitaevskii, E.M. Lifshitz (1981). Physical Kinetics. Vol. 10 (1rst ed.). Pergamon Press. ISBN 978-0-750-62635-4.

Other books

  • L.D. Landau, A.J. Akhiezer, E.M. Lifshitz (1967). General Physics, Mechanics and Molecular Physics. Pergamon Press. ISBN 978-0-080-09106-8.

Books about Landau

  • Dorozynski, Alexander (1965). The Man They Wouldn't Let Die. Secker and Warburg. ASIN B0006DC8BA. (After Landau's 1962 car accident, the physics community around him rallied to attempt to save his life. They managed to prolong his life until 1968.)
  • Janouch, Frantisek (1979). Lev D. Landau: His life and work. CERN. ASIN B0007AUCL0.

Khalatnikov, I.M., ed (1989). Landau. The physicist and the man. Recollections of *L.D. Landau. Sykes, J.B. (trans.). Pergamon Press. ISBN 0-08-036383-0.

  • Kojevnikov, Alexei B. (2004). Stalin's Great Science: The Times and Adventures of Soviet Physicists. History of Modern Physical Sciences. Imperial College Press. ISBN ISBN 1-86094-420-5.
  • Landau-Drobantseva, Kora (1999). Professor Landau: How We Lived. AST. ISBN 5-8159-0019-2. (Russian)

In popular culture

Russian television film Moy muj - geniy ("My Husband is a Genius") released in 2008 tells biography of Landau (played by Daniil Spivakovsky), mostly relying on his private life. It was generally panned by critics, and people, who personally met Landau, including famous Russian scientist Vitaly Ginzburg said that film was not only terrible but also false in historical facts.

Another film about Landau - Dau is in the filming process now and was originally planned to be released in 2010. It is directed by Ilya Khrzhanovsky with non-professional actor (an orchestra conductor) Theodor Kurentzis as Landau.

Автор статьи: Zipora Galitski
Темы статьи: biography
Источник статьи: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lev_Landau
В статье упоминаются люди:   Лев Ландау

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