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An Interview with Brillance

Two Russian scientists – Alexey Abrikosov and Vitaly Ginzburg - become the Nobel Prize winners in physics

PRAVDA.Ru has reported earlier that two Russian scientists – Alexey Abrikosov and Vitaly Ginzburg - became the Nobel Prize winners in physics. Russian science journalist, PRAVDA.Ru observer Vladimir Gubarev interviews one of the winners, Vitaly Ginzburg.

If you are interested whether it is hard to become an academician, talk to any scientist of the rank and the latter will say this is not a very hard task. Vitaly Ginzburg says jokingly: "You should be even lazier and you will have enough time to think." As is known, physicists like to say jokes.

But physicists do not like to give interviews as they believe that journalists may write something wrong or misinterpret their scientific ideas as they care nothing for "elementary particles and the newest developments."
Vitaly Ginzburg is one of the most prominent physicists of the 20th century and is often called "the classic of science". The man has always been a hard worker; it seems that his mind never has rest. This is probably one of the reasons why he became a prominent scientist. Vitaly Ginzburg was born at the daybreak of the big physics; his young age coincided with the heyday of physics and the scientist has reached the depth of knowledge by his maturity. He graduated from the State University of Moscow in 1938; in 1940, he started working with the prestigious Physics Institute in the Soviet Academy of Sciences where he stayed for decades. After WWII, Vitaly Ginzburg worked as professor at the University of Gorky (now the city of Nizhny Novgorod). During the war, many physics were evacuated to the city and started working at a secret nuclear center opened there right after the war.

It seemed that Vitaly Ginzburg has always been an omnipresent theorist. Unfortunately, today we have no exact names of projects on which the scientist used to work. Academician Yuly Khariton, who was at head of a project aimed at nuclear weapons creation: "We did not think that we should have registered documented authorship of theoretic researches as well as experiments. We should have registered the authors of some important ideas that scientists suggested. But the secrecy of experiments of that epoch was extremely high, and very often researchers never knew what their colleagues next door were working on. So, today it is practically impossible to identify who suggested this or that idea. That happened rather often that large bodies of scientists usually suggested ideas." 

Vitaly Ginzburg participated in nuclear weapons creation.  Orders that he accomplished at the secret scientific center were further sent to individual physicists and different laboratories. The physicist himself could only have conjectures about experiments based on his works. He participated in making reports, in experiments and in discussion of ideas, but nothing more. From time to time, Vitaly Ginzburg received fees for his works which meant that some people considered them really useful.

If we look up the name of Vitaly Ginzburg in encyclopedias, we will find just one line saying that the scientist was working on the problems of thermonuclear reactions in 1950-1951. This one line reveals one of the hardest periods in the history of physics and in the struggle of ideas. By that time, a nuclear bomb was already created and even tested on the testing areas of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Theorists insisted that some more powerful weapon stronger than nuclear weapons could be created. That was an H-bomb, the issue that gave a start to continuous competition between the cities of Livermore and Arzamas (in the Gorky Region of the USSR). The foreign program was headed by Edward Teller and the Soviet one - by Andrey Sakharov. Each of the programs involved hundreds of physicists, theorists and experimenters. At the beginning, Teller was mistaken, but Andrey Sakharov and his colleagues were ahead of the American researcher. More new ideas and tests followed next. In 1953, Vitaly Ginzburg was awarded the National Premium as appreciation of his contribution in thermonuclear weapons creation.

In 13 years, Academician Vitaly Ginzburg becomes the Lenin Prize winner which was the appreciation of his work in study and understanding of the processes going on deep in the Universe. Vitaly Ginzburg worked on the theory on wave transmission in the ionosphere, on radio-astronomy, on origin of cosmic rays, on superconductivity in optics, astrophysics and so on. In his young age, Vitaly Ginzburg worked together with Lev Landau on the superconductivity theory. The conversation with the scientist touched upon the importance of space exploration for the particular sector of science where he is working.

Vitaly Ginzburg: The myth saying that the interplanetary space is vacuum has been dispelled. Today, there is no doubt that all objects in the space are moving in the interplanetary or the interstellar plasma; researchers are trying now to estimate the properties of the space. This is a really hard task but at the same time a pressing one, as the man has broken the shackles of terrestrial gravity and now is the resident of the Solar System.

- It seems that the first knowledge that we have already obtained turned out to be disappointing. Am I mistaken or not?

You know, knowledge cannot be positive or negative. It is better for people if they do have knowledge. It is known that the Earth is protected with the strong armor of magnetic fields which in its turn casts a flow of cosmic rays toward our planet. Particles that break through the magnetic fields then collide with air molecules and become destroyed at a great height. But being still on the Earth surface, we do feel the presence of "messengers from other worlds" - flows of secondary particles that form after collision of cosmic rays with the nucleus of atmospheric gases. Researchers are interested in prime particles; to study them they launch balloons, geophysical missiles and organize physics expeditions. Man-made satellites give researchers a wide range of opportunities for studies of cosmic rays. They allow to study "pure" cosmic rays.

-Is it important for understanding of the world where the Earth lives?

Basic cosmic rays researchers are connected with elementary particles and their interaction under the condition of high energies. Nature is a perfect laboratory which cannot be created under the earthly conditions. Today, much money is spent on construction of powerful accelerators; we need many smart engineers and much work to create them but still will not be able to make accelerators of the sort that nature already has.  In the nearest future, we should work on the task of joining the natural laboratory to conduct effective researches there.

- Why do you focus in cosmic rays?

The composition of cosmic rays includes almost all chemical elements with the atomic weight lower than that of iron. The relative quantity of elements in cosmic rays seriously differs the spread of the elements in the Universe. As is known, hydrogen is the widely spread element (90 per cent); then goes helium (9 per cent). The rest elements make up just less than one per cent each. Cosmic rays contain much more nucleuses of heavy elements than there should be judging by the spread of the elements in the Universe. So, we are arriving at a conclusion that the sources of cosmic rays accelerate and generate heavy nucleuses of the iron and chrome group. As it turns out, our planet is being evenly attacked by cosmic rays; this means that the flux of radiation is equal in all directions. We can suppose that the number of sources of cosmic rays is great in Galaxy. Majority of researchers think that cosmic rays are mostly formed within the Galaxy and do not arrive from the outside. In the Galaxy, there are magnetic stars creating cosmic rays millions of times better than the Sun, but the total power still remains in this case just 1 per cent of the required power.

Many astronomers and physicists said that super new and new stars were the sources of cosmic rays; appearance of such stars was observed by Chinese, Japanese, Byzantine and other astronomers in the ancient times. It is known for sure today that a super new star - a particularly bright star - appears in the sky once in 50-100 years. Unfortunately, we cannot observe all star appearances in the Galaxy because majority of them are hidden behind the opaque interstellar substance of the Galaxy disk.

The optical life of every super new star is short; it becomes looking like any other star in several months after it appears in the sky. Astronomers observe vast masses of gas spreading around the place where an explosion occurs. This gas can be seen through optical devices and radio-telescopes. The reasons and mechanisms according to which super new stars appear are still a mystery for scientists. Today, we can only make conjectures of what is going on in the depths of the Galaxy.

-This is an exciting sight, isn't it? But ordinary people cannot see it. Is it just the imagination of physicists that helps see the sight?

 Sure. Cosmic rays are ploughing the Galaxy in all directions. They live for millions and billions of years, the period within which they cover enormous distances. Cosmic rays do not go outside the limits of the Galaxy. While photons and neutrons just cross the Galaxy and become lost somewhere in the Universe, cosmic rays always stay within the Galaxy. To study them means to constantly watch the pulse of the star system.

This is pleasure to listen to what Academician Vitaly Ginzburg is telling. I was lucky to attend his seminars and lectures, to meet him at the institute and at home. His manner is to tell about the most complicated physics issues in an easy and understandable manner. This fact turns his lectures into some kind of a trip into the depth of the Universe on board of some fantastic vehicle.

At the beginning of the space era Vitaly Ginzburg was considering the future of cosmonautics. He hoped that satellites and interplanetary vehicles would be equipped with devices meant for investigation of cosmic rays and interplanetary spaces. Unfortunately, just few experiments of this kind were conducted. Even though cosmonautics' contribution into development of astrophysics has been considerable within the 40 years of existence, it is said that even greater progress could have been achieved within the same period. Vitaly Ginzburg and his Academy colleagues regret that this has not been done.

Vladimir Gubarev