Lenin's Laureate: Zhores Alferov's Life in Communist Science (Transformations: Studies in the History of Science and Technology)

Lenin's Laureate: Zhores Alferov's Life in Communist Science (Transformations: Studies in the History of Science and Technology)

Paul R. Josephson

Language: English

Pages: 320

ISBN: 0262014580

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

In 2000, Russian scientist Zhores Alferov shared the Nobel Prize for Physics for his discovery of the heterojunction, a semiconductor device the practical applications of which include LEDs, rapid transistors, and the microchip. The Prize was the culmination of a career in Soviet science that spanned the eras of Stalin, Khrushchev, and Gorbachev--and continues today in the postcommunist Russia of Putin and Medvedev. In Lenin's Laureate, historian Paul Josephson tells the story of Alferov's life and work and examines the bureaucratic, economic, and ideological obstacles to doing state-sponsored scientific research in the Soviet Union. Lenin and the Bolsheviks built strong institutions for scientific research, rectifying years of neglect under the Czars. Later generations of scientists, including Alferov and his colleagues, reaped the benefits, achieving important breakthroughs: the first nuclear reactor for civilian energy, an early fusion device, and, of course, the Sputnik satellite. Josephson's account of Alferov's career reveals the strengths and weaknesses of Soviet science--a schizophrenic environment of cutting-edge research and political interference. Alferov, born into a family of Communist loyalists, joined the party in 1967. He supported Gorbachev's reforms in the 1980s, but later became frustrated by the recession-plagued postcommunist state's failure to fund scientific research adequately. An elected member of the Russian parliament since 1995, he uses his prestige as a Nobel laureate to protect Russian science from further cutbacks. Drawing on extensive archival research and the author's own discussions with Alferov, Lenin's Laureate offers a unique account of Soviet science, presented against the backdrop of the USSR's turbulent history from the revolution through perestroika.

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scientific and engineering community to state economic-development programs. It was directed physically at specialists whose training dated to the tsarist era (whom Communists had come to believe were inherently untrustworthy as representatives of the bourgeois social order), and psychologically at all future specialists. In 1928 and 1930, Soviet prosecutors held two public show trials in which they accused engineers of being “wreckers” and/or spies working on behalf of foreign powers. The trials

decades, the system trained hundreds of thousands of highly qualified specialists, but also, according to critics, led to arbitrary and needless checking on students’ political Heroes and Hero Projects 81 reliability and thwarted the creativity of many of them. But in any system the best students succeed in demonstrating talent. Zhores Alferov’s exams in 1946 were a curious mix of testing in mathematics, physics, and literature as well as political acumen. Success on some of these exams might

1967, when he traveled to London for a meeting, Alferov spoke English fairly well. His English speaking and reading improved greatly during his semester at the University of Illinois in 1970. It helped that two or three evenings a week he joined Nick and Kay Holonyak for dinner at their house. Nick, a physicist, was Zhores’s host in Illinois. Kay gave him a dictionary of everyday phrases, and Zhores set out to learn twenty words a day. Without relying on a dictionary, he read two books he could

with small tape recorder that had been stashed in the wall. The man blanched, but Alferov told him not to worry, since they both had their respective jobs to do. He grabbed his notebook and left.59 In 1970, as has been mentioned, Alferov spent six months at the University of Illinois, where he worked with Nick Holonyak, one of the founders of optical electronics. Holonyak work on silicon thyristors was closely related to Alferov’s research. In Illinois, Alferov found himself in a vital,

laboratory. Yet, perhaps like all bureaucracies, and certainly like the legendary Soviet bureaucracies, the Academy had become increasingly conservative. Its members were well fed by the Communist Party. They saw no reason to disrupt the status quo. 150 Chapter 3 They wished to maintain leadership in all fields of fundamental research, and to have a strong say in the development of other areas of activity, including cosmic research and computer science and technology. The number of full

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