Yakau Barysavich Zel'dovich
(3/8/1914 - 2/12/87) 

Yakov Borisovich Zel'dovich was born in Minsk, Belarus on 8 March 1914. At age 17 he began working as a laboratory assistant at the Institute of Physics, the Institute of Chemical Physics, in Leningrad. Zel'dovich was almost entirely self-taught, eventually reaching the level of Academician (the highest rank in Soviet academia) and later becoming professor at Moscow State University without ever received a regular college degree.

Zel'dovich had a remarkably versatile intellect, and during his life explored and made major contributions to a wide range of scientific endeavors. During the 1940s he advanced the state of the science of combustion and detonation. He developed a more sophisticated theory of detonation that accounted for features not previously explained, and correctly predicted features that had not yet been observed. The modern theory of detonation accordingly is called ZND theory (Zel'dovich-von Neumann-Dohring). In a series of seminal papers written in collaboration with Yuli Khariton in 1939-40, he explored the basic principles of fission chain reactions in both fast and moderated assemblies.

Zel'dovich became the first head of the theoretical department of Arzamas-16, the "Soviet Los Alamos", in 1946. That same year he developed a report with Isaak Gurevich, Isaak Pomeranchuk, and Khariton on the feasibility of releasing energy through nuclear fusion triggered by an atomic explosion and presented it to Igor Kurchatov. This report was published in 1991 in Uspekhi Fizicheskikh Nauk. under the title "Ispol'zovanie iadernoi energii legkikh elementov" ("Utilization of the nuclear energy of light elements"). [VG comment this report essentially gave a recipe of hydrogen bomb].

Zel'dovich led the theoretical work on both the first Soviet atomic and hydrogen bombs.

The first conceptual breakthrough came sometime in late 1953. This breakthrough is apparently attributable to Davidenko. Left is a January 1954 sketch by Zel'dovich and Sakharov, addressed to Yuli Khariton, that shows a transitional concept for the hydrogen bomb. The concept shown is equivalent to Stanislaw Ulam's breakthrough of separate staging, using an atomic trigger to compress the thermonuclear secondary. Like Ulam's initial concept, it is based on hydrodynamic compression rather than radiation implosion. 

In the course of his work on nuclear weapons, Zel'dovich did ground-breaking work in radiation hydrodynamics, and the physics of matter at high pressure. This research served as the basis for his collaboration with Yuli P. Raizer in writing Physics of Shock Waves and High-Temperature Hydrodynamic Phenomena, a marvelously lucid physics text and by far the best text on radiation hydrodynamics available. Originally published in English in 1966 by Academic Press, it is now (2002) available in a low cost paper back reprint from Dover.  

Related Links: 

The biographical info above is actually excerpts from a page about Yakov Zeldovich at nuclearweaponarchive.org  

Yakov Borisovich ZELDOVICH - memorial page from Moscow State University

The Sunyaev-Zeldovich Effect or Compton Scattering for pool players

Workshop "Cosmology with Sunyaev-Zeldovich Cluster Surveys" September 17-September 20, 2003, Chicago, Illinois, USA

The Zeldovich approximation

Photos of Zeldovich from Visual Archive of Emilio Segre.

A new look at the age of the universe

Books and articles of Ya.B.Zeldovich - full texts

Other Relevant Pages of the Virtual Guide to Belarus

Belarusian Castles and Knighthood
Historic Belarusian Battles
History of  Belarus as Nuclear Power
Belarusian Statehood 
History of Belarus

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