Lev Landau was born on the shores of the Caspian Sea in the oil capital of the Russian Empire, the city of Baku. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the first oil well was drilled in the nearby village of Bibi-Heybat, and a few years later they began to drive kerosene on an industrial scale at the new plant. Sensitive to the smell of money, large capital rushed to Baku in a stormy stream. David Lvovich Landau, the son of a scholarly rabbi from Prague, was directly related to the oil boom - he worked as an engineer in a large Baku company. Thanks to a successful career, David Lvovich was a very wealthy person. In 1905, at the age of thirty-nine, he married twenty-nine-year-old Lyubov Veniaminovna Garkavi, a girl of unusual and difficult fate. She was born into a large poor family. Having saved up a certain amount of money by tutoring, Lyubov Veniaminovna spent it on paying for a training course at the University of Zurich. A year later, she continued her education in St. Petersburg at the Women's Medical Institute, after graduating from which she took up gynecology and obstetrics in the Baku oil fields. The independent and independent nature of Lyubov Veniaminovna encouraged her to be active even after the wedding, despite the fact that all material problems remained in the past. She worked as a sanitary doctor, an intern in a military infirmary, and a teacher.
In 1906, the first child was born in the Landau family - daughter Sonya, and on January 22, 1908 the second - son Lev. Parents attached the most serious importance to the education and upbringing of children - a French governess sat with them, teachers of drawing, gymnastics, and music were invited to the house. Leo and Sonya mastered the German and French languages to perfection in early childhood. The problems began when David and Lyubov Landau decided to instill in their children a love of music. Sonechka, having unlearned playing the piano for ten years, at the end of her education categorically refused to approach the instrument in the future. The future academician, from childhood, did not tolerate violence against himself, immediately resolutely refused to indulge his parental whims. But Leo learned to write and read at the age of four. In addition, the boy passionately fell in love with arithmetic, which made his parents reconsider their views on his future.
In the gymnasium, Lev greatly upset the teacher of literature with a clumsy handwriting, but in the exact sciences he plunged teachers into awe with his knowledge. He learned to differentiate and integrate very early, but in the gymnasium these skills were not useful to him. These sections of mathematics went far beyond the scope of classical school education, and in addition, the educational institution was soon closed, and all students were dismissed for indefinite holidays. Soon, practical parents assigned their son to a commercial school, later renamed the Baku Economic College. The entrance exams were not difficult, and Landau was immediately admitted to the penultimate course. Fortunately for science, after graduating from a technical school, the young man was still young to work as an accountant. He decided to continue his education - now at Baku University.
Having brilliantly passed the entrance exams in 1922, Lev Davidovich was enrolled in two departments of the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics - natural (which focused on chemistry) and mathematics. Fourteen-year-old Landau turned out to be the youngest student at the university, but he stood out among other students not at all by his age. Leo, who was still quite a boy, allowed himself to argue with eminent teachers. Mathematics in an educational institution was taught by a certain Lukin, a former professor at the Nikolaev Academy of the General Staff, whose ferocity has firmly entered the local folklore. The students called him “general” behind his back. Once, at a lecture, Landau ventured into a furious skirmish with him. From the outside, it looked as if the teenager was in a cage with a tiger. However, the end was unexpected - the discouraged "general", admitting his mistake, congratulated Lev Davidovich in front of everyone on the right decision. Since then, the professor, meeting Landau in the corridors of the university, always shook his hand. And soon the parents of the young genius received advice from the leaders of the university to transfer their son to Leningrad, which at that time was the capital of Soviet science. Landau received a letter of recommendation from the dean of the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics, which said: “... I consider it my duty to note the extraordinary talents of this young student, who simultaneously passes the disciplines of two departments with amazing ease and great depth. ... I am firmly convinced that subsequently Leningrad University will be rightfully proud of the fact that it has prepared an outstanding scientist for the country.
So in 1924, Lev Davidovich ended up in the northern capital of Russia, where he took up science with redoubled energy. Working eighteen hours a day was not the best way for his health. Chronic insomnia forced Landau to turn to a doctor, who categorically forbade the young man to work at night. The doctor's advice went to the future academician for the future - from that moment on and throughout the rest of his life, the scientist never worked at night again. And about himself, he always spoke with a smile: “I don’t have a physique, but a body subtraction.”
At Leningrad University, Lev Davidovich first heard about quantum mechanics. Many years later he would say: “The work of Schrödinger and Heisenberg delighted me. Never before have I felt with such clarity the power of human genius." The new physical theory was in its infancy in those years, and, as a result, there was no one to teach quantum mechanics to Landau. The young man himself had to master the most complex mathematical apparatus and the basic ideas of new physics. As a result, he developed a characteristic style of scientific work for the rest of his life - he always preferred fresh magazines to books, saying that "thick folios do not carry anything new, they are a cemetery in which the thoughts of the past are buried."
In 1927, Lev Davidovich graduated from the university and entered the graduate school of the Leningrad Institute of Physics and Technology (Leningrad Institute of Physics and Technology), joining a group of theorists led by Yakov Frenkel. And in October 1929, Landau, who was considered the best graduate student of the Leningrad Institute of Physics and Technology, went on his first business trip abroad on a ticket from the People's Commissariat of Education. The trip turned out to be an extraordinary success for the talented young man - at that time a brilliant scientist, one of the founders of modern physics, Albert Einstein lived and worked in Berlin. Max Born, Niels Bohr, Wolfgang Pauli, Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg and other prominent ministers of science and authors of quantum mechanics worked in Germany, Switzerland and Denmark. Landau met Einstein at the University of Berlin. They had a long conversation, during which Lev Davidovich, wasting no time, tried to prove to his interlocutor the validity of one of the main postulates of quantum mechanics - the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. The arguments and youthful enthusiasm of the twenty-year-old physicist did not convince Einstein, who was hardened in disputes with Bohr and believed all his life that "God does not play dice." Shortly after this conversation, Lev Davidovich, at the invitation of Max Born, visited the University of Göttingen. And in Leipzig, he met with another no less brilliant physicist, Heisenberg.
At the beginning of 1930, a Soviet scientist appeared in Copenhagen on Blegdamsvey Street at number 15. This building was known throughout the world for the fact that the famous Niels Bohr lived in it. As soon as he crossed the threshold of his apartment, Landau was terribly embarrassed and, at the same time, delighted by the welcoming words of the Danish scientist: “It's great that you came to us! We'll learn a lot from you!" And although it later turned out that the famous physicist, out of the kindness of his soul, greeted most of his guests in this way, in this case, this phrase probably sounded more appropriate than usual. The most talented, energetic and witty Landau surprisingly quickly and easily got along with the venerable scientist - the national hero of his country, but who did not lose his human simplicity and unfeigned "scientific" curiosity. The Austrian scientist Otto Frisch, who was present at one of their conversations, wrote: “This scene is forever imprinted in my memory. Landau and Bohr grappled with each other. The Russian was sitting on a bench, gesticulating frantically. Leaning over him, the Dane waved his arms and shouted something. None of them even thought that there was something strange in such a conduct of scientific discussion. Another curious sketch belongs to the Belgian physicist Leon Rosenfeld, who said: “I arrived at the institute in February 1931, and the first person I met was Georgy Gamow. I asked him about the news and he showed me his pencil drawing. It showed Landau, tied to a chair, with his mouth tied, and Bohr, who stood nearby and said: “Wait, wait, let me at least say a word!”. Many years later, Niels Bohr admits that he always considered Lev Davidovich his best student. And the wife of the great Dane wrote in her memoirs: “Niels fell in love with Landau from the first day. He was terribly unbearable, he interrupted, ridiculed, looked like a disheveled boy. But how talented he was and how truthful!
Landau's next stop in Europe was Great Britain, where Paul Dirac and Ernest Rutherford worked. In those years, Peter Kapitsa also worked in Cambridge at the Cavendish Laboratory, with his wit and outstanding abilities as an experimental physicist, who managed to win the favor of Rutherford. Thus, during the year spent in Europe, Lev Davidovich talked with almost all the "first-rate" physicists. The works of the Soviet scientist, published during this time, received high marks and clearly showed that, despite his age, he is already one of the leading theorists of the world.
Returning to the Soviet Union in 1931, Landau found himself in the midst of a lively discussion of a certain discovery that promised incredible profits for our country. The author of this invention, connected, by the way, with the properties of electrical insulators, was the head of the Leningrad Physicotechnical Institute, the excellent Soviet scientist Abram Ioffe. Unfortunately, even great people are not immune from delusions, and Ioffe's new discovery just belonged to the category of delusions. Very quickly, Lev Davidovich found the master's mistake, and the enthusiasm of the discoverers turned into disappointment. In addition, the matter was complicated by the fact that the young theoretician was too sharp-tongued and did not at all think about the need to feel sorry for the vanity of his colleagues. The completely forgivable persistence of Abram Fedorovich, with which the head of the Physicotechnical Institute defended his errors, led to a final break. It all ended with the famous academician publicly declaring that there was not a drop of common sense in the latest work of his graduate student. But Landau was not the kind of person to remain silent in response. His condescending remark: “Theoretical physics is a complex science, and not everyone can understand it,” is firmly entrenched in the annals of history. Of course, after this incident, it became much more difficult for Lev Davidovich to work at the Leningrad Physicotechnical Institute. Much later, he will say that he felt "somehow uncomfortable" there.
Shortly before the events described, at the suggestion of the same Abram Ioffe, in the city of Kharkov - the then capital of Ukraine - the UFTI (Ukrainian Institute of Physics and Technology) was organized. In August 1932, Landau was invited by Professor Ivan Obreimov, director of the Kharkov Physical and Technical Institute, to head the theoretical department. At the same time, he accepted the Department of Theoretical Physics of the Mechanical Engineering Institute of the city of Kharkov. Impressed by the scientific and educational institutions seen in Europe, the twenty-four-year-old physicist set himself the task of creating, virtually from scratch, a school of theoretical physics of the highest class in the Soviet Union. Looking ahead, we note that thanks to the efforts of Lev Davidovich, such a school eventually appeared in our country. It was formed by students of Landau, who passed his famous "theoretical minimum", which included nine exams - seven in theoretical physics and two in mathematics. This truly unique test could be tried no more than three times, and in twenty-five years only forty-three people overcame the "theorimum". The first of them was the outstanding Soviet scientist Alexander Kompaneets. Evgeny Lifshits, Isaak Pomeranchuk, Alexander Akhiezer, who later became well-known theoretical physicists, passed the test after him.
The private life of Landau is curious. He was interested in everything that was going on in the world. Every morning Lev Davidovich began with the study of newspapers. The scientist knew history very well, remembered many poems by heart, in particular Lermontov, Nekrasov and Zhukovsky. He loved cinema very much. Unfortunately, during the Kharkov period of his life, Lev Davidovich was photographed extremely rarely. On the other hand, rather picturesque memories left about the scientist by one of his students have been preserved: “I met Landau in 1935, when I arrived in Kharkov for graduation practice. Already at the first meeting, he struck me with his originality: thin, tall, with curly black hair, lively black eyes and long arms, actively gesticulating during the conversation, somewhat extravagantly (in my opinion) dressed. He wore an elegant blue jacket with metal buttons. Sandals on bare feet and kolomyanka trousers did not harmonize very well with them. He did not wear a tie then, preferring an unbuttoned collar.
One day, Professor Landau appeared at the university at a graduation party and categorically demanded to introduce him to "the prettiest girl." He was introduced to a graduate of the Faculty of Chemistry Concordia (Kora) Drabantseva. If in the dreams of a scientist the image of a written beauty was drawn, then the girl was very similar to her - with large gray-blue eyes, blond, with a slightly upturned nose. After the evening, Landau saw his new acquaintance home, and on the way told her about foreign countries. Upon learning that Cora was going to work as a technologist at a confectionery factory in a chocolate shop, he asked: “Let me call you Chocolate Girl. You know, I love chocolate." When the girl asked if chocolate was tasty in Europe, Landau replied: “I went on a business trip with state money. I couldn't spend it on chocolate. But he ate it in England, becoming a fellow of the Rockefeller Foundation. Their frivolous acquaintance with a lot of work over the course of several years acquired the quality of a serious relationship, since Lev Davidovich believed that “marriage is a cooperative that kills all love,” while adding that a good thing will not be called marriage. The recognized leader of Soviet theoretical thought was brought to the registry office only nine days before the birth of the child.
Separately, it is worth talking about the methodology for classifying scientists, which was developed by Lev Davidovich and made it possible to assess their capabilities, as well as their contribution to science. Academician Vitaly Ginzburg, who is a student of Lev Davidovich, spoke about the “Dau scale” in his article: “Many years ago, his passion for clarity and systematization resulted in a comic classification of physicists on a logarithmic scale. In accordance with it, a second-class physicist, for example, did ten times less (the key word is done, it was only about achievements) than a first-class physicist. On this scale, Albert Einstein was half class, while Schrödinger, Bohr, Heisenberg, Fermi, Dirac were first class. Landau himself referred to the two-and-a-half class, and only, having exchanged his fifth decade, was satisfied with his next job (I remember the conversation, but I forgot what achievement was discussed), he said that he had reached the second class.
Another classification of Landau referred to his relationship with the "weaker sex". The scientist divided the courtship process into twenty-four stages, and believed that up to the eleventh, the slightest hitch was fatal. Women, of course, were also divided into classes. Landau attributed the unattainable ideal to the first. Then came beautiful girls, then just pretty and pretty ones. The fourth class included the owners of something pleasing to the eye, but the fifth - all the rest. To establish the fifth class, according to Landau, it was necessary to have a chair. If you put a chair next to a fifth-grade woman, then it’s better to look not at her, but at the chair. In relation to the fair sex, the scientist also divided men into two groups: "fragrant" (who are interested in the inner content) and "beautiful". In turn, the "beautiful" fell into subspecies - "figure skaters", "snouts", "legists" and "armists". Landau considered himself to be a “pure beautiful man”, believing that a woman should be beautiful all over.
The pedagogical methods of Lev Davidovich were very different from the traditional ones, which eventually forced the rector of the university to take a number of actions to “reason” the teacher. Inviting Landau to his office, he expressed doubt that students of physics need to know who the author of "Eugene Onegin" is and what sins belong to "mortals." It was precisely this kind of questions that students often heard from a young professor during exams. Of course, the correct answers did not affect academic performance, but the rector's bewilderment must be recognized as legitimate. In conclusion, he informed Landau that "pedagogical science does not allow anything like this." “I have never heard more stupidity in my life,” Lev Davidovich answered ingenuously and was immediately fired. And although the rector could not expel the professor without the permission of the People's Commissar of Education, the victim did not waste time and effort on restoring justice and left for the capital of Russia. Three weeks after his departure, Landau told Kharkov students and colleagues that he would work for Kapitsa at the Institute of Physical Problems, writing in conclusion: "... And you, you have already reached the third and a half level and can work on your own."
Life at the Kapitsa Institute in those years was in full swing. The best specialists worked in this place, whom Pyotr Leonidovich looked for throughout the country. Lev Davidovich headed his theoretical department. In 1937-1938, thanks to experimental research by Kapitsa, the superfluidity of helium was discovered. Cooling helium to temperatures close to absolute zero, physicists observed its flow through ultrathin slots. Attempts to explain the phenomenon of superfluidity failed until Landau got down to business. The theory of superfluidity, for which he later received the Nobel Prize, was formed with a year's break. In April 1938, Lev Davidovich was arrested on trumped-up charges. At the Lubyanka, according to the physicist, "they tried to sew on him the authorship of some stupid leaflet, and this despite my disgust for any scribbling." Kapitsa was also outraged to the core. In the pre-war years, he enjoyed considerable influence in the government and used it to help his best theoretician. On the day of the arrest of the scientist, Kapitsa sent a letter to Iosif Vissarionovich, in which he said: “Comrade Stalin, today the researcher L.D. was arrested. Landau. Despite his age, he is the most prominent theoretical physicist in our country ... There is no doubt that his loss as a scientist for the Soviet and world sciences will not pass unnoticed and will be very strongly felt. In view of Landau's exceptional talent, I ask you to pay close attention to his case. It also seems to me that it is necessary to take into account his character, which, to put it simply, is bad. He is a bully and a bully, loves to look for mistakes in others and, when he finds them, begins to tease disrespectfully. By doing this, he made many enemies for himself ... However, with all the shortcomings, I do not believe that Landau is capable of something dishonest.
By the way, the relationship between the two scientists - Kapitza and Landau - was never friendly or close, but the "centaur", as the institute staff called their director, did everything possible to get the outstanding theorist back to work. Not counting only on his own authority, he drew the attention of Niels Bohr to the fate of the physicist. The Danish scientist immediately responded, and also wrote a letter to Stalin, in which, among other things, he said: “... I heard rumors about the arrest of Professor Landau. I am convinced that this is a regrettable misunderstanding, since I cannot imagine that Professor Landau, who has won the recognition of the scientific world for his significant contribution to atomic physics and who has devoted himself entirely to research work, could do something justifying the arrest ... ". In April 1939, the efforts of Pyotr Leonidovich were crowned with success - "under the guarantee of Kapitsa" Landau was released from prison.
Kapitsa was well aware that the rather modest position of the head of the theoretical department did not correspond well to the possibilities and scale of Landau's talent. Not once did he offer his collaborator assistance in creating a separate institute for theoretical physics, where Lev Davidovich could take the place of director. However, Landau categorically rejected such proposals: “I am absolutely unfit for administrative work. Now there are excellent conditions for work in Physical Problems, and of my own free will I will not leave here anywhere. ” However, the "excellent" conditions did not last long - in June 1941 the war began, and the Kapitsa Institute was evacuated to Kazan. During these years, Lev Davidovich, like many other scientists, refocused on solving defense problems, in particular, he dealt with problems related to the detonation of explosives. In 1943, the State Defense Committee decided to resume work on the uranium issue. Igor Kurchatov was appointed scientific director of the work, who turned to the government with a justification for the need for a theoretical study of the mechanism of a nuclear explosion and a proposal to entrust this problem to "Professor Landau, a well-known theoretical physicist, a fine expert on such issues." As a result, Lev Davidovich headed the work of the settlement department, which worked within the framework of the Atomic Project.
In 1946 serious changes took place at the Institute for Physical Problems. Pyotr Kapitsa fell into disgrace, the Council of Ministers of the USSR removed him from the post of director, completely reorienting the institute to solve problems related to the Atomic Project. Corresponding Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences Anatoly Aleksandrov was appointed the new head of the IFP. And Landau in the same year, bypassing the title of corresponding member, was elected a full member of the Academy of Sciences, also awarding him the Stalin Prize for research on phase transformations. However, his main business in those years remained the calculations of the processes occurring during a nuclear explosion. The merits of Lev Davidovich in the development of the atomic bomb are undeniable and were awarded two Stalin Prizes (in 1949 and 1953) and the title of Hero of Socialist Labor (1954). However, for the scientist himself, this work became a tragedy, since Lev Davidovich organically could not do what he was not interested in, he said about this: “Due to the brevity of life, we cannot afford the luxury of wasting time on tasks that do not lead to new results." An example of Landau's attitude to the nuclear bomb is a characteristic episode. Once, while giving a lecture at the House of Writers, he touched on thermonuclear reactions, saying that they were of no practical importance. Someone from the audience reminded the scientist about the thermonuclear bomb, to which Lev Davidovich immediately replied that it could not even occur to him to classify the bomb as a practical application of nuclear energy.
Shortly after the death of Joseph Stalin, Landau handed over all the affairs related to the Atomic Project to his student Isaak Khalatnikov, and he himself returned to the creation of the Theoretical Physics Course, a work that he wrote throughout his life. The Course consisted of ten volumes, the very first of which was published in 1938, and the last two appeared in print after the scientist's death. This work, written in a clear and lively language, is devoted to the most complex issues of modern physics. It has been translated into many languages and is, without exaggeration, a reference book for every physicist in the world.
On May 5, 1961, Niels Bohr came to Moscow at the invitation of the USSR Academy of Sciences. Lev Davidovich met his teacher at the airport, and all the days of Bor's stay in Russia he practically did not part with him. In those days, at one of the innumerable seminars, someone asked the guest how he created his first-class school of physics. The famous Dane replied: "I was never afraid to show my students that I was dumber than them." Evgeny Lifshitz, who translated the speech of the scientist, made a mistake and said: "I have never been shy about telling my students that they are fools." Pyotr Kapitsa reacted to the uproar with a smile: “This reservation is not accidental. It expresses the main difference between the Bohr school and the Landau school, to which Lifshitz belongs.
On January 7, 1962, on the way to Dubna, Lev Davidovich got into a terrible car accident. Its consequences were terrible, according to the first entry in the history of the disease, the following were recorded: “a fracture of the vault and base of the skull, multiple bruises of the brain, a bruised-lacerated wound in the temporal region, a compressed chest, a fracture of seven ribs, a fracture of the pelvis, lung damage.” The famous neurosurgeon Sergei Fedorov, who arrived at the consultation, said: “It was quite obvious that the patient was dying. Hopeless, agonizing patient. In the four days that have passed since the catastrophe, Landau was near death three times. On January 22, the scientist developed cerebral edema. In the hospital where Lev Davidovich was lying, a "physical headquarters" of eighty-seven people was organized. Landau's students, friends and colleagues were in the hospital around the clock, organizing consultations with foreign medical luminaries, and collecting the money necessary for treatment. Only a month and a half after the tragedy, the doctors announced that the patient's life was out of danger. And on December 18, 1962, Lev Davidovich said: “I lost a year, but I learned during this time that people are much better than I thought.”
On November 1, 1962, a telegram was delivered to Landau, who was in the hospital of the Academy of Sciences, saying that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for "pioneer work in the field of the theory of condensed matter, primarily liquid helium." The next day, the Swedish Ambassador arrived at the hospital, holding an official ceremony of presenting the prestigious award. From that moment on, the scientist came under close attention of the press. Not a day passed without correspondents trying to get into his room. Despite the poor health and the warnings of doctors who tried to limit access to the patient, the Nobel laureate gladly received everyone. A reporter from a Swedish newspaper who visited Lev Davidovich described the meeting as follows: “Landau has turned gray, he has a stick in his hands, and he moves with small steps. But as soon as you talk to him, it immediately becomes clear that the diseases have not changed him at all. There is no doubt that if it were not for the pain, he would have immediately set to work ... ".
By the way, the doctors who treated the brilliant physicist more than once or twice had to deal with his peculiar character, which many found unbearable. One day, a famous psychiatrist and neuropathologist came to Lev Davidovich, treating him with hypnosis. Landau, who called hypnosis "a deception of the working people," greeted the guest warily. The doctor, warned in turn about the nature of the patient, took two more doctors with him to show his abilities. Shortly after the beginning of the session, the doctor's assistants fell asleep. Landau himself felt uncomfortable, but he did not want to sleep. The doctor, anticipating a major failure, gathered all his will in his eyes, but the scientist only frowned and looked at his watch impatiently. After the psychiatrist left, Lev Davidovich told his wife: “Balagan. He also brought a couple of geese with him, which slept here.
In total, Landau spent more than two years in the hospital - only at the end of January 1964 the scientist was allowed to leave the hospital ward. But, despite the recovery, Lev Davidovich could no longer return to active work. And soon after the celebration of the sixtieth birthday - on the morning of March 24, 1968, Landau suddenly became ill. The council, assembled in the hospital of the Academy of Sciences, spoke in favor of the operation. The first three days after it, the physicist felt so good that the doctors had hopes for recovery. However, on the fifth day, the patient's temperature rose, and on the sixth day, his heart began to fail. On the morning of April 1, Lev Davidovich said: "I will not survive this day." He was dying in consciousness, his last words were: “I lived a good life. I've always been good at everything." Lev Davidovich was buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery on April 4, 1968.
The question of what Landau's achievement in science should be considered the most important has no answer. A highly specialized approach to theory did not touch the brilliant scientist. He felt equally at ease in non-overlapping areas - from quantum field theory to hydrodynamics. They said about Lev Davidovich: "In this frail fragile body there is a whole institute of theoretical physics." It is not given to everyone to assess the scale of his activities in science. But you can trust the words of knowledgeable people who said: “Landau created a completely new image of a scientist, some kind of separate philosophy of life. Physics has turned into a kind of romantic country, an exciting adventure ... What he accomplished is dressed in an utterly beautiful, magnificent form, and acquaintance with his works gives physicists great aesthetic pleasure.
Lev Davidovich Landau | Russian physicist
March 28, 2022