APL Colloquium

October 29, 2010

Colloquium Topic: History of the Soviet Nuclear Weapon Project

The history of the Soviet nuclear weapon project soon after WWII is one of the most dramatic pages in Soviet history. By some estimates, the total expense for this project was compatible with the cost of the war for the USSR. The group of talented Soviet scientists, with the help of some Germans, made the fission bomb using intelligence information obtained by Soviet agents in the USA, Great Britain and Canada. The chief manager of the project, cruel Lavrenty Beria, was the right hand of Dictator Stalin, and, probably, the most effective manager in the history of the USSR. A combination of many factors allowed Russians to test the first fission bomb in 1949; three years after the project got the green light. The second part of the project, the fusion bomb, was realized practically without intelligence information and the first Soviet semi-fusion bomb, designed by Sakharov, was tested in 1953, before the USA tested its full-scale fusion bomb. A full-scale fusion bomb was tested in the USSR only a few months after tests in the US. I knew some of the key figures of the Soviet nuclear project and I worked for 25 years in one of laboratories that participated in the project. The motivations of scientists, who made an evil weapon for an evil dictator, were always objects of my interest. In my talk I present the key people of the Project, including German scientists and the group of Soviet agents abroad, and tell about their contributions to the Project, and in some cases about their motivations. The picture below shows Yuly Khariton, a former Ernest Rutherford student, the head of the weapon part of the Project, sitting near the model of the first Soviet fission bomb 40 years after the first Soviet nuclear bomb was tested. Through all these years, Yuly Khariton kept his position.

Colloquium Speaker: Peter Volkovitsky

Peter Volkovitsky is a physicist in the Radioactivity Group of the Ionizing Radiation Division of the Physics Laboratory at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). He graduated from Moscow State University in 1969 with an MS degree in Physics. In 1973 he earned a PhD in theoretical physics from Moscow Institute for Theoretical and Experimental Physics (ITEP), where he was a staff member till the end of 1994. In 1994 he received the degree of Doctor of Sciences from the same Institute. He was a member of the Institute’s Scientific Council and a leading researcher at ITEP. Dr. Volkovitsky was an invited speaker and member of scientific advisory committees for many international conferences. He was a visiting professor at Universities in Italy, Germany, Japan and many other countries. Since 1995 Dr. Volkovitsky has lived in the US. He had been an adjunct professor of Physics at George Mason University and Vice-President of BioTraces, Inc., a small hi-tech company. Since 2003 Dr. Volkovitsky has been a physicist at the NIST Physics Laboratory. His main fields of interest are nuclear physics, detection of ionizing radiation, and the application of radioisotopes in industry and medicine. Dr. Volkovitsky is an author of one book on high energy nuclear physics and more than 60 publications in peered review journals.