Person: Landau (2), Lev
Lev Landau was an Azerbaijan-born mathematician who made fundamental discoveries in theoretical physics. He won the Nobel prize for his theory of superfluidity.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- She went on holiday to Switzerland with her friend Anna and met Anna's cousin, David Lvovich Landau (born 1866).
- A Jewish high school opened in Baku in September 1916 and the eight year old Lev began his schooling there.
- Lev was brilliant in science and mathematics but only mediocre in Hebrew and Yiddish.
- While Lev was at high school, the Russian Revolution took place.
- Lev was a staunch believer in Communist principles but, as we will see below, came to hate the Soviet leadership.
- Although calculus was not part of the school syllabus, Lev had studied this own topic his own and, later in life, would say that he could not remember a time when he was not proficient at differentiation and integration.
- Landau was still only fourteen years old when he entered Baku University (later called the Kirov Azerbaijan State University) in 1922 and by this time he was already enthusiastic about mathematics, physics and chemistry.
- In 1929, supported with a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, Landau set off for eighteen months of foreign travel, visiting Germany, Switzerland, Holland, England, Belgium, and Denmark.
- Landau and Peierls discussed, in German, many topics including astrophysics.
- Landau soon made his School in Kharkov the centre of theoretical physics in the USSR.
- In Kharkov, Landau met Konkordiya Drobantseva, a chemistry graduate known as Kora.
- In Karkov, Landau had a talented student Evgenii Mikhailovich Lifshitz who began studying for his Ph.D. under him in 1933.
- Lifshitz was an exceptionally talented writer and Landau teamed up with him to create the ten volume 'Course of Theoretical Physics'.
- In 1937 Landau went to Moscow to become Head of the Theory Division of the Physical Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences.
- It had been noted experimentally that if liquid helium at these low temperatures was placed in a beaker, then it climbed out of the beaker until the level outside was equal to that inside.
- Similarly liquid helium would climb into the beaker if the level outside exceeded that in the beaker.
- Landau devised a theory to explain such behaviour which was published in 1941.
- Soon Landau was under investigation by the KGB who had received information from informers that he was making anti-government statements.
- On 28 April 1938, Landau was arrested and taken to Lubyanka prison.
- One cannot take seriously a document produced under such circumstances but, in fact, it does seem to give a true account of Landau's views.
- Russian scientists tried to force the authorities to release him, with the leading physicist Peter Kapitza claiming he would stop his scientific work unless Landau was released.
- Kapitsa and Niels Bohr both wrote letters to Stalin insisting that Landau must be released.
- Landau did some work on the Soviet atomic bomb in the second half of the 1940s.
- We mentioned above that one major contribution made by Landau was the writing of a number of outstanding textbooks and research monographs.
- His most famous book is his ten volume Course of Theoretical Physics written jointly with E M Lifshitz who was Landau's research student.
- Lifshitz continued to work on the book after Landau's death and it was not completed until 1979.
- The work includes many of the results of Landau and Lifshitz's research over many years including the results of many jointly written research papers.
- Before being accepted as a member of Landau's school, a candidate had to pass Landau's 'theoretical minimum'.
- This was a series of examinations that Landau set for which students had to spend a long time preparing.
- That's because anybody could have scientific discussions with Landau and get his advice.
- Landau's students enjoyed full rights as participants of Landau's seminar.
- After each seminar Landau would take a recent issue of Physical Review (at that time it was not divided into sections) and point out to a speaker-to-be which papers he was supposed to report on at the seminar.
- A person, who wanted to present a theoretical investigation at the seminar (his own or from the literature) was first supposed to tell the story to Landau privately.
- If Landau agreed with the basic points of the work, then the talk at the seminar would be allowed.
- During the talk, Landau gave clarifying comments and quite often his explanation of the work was strongly different from that of the author.
- One could hear from Landau: "The author, in fact, did not understand what he did." Landau's understanding in all cases was quite original and for normal people it was not easy to follow his line of reasoning.
- On 7 January 1962, Landau was involved in a car accident on the road from Moscow to Dubna.
- Others in his car suffered only minor cuts and bruises but Landau suffered serious fractures and injuries to his internal organs.
- Remarkably Landau regained consciousness and although in many ways he returned to normal, he could never again perform creative work.
- We have given some quotes above concerning Landau's character.
- In his youth Landau was very shy and even shunned society; any contact with people required great effort.
- It would appear that with age shyness waned but Landau was never able to adjust to society.
- It was only the many-sided talents of Landau's personality which drew people to him, and as he got to know them they would begin to like him and find great pleasure in his company.
- Everyone at the Institute of Physical Problems loved landau and his loss is sorely felt by the whole staff and in particular by his students, whose feelings towards him were especially profound.
- Landau received many international honours for his contributions.
Born 22 January 1908, Baku, Azerbaijan, Russian Empire. Died 1 April 1968, Moscow, USSR.
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Tags relevant for this person:
Astronomy, Origin Azerbaijan, Prize Nobel, Physics
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive