History LPI

Lebedev Physical Institute is Russia's oldest scientific research centre. It is coeval with the Russian Academy of Sciences, after the foundation of which physics in Russia received the fully fledged status of an independent science.

The Chair of Physics established in the XVIII century in St.-Petersburg within the framework of the Academy of Sciences was the only centre developing national physics. The Chair had at its disposal a well-equipped Physical Cabinet, with which all major experimental studies conducted at the Academy at that time were associated. Simultaneously the Physical Cabinet was the base for reading the first courses of physics in Russia organized by the Academy The year of establishing the Physical Cabinet is accepted to be 1724 - the same year the Academy of Sciences was founded - but the Cabinet's history began eariier. The Cabinet's material base was made up of various physical instruments, machines and tools collected at the Kunstkammer also known as the Cabinet of Curiosities by the time of its opening in 1714. All these were searched for and purchased by order of Peter the Great after his trip to Europe. The Cabinet of Curiosities was also replenished with instruments made by domestic craftsmen. Over a period of almost two centuries, the activities of the Physical Cabinet (subsequently the Physical Laboratory and then the Physico-mathematical Institute) were directed to a significant extent at the discretion and by personal scientific interests of:

1726-1730 Georg Bernhard Bilfinger (Bulfinger),
1731-1733 Leonhard Euler,
1733-1744 Georg Wolfgang Kraft,
1744-1753 Georg Wilhelm Richmann,
1756-1771 Franz Ulrich Theodor Aepinus,
1771-1810 Wolfgang Ludwig Kraft,
1810-1828 Vasily Vladimirovich Petrov,
1828-1840 Georg Friedrich Parrot,
1840-1865 Heinrich Friedrich Emil Lenz,
18Ó5-1874 Moritz Hermann (Boris Semyonovich) vonjacobi,
1874-1893 Genrikh Ivanovich Vild,
1894-1916 Boris Borisovich Golitsyn,
1917-1921 Pyotr Petrovich Lazarey
192I- 1926 Vladimir Andreyevich Stekloy
1926-1928 Abram Fyodorovich loffe,
1928-1932 Aleksey Nikolayevich Krylov

The functioning and development of thie Cabinet were not constantly successful. Peaks (under Bilfinger, Kraft Senior, Richmann, Parrot, Lenz, Jacobi, Vild, Golitsyn) were replaced by troughs (under Aepinus, Kraft Junior, partially also under Petrov), which were followed by a peak. Still, the Physical Cabinet always played the pivotal role, determining the development of academic physics in Russia.

G.B. Bilfinger, the first director of the Physical Cabinet, showed himself to be a versatile experimental physicist at the St.-Petersburg Academy. The results of his experiments were published in numerous articles in "Commentaries"; systematic meteorological obser\'ations were conducted under his guidance. Simultaneously with Bilfinger, there was another member of the Academy, Daniel Bernoulli, who was an outstanding mathematician and physicist, having earned fame for his studies of hydrodynamics (with his famous treatise written in Petersburg), mechanics and acoustics. A great contribution to the development of practical optics and exact mechanics was made by yet another colleague of Bilfinger's, Johann Georg Leitmann, a professor of optics and mechanics.

The outstanding mathematician Leonhard Euler, creator of the first mathematical school in Russia, author of almost 900 scientific works, held the chair of physics at the Academy for some time. His famous "Letters to a German Princess on Different Subjects in Physics and Philosophy" is an excellent XVIII century popular encyclopedia of physics.

The work of G.W. Kraft at the Academy was concerned entirely with the Physical Cabinet, which he regularized and expanded. Owing to Kraft's efforts, by 1741 the Physical Cabinet became one of the best in Europe; it had about 400 physical instruments for general mechanics, fluid mechanics, optics, magnetism, heat, acoustics and electricity^. Kraft published about 100 works in "Commentaries". He wrote several textbooks for the academic gymnasium, including the first textbook in physics entitled "Initial Basics of the Teaching of Nature".

G.W. Richmann, who took over the Cabinet from Kraft in 1744, devoted a great deal of attention to it. Being a pure experimentalist, he began experiments with electricity long before Franklin. Having learnt of Franklin's experiments on atmospheric electricity, Richmann began his enthusiastic observations of thunderstorms in 1752 and tragically died during an experiment on 26 July 1753.

Starting from 1741, for a number of years the great Russian scientist M.V. Lomonosov conducted experiments at the Physical Cabinet. In his public lectures on physics, he also relied upon the Physical Cabinet. There is preserved evidence of joint works by Lomonosov and Richmann.

In 1747, there was a fire in the Cabinet of Curiosities; the Physical Cabinet also suffered significantly but already at the beginning of 1748 the Cabinet was provided with additional accommodation. Owing to Richmann's endeavours and Lomonosov's support, at the beginning of 1750s the Physical Cabinet became Russia's centre of research into experimental physics and a coordinator of activities of educational institutions.

After the death of Richmann, the Cabinet was placed under seal and was under observation of adjunct M. Sofronov till 1756.
The last directors of the Physical Cabinet in the XVllI century were Aepinus and Kraft Junior. Aepinus discovered pyroelectricity in studies of tourmaline, invented an achromatic microscope, gave the first quantitative theory of electrostatic phenomena. Having become the tutor of the future emperor Pavel I, Aepinus stepped aside from academic activities, after which the Cabinet fell into decay, no lectures to students were read. Under the director Kraft Junior, the Cabinet was replenished with a voluminous collection of instruments for electricity studies, but with time it turned into, in fact, a storage room of physical instruments, many of them obsolete.
Thus, the last quarter of the XVIII century and the first quarter of the XIX century proved little productive in the history of academic science and, in particular, the history of the Physical Cabinet. The situation improved much after G.F. Parrot appeared at the Academy Having taken the Cabinet over from V.V. Petrov, he energetically began its reorganization and secured the move of the Physical Cabinet from the Cabinet of Curiosities to the Main Building of the Academy where the Physical Cabinet (and then the Physical Laboratory and the Institute) were situated till the time when the Academy was transferred from St.-Petersburg (then Leningrad) to Moscow in 1934.

By the end of the XVIII - beginning of the XIX centuries, ever increasing attention of physicists was attracted by electrical phenomena, so it is not by chance that directors of the Physical Cabinet turned out to be scientists whose names went down in the history of electricity studies: V.V. Petrov (electric arc), H.F.E. Lenz (Joule-Lenz law), M.H. Jacobi (galvanoplasties).

After the death of Jacobi, a new director was G.I. Vild, an outstanding physicist and meteorologist, the organizer of the Russian meteorological network (over 27 years of his work the number of meteorological stations increased from 31 to 650), an investigator of earth magnetism and the author of a series of excellent instruments. Occupied with meteorological studies, Vild could not devote much time to physics, so works on physics in the Cabinet were mainly conducted by O.D. Khvolson, privat-docent of the Petersburg University who continued works by Lenz and Jacobi on electromagnetism and by Vild on optics.

In 1893, by the representation of Vild and other academicians, B.B. Golitsyn was elected an adjunct of the Academy In early 1894, he was charged with heading the Physical Cabinet; in 1912, it was turned into the Physical Laboratory, which existed till 1921. Nobody worked at the Cabinet by the time Golitsyn came. He put the Cabinet in order, replenished it with instruments. B.B. Golitsyn is the founder of domestic seismology; he developed the theory and designs of seismic instruments. Owing to him, seismology turned into an exact science. He solved the problem of determining the seismic focus by the data of one seismic station; constructed the first electrodynamic seismograph and developed its theory worked out many other seismic instruments, solved the problem of the velocity of propagation of seismic waves at various depths of the Earth. All Russian and most foreign seismic stations were equipped with Golitsyn's seismographs, including the seismic station near Irkutsk, which registered the fall of the Tunguska meteorite in 1908. Golitsyn's studies also dealt with optics, molecular physics and spectroscopy He was the first to introduce (in 1893) the concept of thermal emission temperature, experimentally verified the Doppler effect for light, studied the critical state of matter, performed á number of spectroscopic studies.
After Golitsyn's death, for a time there was nobody in constant charge of the Physical Laboratory; it changed hands from Academician geophysicist MA Rykachev to Academician physicist/chemist N.S. Kurnakov and from him to physicist P.P. Lazarev.

In the period after the Revolution of 1917, the Physical Laboratory of the Academy of Sciences headed by Academician RP Lazarev had not the best times until it was united with the Mathematical Cabinet of the Academy of Sciences into the Physico-mathematical Institute. A noted mathematician VA Steklov became its director. The Institute consisted of three Departments: Physical, Mathematical and Seismic. While the activities of the latter two departments were quite successful, the Physical Department, having a small number of staff and experiencing a sharp need in instruments, almost stopped experimental studies. After the largest Seismic Department was separated to form an independent institute, the remaining Physico-mathematical institute was headed by Academician AN. Krylov Even in that hard period, which lasted for about 10 years, the Physical Department headed by T.R Kravets performed several first-class works, which concerned the nature and theor)' of a hidden photographic image and its relation to the phenomena of crystals' staining under the action of radiations.

In 1932, Academician S.I. Vavilov became director of the Physical Department. The department began studies of the properties of just discovered neutrons, luminescence of fluids under the action of ionizing radiation, the problem of crystals' staining, the microstructure of fluids, electrical breakdown in gases, catalysts of chemical reactions. At this time, such excellent physicists as G.A. Gamow, L.V. Mysovsky, N.A Dobrotin, I.M. Frank, PA. Cherenkov, LV. Groshev and others came to the Institute. Equipment started to be replenished, various seminars emerged. The Department swiftly mastered the new physics and with quick steps entered the new efficient phase of existence. It is in these years that an outstanding discovery given the name of Vavilov-Cherenkov radiation was made. Its theoretical explanation was soon given by the scientists of the Department, the future Academicians I.E. Tamm and I.M. Frank. In 1958, this discovery was awarded with a Nobel Prize.

The official date of establishing the Physical Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences is considered to be 28 April 1934, when the General Assembly of the USSR Academy of Sciences passed a resolution on the separation of the Physico-mathematical Institute into two institutes: the Mathematical Institute and the Physical Institute. Soon, in the summer of 1934, by the decree of the Government of the USSR, both institutes together with the Academy of Sciences moved to Moscow, occupying a building on the 3rd Miusskaya Street, which was built well back in 1912 on donations for the laboratory of Pyotr Nikolayevich Lebedev On the 18th of December 1934, the Physical Institute was given the name of PN. Lebedev
This finalized the more than bicentennial evolution of a small department at the Cabinet of Curiosities and the transformation of the Physical Department of the Physico-mathematical Institute into the Physical Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences, which was begun by AN. Krylov and completed by S.I. Vavilov This event symbolized the combining of the old Petersburg academic physics and the more young Moscow university physics. It is appropriate to recall here the friendship of B.B. Golitsyn and PN. Lebedev, which began well back in the days of their studies at the Strassbourg University and continued till the death of PN. Lebedev Thus, the new Physical Institute combined the traditions of the Golitsyn and Lebedev scientific schools. The Institute was headed by Academician S.I. Vavilov, a student of PR Lazarev (the nearest assistant of PN. Lebedev).

In essence, 1934 was the year when the new history of the Physical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences began. Though the speciality of S.I. Vavilov was physical optics, the range of his scientific interests was much broader. In particular, he was aware of the importance of the rapidly developing physics of the atomic nucleus and distinctly understood the necessity of supporting the "new physics" emerging in the early XXth century - relativity theory and quantum mechanics. He also clearly comprehended that theory is of no less importance for modern physics than experiment, and that these two parts of the physical science are inseparably related one to the other.


S.I. Vavilov set the goal to create a "poly-physical" institute, which would combine the major directions of modern physics, dictated by the logic of the development of science; each direction would be headed by a first-class specialist. Vavilov discussed the future structure of the Physical Institute with his colleagues and, first and foremost, with L.I. Mandelshtam, who was one of the first he invited to work at the Institute and whose scientific and pedagogical activity he valued very much.

Soon the Laboratory of the Atomic Nucleus headed by D.V. Skobeltsyn was organized, its staff including V.I. Veksler, S.N. Vernov, L.V. Groshev, N.A. Dobrotin, I.M. Frank, P.A. Cherenkov and others; Laboratory of the Physics of Oscillations headed by N.D. Papaleksi (A.A. Andronov, B.A Vvedensky, G.S. Gorelik, L.I. Mandelshtam, S.M. Rytov, RA. Ryazin, E.Ya. Shchegolev and others); Laboratory of Physical Optics under the leadership of G.S. Landsberg; Laboratory of Luminescence headed by S.I. Vavilov (VV. Antonov-Romanovsky, VL. Levshin, M.A. Konstantinova, LA. Tumerman and others); Laboratory of Spectral Analysis headed by S.L. Mandelshtam; Laboratory of the Physics of Dielectrics headed by B.M. Vul; Laboratory of Theoretical Physics under the leadership of I.E. Tamm (D.I. Blokhintsev, VL Ginzburg, M.A. Markov, K.V Nikolsky, E.L Feinberg, VA. Fock and others); Laboratory of Acoustics headed by A.A. Andreyev (S.N. Rzhevkin, LD. Rozenberg, Yu.M. Sukharevsky and others). From 1934 till 1937, the Institute also included the Laboratory of Surface Phenomena headed by PA. Rebinder. In the pre-war period, the Physical Institute yearly organized expeditions to Mt. Elbrus for observations of cosmic rays and some atmospheric optical phenomena.


After the Great Patriotic War began (in July 1941), the Physical Institute moved from Moscow to Kazan and, up to its re-evacuation in the autumn of 1943, was accommodated in the premises for practical physics work of the Kazan University. Scientists of the Physical Institute were eager to make their contribution to victory. Practically all work at the Institute was subordinated to the war subject matter. The Laboratory of Luminescence developed and introduced into production luminescing compositions for aviation instruments and infrared binoculars used in the dark (in 1943, they were put by the Navy into service). The Laboratory of the Atomic Nucleus offered the military industry X-ray instruments for controlling aircraft engine valves and gamma thickness gauges for monitoring the quality of cannon barrels with wall thicknesses of up to 10 cm. The staff of the Laboratory of Dielectrics learned how to make high-strength temperature-stable ceramics for radio capacitors and passed the process to the industry. In actual fact, these works laid the grounds of domestic production of ceramic capacitors. The found metfiods of paper metallization were also used by industries for production of paper capacitors. Acousticians of the Physical Institute worked by the assignment of the Navy in the Black and Baltic Seas, rendering harmless enemy contact-free acoustic mines (by acoustic minesweeping and remote explosion). Theoreticians of the Physical Institute developed the electrodynamic theory of laminated magnetic antenna cores and the theory of the propagation of radio waves along a real earth surface, which made it possible to determine the position of ground-based and above-water objects with high precision. The correlation theory of the recognition of an acoustic signal in the presence of strong interference was developed, and the method of locating submarines was radically improved. Specialists on oscillations developed new types of sensitive aircraft antennas. The Optical Laboratory passed to metallurgical, aircraft and tank plants express methods and portable instalments (steeloscopes) for the spectral analysis of the composition of steels and alloys. Methods of controlling the quality of petrol based on Raman light scattering were also developed and passed to the industries. Hospitals received a new stereoscopic instrument for the analysis of X-ray films.

Coming back to Moscow in the autumn of 1943, the Physical Institute began its return from applied military studies to fundamental research. The theoretical seminar under the leadership of I.E. Tamm began its regular meetings. In 1944, V.l. Veksler proposed and E.L Feinberg theoretically substantiated the principle of the so-called phase stability of accelerated relativistic charged particles, which made possible the development of modern high-energy accelerators. At that period of time, the accelerator subject matter became the main point of growth of the Physical Institute. Successively phased in were the synchrotrons for electron energy of 30 MeV (1947), 250 MeV (1949) and the proton accelerator for 180 MeV (1953), which became a model of the future Dubna synchrophasotron and somewhat later (in 1959) was converted into the synchrotron for electron energy of 680 MeV. This was followed by intensive studies of photonuclear and photomeson processes at the Physical Institute.

Experiments with cosmic rays - then the only source of very high-energy particles - were also continued Interest in such studies became stronger in connection with the Soviet Atomic Project. The first Pamirs expedition headed by V.I. Veksler was carried out as far back as in 1944, during the war. In 1946-1947, the High-altitude Scientific Station of the Physical Institute was : built in the Pamirs for studies of cosmic rays. These studies were marked by outstanding results - the discovery of a nuclear-cascade process caused by primary cosmic rays in the Earth atmosphere. In 1946, the Dolgoprudny Scientific Station near Moscow under the leadership of S.N. Vernov was set up for high-altitude monitoring of cosmic rays. By the initiative of S.I. Vavilov, who strived to concentrate cosmic-ray studies at one institute, the laboratory headed by A.I. Alikhanyan - which dealt with studies of the composition and spectra of cosmic radiation in the High-altitude Station
Aragats in Armenia - was transferred in 1951 from the Institute of Physical Problems to the Physical Institute.
In 1946, LPI's theoreticians V.L. Ginzburg and I.M. Frank discovered "at the tip of the pen" transient radiation of charged particles crossing the interface of two heterogeneous media. Predicted transient radiation was experimentally detected by AE. Chudakov in 1955. Subsequently this phenomenon was actively studied at the Laboratory of Elementary Particles at the Physical Institute with the view of creating a detector for high-energy physics on its
In early 1950s, theoreticians I.E. Tamm, A.D. Sakharov, V.L Ginzburg, V.I. Ritus, Yu.A. Romanov played an essential role in the development of the nuclear shield of the country - thermonuclear weapons.
In 1951, the Physical Institute moved to the new building in 53 Leninsky Prospect, which it occupies to date.