Ilya Frank (1908-90), Nobel Prize laureate in Physics in 1958 and member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR
Russian scientists marked the centenary of the birth of the prominent physicist Ilya Frank. On 28 October 1958, the Swedish Academy of Sciences announced that the Nobel Physics Prize would be jointly awarded to Ilya Frank, Pavel Cherenkov, and Igor Tamm for the discovery and interpretation of the Cherenkov Effect.
Ilya Frank was born on 23 October 1908 in St Petersburg in a family of mathematicians. In 1925, the family moved to Simferopol in Crimea when his father was appointed as a professor at Tavr University. Ilya was 17-years-old at the time. Although he was not a formal student at the university, he attended lectures and joined a group studying mathematics. In 1926, he joined the physics and mathematics faculty of Moscow State University. He worked at a laboratory headed by the prominent physicist Sergei Vavilov and was proud that he was a student of the famous Academician. Ilya Frank graduated from two specialities at the same time and he defended his doctoral thesis at the age of 27, whilst he was working at the Institute of Physics. At the time, his colleague Pavel Cherenkov was conducting experiments. Cherenkov discovered that light is emitted by charged particles travelling at very high speeds through water. Ilya Frank was interested in the unknown phenomenon. Later, Frank and Tamm provided the theoretical explanation of this effect discovered by Cherenkov.
In describing how the two scientists arrived in the explanation Ilya Frank said, “He (Tamm) asked me to come to his house as soon as possible one evening. I went over there immediately and found that he was quite absorbed in his work. His room was filled with cigarette smoke and his experiment was already in progress. We worked throughout the night. In the morning, I left his house with the feeling that we did something very important!” the experiment proved that light is emitted when charged particles travel through optically-transparent medium at speeds greater than the speed of light in that medium. The discovery paved the way for developing new methods of detecting and measuring the speed of high energy nuclear particles. This method was quite significant for contemporary experimental nuclear physics.
In the 1940s, Ilya Frank was keen on nuclear and neutron physics. He was involved in the construction of the first Soviet uranium-graphite reactor at the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow in 1946. Later, he moved to Dubna, where he headed the neutron physics laboratory of the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Moscow oblast. He was one of the key developers of the particle accelerator at the institute. In his Nobel lecture, Ilya Frank emphasised that the Cherenkov Effect has many supplements in high energy particle physics. It was proven that there are such links between these phenomena and other problems, including links with plasma physics, astrophysics, the problem of generating radio waves and the problem of particle acceleration. The work of Ilya Frank enriched world science. Ilya Frank’s colleagues, our physicists, honoured the centenary of his birth and emphasised that every step he took was an invention.
20 November 2008
Voice of Russia World Service