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The place had been code-named Laboratory No 3 in the notoriously secretive Soviet era.
Today?s public is largely unaware of the above name. Back in the 1940s, he was of the two candidates along with Kurchatov to be handpicked by Josef Stalin for the position of a top scientific coordinator of the Soviet nuclear program.

There?re a few thousand research institutes in our country, though just a handful are named after the scientists who founded them. Lately the institute of theoretical and experimental physics in Moscow has been named after academician Avram Alikhanov.
The place had been code-named Laboratory No 3 in the notoriously secretive Soviet era.
Today?s public is largely unaware of the above name. Back in the 1940s, he was of the two candidates along with Kurchatov to be handpicked by Josef Stalin as a top scientific coordinator of the Soviet nuclear program. A scary legend has it that if Kurchatov had botched up the project, he would have been replaced by Alikhanov.

Now it?s impossible to say why Stalin preferred Kurchatov to Alikhanov. There?re a few versions to choose from. According to some sources, Alikhanov acted far too independently during the interview. Perhaps part of his problem had to do with the fact that he never was a party member. Maybe his non-Russian origin was a stumbling block. He might have shown his lack of enthusiasm for the Soviet power in one way or another. Incidentally, Yuri Orlov, Doctor of Physics and Mathematics, one of the well-known Soviet dissidents, would work in Alikhanov?s institute years later. It was a research institution marked by a higher degree of democracy and a lack of chain of command.

It was Alikhanov who was elected a member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences in 1943. He?d had been a scientist with world-wide recognition by the time. Kurchatov was made a member of the Academy at the request of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The election would have been considered null and void had that request been disregarded. Whatever the twists and turns of the story, Kurchatov and Alikhanov were reportedly close friends. Alikhanov had a number of enemies among the top party apparatchiks who subjected his institute to a number of ?purges?.

Avram Alikhanov was born to the family of a Transcaucasion railroad engine driver. The engine drivers were a sort of the blue blood among the proletariat in Russia before 1917. All four offspring of the engine driver attended universities. Artem Alikhanyan, one of the brothers, became a corresponding member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, a founder of an institute of physics and technology in Armenia.
Avram Alikhanov was a connoisseur of arts. Slava Roshal, his wife, was a winner of an international competition of violinists. He was a close friend of Oborin, Yudina, Kabalevski, Khachaturyan, and Saryan, who painted his portrait. His apartment in Cheremushki, on the edge of Moscow, was one of the few places where Dmitry Shostakovich, a very uptight person, would spend long hours at ease. The composer is reported to have said to his host: ?Avram Isaakovich, you?ve got a wonderful apartment but it?s too faraway from the conservatoire. How can you live in it?? Moscow?s village Cheremushki seemed to be a place at the back of beyond at the time. It was located at the outskirts of Moscow where the authorities decided to build an institute of theoretical and experimental physics. By the way, it was Alikhanov who first tried to put an end to a ludicrous debate about the priority of science over arts launched in the Soviet media in the 1960s and 1970s. He loved to cite a quotation by academician Ambartsumyan about man being different from pig because the former would occasionally look at the stars.

Kurchatov, Alikhanov, Alexandrov, and Vinagradov, the men behind the Soviet nuclear program, sent a letter to the Communist party bosses following a successful testing of the Soviet hydrogen bomb in 1955. The letter said a new world war had become impossible after the H-bomb for it would annihilate humankind therefore the top players should embrace on a fresh course in the international politics. Malenkov showed his support for that pacifist letter whereas Khruschev reportedly used a political short-sightedness of his party crony for delivering a deadly blow which ruined Malenkov?s career. A few years later, Alikhanov took every step possible to get himself removed from working on a more powerful bomb, the one that was being built in Arzamas by Zeldovich?s team. Having realized the futility of his intentions, he approved a negative assessment of the work.

His scientific achievements are huge. Academician Alikhanov, hero of socialist labor, three-time winner of the state prize, took part in the building of reactors run on heavy water with a negative reactivity. This type of reactors is virtually Chernobyl-proof. He launched projects for the study of space radiation that today have became a priority area of research of the world science. Alikhanov was also involved in the building of the first proton accelerator and the first synchrophasotron. The research he conducted on roentgen optics, artificial radioactivity, beta decay, positron and other elementary particles specters has become a classic. It?s not an accident that Alikhanov was made a scientific secretary of the technical committee of the Special council charged with creation of the Soviet atomic bomb.

His career wasn?t one long stroke of luck, though. The Institute of theoretical and experimental physics was ordered to develop a thorium reactor. The objective was never completed. For the record, foreign scientists failed to do the job either. Alikhanov went through a lot of pain due to the lack of success and the tyranny of the Soviet administrative system. He broke down at the end of the 1960s when a proton accelerator, his pet project, was transferred to another team of scientists.

Avram Alikhanov belongs to a generation of scientists who brought fame to our science.
He was one of those stars who all of a sudden went up and shot brightly across the sky in Rutherford?s time. Old and gray, they?d get together at Alikahnov?s dacha for dinner. Kapitsa, with a smile on his face, once gave comfort to Alikhanov after learning that relatives of the latter kept the scientist away from home electrical appliances. He said: ?Don?t you get upset. Rutherford?s wife didn?t allow him to fix the door locks either.? Landau couldn?t stand any kind of music and bantered with Alikhanov by asking him ?why should we sing if we can talk??

Shortly before the car crash that nearly killed him, Landau said to Alikhanov: ?My screaming will be heard all over Moscow if they put me through surgery. I?m so afraid of the physical pain.? Alikahnov couldn?t get no relief when his friend was badly injured and put into hospital. His eyes were bloodshot after the hospital visits. He mind was racing as he was restlessly cruising around the town looking for help at every office.
He didn?t last long after the death of Landau. His grave is close to Landau?s at the Novodevichie cemetery in Moscow.


© Рудаков В.Г. - NEKTO 2009г.

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