Boris Podolsky

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Boris Podolsky
Born Boris Yakovlevich Podolsky
29 June 1896
Taganrog, Don Host Oblast, Russian Empire
Died 28 November 1966 (1966-11-29) (aged 70)
Cincinnati, USA
Citizenship American
Alma mater Caltech
University of Southern California
Known for EPR paradox
Scientific career
Fields Physicist
Institutions University of Cincinnati
Leipzig University
Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute
Institute for Advanced Study
Xavier University, Cincinnati
Los Angeles Bureau of Power and Light
Doctoral advisor Paul Sophus Epstein
Influences Albert Einstein

Boris Yakovlevich Podolsky (Russian: Бори́с Я́ковлевич Подо́льский; 29 June 1896 – 28 November 1966) was an American physicist of Russian Jewish descent, noted on his work with Albert Einstein and Nathan Rosen on entangled wave functions and the EPR paradox. Many years after his death, it was revealed that Podolsky was a Soviet spy who shared classified scientific information with the USSR.


In 1896, Boris Podolsky was born into a poor Jewish family in Taganrog, in the Don Host Oblast of the Russian Empire, and he moved to the United States in 1913. After receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Southern California in 1918, he served in the US Army and then worked at the Los Angeles Bureau of Power and Light. In 1926, he obtained an MS in Mathematics from the University of Southern California. In 1928, he received a PhD in Theoretical Physics (under Paul Sophus Epstein) from Caltech.


Under a National Research Council Fellowship, Podolsky spent a year at the University of California, Berkeley, followed by a year at Leipzig University. In 1930, he returned to Caltech, working with Richard C. Tolman for one year. He then went to the Ukrainian Institute of Physics and Technology (Kharkiv, USSR), collaborating with Vladimir Fock, Paul Dirac (who was there on a visit), and Lev Landau. In 1933, he returned to the USA with a fellowship from the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton.

In a letter dated November 10, 1933, to Abraham Flexner, founding Director of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, Einstein described Podolsky as "one of the most brilliant of the younger men who has worked and published with [Paul] Dirac." In 1935 Einstein and others at the Institute wrote letters of recommendation for Podolsky, addressed to Louis T. More, Dean of the Graduate School of the University of Cincinnati, in which Einstein wrote, "I am happy to be able to tell you that I estimate Podolsky’s abilities very highly.. he is an independent investigator of unquestionable talent."[1] In 1935, Podolsky took a post as professor of mathematical physics at the University of Cincinnati. In 1961, he moved to Xavier University, Cincinnati, where he worked until his death in 1966.


Working with Albert Einstein and Nathan Rosen, Podolsky conceived the EPR paradox. This famous paper stimulated debate as to the interpretation of quantum mechanics, culminating with Bell's theorem and the advent of quantum information theory.

In 1933, Podolsky and Lev Landau had the idea to write a textbook on electromagnetism beginning with special relativity and emphasizing theoretical postulates rather than experimental laws. This project did not come to fruition due to Podolsky's return to the United States, where he had immigrated in 1913. However, in the hands of Lev Landau and E. Lifshitz, the outline they produced became The Classical Theory of Fields (1951).[2] On the same basis, Podolsky and K. Kunz produced Fundamentals of Electrodynamics, Marcel Dekker Press (1969), to which Podolsky's son, Robert, contributed most of the questions at the end of each chapter.


A 2009 book by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassiliev, Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, identifies Podolsky as a spy. During the war, Podolsky allegedly sought out Soviet intelligence and recommended the USSR work on processing Uranium 235. As suggested by KGB files and decrypted Venona cables, Podolsky, code named QUANTUM, was said to have passed to the Soviets information he had probably gleaned from his contacts in the scientific community: complex chemical equations on the process of gaseous diffusion in order to separate bomb grade U-235 from unwanted U-238. Unlike most other Soviet spies operating in the US who passed information only for ideological reasons, Podolsky apparently passed this information for a price ($300), according to Soviet sources recently analyzed by historians.[3]

In popular culture[edit]

Podolsky is played by the actor Gene Saks in the Hollywood film I.Q.


  1. ^ The Advent and Fallout of EPR, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, Fall 2013
  2. ^ Lev Davidovich Landau and E.M. Lifshitz, [1] The Classical Theory of Fields (Pergamon Press Ltd, 1951).
  3. ^ John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassiliev, Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America (Boston: Yale University Press, 2009).

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