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Vitaly Ginzburg

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Vitaly Ginzburg
Виталий Гинзбург
Vitaly Lazarevich Ginzburg

(1916-10-04)4 October 1916
Died8 November 2009(2009-11-08) (aged 93)
Moscow, Russia
Resting placeNovodevichy Cemetery, Moscow
Nationality Russia
Alma materMoscow State University (KN 1938) (DN 1942)
Known forGinzburg–Landau theory
Ginzburg criterion
Transition radiation
Spouse(s)Olga Zamsha Ginzburg (1937–1946; divorced; 1 child)
Nina Yermakova Ginzburg
(m. 1946)
Scientific career
FieldsTheoretical physics
InstitutionsP. N. Lebedev Physical Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences
N. I. Lobachevsky State University of Nizhny Novgorod
Doctoral advisorIgor Tamm
Doctoral studentsViatcheslav Mukhanov
Leonid Keldysh

Vitaly Lazarevich Ginzburg, ForMemRS[1] (Russian: Вита́лий Ла́заревич Ги́нзбург; 4 October 1916 – 8 November 2009) was a Russian physicist who was honored with the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2003, together with Alexei Abrikosov and Anthony Leggett for their "pioneering contributions to the theory of superconductors and superfluids."[2]

His career in physics was spent in the former Soviet Union and was one of the leading figure in former Soviet program of nuclear weapons, working towards designs of the thermonuclear devices.[3][4] He became a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and succeeded Igor Tamm as head of the Department of Theoretical Physics of the Lebedev Physical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences (FIAN). In his later life, Ginzburg become an outspoken atheist and was critical of clergy's influence in Russian society.[5]


Vitaly Ginzburg was born to a Jewish family in Moscow on 4 October 1916— the son of an engineer, Lazar Yefimovich Ginzburg, and a doctor, Augusta Wildauer who was a graduate from the Physics Faculty of Moscow State University in 1938. After attending his mother's alma mater, he defended his qualifications of the candidate's (Kandidat Nauk) dissertation in 1940, and his comprehensive thesis for the doctor's (Doktor Nauk) qualification in 1942. In 1944, he became a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Among his achievements are a partially phenomenological theory of superconductivity, the Ginzburg–Landau theory, developed with Lev Landau in 1950;[6] the theory of electromagnetic wave propagation in plasmas (for example, in the ionosphere); and a theory of the origin of cosmic radiation. He is also known to biologists as being part of the group of scientists that helped bring down the reign of the politically connected anti-Mendelian agronomist Trofim Lysenko, thus allowing modern genetic science to return to the USSR.[7]

In 1937, Ginzburg married Olga Zamsha. In 1946, he married his second wife, Nina Ginzburg (nee Yermakova), who had spent more than a year in custody on fabricated charges of plotting to assassinate the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.[8]

As a renowned professor and researcher, Ginzburg was an obvious candidate for the Soviet bomb project. From 1948 through 1952 Ginzburg worked under Igor Kurchatov to help with the hydrogen bomb.[9] Ginzburg and Igor Tamm both proposed ideas that would make it possible to build a hydrogen bomb. When the bomb project moved to Arzamas-16 to continue in even more secrecy, Ginzburg was not allowed to follow. Instead he stayed in Moscow and supported from afar, staying under watch due to his background and past.[2] As the work got continuously more classified, Ginzburg was phased out of the project and allowed to pursue his true passion, superconductors. During the Cold War, the thirst for knowledge and technological advancement was never-ending. This was no different with the research done on superconductors. The Soviet Union believed an the research done on superconductors would place them ahead of their American counterparts. Both sides sought to leverage the potential military applications of superconductors.

Ginzburg was the editor-in-chief of the scientific journal Uspekhi Fizicheskikh Nauk.[4] He also headed the Academic Department of Physics and Astrophysics Problems, which Ginzburg founded at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology in 1968.[10]

Ginzburg identified as a secular Jew, and following the collapse of communism in the former Soviet Union, he was very active in Jewish life, especially in Russia, where he served on the board of directors of the Russian Jewish Congress. He is also well known for fighting anti-Semitism and supporting the state of Israel.[11]

In the 2000s (decade), Ginzburg was politically active, supporting the Russian liberal opposition and human rights movement.[12] He defended Igor Sutyagin and Valentin Danilov against charges of espionage put forth by the authorities. On 2 April 2009, in an interview to the Radio Liberty Ginzburg denounced the FSB as an institution harmful to Russia and the ongoing expansion of its authority as a return to Stalinism.[13]

Ginzburg worked at the P. N. Lebedev Physical Institute of Soviet and Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow since 1940. Russian Academy of Sciences is a major institution where mostly all Nobel Prize laureates of physics from Russia have done their studies and/or research works.[14]

Stance on religion[edit]

Ginzburg was an avowed atheist, both under the militantly atheist Soviet government and in post-Communist Russia when religion made a strong revival.[15] He criticized clericalism in the press and wrote several books devoted to the questions of religion and atheism.[16][17] Because of this, some Orthodox Christian groups denounced him and said no science award could excuse his verbal attacks on the Russian Orthodox Church.[18] He was one of the signers of the Open letter to the President Vladimir V. Putin from the Members of the Russian Academy of Sciences against clericalisation of Russia.

Nobel Prize[edit]

Vitaly Ginzburg, along with Anthony Leggett and Alexei Abrikosov were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2003 for their groundbreaking work on the theory of superconductors.[2] The Nobel Prize recognized Ginzburg's work in theoretical physics, specifically his contributions to understanding the behavior of matter at extremely low temperatures.

His collaboration with Lev Landau in 1950 led to the development of the Ginzburg-Landau theory, which became paramount to later work on superconductors. Landau had been working on superconductors for years before their partnership, with Landau publishing many papers between 1941 and 1947 on the properties of quantum fluids at extremely low temperatures. Lev Landau would later receive a Nobel Prize in 1962 for this research on the properties of the superfluid liquid helium in 1941.[19] Before their collaboration, Landau had just done research on liquid helium and other quantum fluids, but Ginzburg allowed them to go a step further.

Ginzburg introduced the concept of an order parameter, which would allow them to characterize the state of the superconductor. To do this, they derived a complex set of equations that would allow them to describe the behavior of the superconductor.[20] These equations provided a model from which researchers can understand the transition between a normal and superconducting state, as well as be able to predict various properties of other superconductors. Using these equations, they were also able to introduce the Ginzburg-Landau Parameter. This parameter used a separate set of equations in order to classify if they were looking at a Type-I or Type-II superconductor. This advancement allowed Anthony Leggett to build upon it and complete his own research on superconductors.

This research on superconductors allowed many new technological advancements to unfold, including some we can see in everyday life. The use of superconductors can be seen in MRI machines,[21] engines, and new Maglev trains.


A spokeswoman for the Russian Academy of Sciences announced that Ginzburg died in Moscow on 8 November 2009 from cardiac arrest.[3][22] He had been suffering from ill health for several years,[22] and three years before his death said "In general, I envy believers. I am 90, and [am] being overcome by illnesses. For believers, it is easier to deal with them and with life's other hardships. But what can be done? I cannot believe in resurrection after death."[22]

Prime Minister of Russia Vladimir Putin sent his condolences to Ginzburg's family, saying "We bid farewell to an extraordinary personality whose outstanding talent, exceptional strength of character and firmness of convictions evoked true respect from his colleagues".[22] President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev, in his letter of condolences, described Ginzburg as a "top physicist of our time whose discoveries had a huge impact on the development of national and world science."[23]

Ginzburg was buried on 11 November in the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow, the resting place of many famous politicians, writers and scientists of Russia.[3]


The first wife (in 1937–1946) is a graduate of the Faculty of Physics of Moscow State University (1938) Olga Ivanovna Zamsha (born 1915, Yeysk), candidate of physical and mathematical sciences (1945), associate professor at MEPhI (1949–1985), author of the “Collection of problems on general physics" (with co-authors, 1968, 1972, 1975). The second wife (since 1946) is a graduate of the Faculty of Mechanics and Mathematics of Moscow State University, experimental physicist Nina Ivanovna Ginzburg (née Ermakova) (October 2, 1922 — May 19, 2019).

Daughter — Irina Vitalievna Dorman (born 1939), graduate of the Faculty of Physics of Moscow State University (1961), candidate of physical and mathematical sciences, historian of science (her husband is a cosmophysicist, doctor of physical and mathematical sciences Leib (Lev) Isaakovich Dorman).

Granddaughter — Victoria Lvovna Dorman, American physicist, graduate of the physics department of Moscow State University and Princeton University, deputy dean for academic affairs at the Princeton School of Engineering and Applied Science; her husband is physicist and writer Mikhail Petrov.

Great cousin — Mark Ginzburg.

Other honors and awards[edit]

Ginzburg reads a Nobel lecture in Moscow State University.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Longair, M. S. (2011). "Vitaly Lazarevich Ginzburg. 4 October 1916 – 8 November 2009". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 57: 129–146. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2011.0002. S2CID 71295700.
  2. ^ a b c "The Nobel Prize in Physics 2003". Nobel Foundation. Retrieved November 9, 2009.
  3. ^ a b c Thomas H. Maugh II (November 10, 2009). "Vitaly Ginzburg dies at 93; Nobel Prize-winning Russian physicist". Los Angeles Times.
  4. ^ a b "Vitaly Lazarevich Ginzburg — editor in chief of UFN".
  5. ^ Nikonov, Vyacheslav (September 30, 2004). "Physicists have nothing to do with miracles". Social Sciences (3): 148–150. Retrieved September 9, 2007.
  6. ^ Ledenyov, Dimitri O.; Ledenyov, Viktor O. (2012). "Nonlinearities in Microwave Superconductivity". arXiv:1206.4426 [cond-mat.supr-con].
  7. ^ Medvedev, Zhores (1969). The Rise and Fall of T.D. Lysenko. New York: Columbia University Press.
  8. ^ "Виталий Гинзбург: с Ландау трудно было спорить — Юрий Медведев."Уравнение Гинзбурга – Ландау" — Российская Газета — Академику и нобелевскому лауреату Виталию Гинзбургу исполняется 90 лет. Накануне юбилея он рассказал в интервью "РГ", как стал физиком-теоретиком, будучи "плохим" математиком, и почему он брал расписки со своего друга и учителя – знаменитого Льва Ландау, с которым вместе работал над сверхпроводимостью. Именно за эту работу Гинзбург впоследствии получил Нобелевскую премию. "Общаясь с Ландау, я много думал о его феномене, о пределах возможностей человека, огромных резервах мозга", – признался он". Rg.ru. 20 September 2006. Retrieved November 11, 2009.
  9. ^ "Vitaly L. Ginzburg - Nuclear Museum". ahf.nuclearmuseum.org/. Retrieved 2024-05-07.
  10. ^ "About Academic Department of Physics and Astrophysics Problems" (in Russian). Archived from the original on 21 June 2007.
  11. ^ Hein, Avi. "Vitaly Ginzburg". Jewish Virtual Library.
  12. ^ "Russia: Religious revival troubles Vitaly Ginzburg". University World News. Retrieved November 11, 2009.
  13. ^ Mikhail Sokolov. "2009 RFE/RL, Inc". Svobodanews.ru. Archived from the original on September 11, 2012. Retrieved November 11, 2009.
  14. ^ "Nobel Prize laureates affiliated with the Russian Academy of Sciences".
  15. ^ "Vitaly L. Ginzburg – Autobiography". nobelprize.org. Archived from the original on 2006-07-11.
  16. ^ Ginzburg, Vitaly (2009). "About atheism, religion and secular humanism". Moscow: FIAN. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  17. ^ Церковь ждет исповеди академиков (in Russian).
  18. ^ Клирики против физика. Православные требуют привлечь к ответственности академика Гинзбурга. Grani.ru (in Russian). July 24, 2007.
  19. ^ "Lev Davidovich Landau, Soviet physicist and Nobel laureate". Physics Today. 57 (2): 62. 2004. Bibcode:2004PhT....57Q..62.. doi:10.1063/1.2408530.
  20. ^ Hohenberg, P. C.; Krekhov, A. P. (2015-04-04). "An introduction to the Ginzburg–Landau theory of phase transitions and nonequilibrium patterns". Physics Reports. 572: 1–42. arXiv:1410.7285. Bibcode:2015PhR...572....1H. doi:10.1016/j.physrep.2015.01.001. ISSN 0370-1573.
  21. ^ Parizh, Michael; Lvovsky, Yuri; Sumption, Michael (January 2017). "Conductors for commercial MRI magnets beyond NbTi: requirements and challenges". Superconductor Science & Technology. 30 (1): 014007. Bibcode:2017SuScT..30a4007P. doi:10.1088/0953-2048/30/1/014007. ISSN 0953-2048. PMC 5472374. PMID 28626340.
  22. ^ a b c d Osipovich, Alexander (November 9, 2009). "Russian bomb physicist Ginzburg dead at 93". AFP. Archived from the original on April 13, 2010. Retrieved November 9, 2009.
  23. ^ "Dmitry Medvedev sent his condolences to the family of Nobel Prize Winner Vitaly Ginzburg following the scientist's passing". President of Russia: Official Web Portal. November 9, 2009. Retrieved July 16, 2016.
  24. ^ "APS Fellow Archive". APS. Retrieved 15 September 2020.

External links[edit]

Archival collections[edit]