The Bruce Medalists


  Photo Photo ca. 1950, courtesy Prof. V. I. Goldanskii
Yakov Borisovich Zel'dovich
8 March 1914 1983 Bruce Medalist 2 December 1987

Yakov B. Zel’dovich (“Yasha” to intimates, “Ya.B.” to coworkers and students) was born in Minsk, then in the Soviet Union, now the capital of Belarus, and moved as an infant to Petrograd, which became Leningrad in 1924 and is now St. Petersburg. From age seventeen he worked at the Institute of Chemical Physics of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR in Leningrad (later in Moscow), where he started as a laboratory assistant and was quickly accepted as a scientist despite the lack of a bachelor’s degree. He later earned his doctorate at the Institute while working there. In his later years he was a member of the USSR Academy of Sciences and also a professor at Moscow State University, where he was the founding head of the Division of Relativistic Astrophysics at the Sternberg Astronomical Institute. He later headed the theoretical division of the Institute of Physical Problems. He made significant discoveries and wrote important books on problems of combustion and detonation. He worked on shock waves and gas dynamics and played a leading role in the development of Soviet nuclear and thermonuclear weapons. In the 1950s he turned to nuclear physics and the theory of elementary particles, and in the 1960s to astrophysics and cosmology. He worked on the dynamics of neutron emission during the formation of black holes, accretion onto black holes and neutron stars, the formation of galaxies and clusters, and the large scale structure of the universe. With Rashid Sunyaev he proposed what is known as the Sunyaev-Zel’dovich effect, an important method for determining the Hubble constant from the effect of gas in galaxy clusters on the microwave background radiation. He was a pioneer in attempts to relate particle physics to cosmology and to develop a quantum theory of gravity. He was also an important teacher and the leader of one of the world’s leading research groups in general relativity and cosmology. Note: His name is also spelled Zeldovich. The only correct spelling is in the Cyrillic alphabet: Яков Борисович Зельдович.

At Moscow State University

Presentation of Bruce medal
Morrison, David & Andrew Fraknoi, Mercury 12, 183 (1983)

Other awards
Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics, Dirac Medal, 1985.
Royal Astronomical Society, Gold medal, 1984, presented by A.W. Wolfendale, QJRAS 27, 541-42 (1986).
Soviet Academy of Sciences, I.V.Kurchatov Gold Medal, 1977
Soviet Government, Hero of Socialist Labor, 1949, 1953, 1957; Order of Lenin, 1962, 1974.

Biographical materials
Ginzburg, V.L., Biographical Memoirs of the Royal Society 40, 431-41 (1994).
Prokhorov, Mike, Sternberg Astronomical Institute
Scott, Douglas, Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (Springer, NY, 2007), pp. 1261-62.
Sunyaev, R.A., Zeldovich: Reminiscences (Chapman & Hall/CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL, 2004)
Sublette, Carey, The Soviet Nuclear Weapons Program
Zeldovich, Ya. B., “Autobiographical Notes” in Selected Works of Yakov Borisovich Zeldovich, vol. II. Particles, Nuclei, and the Universe (Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, NJ, 1993), p. 632ff [reprinted in Zeldovich: Reminiscences, pp. 341-53].

Anonymous, Sov. Astron. 32, 2, 229-30 (1988).
Sov. Astron. Lett. 14, 121-2 (1988).
Goldanskii, Vitalii I., Physics Today 41, 12, 98-102 (1988).
Priester, Wolfgang, Sky & Telescope 76, 4, 354 (1988).
Sakharov, A., Nature 331, 671-2 (1988).
Six authors, Priroda 2, 84-111 (1992) [in Russian].

AIP Center for History of Physics (several)
Luk'yanchuk, Boris, website
The Nuclear Weapon Archive
Sternberg Astronomical Institute (sketch)

Named after him
Russian Academy of Sciences and COSPAR, Zeldovich Medal
Harrison-Zel'dovich Spectrum (with Edward R. Harrison)
Sunyaev-Zeldovich Effect (with R.A. Sunyaev)
Minor planet #11438 Zeldovich

More references

The Bruce Medalists

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