Yakov Borisovich Zel'dovich

Yakov Borisovich Zel'dovich


Date of Birth
March 8, 1914
Date of Death
December 2, 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.

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].

Academic genealogy



AIP Center for History of Physics (several)
Luk'yanchuk, Boris, website

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


Papers, etc.

Zel'dovich's papers are at the Archives of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Other References: Historical

Search ADS for works about Zel’dovich

Breizman, Boris N. & James W. van Dam, eds., G.I. Budker: Reflections and Remembrances (AIP, 1994).

Coles, P.C. & V. Sahni, “Large-scale Structure without N-body Simulations: the Legacy of Ya. B. Zeldovich,” Observatory 116, 25-31 (1996).

Gershtein, Semen S., “Ya B Zel’dovich's Contribution to Modern Particle Physics,” Phys. Usp. 47, 845-52 (2004).

Hargittai, Istvan, Buried Glory: Portraits of Soviet Scientists (Oxford Univ. Press, 2013).

Holloway, David, Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy 1939-1956 (Yale Univ. Press, 1994).

Keeler, R.N., “Some thoughts of an American scientist on the dynamic high-pressure work of Academician Ya B Zel'dovich,” Phys. Usp. 38, 559-63 (1995).

Khariton, Yuli, Kitor Adamskii, & Yuri Smirnov, “The Way It Was,” Bull. Atomic Sci. 52, 6, 53 (1996) [on how Soviet scientists developed the hydrogen bomb independently, with an introduction by David Holloway].

Overbye, Dennis, Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos: The Scientific Quest for the Secret of the Universe (HarperCollins, NY, 1991).

Peebles, P.J.E., “Yakov Zel’dovich and Modern Cosmology,” in Errol Gotsman, Yuval Neeman, & Alexander Voronel, eds., Frontiers of Physics: Proceedings of the Landau Memorial Conference, Tel Aviv, Israel, 6-10 June, 1988 (Pergamon, 1991), pp. 343-57.

Popov, V.S., “My Recollections of Ya. B. Zeldovich,” in The Sun, the Stars, the Universe and General Relativity: International Conference in Honor of Ya.B. Zeldovich's 95th Anniversary. AIP Conference Proceedings, Volume 1205 (AIP, 2010), pp. 132-34.

Sakharov, Andrei, Memoirs (Knopf, NY, 1990).

Sublette, Carey, The Soviet Nuclear Weapons Program

Thorne, Kip S., Black Holes & Time Warps (W.W. Norton, NY, 1994).

Other References: Scientific

Search ADS for works by Zel’dovich

Novikov, I.D. & Ya. B. Zel’dovich, “Cosmology,” Ann. Rev. Astron. Astrophys. 5, 627-49 (1967).

Zel’dovich, Ya. B. & R.A. Sunyaev, “The Interaction of Matter and Radiation in a Hot-Model Universe,” Astrophys. & Space Sci. 4, 301-16 (1969).

Sunyaev, R.A. & Ya. B. Zel’dovich, “Small-Scale Fluctuations of Relic Radiation,” Astrophys. & Space Sci. 7, 3-19 (1970).

Sunyaev, R.A. & Ya. B. Zel’dovich, “The Interaction of Matter and Radiation in the Hot Model of the Universe,” Astrophys. & Space Sci. 7, 20-30 (1970).

Zel’dovich, Ya. B. & I.D. Novikov, Relativistic Astrophysics, Vol. I. Stars and Relativity (Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1971-83; Dover, NY, 1997).

Zel’dovich, Ya. B. & I.D. Novikov, Relativistic Astrophysics, Vol. II. The Structure and Evolution of the Universe (Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1971-83; Dover, NY, 1997).

Zel’dovich, Ya. B. & A.A. Starobinsky, “Creation of Particles and Vacuum Polarization in an Anisotropic Gravitational Field,” Zhurnal Eksperimentalnoi i Teoreticheskoi Fiziki 61, 2161-75 (1971). English translation: Soviet Physics–JETP 34, 1159 (1972).

Zel’dovich, Ya. B., “The Generation of Waves by a Rotating Body,” Pis’ma v Redakstiyu Zhurnal Eksperimentalnoi i Teoreticheskoi Fiziki 14, 270 (1971). English translation: JETP Letters 14, 180 (1971).

Novikov, I.D. & Ya. B. Zel’dovich, “Physical Processes Near Cosmological Singularities,” Ann. Rev. Astron. Astrophys. 11, 387-412 (1973).

Doroshkevich, A G.; R.A. Sunyaev, & Ya.B. Zel’dovich,“The Formation of Galaxies in Friedmannian Universes,” in Confrontation of Cosmological Theories with Observational Data; Proceedings of the Symposium, Krakow, Poland, September 10-12, 1973 (D. Reidel, Dordrecht, 1974), pp. 213-25.

Zeldovich, Ia. B., “The Theory of the Large Scale Structure of the Universe, ” in The Large Scale Structure of the Universe; Proceedings of the Symposium, Tallin, Estonian SSR, September 12-16, 1977 (D. Reidel, Dordrecht, 1978), pp. 409-21.

Sunyaev, R.A. & Ya. B. Zel’dovich, “Microwave Background Radiation as a Probe of the Contemporary Structure and History of the Universe,” Ann. Rev. Astron. Astrophys. 18, 537-60 (1980).

S.I.Blinnikov, & N.I.Shakura, Physical Principles of Structure and Evolution of Stars (Moscow University, Moscow, 1981) [full text in Russian].

Shandarin, S.F. & Ya. B. Zedovich, “Large Scale Distribution of Matter: Galaxies and Their Clustering Properties,” in ESO Conf. Workshop Proc., No. 23, pp. 45 - 83 (1986) [abstract].

Shandarin, S.F. & Ya. B. Zeldovich, “The large-scale structure of the universe: Turbulence, intermittency, structures in a self-gravitating medium,” Revs. Mod. Phys. 61, 185-220 (1989).

Dolgov, A.D., M.V. Sazhin, & Ya. B. Zel’dovich, Basics of Modern Cosmology (Editions Frontières, Gif-sur-Yvette, 1990) [review by A. Heavens].

Zel’dovich, Ya. B., A.A. Ruzmaikin, & D.D. Sokoloff, Magnetic Fields in Astrophysics (Gordon & Breach, 1983; Taylor & Francis, London, 1990).

Zel’dovich, Ya. B., Selected Works of Yakov Borisovich Zeldovich, J.P. Ostriker, G.I. Barenblatt, & R.A. Sunyaev, eds., (Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 1992 ).

Zel’dovich, Ya. B., My Universe: Selected Reviews, ed. by Boris Ya. Zel’dovich & M.V. Sazhin (Harwood Academic Pub., Philadelphia, 1992).

Zel’dovich, Ya. B. & I.D. Novikov, Stars and Relativity (Dover, 1996).