Iakov Borisovich Zeldovich

Zel’dovich, Iakov Borisovich


Born Mar. 8, 1914, in Minsk. Soviet theoretical physicist; one of the founders of the modern theory of combustion, detonation, and shock waves. Academician of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (1958; corresponding member, 1946). Three times Hero of Socialist Labor.

Beginning in 1931, Zel’dovich worked at the Institute of Chemical Physics of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. Since 1964 he has been working at the Institute of Applied Mathematics of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. He is also a professor at Moscow University (since 1966). His scientific interests are varied. He is the author of works on physical chemistry, astrophysics, the theory of elementary particles, and nuclear physics. In 1934 he completed basic works on adsorption and catalysis on nonhomogeneous surfaces. He formulated the problem of the regime of flame propagation and found (with D. A. Frank-Kamenetskii) a relationship between the rate of combustion and the properties of the burning mixture. Zel’dovich created the physical foundations of the internal ballistics of powder rocket engines. He developed a quantitative theory of detonation, explained the phenomenon of detonation limits, and laid the basis for a theory of spinning detonation. He also obtained important results in shock wave theory: in problems of wave front structure (with Iu. P. Raizer) and of flows with a shock front. His works with lu. B. Khariton (1939–41) were of great importance in solving the problem of the use of nuclear energy.

Zel’dovich, the author of works on the theory elementary particles, predicted a β-decay process for the π-meson and with S. S. Gershtein noted a similarity between electromagnetic interactions and weak interactions (the hypothesis of a conserved vector current) and predicted the phenomenon of muon catalysis. He originated the idea of the retention of ultracold neutrons (realized by F. L. Shapiro) as well as the analysis of the properties and methods of detecting mesons with a life of about 10–22–10–23 sec.

In astrophysics and cosmogony, Zel’dovich developed a theory of the last stages of the evolution of stars and stellar systems taking into account the effects of the general theory of relativity, a theory of gravitational collapse, and a theory of the processes in an expanding “hot universe” and suggested experimental methods of checking cosmological theories. Zel’dovich has founded a school of Soviet physicists in the field of the theory of combustion, detonation, and shock waves. A recipient of the Lenin Prize and four State Prizes of the USSR, he has been awarded three Orders of Lenin, three other orders, and various medals.


Teoriia goreniia i detonatsii gazov. Moscow-Leningrad, 1944.
Teoriia udarnykh voln i vvedenie k gazodinamiku. Moscow-Leningrad, 1946.
Teoriia detonatsii. Moscow, 1955. (With A. S. Kompaneits.)
Fizika udarnykh voln i vysokotemperaturnykh gidrodinamicheskikh iavlenii. Moscow, 1963. (Second edition, Moscow, 1966, with lu. P. Raizer.)
Reliativistskaia astrofizika. Moscow, 1967. (With I. D. Novikov.)
Teoriia tiagoteniia i evolutsiia zvezd. Moscow, 1971. (With I. D. Novikov.)
Vysshaia matematika dlia nachinaiushchikh i ee prilozheniia k fizike, 4th ed. Moscow, 1968.


Smorodinskii, la. A., and D. A. Frank-Kamenetskii. “lakov Borisovich Zel’dovich (K 50-letiiu so dnia rozhdeniia).” Uspekhi fizicheskikh nauk, 1964, vol. 82, p. 3. (Contains a bibliography of works.)