Kurchatov, Igor

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Kurchatov, Igor’ Vasil’evich


Born Dec. 30, 1902 (Jan. 12, 1903), in the city of Sim, now in Asha Raion, Cheliabinsk Oblast; died Feb. 7, 1960, in Moscow. Soviet physicist. Academician of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. Thrice Hero of Socialist Labor (1949, 1951, 1954). Member of the CPSU from 1948.

The son of a surveyor, Kurchatov graduated in 1923 from the physics and mathematics department of the Crimean University. In 1924–25 he worked as an assistant in the physics subdepartment of the Azerbaijan Polytechnic Institute in Baku. Beginning in 1925 he worked at the Leningrad Physicotechnical Institute under the direction of Academician A. F. Ioffe. In 1943, Kurchatov founded and was appointed head of the institute that later became known as the Institute of Atomic Energy of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. Since 1960 the institute has been known as the I. V. Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy. From 1946 to 1960, Kurchatov was a member of the presidium of the Academy of Siciences of the USSR.

Kurchatov’s investigations of the electrical properties of Rochelle (Seignette) salt, conducted at the start of his scientific career, made possible the science of ferroelectricity. In 1933, Kurchatov turned to the study of nuclear physics. In 1934 he discovered the phenomenon of branching of atomic reactions resulting from neutron bombardment and studied the artificial radiation of a number of elements. In 1935, Kurchatov, together with his co-workers, discovered the phenomenon of nuclear isomerism of artificially radioactive isotopes. Of great significance was his work on resonance absorption of neutrons and on their interaction with hydrogen. Studies carried out under his direction by the Soviet physicists K. A. Petrzhak and G. N. Flerov led in 1940 to the discovery of the spontaneous fission of uranium. During World War II (1941–45), Kurchatov along with other scientists conducted work of great significance to national defense.

Beginning in 1943, Kurchatov directed scientific work related to the atomic problem. The first cyclotron in Moscow (1944) and the first atomic reactor in Europe (1946) were constructed under his direction. He also supervised the development of the first Soviet atomic bomb (1949) and the world’s first thermonuclear bomb (1953), as well as the construction of the first industrial atomic power plant in the world (1954) and the largest installation for studies on the possibility of realizing controlled thermonuclear reactions (1958).

Kurchatov was a deputy to the third, fourth, and fifth convocations of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. In 1957 he received the Lenin Prize. A recipient of the State Prize of the USSR (1942, 1949, 1951, 1954) he was awarded five Orders of Lenin, two other orders, and various medals.

Kurchatov was buried on Red Square at the Kremlin wall. His name has been conferred on the Beloiarskii Atomic Power Plant. A settlement in Kursk Oblast in which the Kursk Atomic Power Plant was constructed has been named after him.

The Academy of Sciences of the USSR has established the Kurchatov Medal, which is awarded for outstanding work in nuclear physics. The 104th element of the periodic table has been named kurchatovium.


Segnetoelektriki. Leningrad-Moscow, 1933.
Rasshcheplenie atomnogo iadra. Moscow-Leningrad, 1935.
“Nekotorye voprosy razvitiia atomnoi energetiki v SSSR.” Atomnaia energiia, 1956, no. 3.


Kikoin, I. K. “Igor’ Vasil’evich Kurchatov.” Atomnaia energiia, 1963,
vol. 14, issue 1.
Golovin, I. N. I. V. Kurchatov. Moscow, 1967.
Astashenkov, P. T. Akademik I. V. Kurchatov. Moscow, 1971.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.