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Pyotr Leonidovich Kapitsa

Kapitsa (left) and Nikolay Semyonov, portrait by Boris Kustodiev 1921
Born 9 July 1894(1894-07-09)
Kronstadt, Russian Empire
Died 8 April 1984 (aged 89)
Citizenship Russia, USSR
Nationality Russian
Fields Physics
Known for superfluidity
Notable awards Nobel Prize in Physics (1978)

Pyotr Leonidovich Kapitsa (Russian Пётр Леони́дович Капи́ца) (July 9 [O.S. June 26] 1894 – 8 April 1984) was an innovative Soviet/Russian physicist and Nobel laureate, who made important discoveries in several different areas.

Kapitsa was born of Romanian parents in the city of Kronstadt and graduated from the Petrograd Polytechnical Institute in 1918. He worked for over ten years with Ernest Rutherford in the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1929 and was the first director (1930-34) of the Mond Laboratory in Cambridge. In the 1920s he originated techniques for creating ultrastrong magnetic fields by injecting high current for brief periods into specially constructed air-core electromagnets. In 1928 he discovered the linear dependence of resistivity on magnetic field for various metals in very strong magnetic fields.

In the 1930s he turned to low temperature research, beginning with a critical analysis of the existing methods for obtaining low temperatures. In 1934 he developed new and original apparatus ( based on the adiabatic principle) for making significant quantities of liquid helium.

In 1934, on a professional visit to the Soviet Union, his passport was removed and he was not allowed to leave the country. Kapitsa was required to form the Institute for Physical Problems, which he did with equipment which the Soviet Government bought from the Mond Laboratory in Cambridge (with the assistance of Rutherford, once it was clear that Kapitsa would not be permitted to return).

In Russia, Kapitsa began a series of experiments to study liquid helium, leading to the discovery in 1937 of its superfluidity (not to be confused with superconductivity). He reported the properties of this new state of matter in a series of papers, for which he was later awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics "for basic inventions and discoveries in the area of low-temperature physics". In 1939 he developed a new method for liquefaction of air with a low-pressure cycle using a special high-efficiency expansion turbine. Consequently, during World War II he was assigned to head the Department of Oxygen Industry attached to the USSR Council of Ministers, where he developed his low-pressure expansion techniques for industrial purposes. After the war, he turned to a quite new range of physical problems: he invented high power microwave generators (1950-1955) and discovered a new kind of continuous high pressure plasma discharge with electron temperatures over 1,000,000K.

Immediately after the war, a group of prominent Soviet scientists (including Kapitsa in particular) lobbied the government to create a new technical university, the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. Kapitsa taught there for many years and it is now a leading Russian university. From 1957, he was also a member of the presidium of the Soviet Academy of Sciences and at his death in 1984 was the only presidium member who was not also a member of the Communist Party.

Belatedly (1978), Kapitsa won the Nobel Prize in Physics for the work in low temperature physics that he did about 1937. He shared this prize with Arno Allan Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson (who won for work unrelated to Kapitsa's).

Kapitsa resistance is the thermal resistance (which causes a temperature discontinuity) at the interface between liquid helium and a solid.

Kapitsa was married in 1927 to Anna Alekseevna Krylova, daughter of applied mathematician A.N. Krylov. They had two sons, Sergei and Andrei.

A minor planet 3437 Kapitsa, discovered by Soviet astronomer Lyudmila Georgievna Karachkina in 1982, is named after him.[1]

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