Aleksandr Prokhorov was a pioneer in Russian physics, winning the Nobel Prize for his work on the maser-laser concept in 1964. Nikolay Basov and Charles Townes were his co-winners. Prokhorov attended Leningrad State University and worked at the Lebedev Physical Institute after graduation. Prokhorov worked on the maser-laser idea with Nikolay Basov in the early 1950s, and they were the first to do so. He devoted the rest of his life to laser research and development, focusing on solid-state lasers, fiber optics, and laser applications in medicine and environmental monitoring. Aside from his scientific research, Prokhorov worked as an academic at several Soviet institutions. He worked at Moscow State University as a professor. He was an acting director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ General Physics Institute before becoming an honorary director. He was also a member of the International Academy of Science in Munich and one of its Honorary Presidents.
Childhood and Adolescence
Aleksandr Prokhorov was born in Atherton, Queensland, Australia, on July 11, 1916, to revolutionary Russian parents who had escaped from Russia and were living in exile in Australia.
After the Great October Revolution, Prokhorov and his family returned to Russia, where they were born. Prokhorov studied physics at the Leningrad State University in Russia. In 1939, he received his bachelor’s degree with honors from the same institution.
The Career of Aleksandr
Following graduation, Aleksandr Prokhorov relocated to Moscow, where he began working in the Lebedev Physical Institute’s oscillation laboratory under academician ND Papaleksi. Prokhorov investigated the propagation of radio waves in the ionosphere at the Lebedev Institute.
With the outbreak of World War II in the early 1940s, he enlisted in the Red Army. He was a member of the infantry. He returned to the Lebedev Institute’s oscillation laboratory in 1944, three medals and two major wounds later, to continue his studies and research. Professor SM Rytov supervised his research on nonlinear oscillations.
In 1946, he successfully defended his Ph.D. thesis, titled “Theory of Frequency Stabilization of a Tube Oscillator in the Theory of a Small Parameter.”
He began working on coherent radiation emitted by electrons circling in a cyclic particle accelerator known as a synchrotron the next year. He showed that the emission is localized primarily in the microwave spectral band.
His Ph.D. thesis, ‘Coherent Radiation of Electrons in Synchrotron Accelerator,’ was based on his research on the coherent radiation of electrons in the synchrotron in the centimeter wave domain. Meanwhile, Prokhorov had been promoted to assistant chief of the oscillation laboratory by 1950. One of his students was Nikolay Basov.
He organized a group of students as an assistant chief and began research on radio spectroscopy of molecular rotations and vibrations. Later, he focused his research on quantum electronics.
Much of the group’s theoretical and practical research was based on a particular class of molecules with three non-degenerate moments of inertia.
Microwave equipment had become widely available as a result of the creation of radar during WWII. Prokhorov investigated the same thing as his American and British contemporaries who had begun utilizing microwave equipment to study how atoms and molecules responded to microwave frequencies. He began working with beams of molecules that all moved at the same speed, alongside Basov.
By 1954, he had risen to the position of director of the laboratory. Following that, he and Basov discovered that they could isolate molecules in an excited state in a distinct beam. This was their most significant breakthrough.
Unexcited molecules absorbed the wave when excess energy from excited molecules was released in the form of a microwave. The microwave, on the other hand, would stimulate additional molecules to emit their energy at the same wavelength if most molecules were stimulated.
When a molecule beam passed through an appropriate microwave resonator, Prokhorov and Basov discovered that the emission built up on its own, or oscillated, resulting in microwaves that were aligned in phase and at the same wavelength. They published their findings in 1954 after a thorough examination of the process.
Prokhorov and Basov developed the concept of a molecular oscillator as a result of their microwave spectroscopy study. They provided theoretical foundations for the building of a molecular oscillator and built an ammonia-powered molecular oscillator. The pumping method was developed by the duo in 1955 as a means of producing negative absorption.
He began his studies in the field of electron paramagnetic resonance in 1955. (EPR). He conducted a series of EPR spectra and relaxation time experiments in various crystals, focusing especially on onions of the iron group elements in the lattice of aluminum oxide. He also looked into ‘non-optical’ subjects like magnetic phase transitions in DPPH.
He researched the EPR spectra of ruby alongside A. A Manenkov while conducting research in the realm of EPR. He came up with the notion of employing ruby as a laser material in 1957.
He used a variety of materials to create and build this new form of laser resonator known as a maser. The majority of his maser research was done in collaboration with the radio spectroscopy laboratory at Moscow University’s Institute of Nuclear Physics.
He proposed the use of a laser to generate far-infrared radiation in 1958. It was proposed to employ a novel sort of cavity as a resonator, which was subsequently dubbed “the cavity of an open type.” In lasers, similar cavities are commonly employed.
He was appointed as a professor at Moscow State University, the Soviet Union’s most prominent university, in 1959.
In 1968, he became Vice Director of the Lebedev Institute, and in 1971, he was named Head of the Laboratory at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.
He was the Acting Director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ General Physics Institute from 1982 until 1998. He was appointed Honorary Director in 1988.
Prokhorov was a member and one of the Honorary Presidents of the International Academy of Science in Munich throughout his lifetime. In 1993, he contributed to the establishment and growth of the Russian Section of the International Academy of Science in Moscow.
Prokhorov’s Major Projects
The crux of Prokhorov’s study was done in the early 1950s when he and his coworkers used microwave spectroscopy to investigate molecular structures. He started experimenting with a beam of molecules traveling at a uniform velocity with Basov in order to increase the resolution of their microwave observations.
The team discovered that they could isolate molecules in an excited state in a separate beam, which resulted in a breakthrough.
They also observed that if the molecule beam passed through an appropriate microwave resonator, the emission would build up on its own, or oscillate, eventually producing microwaves that were aligned in phase and wavelength. In 1964, they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their groundbreaking work on lasers and masers.
Achievements & Awards
Prokhorov was awarded the Lenin Prize in 1959.
He was elected a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1960. He was elected as an academician six years later, in 1966.
Prokhorov received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1964, sharing it with Nikolay Basov and Charles Townes. The award was given to the trio for their groundbreaking work in quantum electronics, which led to the development of maser-laser oscillators and amplifiers.
In 1969 and 1986, he was named a Hero of Socialist Labour, the Soviet Union’s highest honor for achievements in the national economy and culture.
He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1971.
In 2000, he was awarded the Optical Society of America’s Frederic Ives Medal, the society’s highest honor (OSA). He was made an honorary OSA member the following year. He was also awarded the Demidov Prize at the same time.
Personal History and Legacy
Prokhorov married Galina Shelepina, a geographer, in 1941. Kiril, the couple’s son, was born in 1945. Kiril has followed in his father’s footsteps and is now a physicist working in the field of optics. At the A. M. Prokhorov General Physics Institute, he currently directs a laser-related laboratory.
On January 8, 2002, in Moscow, Russia, Prokhorov passed away.
Following his death, the Russian Academy of Sciences has renamed the A. M. Prokhorov General Physics Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, where he served as an honorary director.
Estimated net worth
The majority of Prokhorov’s fortune comes from asset sales he launched in 2007 when he and billionaire partner Vladimir Potanin began splitting the metals holdings they gained when the Soviet Union fell apart.
Since 2007, he has earned about $9 billion in cash, including $5.3 billion from United Company Rusal in exchange for his 25% ownership in Norilsk Nickel.