Pavel Alekseyevich Cherenkov was a Soviet physicist who shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with two other Soviet scientists, Igor Tamm and Ilya Frank, in 1958 for discovering and theorizing the Cherenkov radiation phenomena. It is also known as the Vavilov–Cherenkov radiation. Cherenkov discovered it while working at the ‘Lebedev Physical Institute’ under the direction and participation of prominent Soviet physicist Sergei Ivanovich Vavilov. Cherenkov observed that a faint bluish light is emitted when charged particles like electrons pass at a high velocity, faster than light, through a material. The Cherenkov counter, also known as the Cherenkov detector, is a particle detector that employs the speed threshold to produce light as a result of this discovery. After WWII, physicists began to use the Cherenkov counter extensively in their research in the fields of particle and nuclear physics, and it eventually achieved prominence. Cherenkov worked at the ‘Lebedev Physical Institute’ in Moscow, Russia, on cosmic-ray and nuclear physics research. He was awarded two Stalin Prizes, the first in 1946 with Tamm, Frank, and Vavilov, and the second in 1952. He was awarded the ‘USSR State Prize’ in 1977 and the title of ‘Hero of Socialist Labour’ in 1984.
Childhood and Adolescence
Alexey Cherenkov and Mariya Cherenkova had him on July 28, 1904, in the hamlet of Novaya Chigla in southern Russia. His father and mother were peasants.
His mother died when he was about two years old, and his father remarried. With only two years of basic school, he was raised in poverty with eight siblings, and the family’s poverty drove him to take up a manual labor job at the age of thirteen.
His village received a new Soviet secondary school in 1920, following the Bolshevik Revolution (November 7-8, 1917) and the subsequent civil war, allowing him to resume his studies. He supplemented his income by working part-time at a grocery shop.
Because of the Bolshevik government’s dramatic educational reforms, particularly the chances provided for disadvantaged students, he was able to enroll in the ‘Voronezh State University’ without having completed secondary school. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1928 from the university’s Department of Physics and Mathematics.
Following that, he began teaching mathematics and physics in an evening school for laborers in the Tambov province’s small town of Kozlov (now Michurinsk).
Career of Pavel Cherenkov
In 1930, he was appointed a senior researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ ‘Lebedev Physical Institute’ (often abbreviated as ‘FIAN’), one of the country’s oldest scientific institutes.
S.I. Vavilov instructed him to investigate the effects of stimulating luminous uranium salt solutions with more powerful gamma rays from a radioactive source of supply rather than conventional light.
Cherenkov discovered a novel phenomena that differed from luminescence: gamma rays generate a dim blue light in non-luminescent pure solvents like water and sulphuric acid. His discovery in 1934 of a unique form of electromagnetic radiation, in which he discovered that blue light is emitted when charged particles such as electrons travel at a high velocity, faster than light, through a medium, proved to be extremely important for future research in the fields of cosmic rays and nuclear physics.
He eventually discovered other properties of this novel kind of electromagnetic radiation, including its unique anisotropy. This enabled other ‘FIAN’ theoreticians Ilya Mikhailovich Frank and Igor Yevgenyevich Tamm in elucidating the true source of the event in 1937, which was dubbed the ‘Cherenkov effect’ or ‘Cherenkov radiation,’ also known as the ‘Vavilov–Cherenkov radiation.’
Any electrically charged particles, not just electrons, can produce the effect if they travel at a high speed across a material.
In 1934, he was a member of the ‘FIAN’ Elbrus expedition, which established the Soviet Union’s first high-altitude cosmic ray station in the Caucasus Mountains. He looked into the new phenomena of cosmic ray showers in the atmosphere. During his later investigations in cosmic rays, he built the Wilson chamber detectors for the cosmic rays expedition and station in the Pamir Mountains in the 1940s.
He received his Doctor of Physico-Mathematical Sciences degree in 1940.
He joined the ‘Communist Party of the Soviet Union’ in 1944 and stayed loyal to the party throughout his life.
The Cherenkov counter, also known as the Cherenkov detector, was developed over time. It is a particle detector that has become a standard instrument in particle and nuclear physics for detecting the presence and velocity of fast-moving particles. On May 15, 1958, the detector was deployed in the Soviet scientific satellite ‘Sputnik 3.’
From 1946 to 1958, he worked with Vladimir Iosifovich Veksler on the development of new particle accelerators such as the synchrotron, a massive machine the size of a soccer field that accelerates electrons at nearly the speed of light, in 1947; and the Soviet’s first betatron, a device that accelerates electrons through magnetic induction in a circular path, in 1948.
He and Veksler were given the ‘Stalin Prize’ in 1951 for their contributions to the even larger 250 MeV synchrotron of the ‘FIAN,’ which began operating in 1951.
From 1951 through 1977, he worked as a professor at the Moscow Institute of Physical Engineers (MIFI).
In 1953, Cherenkov was appointed Professor of Experimental Physics at ‘FIAN.’
Since 1959, he has directed the ‘FIAN’ photo-meson processes laboratory, which studies how photons interact with nucleons and mesons. His work was recognized, and he was awarded the ‘USSR State Prize’ in 1977.
In 1964, he was elected as a corresponding member of the prestigious “USSR Academy of Sciences,” and in 1970, he was promoted to full member or Academician.
He helped build and organize a new acceleration facility in Troitsk, outside Moscow, in the 1970s, which included a 1.2 Gev synchrotron.
In 1985, he was elected as a foreign member of the United States’ National Academy of Sciences.
He represented the Soviet Union on international platforms such as the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, the Soviet Committee for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the Soviet Peace Committee.
He worked on his research in ‘FIAN’ till he died, roughly.
Achievements and Awards
In 1958, he and Igor Tamm and Ilya Frank shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering the Cherenkov radiation phenomena.
Personal History and Legacy
In 1930, he married Maria Putintseva. She was the daughter of A.M. Putintsev, a Russian Literature Professor.
The couple had two children, Alexey and Yelena, both of whom went on to become scientists.
He died in Moscow on January 6, 1990, at the age of 85, and was buried in the city’s cemetery, the ‘Novodevichy Cemetery.’
Estimated Net Worth
The estimated net worth of Pavel Cherenkov is unknown.