Pyotr Kapitsa was a well-known Soviet physicist who shared the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physics with another scientist. He made important contributions to our understanding of atomic structures and strong magnetic fields at very low temperatures. He also did a series of experiments to study liquid helium, which led to the discovery of its superfluidity. He was born in the Russian Empire at the end of the 19th century. He grew up in a time when politics were very unstable. He was a good student, but World War I stopped him from going to school. Instead, he had to work as an ambulance driver on the Polish front for two years. He went back to school and got his degree from the Petrograd Polytechnical Institute. After that, he moved to Britain to study and work in science. He worked at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, England, for more than a decade. There, he did nuclear physics experiments and built a microradiometer. After he went back to Russia to visit in the 1930s, Stalin’s government told him he couldn’t go back to Great Britain. So, he spent the rest of his life and career in Russia, where he kept doing groundbreaking work that earned him a share of the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physics.
Early years and childhood
On July 8, 1894, Pyotr Leonidovich Kapitsa was born to Leonid Petrovich Kapitsa and Olga Ieronimovna Kapitsa in Kronstadt, Russian Empire. His father was a military engineer who built fortifications. His mother taught high school and did research on folklore.
He was studying at the Petrograd Polytechnical Institute in A.F. Ioffe’s section of the Electromechanics Department when World War I broke out and stopped him from going to school. He drove an ambulance for two years on the Polish front before going back to school. In 1918, he got his degree.
Soon, he was teaching at the Polytechnic Institute, where he wrote several papers that were published. In 1921, he left the country to go to Britain with a group of scientists from the Soviet Academy of Sciences.
Pyotr Kapitsa’s Career
When he was in Britain, he met Ernest Rutherford, who invited him to work at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, England. The two men got along well and worked well together. They respected and liked each other.
Kapitsa’s first experiments were in nuclear physics, and he came up with ways to make very strong magnetic fields by putting high currents into air-core electromagnets for short periods of time.
From 1924 to 1932, he worked at Cavendish Laboratory as the Assistant Director of Magnetic Research. In 1928, he found that the resistance of different metals in very strong magnetic fields depends linearly on the strength of the magnetic field. From 1930 to 1934, he was also the head of the Royal Society Mond Laboratory.
His last years at Cavendish were spent doing research on low temperatures. In 1934, he came up with a new way to turn helium into a liquid using the adiabatic principle. In the same year, he went to Russia as usual, but Stalin’s government told him he couldn’t go back to Britain and asked him to keep working in the Soviet Union.
The scientist didn’t like being kept in Russia against his will, so in 1935, he was made director of the Institute of Physical Problems in Moscow, which was set up just for him. He went back to work, and in the late 1930s, he found that helium II (the stable form of liquid helium below 2.174 K, or 270.976 °C) has almost no viscosity or resistance to flow. This is called “superfluidity.”
During World War II, Kapitsa was given the job of running the USSR Council of Ministers’ Department of Oxygen Industry. In 1939, he came up with a new way to turn air into a liquid by using a low-pressure cycle and a high-efficiency expansion turbine.
In 1945, he was put on a special committee that was in charge of making the Soviet atomic bomb. But there were problems between Kapitsa and Lavrenty Beria, who was in charge of the political side of the committee. This led to tensions between the scientist and Stalin. Because of this, Kapitsa was fired from all of his jobs, except for being a member of the Academy of Sciences.
Stalin died in 1953, and Beria was replaced by Nikita Khrushchev. Khrushchev slowly put Kapitsa back to work in academia, but not in the government. Kapitsa took over as head of the Institute of Physical Problems and kept that job until he died.
Kapitsa taught at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology for a number of years during his career. From 1957 until his death, he was also on the board of the Soviet Academy of Sciences.
Works of note
In 1937, Pyotr Kapitsa found that liquid helium is superfluid. In 1978, he won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work in this field. He also came up with a new way to turn air into a liquid by using a low-pressure cycle and a high-efficiency expansion turbine.
Awards & Achievements
He got the Medal for Merits in Science and to Humanity from the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences in 1964, the International Niels Bohr Medal from the Danish Society of Engineers in 1964, and the Rutherford Medal from the Institute of Physics and Physical Society in the the 1964. (1966).
Pyotr Kapitsa got half of the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physics “for his basic inventions and discoveries in the field of low-temperature physics.” The other half was shared by Arno Allan Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson “for their discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation.”
Personal History and Legacies
Pyotr Kapitsa was married twice. During the worldwide flu epidemic of 1918–19, his first wife and two small children died. In 1927, he remarried Anna Alekseevna Krylova, who was the daughter of a mathematician named A.N. Krylov.
The man and woman had two sons.
He died in Moscow, USSR, on April 8, 1984. He died when he was 89 years old.
Estimated Net worth
Pyotr is one of the wealthiest and most well-known physicists. According to our research and information from Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider, Pyotr Kapitsa is worth about $1.5 million.