By David Voss

Born 100 years ago, Russian physicist Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov was a complex man who achieved stardom in the Soviet Union for his role in the development of the USSR’s nuclear weapons but then became one of the world’s most outspoken activists for human rights. One of the most prestigious prizes awarded by the APS bears his name.

To recognize Sakharov’s achievements as a physicist and peace campaigner, several APS units came together with the Russian-American Science Association (RASA) to organize “Sakharov-100: Physics, Peace, Human Rights—Celebrating his contributions to science and humanity.” Meeting support and assistance was provided by APS.

“The ‘Sakharov-100’ webinar reached 396 people from 31 countries distributed on each continent including the US, Russia, and Europe,” said Vladimir Shiltsev (Fermilab), a member of the organizing committee. “It was a true celebration of an amazing human being.”

Sakharov image

The conference was the work of members of the APS Forum on the History of Physics, the APS Forum on International Physics, the APS Forum on Physics and Society, and the APS Committee on the International Freedom of Scientists, in collaboration with RASA. The Organizing Committee of the “Sakharov-100” event included Luisa Cifarelli (U.Bologna, APS FIP and SIF), Christine Darve (ESS, APS FIP), Paul Halpern (U.Sci., APS FHP), Alan Hurd (LANL, APS FIP), Alexander Kabanov (UNC, RASA), Stewart Prager (Princeton, APS FPS), Roald Sagdeev (UMD, RASA), Vladimir Shiltsev (FNAL, APS DPB and RASA), Cherrill Spencer (SLAC, APS FPS).

The first session of the meeting focused on Sakharov’s scientific contributions to the physics of fusion and energy generation, chaired by Roald Sagdeev. Dmitri Ryutov (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory) reviewed the first steps to controlled fusion energy based on Sakharov’s ideas. Bruno Coppi (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) discussed aspects of current fusion research and large-scale research collaborations. Kristel Crombé (Ghent University) gave an overview of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project, which would not have been possible without the work of Sakharov.

In the second session, chaired by Luisa Cifiarelli (University of Bologna), the speakers turned to Sakharov’s work in astrophysics. Andrei Linde (Stanford University) talked about Sakharov’s fundamental contributions to cosmology and his early thoughts about an expanding universe. Valery Rubakov (Institute of Nuclear Research, Moscow) discussed Sakharov’s work on the vexing problem of matter-antimatter asymmetry. Grigory Trubnikov (Joint Institute of Nuclear Research, Dubna) reviewed current research on the physics of nuclear matter at extreme conditions.

Sakharov’s work in nuclear arms control was the topic of the third session, chaired by Cathy Campbell (CRDF Global and US State Department, retired). Richard Garwin (IBM), Frank von Hippel (Princeton University), Siegfried S. Hecker (Los Alamos National Laboratory and Stanford), and Susan Eisenhower (Eisenhower Group, Inc.) all discussed aspects of Sakharov’s efforts to collaborate with his colleagues in the West to end the US-USSR competition in nuclear weapons.

The final session was a roundtable discussion, chaired by Cherrill Spencer (SLAC) with contributions from Boris Altshuler (Lebedev Physical Institute in Moscow), Tatiana Yankelevich Bonner and Marina Sakharov-Liberman (video recording), Zafra Lerman (Malta Conferences Foundation), Alexander Kabanov (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), and Peter Vorobieff (University of New Mexico, APS CIFS). The wide-ranging conversation touched on Sakharov’s humanity and achievements, with reminiscences from family and colleagues.

“The Sakharov Centennial event opened my eyes to the scope and breadth of his impact on our world. His story is a must-know for students of history, science, and physics,” said Alan Hurd, a member of the organizing committee.

A list of sessions and a video recording of the entire conference is available on the FIP unit website.

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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondents: Sophia Chen, Alaina G. Levine

July/August 2021 (Volume 30, Number 7)

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