Andrei Sakharov was born 90 years ago

Andrei Sakharov in 1989
Andrei Sakharov in 1989

Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov (Photo ©RIA Novosti archive / Vladimir Fedorenko) was born on May 21, 1921, in Moscow, then in the USSR.

Andrei Sakharov began his university studies in Moscow in 1938 but during World War II there was an evacuation so he graduated in Ashgabat, which is now in Turkmenistan. In 1943 he married his first wife Klavdia Alekseyevna Vikhireva, with whom he had a son and two daughters. At the end of the war, Sakharov returned to Moscow, where he studied at the Institute of Physics, Soviet Academy of Sciences, and earned a Ph.D. in 1947.

The first research for Andrei Sakharov was about cosmic rays but in 1948 he became part of the Soviet nuclear program in which he contributed to the development of atomic weapons.

In 1950 Andrei Sakharov proposed the idea of the tokamak to build a nuclear fusion reactor that would allow the peaceful and controlled use of this type of energy. Today many projects are still based on his idea.

After 1965 Andrei Sakharov returned to theoretical physics with various researches on particles and in cosmology.

Since the late ’50s, Andrei Sakharov began to develop his pacifist ideas, worried about the possible consequences of the proliferation of nuclear weapons, of which he had seen the power firsthand.

In 1967 Andrei Sakharov wrote a letter to Soviet leaders, asking them to accept the American proposal to agree to stop the development of anti-ballistic missiles, but he was ignored.

In 1969 his wife died and in 1972 Andrei Sakharov married human rights activist Yelena Bonner, who was his close collaborator for the rest of his life.

In the following years, Andrei Sakharov became more and more active in denouncing the threat of nuclear proliferation, and also for this reason he became famous all over the world, so much that in 1975 he received the Nobel Peace Prize. The communist regime didn’t allow him to go and collect the prize and it was his wife who read his speech at the award ceremony in Oslo.

The situation for Andrei Sakharov turned bad after his participation in a public protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. On January 22, 1980, Sakharov was arrested and sent to confinement in Gorky: thanks to his reputation he avoided the gulag but he was isolated from external contacts not authorized by the regime.

Andrei Sakharov remained in confinement until Mikhail Gorbachev came to power and after the reforms started to salvage what could be salvaged in a collapsing URSS he allowed the physicist to return to Moscow.

In 1988 the European Parliament established the Sakharov Prize for individuals and organizations defending human rights and freedoms.

In 1989 Andrei Sakharov was elected to the new Soviet parliament but on December 14 of that year, he died of a heart attack.

Today in the various former Soviet Union republics streets, squares, museums, and other buildings are dedicated to Andrei Sakharov. Other countries also have been dedicated various roads to him and when Sakharov was alive Washington D.C. dedicated to him the block in front of the Soviet embassy. The asteroid 1979 Sakharov was dedicated to him too.

Writer Arthur C. Clarke included the Sakharov engine in his novel “2010: Odyssey two” and one of the Enterprise-D shuttles in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” is called Sakharov.

After Andrei Sakharov’s death, other prizes were created inspired by his commitment: one given by the American Physical Society to scientists engaged in human rights and the Andrei Sakharov Prize For Writer’s Civic Courage in Russia. This demonstrates that Andrei Sakharov’s activism wasn’t forgotten and it’s still important more than twenty years after his death.

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