Piotr Kapitsa, Russian physicist who discovered superfluidity

Piotr Leonidovich Kapitsa (Kronstadt, present-day Russia, 1894 – Moscow, 1984).

Piotr Kapitsa, the son of Leonid Petrovich Kapitsa, a military engineer, and Olga Leronimovna Kapitsa, of a noble family, was born in Kronstadt, near Leningrad, on July 9, 1894. He studied and taught at the Petrograd Polytechnic Institute until 1921.

Kapitsa emigrated to the UK after his wife and two of his children died of illness during the Russian civil war. There he studied at the University of Cambridge where he had the opportunity to work with the physicist and chemist Ernest Rutherford. In 1923 he obtained his doctorate, and a year later he was appointed assistant director for magnetic research at the Cavendish Laboratory.

Throughout these years he developed various devices to obtain strong magnetic fields. In 1925 he was made a Fellow of Trinity College and, four years later, of the Royal Society. In 1932 the Royal Society Mond Laboratory in Cambridge was built especially for him where he began, as director, his research in low-temperature physics.

In 1934, during a professional trip to Moscow, he was arrested by Stalin's direct order, although this did not prevent him from being appointed director of the Moscow Institute for Physics Problems a year later. There he continued with the investigations begun in Cambridge on the physics of low temperatures and the conduction of heat in liquid helium. He then discovered that helium II flowed with hardly any viscosity, which was called "superfluidity". It must be borne in mind that its discovery would not have been possible without the contributions of Don Misener and John F. Allen, who also and independently found this finding. His investigations on helium II and superfluidity were published in 1941 in the articles “Heat transfer and superfluidity in helium II” and “Investigations on the mechanism of heat transfer in helium II”.

He received numerous awards from the Soviet government until he refused to work for the development of nuclear weapons during World War II, and was removed from his position as director of the Institute for Physics Problems. In 1955, after Stalin's death, he was reinstated and investigations of him continued. From there he directed the satellite program that launched Sputnik I and II, and also worked on achieving thermonuclear power reactors.

In 1966 he was awarded the Rutherford Prize in 1966, and in 1978, after 40 years of research, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, together with Arno Penzias and W. Wilson, for their contributions to the area of Baja Physics. temperatures.

Kapitsa passed away on April 8, 1984 in Moscow at the age of 89.

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