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Development of science


Andrey Sakharov
Andrey Sakharov

The Soviet government made development of science a national priority and showered top scientists with honors. Although day-to-day supervision was less oppressive than in the arts, there were countless episodes of arbitrary suppression of ideas. In the most notorious, the Ukrainian agronomist Trofim Lysenko rejected the chromosome theory of heredity generally accepted by modern genetics. Claiming his theories corresponded to Marxism, he convinced Stalin in 1948 to outlaw population genetics and several related fields of biological research; the decision was not reversed until the mid-1960s. Concern with freedom of inquiry and expression drew some scientists into the political realm. The best example is Andrey Sakharov, the nuclear physicist who became the most famous member of the hard-pressed liberal opposition in the 1970s. Sakharov was awarded the 1975 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, though the government would not allow him to go to Norway to accept the prize.

The core of basic science was the Academy of Sciences, originally founded in 1725 and relocated from Leningrad to Moscow in 1934.

It contained 250 research institutes and 60,500 full-time researchers in 1987, predominantly in the natural sciences. Several hundred scholars (330 in 1988) had the privileged status of “academician” and about twice as many were “corresponding members” of the academy. In addition, all of the union republics except the RSFSR had their own mini-academies of science. About 90 percent of research was carried on outside the academy system. Most of this was of an applied character and much of it was related to weapons systems and done in secret facilities in the defense-production ministries.

Soviet scientists won lofty reputations in many fields. They were at the cutting edge of world science in mathematics and in several branches of physical science, notably theoretical and nuclear physics, chemistry, and astronomy.

The physical chemist and physicist Nikolay Semenov was the first Soviet citizen to win a Nobel Prize, in 1956. Nobel Prizes were subsequently awarded in 1958 to the physicists Pavel Cherenkov,Ilya Frank, and Igor Tamm, for their discovery of the Cherenkov effect; in 1962 to the physicist Lev Landau, for his pioneer work in cryogenics, or low-temperature physics; in 1964 to the physicists Nikolay Basov and Aleksandr Prokhorov, for their development of the laser (light amplification) and the maser (microwave amplification); and in 1978 to the physicist Peter Kapitza, for his research in magnetism and low-temperature physics.

Soviet technology was most impressive in the areas of nuclear weaponry and space exploration, where the arms race with the West prodded policy makers to set aside the needed resources. By virtue of a crash program directed by Igor Kurchatov, the Soviet Union was the second country to explode an atomic bomb, in 1949, four years after the United States. The Soviet Union detonated a hydrogen device in 1953, only ten months after the United States.

In October 1957 it put the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, into earth orbit, and in April 1961 a Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, became the first man in space. Though disappointed that the United States beat them to the moon, the Soviets kept up a strong space program until economic problems led to cutbacks in the 1980s. "USSR" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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