Alexander Prokhorov

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Alexander Prokhorov
Aleksandr Prokhorov.jpg
Alexander Michael Prochoroff

(1916-07-11)11 July 1916
Died8 January 2002(2002-01-08) (aged 85)
Resting place Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow
Known for Lasers and masers
Awards1964 Nobel Prize in Physics
1987 Lomonosov Gold Medal
Scientific career
Fields Physics

Alexander Mikhailovich Prokhorov [1] (born Alexander Michael Prochoroff, Russian : Алекса́ндр Миха́йлович Про́хоров; 11 July 1916 – 8 January 2002) was an Australian-born Soviet-Russian physicist known for his pioneering research on lasers and masers in the Soviet Union for which he shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1964 with Charles Hard Townes and Nikolay Basov.


Early life

Alexander Michael Prochoroff was born on 11 July 1916 at Russell Road Peeramon, Queensland, Australia (now 322 Gadaloff Road, Butchers Creek, situated about 30km from Atherton), to Mikhail Ivanovich Prokhorov and Maria Ivanovna (née Mikhailova), Russian revolutionaries who had emigrated from Russia to escape repression by the tsarist regime. As a child he attended Butchers Creek School. [2] In 1923, after the October Revolution and the Russian Civil War, the family returned to Russia. In 1934, Prokhorov entered the Saint Petersburg State University to study physics. He was a member of the Komsomol from 1930 to 1944. Prokhorov graduated with honors in 1939 and moved to Moscow to work at the Lebedev Physical Institute, in the oscillations laboratory headed by academician N. D. Papaleksi. His research there was devoted to propagation of radio waves in the ionosphere. At the onset of World War II in the Soviet Union, in June 1941, he joined the Red Army. During World War II, Prokhorov fought in the infantry, was wounded twice in battles, and was awarded three medals, including the Medal For Courage in 1946. [3] He was demobilized in 1944 and returned to the Lebedev Institute where, in 1946, he defended his Ph.D. thesis on "Theory of Stabilization of Frequency of a Tube Oscillator in the Theory of a Small Parameter". [1] [4] [5]


In 1947, Prokhorov started working on coherent radiation emitted by electrons orbiting in a cyclic particle accelerator called a synchrotron. He demonstrated that the emission is mostly concentrated in the microwave spectral range. His results became the basis of his habilitation on "Coherent Radiation of Electrons in the Synchrotron Accelerator", defended in 1951. By 1950, Prokhorov was assistant chief of the oscillation laboratory. Around that time, he formed a group of young scientists to work on radiospectroscopy of molecular rotations and vibrations, and later on quantum electronics. The group focused on a special class of molecules which have three (non-degenerate) moments of inertia. The research was conducted both on experiment and theory. In 1954, Prokhorov became head of the laboratory. Together with Nikolay Basov he developed theoretical grounds for creation of a molecular oscillator and constructed such an oscillator based on ammonia. They also proposed a method for the production of population inversion using inhomogeneous electric and magnetic fields. Their results were first presented at a national conference in 1952, but not published until 1954–1955; [1] [5]

In 1955, Prokhorov started his research in the field of electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR). He focused on relaxation times of ions of the iron group elements in a lattice of aluminium oxide, but also investigated other, "non-optical", topics, such as magnetic phase transitions in DPPH. [6] In 1957, while studying ruby, a chromium-doped variation of aluminium oxide, he came upon the idea of using this material as an active medium of a laser. As a new type of laser resonator, he proposed, in 1958, an "open type" cavity design, which is widely used today. In 1963, together with A. S. Selivanenko, he suggested a laser using two-quantum transitions. For his pioneering work on lasers and masers, in 1964, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics shared with Nikolay Basov and Charles Hard Townes. [1] [5]

Posts and awards

Prokhorov with King Gustaf VI Adolf and wife of Townes at the Nobel Prize banquet in 1964 Gustaf VI Adolf and Alexander Prokhorov 1964.jpg
Prokhorov with King Gustaf VI Adolf and wife of Townes at the Nobel Prize banquet in 1964

In 1959, Prokhorov became a professor at Moscow State University – the most prestigious university in the Soviet Union; the same year, he was awarded the Lenin Prize. In 1960, he became a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and elected Academician in 1966. In 1967, he was awarded his first Order of Lenin (he received five of them during life, in 1967, 1969, 1975, 1981 and 1986). In 1968, he became vice-director of the Lebedev Institute and in 1971 took the position of Head of Laboratory of another prestigious Soviet institution, the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. In the same year, he was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. [4] In 1983 he was elected a Member of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina. [7] Between 1982 and 1998, Prokhorov served as acting director of the General Physics Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and after 1998 as honorary director. After his death in 2002, the institute was renamed the A. M. Prokhorov General Physics Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. [4] [5] Prokhorov was a Member and one of the Honorary Presidents of the International Academy of Science, Munich and supported 1993 the foundation and development of the Russian Section of International Academy of Science, Moscow. [8] [9]

In 1969, Prokhorov became a Hero of Socialist Labour, the highest degree of distinction in the Soviet Union for achievements in national economy and culture. He received the second such award in 1986. [5] Starting in 1969, he was the chief editor of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia. He was awarded the Frederic Ives Medal, the highest distinction of the Optical Society of America (OSA), in 2000 [10] and became an Honorary OSA Member in 2001. [11] The same year, he was awarded the Demidov Prize. [12]


Prokhorov became a member of the Communist Party in 1950. [13] In 1983, together with three other academicians – Andrey Tychonoff, Anatoly Dorodnitsyn and Georgy Skryabin – he signed the famous open letter [14] called "when they lose honor and conscience" [15] (Когда теряют честь и совесть), denouncing Andrey Sakharov's article [16] in the Foreign Affairs .


Basov and Prokhorov with wives in Stockholm in 1964 Nicolay Basov and Aleksandr Prokhorov with wives 1964.jpg
Basov and Prokhorov with wives in Stockholm in 1964

Both of Prokhorov's parents died during World War II. Prokhorov married geographer Galina Shelepina in 1941, and they had a son, Kiril, born in 1945. Following his father, Kiril Prokhorov became a physicist in the field of optics and is currently leading a laser-related laboratory at the A. M. Prokhorov General Physics Institute. [3] [17]

Alexander Prokhorov on 2016 postage stamp of Russia RUSMARKA-2143.jpg
Alexander Prokhorov on 2016 postage stamp of Russia

Honours and awards


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  1. 1 2 3 4 Alexander Prokhorov on OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg including the Nobel Lecture, 11 December 1964 Quantum Electronics
  2. Tablelander (newspaper) 19 July 2016 'Prokharov centenary'
  3. 1 2 Основные даты жизни и деятельности академика А.М. Прохорова Archived 11 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine (in Russian)
  4. 1 2 3 Прохоров Александр Михайлович Archived 5 October 2015 at the Wayback Machine in Great Soviet Encyclopedia (in Russian)
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Прохоров Александр Михайлович Archived 15 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine at (in Russian)
  6. A. M. Prokhorov and V.B. Fedorov, Soviet Physics JETP 16 (1963) 1489.
  7. "List of Members". Archived from the original on 4 October 2017. Retrieved 4 October 2017.
  8. "Presidium of the International Academy of Science=" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
  9. "Foundation of the Russian Section of the International Academy of Science=". Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
  10. Frederic Ives Medal Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  11. OSA Honorary Members Archived 20 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  12. Сост. И. Г. Бебих; Г. Н. Михайлова; А. В. Троицкий (2004). Александр Михайлович Прохоров, 1916–2002 (Материалы к биобиблиогр. ученых) 2-е изд., доп. (in Russian). М.: Наука. p. 442. ISBN   5-02-033176-7. Archived from the original on 21 August 2007.
  13. "Australia's forgotten Nobel Prize winner: Laser pioneer Alexander Prokhorov". ABC News. 3 August 2016. Archived from the original on 2 April 2017. Retrieved 2 April 2017.
  14. Когда теряют честь и совесть Archived 19 November 2009 at the Wayback Machine (in Russian)
  15. "1. Андрей Сахаров. ОПАСНОСТЬ ТЕРМОЯДЕРНОЙ ВОЙНЫ (Открытое письмо доктору Сиднею Дреллу) ::: Боннэр Е.Г. - Постскриптум: Книга о горьковской ссылке ::: Боннэр Елена Георгиевна ::: Воспоминания о ГУЛАГе :: База данных :: Авторы и тексты". Retrieved 13 July 2021.
  16. "The Montreal Gazette – Google News Archive Search" . Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  17. "Кирилл Александрович Прохоров". Archived from the original on 21 February 2015. Retrieved 20 February 2015.