Landau, Lev

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© AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Physics Today Collection.

Lev Landau, called "Dau" by his students and colleagues, was a seminal figure in twentieth century physics through his major accomplishments in research during thirty years that earned him a Nobel Prize, the monumental series of texts he wrote with Evgeny Lifshitz, the extraordinary school of theoretical physics he founded, and his weekly seminar in Moscow at which the latest results in physics were regularly presented and analysed. An intense figure, with a commanding presence and a deep interest in all aspects of theoretical physics (seen so clearly in Landau and Lifshitz) he measured everything from attractive women to his fellow theoretical physicists on a logarithmic scale. [Newton and Einstein headed the list, followed, logarithmically, by Bohr, Heisenberg, Dirac, while he ranked himself half a step lower on his logarithmic scale.] He hated writing; so Landau and Lifshitz was written by Lifshitz, while almost every paper he published was written by a collaborator, a student, or a colleague. But every word was read and approved by Landau. In 1962 Landau suffered such a serious brain injury in a minor automobile accident (his skull was cracked open while a carton of eggs on the ledge behind him was not damaged) that he never recovered the ability to function as a scientist. His impact on science continued however throughout the century, as the Landau Institute was a world-leading center of theoretical physics from its founding by his close colleagues in 1968 to the Soviet theoretical physics diaspora of the 1990's that followed the fall of communism. (Unit: 8)