Lev Landau

Lev Landau
Born Lev Davidovich Landau
(1908-01-22)22 January 1908
Baku, Baku Governorate, Russian Empire
Died 1 April 1968(1968-04-01) (aged 60)
Moscow, Soviet Union
Residence Soviet Union
Citizenship Soviet Union
Fields Theoretical physics
Institutions Kharkiv Polytechnical Institute and Kharkiv University (later Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology)
Institute for Physical Problems (RAS)
MSU Faculty of Physics
Education Baku Economical Technical School
Alma mater Baku State University
Leningrad State University (diploma, 1927)
Leningrad Physico-Technical Institute (D.Sc., 1934)
Academic advisors Niels Bohr
Doctoral students Alexei Alexeyevich Abrikosov
Isaak Markovich Khalatnikov
Other notable students Evgeny Lifshitz
Known for
Notable awards Stalin Prize (1946)
Max Planck Medal (1960)
Nobel Prize in Physics (1962)
Spouse K. T. Drobanzeva (married 1937; 1 child) (1908–1984)

Lev Davidovich Landau (Russian: Лев Давидович Ландау; IPA: [lʲɛv dɐˈvidəvʲitɕ lɐnˈda.u]; January 22 [O.S. January 9] 1908  1 April 1968) was a Soviet physicist who made fundamental contributions to many areas of theoretical physics. His accomplishments include the independent co-discovery of the density matrix method[1] in quantum mechanics (alongside John von Neumann), the quantum mechanical theory of diamagnetism, the theory of superfluidity, the theory of second-order phase transitions, the Ginzburg–Landau theory of superconductivity, the theory of Fermi liquid, the explanation of Landau damping in plasma physics, the Landau pole in quantum electrodynamics, the two-component theory of neutrinos, and Landau's equations for S matrix singularities.[2] He received the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physics for his development of a mathematical theory of superfluidity that accounts for the properties of liquid helium II at a temperature below 2.17 K (−270.98 °C).[3]


Early years

Landau was born on 22 January 1908 to Jewish parents[3][4][5][6] in Baku, Azerbaijan, in what was then the Russian Empire. Landau's father was an engineer with the local oil industry and his mother was a doctor. He learned to differentiate at age 12 and to integrate at age 13. Landau graduated in 1920 at age 13 from gymnasium. His parents considered him too young to attend university, so for a year he attended the Baku Economical Technical School (техникум). In 1922, at age 14, he matriculated at the Baku State University, studying in two departments simultaneously: the Departments of Physics and Mathematics, and the Department of Chemistry. Subsequently he ceased studying chemistry, but remained interested in the field throughout his life.

Leningrad and Europe

In 1924, he moved to the main centre of Soviet physics at the time: the Physics Department of Leningrad State University. In Leningrad, he first made the acquaintance of theoretical physics and dedicated himself fully to its study, graduating in 1927. Landau subsequently enrolled for post-graduate studies at the Leningrad Physico-Technical Institute where he eventually received a doctorate in Physical and Mathematical Sciences in 1934.[7] Landau got his first chance to travel abroad during the period 1929–1931, on a Soviet government—People's Commissariat for Education—travelling fellowship supplemented by a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship. By that time he was fluent in German and French and could communicate in English.[8] He later improved his English and learned Danish.[9]

After brief stays in Göttingen and Leipzig, he went to Copenhagen on 8 April 1930 to work at the Niels Bohr's Institute for Theoretical Physics. He stayed there till 3 May of the same year. After the visit, Landau always considered himself a pupil of Niels Bohr and Landau's approach to physics was greatly influenced by Bohr. After his stay in Copenhagen, he visited Cambridge (mid-1930), where he worked with P. A. M. Dirac,[10] Copenhagen ( 20 to 22 September 22 November 1930),[11] and Zurich (December 1930 to January 1931), where he worked with Wolfgang Pauli.[10] From Zurich Landau went back to Copenhagen for the third time[12] and stayed there from 25 February till 19 March 1931 before returning to Leningrad the same year.[13]

National Scientific Center Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology, Kharkiv

Between 1932 and 1937 he headed the Department of Theoretical Physics at the National Scientific Center Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology and lectured at the University of Kharkiv and the Kharkiv Polytechnical Institute. Apart from his theoretical accomplishments, Landau was the principal founder of a great tradition of theoretical physics in Kharkiv, Soviet Union, sometimes referred to as the "Landau school". In Kharkiv, he and his friend and former student, Evgeny Lifshitz, began writing the Course of Theoretical Physics, ten volumes that together span the whole of the subject and are still widely used as graduate-level physics texts. During the Great Purge, Landau was investigated within the UPTI Affair in Kharkiv, but he managed to leave for Moscow to take up a new post.[14]

Landau developed a famous comprehensive exam called the "Theoretical Minimum" which students were expected to pass before admission to the school. The exam covered all aspects of theoretical physics, and between 1934 and 1961 only 43 candidates passed, but those who did later became quite notable theoretical physicists.[15][16]

In 1932, he computed the Chandrashekhar limit,[17] however, he did not apply it to white dwarf stars.

Institute for Physical Problems, Moscow

Landau was the head of the Theoretical Division at the Institute for Physical Problems from 1937 until 1962.[18] Landau was arrested on 27 April 1938, because he had compared the Stalinist dictatorship with that of Hitler,[14][19] and was held in the NKVD's Lubyanka prison until his release on 29 April 1939, after the head of the institute Pyotr Kapitsa, an experimental low-temperature physicist, wrote a letter to Joseph Stalin, personally vouching for Landau's behavior, and threatening to quit the institute if Landau were not released.[20] After his release Landau discovered how to explain Kapitsa's superfluidity using sound waves, or phonons, and a new excitation called a roton.[14]

Landau led a team of mathematicians supporting Soviet atomic and hydrogen bomb development. Landau calculated the dynamics of the first Soviet thermonuclear bomb, including predicting the yield. For this work he received the Stalin Prize in 1949 and 1953, and was awarded the title "Hero of Socialist Labour" in 1954.[14]

His students included Lev Pitaevskii, Alexei Abrikosov, Evgeny Lifshitz, Lev Gor'kov, Isaak Khalatnikov, Roald Sagdeev and Isaak Pomeranchuk.

Scientific achievements

Landau's accomplishments include the independent co-discovery of the density matrix method in quantum mechanics (alongside John von Neumann), the quantum mechanical theory of diamagnetism, the theory of superfluidity, the theory of second-order phase transitions, the Ginzburg–Landau theory of superconductivity, the theory of Fermi liquid, the explanation of Landau damping in plasma physics, the Landau pole in quantum electrodynamics, the two-component theory of neutrinos, and Landau's equations for S matrix singularities.

He received the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physics for his development of a mathematical theory of superfluidity that accounts for the properties of liquid helium II at a temperature below 2.17 K (−270.98 °C)." [21]

Personal life and views

Landau family in 1910

In 1937 Landau married a girl from Kharkiv, Kora T. Drobanzeva;[22] their son Igor was born in 1946. Landau believed in "free love" rather than monogamy, and encouraged his wife and his students to practice "free love"; his wife was not enthusiastic.[14] During his life, Landau was admitted involuntarily six times to the Kashchenko psychiatric hospital.[23]

He was an atheist.[24][25] In 1957 a lengthy report to the CPSU Central Committee by the KGB recorded Landau's views on the 1956 Hungarian Uprising, Lenin, and what he termed "red fascism".[26]

Last years

On 7 January 1962, Landau's car collided with an oncoming truck. He was severely injured and spent two months in a coma. Although Landau recovered in many ways, his scientific creativity was destroyed,[18] and he never returned fully to scientific work. His injuries prevented him from accepting the 1962 Nobel Prize for physics in person.[27]

Throughout his whole life Landau was known for his sharp humor, which can be illustrated by the following dialogue with a psychiatrist (P), who tried to test for a possible brain damage while Landau (L) was recovering from the car crash:[9]

P: "Please draw me a circle"
L draws a cross
P: "Hm, now draw me a cross"
L draws a circle
P: "Landau, why don't you do what I ask?"
L: "If I did, you might come to think I've become mentally retarded".

In 1965 former students and co-workers of Landau founded the Landau Institute for Theoretical Physics, located in the town of Chernogolovka near Moscow, and led for the following three decades by Isaak Markovich Khalatnikov.

In June 1965, Lev Landau and Yevsei Liberman published a letter in the New York Times, stating that as Soviet Jews they opposed U.S. intervention on behalf of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry.[28]


Landau died on 1 April 1968, aged 60, from complications of the injuries sustained in the car accident he was involved in six years earlier. He was buried at the Novodevichy cemetery.[29][30]


A commemorative Russian silver coin dedicated to the 100th anniversary of Landau's birth
Landau in 1962[9] on a 2010 Ukrainian stamp

Two celestial objects are named in his honour:

Landau's List

Landau kept a list of names of physicists which he ranked on a logarithmic scale of productivity ranging from 0 to 5.[32] The highest ranking, 0, was assigned to Isaac Newton. Albert Einstein was ranked 0.5. A rank of 1 was awarded to the founding fathers of quantum mechanics, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Paul Dirac and Erwin Schrödinger, and others. Landau ranked himself as a 2.5 but later promoted himself to a 2. David Mermin, writing about Landau, referred to the scale, and ranked himself in the fourth division, in the article "My Life with Landau: Homage of a 4.5 to a 2".[32][33]


Landau and Lifshitz Course of Theoretical Physics


A complete list of Landau's works appeared in 1998 in the Russian journal Physics-Uspekhi.[34]

See also


  1. Schlüter, Michael; Lu Jeu Sham (1982). "Density functional theory". Physics Today. 35 (2): 36. Bibcode:1982PhT....35b..36S. doi:10.1063/1.2914933.
  2. Shifman, M., ed. (2013). Under the Spell of Landau: When Theoretical Physics was Shaping Destinies. World Scientific. doi:10.1142/8641. ISBN 978-981-4436-56-4.
  3. 1 2 Kapitza, P. L.; Lifshitz, E. M. (1969). "Lev Davydovitch Landau 1908–1968". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 15: 140–158. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1969.0007.
  4. Martin Gilbert, The Jews in the Twentieth Century: An Illustrated History, Schocken Books, 2001, ISBN 0805241906 p. 284
  5. Frontiers of physics: proceedings of the Landau Memorial Conference, Tel Aviv, Israel, 6–10 June 1988, (Pergamon Press, 1990) ISBN 0080369391, pp. 13–14
  6. Edward Teller, Memoirs: A Twentieth Century Journey In Science And Politics, Basic Books 2002, ISBN 0738207780 p. 124
  7. František Janouch, Lev Landau: A Portrait of a Theoretical Physicist, 1908–1988, Research Institute for Physics, 1988, p. 17.
  8. Rumer, Yuriy. ЛАНДАУ. berkovich-zametki.com
  9. 1 2 3 Bessarab, Maya (1971) Страницы жизни Ландау. Московский рабочий. Moscow
  10. 1 2 Mehra, Jagdish (2001) The Golden Age of Theoretical Physics, Boxed Set of 2 Volumes, World Scientific, p. 952. ISBN 9810243421.
  11. During this period Landau visitied Copenhagen three times: 8 April to 3 May 1930, from 20 September to 22 November 1930, and from 25 February to 19 March 1931 (see Landau Lev biography – MacTutor History of Mathematics).
  12. Sykes, J. B. (2013) Landau: The Physicist and the Man: Recollections of L. D. Landau, Elsevier, p. 81. ISBN 9781483286884.
  13. Haensel, P.; Potekhin, A.Y. and Yakovlev, D.G. (2007) Neutron Stars 1: Equation of State and Structure, Springer Science & Business Media, p. 2. ISBN 0387335439.
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 Gennady Gorelik, Scientific American 1997, The Top Secret Life of Lev Landau
  15. Blundell, Stephen J. (2009). Superconductivity: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford U. Press. p. 67. ISBN 9780191579097.
  16. Ioffe, Boris L. (25 April 2002). "Landau's Theoretical Minimum, Landau's Seminar, ITEP in the beginning of the 1950's". arxiv.org. arXiv:hep-ph/0204295Freely accessible.
  17. On the Theory of Stars, in Collected Papers of L. D. Landau, ed. and with an introduction by D. ter Haar, New York: Gordon and Breach, 1965; originally published in Phys. Z. Sowjet. 1 (1932), 285.
  18. 1 2 Dorozynsk, Alexander (1965). The Man They Wouldn't Let Die.
  19. Музей-кабинет Петра Леонидовича Капицы (Peter Kapitza Memorial Museum-Study), Академик Капица: Биографический очерк (a biographical sketch of Academician Kapitza).
  20. Richard Rhodes, Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, pub Simon & Schuster, 1995, ISBN 0684824140 p. 33.
  21. "Lev Davidovich Landau, Soviet physicist and Nobel laureate". Physics Today. 57 (2): 62. 2004. doi:10.1063/1.2408530.
  22. Petr Leonidovich Kapitsa, Experiment, Theory, Practice: Articles and Addresses, Springer, 1980, ISBN 9027710619, p. 329.
  23. Mishina, Irina (17 December 2012). Раздвоение личностей [Dual personalities]. Версия [Versiya] (in Russian). Retrieved 3 March 2014.
  24. Schaefer, Henry F. (2003). Science and Christianity: Conflict Or Coherence?. The Apollos Trust. p. 9. ISBN 9780974297507. I present here two examples of notable atheists. The first is Lev Landau, the most brilliant Soviet physicist of the twentieth century.
  25. "Lev Landau". Soylent Communications. 2012. Retrieved 7 May 2013.
  26. 19 December 1957* (no number). The Bukovsky Archives.
  27. Nobel Presentation speech by Professor I. Waller, member of the Swedish Academy of Sciences. Nobelprize.org. Retrieved on 28 January 2012.
  28. Yaacov Ro'i, The Struggle for Soviet Jewish Emigration, 1948–1967, Cambridge University Press 2003, ISBN 0521522447 p. 199
  29. "Lev Davidovich Landau". Find a Grave. Retrieved 28 January 2012.
  30. Obelisk at the Novodevichye Cemetery. novodevichye.com (26 October 2008). Retrieved on 28 January 2012.
  31. Schmadel, Lutz D. (2003). Dictionary of Minor Planet Names (5th ed.). Springer Verlag. p. 174. ISBN 3-540-00238-3.
  32. 1 2 Hey, Tony (1997). Einstein's Mirror. Cambridge University Press. p. 1. ISBN 0-521-43532-3.
  33. Mitra, Asoke; Ramlo, Susan; Dharamsi, Amin; Mitra, Asoke; Dolan, Richard; Smolin, Lee (2006). "New Einsteins Need Positive Environment, Independent Spirit". Physics Today. 59 (11): 10. Bibcode:2006PhT....59k..10H. doi:10.1063/1.2435630.
  34. "Complete list of L D Landau's works". Phys. Usp. 41 (6): 621–623. June 1998. Bibcode:1998PhyU...41..621.. doi:10.1070/PU1998v041n06ABEH000413.

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