THE FATE AND MAGIC OF TALENT

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Опубликовано в библиотеке: 2021-11-08
Источник: Science in Russia, №3, 2013, C.72-81

by Marina KHALIZEVA, journalist

 

Igor Golovin (1913-1997), Dr. Sc. (Phys. & Math.), whose centennial jubilee was marked by the scientific community of our country in March 2013, is one of the most impressive and vivid personalities in the history of atomic studies in our country. He was among physicists of "the first recruitment" drawn in by Academician Igor Kurchatov into handling the uranium problem and became his first deputy at the age of 37. Obsessed by an idea of mastery of thermonuclear energy for the needs of mankind, Golovin made a major contribution to development of a national experimental program in the sphere of controlled thermonuclear fusion, implementation of which started in the 1950s at the Laboratory of Measuring Instruments of the USSR Academy of Sciences (a future National Research Center "Kurchatov Institute").

 

Golovin's scientific work started at the Lomonosov Moscow State University. His diploma work at the physics department (1936) devoted to the theory of nuclear forces was published in authoritative Russian physical periodicals "Journal of Experimental and Theoretical Physics" and "Successes of Physical Sciences". Then followed his postgraduate studies at MSL) under supervision of outstanding theoretical physicist of the 20th century Igor Tamm, where he carried out a number of works in the theory of nuclear forces in light nuclei and in 1939 defended his Ph. D. thesis "Vacuum Polarization in the Dirac Theory". However, he managed to continue his specialization in the structure of matter and atomic energy only four years later. And this is why.

 
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Then Golovin was sent to the Moscow Aviation Institute, where he handled applied problems. There he learned news about the beginning of the Great Patriotic War and immediately joined the Moscow popular home guard, although due to his lameness he could not be called up.

 

It was a happy chance or someone's will that kept him from a direct confrontation with the attacking enemy in the terrible months of defense. Golovin recalled in 1981: "According to philistine standards I was mystically lucky. In an artillery battery I was punished by three extra duties, and it turned out, fortunately. I was brought to the regiment headquarters and later to a communications battalion of the division headquarters just before beginning of hostilities. Thus, no Junkers hung over my head in combat actions up-front. I fell asleep and remained in the forest just before my company faced the German troops. The chief of engineering troops ran against me, woke me up and took me away from the approaching Germans... In the long run, I was evacuated to the sunny Alma-Ata, where I did not have to go through such hardships, which fell to the lot of those evacuated to Kazan, Ural or Novosibirsk." According to his own confession, he could not reconcile himself for long to the thought that "he did not lay his bones in battlefields and remained alive".

 

In Alma-Ata Golovin was employed by Academician of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences Kirill Sinelnikov, a department head of the Physico-Technical Institute evacuated from Kharkov. Being always inclined to technical work, Golovin made, according to him, an "apt invention", i.e. a 15 W generator of 9-centimeter waves, which did not remain unnoticed by the Ministry of Electronic Industry (Narkomelektroprom), and Golovin was invited to Moscow by the resolution of the State Defense Committee in the autumn of 1943. A year later he was noticed by Kurchatov*, head of the atomic problem,

 

See: Ye. Velikhov, "Pride of Russian Science"; V. Sidorenko, "Pioneer of Soviet Atomic Power Engineering"; Yu. Sivintsev, "A Few Unforgettable Meetings"; R. Kuznetsova, V. Popov, "Scientific Heritage of Academician Kurchatov", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2012.-Ed.

 
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who recruited the country's best physicists to Laboratory No. 2, which in 1949 was transformed into a Laboratory of Measuring Instruments of the USSR Academy of Sciences*. And 6 years later he became his first deputy in 1950. According to the contemporaries, this decision made a strong impression both on Golovin and his associates. The outstanding experimenter Yuri Sokolov, Dr. Sc. (Phys. & Math.), also from Kurchatov's first "recruits", explained his exceptional decision in the following way: "Kurchatov had a rare talent to feel people and their nature. So, he found in Golovin a person holding the same views and a reliable associate, he could rely on in difficult and dangerous times... Among a great number of talented people around him he chose Golovin, in essence an ordinary executive at that time." The mission of Kurchatov's immediate assistant in handling of fundamental problems of creation atomic weapons mobilized Golovin, who displayed both a scale of his scientific talent and strong points of his character. At that time one had to posses a really strong character as the atomic project was under personal control of Josef Stalin and the project

 

See: Ye. Yatsishina, A. Gagarinsky, "From a Secret Laboratory to a National Research Center", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2013.-Ed.

 

manager Lavrenty Beria, and therefore every nuance was to be agreed upon with the Kremlin. Golovin was in permanent contacts with Kurchatov and carried out essential scientific and technical tasks on his instructions.

 

However, the main field of his activities was the problem of controlled thermonuclear fusion (CTF)*, which was first studied by his "dear teachers" (Golovin's expression) academicians Andrei Sakharov** and Igor Tamm, who formulated the idea of magnetic thermonuclear reactor (MTR) in 1950. According to one of the founders of the CTF modern theory Academician Vitaly Shafranov in his book "I.N. Golovin: Life History", he was the first person at the institute who got to know Sakharov's idea about plasma magnetic thermal insulation for creation of MTR. Shafranov recalled: "When Sakharov informed top officials of his idea, Kurchatov was far from Moscow. The idea was discussed by higher authorities and Golovin as a representative of the Kurchatov Institute. Golovin also represented our institute

 

See: V. Strelkov, "No Royal Ride in Thermonuclear Research", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2009.-Ed.

 

** See: B. Altshuler, "Sakharov. FAS and Missiles", Science in Russia, No. 1, 1993.-Ed.

 
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at the follow-up meetings attended by a great number of physicists."

 

Sakharov and Tamm made a strict analysis of a MTR cylindrical model without regard of torus curvature, which is of fundamental importance in creation of MTR. It appeared that plasma would not hold there without excitation of the current. Golovin correctly assessed ambitious prospects of the new trend and conducted, in cooperation with Natan Yavlinsky*, Dr. Sc. (Tech.), a series of investigations, which resulted in the creation of toroidal (from the word "torus") systems. The first device of this type, i.e. torus with magnetic field (TMF), was developed in Kurchatov's laboratory in 1955 under a technical assignment of Golovin and Yavlinsky. And only subsequent devices commissioned almost yearly in a period of 1955-1965 came to be called "tokamaks" thanks to Golovin's good luck. The suggested name took roots and implies a successfully developing now trend in designing of a thermonuclear reactor. Shafranov stressed: "I believe that Golovin's role in the development of thermonuclear reactors is compara-

 

See: V. Strelkov, "Creator of the Tokamak", Science in Russia, No. 4, 2012.-Ed.

 

ble to that played by Sakharov and Tamm in the development of this trend."

 

Golovin made a major contribution to international cooperation in CTF studies, which started from Kurchatov's lecture at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment in Harwell in April of 1956. Virtually, it became an appeal for combining efforts of scientists of the whole world for application of nuclear fusion for the welfare of the people and not for mass destruction. (Later on, in 1997, at the First International Symposium on the atomic project history held in Dubna near Moscow, Golovin submitted a brilliant report on the events related to the inception of international contacts and the people who initiated a process of mutual understanding between physicists after a long period of competition at the time of creation of thermonuclear superbombs.) In the summer of 1956, Golovin and head of CTF experimental research Academician Lev Artsimovich* received an invitation to Stockholm (Sweden), where they made two reports on thermonuclear research at the astrophysical symposium. There they met head of the Plasma Physics Laboratory at the

 

See: Ye. Velikhov, "Thermonuclear Combustion"; M. Petrov, "Talent is Judged by Work", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2009.-Ed.

 
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Princeton University (USA) Lyman Spitzer, the author of the stellarator concept (traps with closed magnetic surfaces) and head of the British CTF program Randall Pease. In the autumn of that year the top-secret Laboratory of Measuring Instruments of the USSR Academy of Sciences reorganized to the Institute of Atomic Energy received, for the first time in its territory, a foreign delegation, namely, members of the Swedish Academy of Sciences headed by a well-known specialist in plasma physics and a future Nobel Prize winner (1970) Hannes Alfven. The USSR, Great Britain and the USA declassified their CTF works and at the 2nd Geneva Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy (1958), where Golovin headed a delegation of Russian specialists, submitted dozens of reports on this subject. Then followed his visit with colleagues to Great Britain in the spring of 1959 by invitation of the Nobel Prize winner (1951) John Cockcroft and his participation in the First IAEA Thermonuclear Conference in Salzburg (Austria) in September of 1961. "The ice broke up!", said Golovin after one of such international meetings. More and more scientists from different countries and continents came to join the new domain of science.

 

As a strong supporter of search for parallel solutions of scientific and technical problems, Golovin developed, at the same time, a large open magnetic "plugs" for plasma stationary confinement, as an alternative to Sakharov's toroidal systems and based on the idea suggested by a Novosibirsk scientist Gersh Budker in 1954 (Academician from 1958). Together with Yavlinsky, Golovin made a physical validation of the Ogra project, i.e. a thermonuclear facility, whose magnetic field force lines face vacuum chamber walls, and plasma in the ellipsoidal form is held by magnetic "plugs". The very name Ogra was formed by the first letters of the phrase: one gram of neutrons per day. It was just a quantity, which the scientists hoped to produce in thermonuclear reactions in this facility.

 

On December 30, 1957, Golovin reported to the head of state Nikita Khrushchev on prospects of the new domain of science and necessity of creation of large experimental facilities, in particular, Ogra-1, for development of thermonuclear reactors at the institute. In the morning of January 1, 1958, Khrushchev invited Golovin to his residence and informed him that the government had approved their idea and prepared a resolution, which should be fulfilled as soon as possible before opening of the 2nd Geneva Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy (September of 1958). Being aware of the construction scope of a thermonuclear facility, Golovin supported Kurchatov, though he realized the extent of risk of unexpected problems with plasma (it was just the case). As a supervisor of its design and construction Golovin accepted singular responsibility. According to one of the leading specialists in CTF Nikolai Semashko, Dr. Sc. (Phys. & Math.), the work required large scientific, design and production teams, first of all, of the Experimental Design Bureau of the biggest national machine-building plant Elektrosila (Leningrad). Each week or once in two weeks Golovin went to Leningrad where he conducted urgent meetings and supervised progress of the facility work. The work was also in full swing at his institute, where premises for the facility were under construction. Semashko noted: "I cannot compare the set rate of works with any other afterwards."

 
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Concurrently Golovin created a scientific team for handling of research efforts on the facility. Naturally, the new technologies called for qualified personnel. Yuri Pustovoyt, Cand. Sc. (Tech.), who joined the Ogra project in 1958, recalled how Golovin provided professional training for his staff members: he delivered lectures at daily seminars and always discussed problems, related to mastering of modern technology, and possible methods of their solution. He noted: "It was a true school, it gave me more than education I received at the university." The RAS Corresponding Member Gennady Dymov, a staff member of the Institute of Nuclear Physics, the RAS Siberian Branch and a colleague of the Kurchatov team added: "I was impressed by a deep insight of Golovin, a theoretical physicist by education, into many technical solutions. Besides, he always stressed necessity of physical thinking in handling technological problems."

 

Relying on Kurchatov's support, Golovin initiated research in extra-high vacuum physics and technology, stepped up work on elementary atomic interactions, invited well-known mathematicians and computer experts to study plasma problems and created a test site at his institute for elaboration of ion sources of injection systems in plasma facilities.

 

In those years Golovin displayed his best personal qualities as a scientist and organizer such as keen perception of perspective, ability to maintain in a project team an atmosphere of search for and involvement in handling major state problems and to solve tasks required for achieving the main target, i.e. creation of a thermonuclear reactor.

 

The experiments carried out on plasma facilities, including Ogra-1, proved with certainty that the physicists faced a very specific facility, in which different instabilities developed with unusual ease and were accompanied with intensive plasma loss. The researchers entered into hard and, in a way, interesting and exciting years of scientific search. Golovin took active participation in the process of "perception and overcoming" of physical problems, which were in many ways of the "trial and error" approach. But even in this exhausting marathon he always thought of engineering problems in thermonuclear studies. He was persistent in finding alternatives to a full-scale reactor based on different concepts, which allowed to evaluate difficulties, to find

 
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ways of overcoming them, and finally to avoid dead-end directions; all this made him differ from many other leading figures in the CTF field. Vitaly Shafranov, an expert in the history of thermonuclear reactors, noted: "The point is that most physicists were guided in their work above all by an interest in physics of plasma confinement by magnetic field. Let's recollect Artsimov-ich's humorous aphorism about scientists who satisfy their curiosity at the expense of the state. Golovin... from the very beginning treated physics as a source of knowledge necessary for creation of a thermonuclear reactor... He was the first in our country who supported all-round engineering studies of the reactor and paved the way for creation of a special science branch, due to which our country has first-class specialists in engineering problems of thermonuclear facilities."

 

In 2003, at the birth centenary celebration of Kur-chatov, Academician Yevgeny Velikhov, President of the Russian Research Center "Kurchatov Institute" said: "...technologically without Ogra and Golovin, Kur-chatov's close associate his titanic work on creation of an engineering base of thermonuclear research, there would be no success of the now famous tokamaks." Indeed, formally Ogra ended in a failure (it was found that its magnetic system had serious faults), but it "served as a stand for studies of stabilization methods of different instabilities and creation and maintaining of a deep vacuum in large facilities".

 
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But even in difficult times Golovin did not look depressed and dispirited. If anything, misfortunes whipped him up. In this context, he was like his teacher, Kurchatov. According to Yuri Sokolov, generally speaking "the basic features of Golovin's character were close if not similar to those of Kurchatov... I saw them together many times and always felt that there was deep mutual understanding between these two men despite different scales of their activities and their position in service hierarchy." It is no mere chance that Golovin was the first in our country who wrote a biography of Kurchatov. It is a small book of 100 pages published by Atomizdat in 1967, and tells about a man, whose name, in a period from the outbreak of the Great Patriotic War till 1956, even if mentioned in the press but without reference to his duties to which he devoted all his energies. The author set himself a task to describe Kurchatov as he saw him during 16 years of their teamwork, therefore the narration became bright and impressive. Golovin was among the initiators and encouragers of creation of Kurchatov's Memorial House in the territory of the Kurchatov Institute, and he devoted his powerful temperament and talent to this noble aim.

 

Golovin was a competent authority among his colleagues and the world thermonuclear community. As a man of high culture, vast special and general knowledge, high decency denying any, even the most insignificant, deals with his conscience and fantastic working ability multiplied by personal simplicity, naturalness and exceptional modesty, Golovin attracted his associates. However, as a passionate and emotional person Golovin was often straightforward, and he never tried to mask his attitude either to an ordinary staff member or to top officials. Sometimes his evaluation of people or events seemed sharp. Some people did not like this, others believed that he talked or acted improperly. But he was a strong and bold person, uncompromising in vindicating his convictions.

 

During the Prague Spring of 1968, when the Soviet troops invaded Czechoslovakia striving to get free from the socialist camp and protest rallies took place in Moscow, Golovin took a fortnight leave and asked his son Denis to visit "places where I retreated". Their journey started in Gzhatsk (Smolensk Region) and ended near Mozhaisk (Moscow Region) in the field of Borodino. Denis wrote: "Many years later I understood what had

 
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made my father go on that journey. He could not support the occupation of Czechoslovakia owing to his convictions but he also could not oppose it publicly as he represented the research team tenderly fostered by him and tackling the problem, which he considered topical for himself and human survival. It was no cowardice but a rational way out of the situation in which he found himself. Knowing his dislike for compromises and devotion to fighting, I believe that his act cost him much."

 

During the public persecutions of Sakharov, who became one of the leaders of the national movement for human rights in the 1970s, Golovin sided with him. Moreover, in 1971 he complimented Sakharov on his 50th birth anniversary and wished every success in his activities. Was it easy to do at the time when the Soviet press and a part of the academic community has already launched an unprecedented massive campaign against the scientist? It is a rhetorical question. Golovin could not betray one of his "dear teachers".

 

In the second half of the 1980s after the Chernobyl accident of 1986 he was carried away by the idea of a low-radioactive, i.e. relatively "pure", reactor based on the fusion of lightest nuclei helium-3 (3He) and deuterium (D). The D-3He reaction releases not neutrons but positive protons and inert 4He. Advantages of D-3He for electric power plants are evident. The feedstock is 3He, whose reserves only in the upper layers of the Moon surface are estimated at about 500 mln tons, and it does not possess radioactivity. Besides, such reactors provide direct conversion of fusion reaction energy to electric energy omitting a thermal cycle of converting water into steam with inherent losses. Naturally it affects the efficiency factor of power plants which becomes minimum twice higher than that of today's Α-plants. Such prospects inspired Golovin who focused his efforts on the study of processes running in D-3He reactors and problems of their radiation safety related to creation of new structural materials. He developed this creative activity on the eve of his 75th birth anniversary. The seminar devoted to this event was attended by the institute authorities. The program envisaged a short opening speech of the hero of the day and traditional compliments. However, Golovin decided otherwise: he prepared a report on prospects of a low-radioactive thermonuclear fusion and the first findings of the reactor studies, which lasted for two academic hours. Therefore, his colleagues had to congratulate him behind the scenes.

 

In 1991, Golovin initiated the Soviet-American D-3He reactor meeting, where Gerald Kulcinski spoke as one the authors of 3He commercial production on the Moon. Two years later Golovin already participated in discussions on this problem in the USA and in 1994 in Japan (Nagoya), where he was invited by professor of the National Institute for Fusion Studies (NIFS) and a great enthusiast of D-3He reactors Hiromu Momota, who sponsored a number of business events in support of low-radioactive fusion for our delegation. Early in 1995, Momota returned a visit to Golovin to resume work on the creation of international cooperation on the D-3He power plant problem. At the end of that year Golovin

 
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presented the paper "On the Development of the CTF World Program and the Industry of Ultrapure Low-Radioactive Materials" at the International CTF Engineering Problems Symposium in a university town near Chicago (USA), in which he could not but dwell on his dream, i.e. creation of neutron-free thermonuclear power plants as alternative energy sources. Besides, he delivered a lecture for students on the history of CTF development in Russia and the world and in return received a rather flattering praise from the symposium secretary: "A treasure of fusion community."

 

Indeed, he was a first-rate lecturer. He impressed the audience not only by deep penetration into the backbone of the subject, encyclopaedic learning, original and nonstandard thinking, but also by a rare and deep baritone, which added unusual expressiveness to his speech. Vladimir Pustovitov, Dr. Sc. (Phys. & Math.) recalled: "It was always a privilege to hear him speak. His well-turned lapidary phrases possessed some special power. Sometimes it looked like artistic reading: good articulation, sustained speech tempo and completeness of each phrase as if everything was verified at rehearsals beforehand."

 

In 1997 he worked on a report on potentials of terrestrial helium-3 gas fields for his planned visit to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (USA). He was feeling not too well but, though in hospital, went on with working. In the evening he asked to bring him materials necessary for his report but in the morning he was gone.

 

Yuri Sokolov, who highly valued his 50-year-old friendship with Golovin, said: "He died like a Roman soldier distinguished in battles." The words of the priest, who visited the house of professor of geodesy Nikolai Golovin, whose son Igor in his boyhood was very ill, turned to be prophetic. At the age of 6 he suffered from knee-joint tuberculosis, which ended in the loss of mobility when he was 14. The boy could not attend school as he moved only by wheelchair and was taught by his mother at home. The local deacon visited their house usually at Easter, drank a glass of vodka, tapped on Igor's shoulder and said: "A creaking door hangs long on its hinges".

 

Golovin really lived a long life and proved with all his life, from its dramatic onset to its end filled with dignity that a consistent struggle with oneself could lead to an absolute victory.

 

Illustrations from the book "I.N. Golovin: Life History". M.: Atomizdat, 2004


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© Marina KHALIZEVA () Источник: Science in Russia, №3, 2013, C.72-81

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