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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

St. Petersburg Physicist Wins Nobel Prize

ST. PETERSBURG — Zhores Alfyorov, a State Duma deputy who heads a prestigious scientific institute, won the Nobel Prize in physics Tuesday for helping pave the way for the creation of such everyday devices as cellular phones and CD players.

Alfyorov, who shares the prize with two Americans, is the first Russian physicist to win since Pyotr Kapitsa in 1978. The last Russian citizen to win a Nobel was Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who was awarded the Peace Prize in 1990.

"I’ve had a lot of calls today, and I am happy, very happy, and very proud, of course," said Alfyorov, 70, who heads the Ioffe Physico-Technical Institute.

"But one of the reasons I’m so happy is that I hope such recognition of the achievements of Russian science — especially St. Petersburg science — will help it in these hard times."

He will share half of the prize with Herbert Kroemer, 72, a German-born researcher at the University of California at Santa Barbara for their work developing semiconductors.

Jack Kilby, 76, who once worked for Texas Instruments in Dallas, will get the other half for his part in the invention of the integrated circuit, or computer chip, and as co-inventor of the pocket calculator.

The prize this year is worth 9 million Swedish kronor, or $915,000. Alfyorov said he already had plans for his share, about $229,000.

"I am going to give part of the money to the Scientific and Educational Center at our institute, but most of it ... will be taken care of by my wife," he said.

After spending most of the day talking to journalists in his office at the institute, Alfyorov went to St. Petersburg’s branch of the Russian Academy of Science, which he also heads. There he met with May Andersson, the Swedish consul general in St. Petersburg, and drank a champagne toast with his oldest colleagues.

Alfyorov was especially thrilled when he learned from Andersson that when the prizes are presented Dec. 10 in Stockholm he will be seated next to the Swedish queen. "So the king will sit next to my wife!" he said joyfully.

The news of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’ decision thrilled Alfyorov’s colleagues.

"He’s the greatest physicist of our times, a brilliant person, an intellectual, and a highly educated, brave man," said Andrei Filkenshtein, who heads the Russian Academy of Science’s Institute of Applied Astronomy.

"This is an outstanding event. Our science has for long been deeply humiliated [by the state], we’ve felt our work is unnecessary and unappreciated. Now the prize has made us feel part of the world scientific community," Filkenshtein said.

Hermann Grimmeiss, a member of the Swedish academy, said the work of the three physicists was invaluable in the development of modern information technology.

"Without Kilby it would not have been possible to build the personal computers we have today, and without Alfyorov it would not be possible to transfer all the information from satellites down to the earth or to have so many telephone lines between cities,’’ Grimmeiss said, The Associated Press reported.

The academy this year cited scientists for their work in a practical realm instead of more esoteric branches of physics like subatomic particles and quantum physics that have been honored the previous two years.

Kroemer and Alfyorov were cited as being early leaders in semiconductor research that has been used in mobile phones and satellite links. The same technology is used to build laser diodes, which drive the flow of information on the Internet and are found in compact disc players, bar-code readers and laser pointers.

Kilby’s work led to the microchip, which has "led to our environment being flooded with small electronic apparatuses, anything from electronic watches and TV games to mini-calculators and personal computers,’’ according to the citation.

Alfyorov said the bulk of the work he won the prize for was carried out at the end of the 1960s and in the 1970s in St. Petersburg.

He said Kroemer had worked out the theory and his team then came up with the practical applications.

"We staged the first experiments — fiber-optic lines, solar panels, compact disks," Reuters quoted him as saying.

Alfyorov, who was born in Belarus, has had a parallel career in national politics. From 1989 to 1992, he was a member of the Congress of People’s Deputies. In 1995, he was elected to the State Duma on the party list of the pro-government Our Home Is Russia, and was re-elected in 1999, this time on the Communist Party’s list. He serves on the education and science committee.

Once prestigious and well-paid, science in Russia today is largely unrewarded, and many scientists leave the country seeking better opportunities. The Nobel Foundation Zhores I. Alfyorov