Monday, November 09, 2009
Vitaly Ginzburg (1916-2009)
Vitaly Ginzburg, a Nobel-prize winning Russian physicist, died on Sunday night in Moscow, at the age of 93. A cardiac arrest was the cause.
Ginzburg shared the 2003 physics Nobel prize with Alexei Alexeyevich Abrikosov and Anthony James Leggett for pioneering contributions to superconductivity and superfluids. In 1950, he co-authored the Ginzburg-Landau theory of superconductivity - a theory of the electromagnetic U(1) gauge group spontaneously broken to nothing by a complex scalar field with a quartic potential, based on the previous theory of second-order phase transitions by Lev Landau.
This phenomenological macroscopic model of superconductivity was probably important for the later birth of the Higgs mechanism. Similar conformal field theories, the Landau-Ginzburg models, have also been extensively used to construct string-size, "non-geometric" compactifications of perturbative string theory, for example in the Gepner models.
Ginzburg has also contributed to our understanding of plasmas, the ionosphere, and the origin of the cosmic rays. He has worked on the Soviet hydrogen bomb project together with Andrei Sakharov. Unlike Sarkharov, Ginzburg never became a dissident but they remained friends.
He was a part of the group of scientists that helped to liquidate Stalinist agronomist Trofim Lysenko, the leader of an ideologically-driven anti-Mendelian pseudoscience that is often quoted as the original role model for the global warming pseudoscience.
On the other hand, he was also a very active secular Jew, a big supporter of the state of Israel, an outspoken atheist, and an opponent of a newly powerful Russian Orthodox Church after the fall of communism.