You are here

    • You are here:
    • Home > Alexei Abrikosov

Alexei Abrikosov

Alexei Abrikosov

June 25, 1928 to March 29, 2017
Alexei Abrikosov (Photo: ANL, courtesy of APS News)

Albrikexei Aosov 1928-2017

May 3, 2017 (PO57U). Alexei A. Abrikosov, a world-renowned theorist in the field of condensed matter physics, and especially superconductivity, Nobel laureate, passed away after a long illness on March 29, 2017, at the age of 88.  He was the last still living of four Russian theory giants, who were among creators of the modern condensed matter theory.   The towering sum of their contributions to theory of low-temperature superconductivity is known as GLAG (Ginzburg-Landau-Abrikosov-Gor’kov).

Abrikosov was born on June 25, 1928, in Moscow, then Soviet Union (USSR), in a family of prominent medicine doctors1.  He graduated from high school in 1943 and was accepted as student of the Institute for Power Engineers.  In 1945 he transferred to the Physics Department of the Moscow State University and graduated summa cum laude with a diploma (M.Sc. degree) in 1948. After that, he was accepted as a Ph.D. student at the Institute for Physical Problems (now Kapitza Institute), where his adviser was Lev D. Landau. After defending in 1951 a dissertation on thermal diffusion in completely and incompletely ionized plasmas, Abrikosov received the Candidate of Science (Ph.D.) degree and became staff member of that Institute.

In 1951–1952 he worked with N.V. Zavaritskii, an experimentalist of the same institute, to experimentally verify the critical magnetic field of thin films predicted by the recently published Ginzburg-Landau phenomenological theory of superconductivity.  This work and its subsequent extension to bulk materials resulted in the Formulation of the concept of Type II superconductivity, the lower and upper critical fields, prediction of vortices and the vortex lattice.  This work, one of the most cited in the world scientific literature, proved invaluable for the development of practical conductor technology.

In the mid-1950's, Abrikosov worked also on several other topics, including the quantum electrodynamics at high energies, the subject of his Doctor of Science dissertation (a degree analogous to the Central-European habilitation), which he defended in 1955.  Towards the end of that decade, he then collaborated with Lev Gor’kov on theory of superconducting alloys and superconductors with magnetic impurities, in which they predicted the possibility of gapless superconductivity.  In collaboration with I. Khalatnikov they also studied the behavior of superconductors in high-frequency magnetic fields. Later, Abrikosov collaborated also with M. P. Kemoklidze on a related problem.

From the 1960's on, Abrikosov’s interests turned towards normal metals, semi-metals, and semiconductors.  We refrain from listing Abrikosov’s theoretical achievements in these and other areas not related directly to superconductivity but should mention that in 1961 he published with Lev Gor’kov and Igor Dzyaloshinskii the “Quantum Field Theoretical Methods in Statistical Physics”, the seminal textbook on the subject (see photo).  After the discovery of high-temperature superconductivity, Abrikosov got interested in high-Tc layered cuprates, jumped once more into the fray and developed his own version of cuprate superconductivity theory, which could explain a good part of their unusual behavior, including the isotope effect, neutron scattering, pseudogap and the metal-insulator transition.

In 1965, Abrikosov was one of the organizers of the Institute of Theoretical Physics of the Soviet Academy of Sciences (now the Landau Institute), where became Head of the Condensed Matter Theory Department, in parallel with various teaching appointments (see below). In 1988, Abrikosov was elected Director of the Institute of High-pressure Physics of the Academy in Troitsk, near Moscow.  In 1991, with the demise of Soviet Union, he moved to the United States where he accepted an invitation of the Argonne National Laboratory to become Distinguished Argonne Scientist and then head of the condensed matter theory group in the Materials Science Division, 1992 - 2000.  He continued to collaborate with that Division until his terminal illness.

Abrikosov’s teaching career started at the Moscow State University, where he climbed from Assistant to Associate and Full Professor, 1960-1969.  In 1970-1972 he was Professor at the State University of Gorky (now Nizhnyi Nowgorod), from 1976 to 1991 Chair of Theoretical Physics at the Moscow Institute of Steel and Alloys.  At the US, he was Adjunct Professor, University of Illinois, Chicago, and University of Utah.  He held also the Leverhulm adjunct professorship at the University of Loughborough, UK.

Prior to the Nobel Prize in 2003 (together with Vitaly Ginzburg and Anthony Legett) “for pioneering work on the theory of superconductivity and superfluidity”, Abrikosov received numerous other distinctions and prizes, in the Soviet Union, the US, and elsewhere.  Already in 1964, he was elected a corresponding member of the Soviet Academy.  In 1966, he received the Lenin Prize, together with Lev Landau, Vitaly Ginzburg and Lev Gor’kov, for the theory of superconductivity in strong magnetic fields.  In 1972, Abrikosov was awarded the Fritz London Prize in Low-temperature Physics, in 1982 the USSR State Prize, in 1987 he became a full member of the Academy, in 1991 received the John Bardeen Award, again together with Ginzburg and Gor’kov.  In 1992 Abrikosov became Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS), in 2000 member of the US National Academy of Sciences.   He was a foreign member of the Royal Society (UK), received honorary doctorates from the University of Lausanne (Switzerland, 1975) and Bordeaux (France, 2003).

Abrikosov has been remembered by his colleagues and collaborators as remarkably gifted writer, erudite and congenial story teller.  He had a strong personality and was very principled.  His deep sense of humor helped him to overcome many adversities he faced in his long and very eventful life.  In his free time, he loved to climb mountains.

This obituary is compiled based primarily on the autobiography Abrikosov wrote on the occasion of his Nobel Prize (in “The Nobel Prizes 2003”, Nobel Foundation, Stockholm, 2004), the article in his memory published by A. F. Andreev et al. in Uspekhy Fiz. Nauk (UFN) 187, No. 4, 463-464 (2017), and also on the obituary posted by Argonne National Laboratory on its website.  We especially thank A. A. Varlamov of SPIN-CNR and Rome University, Italy, one of the co-authors of the UFN memorial article, for his critical review of this SNF obituary.  Another UFN memorial co-author, V. Mineev of CEA, France, provided that article.  We also thank Vladimir Kresin, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Bruce Strauss, Dept. of Energy, both of the USA, for their kind assistance.  Prior to publishing this obituary, we temporarily posted (with permission) the obituary published by APS News.

1His father was the chief pathologist of Soviet Union.