Fort Russ E-book: Kurchatov – The Father of the Soviet Nuclear Bomb. Part 7. Summer School


September 3, 2015

Peter Astashenkov: “Kurchatov”

Published by “Molodaya Gvardiya”, 1968

Translated by Kristina Rus for Fort Russ

To read Parts 1-6, please click on the tag “Kurchatov” above. This book comes out in short installments, check back soon for more!



Alupka, Crimea, 1923, Nikolay Samokish

Accelerated course

It was 1923. Eminent professors, who ended up in Simferopol with random winds, went back to their cities. From their stories, the students learned about the top-notch institutions of the country, such as the Petrograd Polytechnic, Moscow Chemical-Technological. Many dreamed to continue their education there. Among these dreamers were the three students of the senior class: Igor Kurchatov, Ivan Poroikov and Boris Lyaghnitsky. On Igor’s proposal they decided to pass the senior course independently over the summer and graduate early.

The midday sun poured in through the open windows of the auditorium. Breathing becomes increasingly difficult. The river or the forest shade would be so much better. Boris wearily leaned back in his chair, Ivan is exhausted, but Igor seemed not to notice any heat or time.

The following image was etched in the memory of those who were the witnesses of these studies. There is a small table at the podium in the auditorium. Behind it, two students are writing something. At the blackboard there is tall Igor with short black bristly hair. Looking at the math textbook in French, he translates chapters from the most difficult section – field theory, illustrates with formulas and calculations. An hour passes, two, three. And he’s still at the blackboard…

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There were few days, but many sections of the program. Students stormed science together, in unison cheered for each other’s success. Ivan Vasilyevich Poroikov recalled one typical episode. Once at six o’clock in the evening the “trio” came to Professor Korobov for a test on the integration of differential equations. First at the board was Igor.

– You may be excused, – concluded Korobov, not even letting Igor finish the answer contrary to his usual punctuality.

– I’d like to wait for comrades, – said Igor. And for another five hours sat in the auditorium, not even thinking about that the results of the test can be found out on the following day.

Meanwhile approached the time of the last exam at the university. It was time to decide what to do next.

Questionnaires of those days, filled by Igor, have been preserved. To the question, which school he wishes to enter, Kurchatov answered in one: Institute of Chemical Technology, Mechanical Department; in another: Polytechnic Institute, Metallurgical Department. Without a doubt, Igor did not have a solid clarity about the profile of his future profession. The main thing for him was to work in the area of new technology. But the most interesting and remarkable in both questionnaires is a very clear goal set for himself by Igor Kurchatov, intending to continue education. On the question of the questionnaires: “Why did you decide to enroll in this school” twenty-year-old Kurchatov answered: “Striving to give all my strength and knowledge to strengthen the economic power of the republic.”

A visual representation of the extent of knowledge acquired by Igor at the University is shown by a certificate of passed disciplines. The first thing that catches the eye is a good mathematical training. Among the compulsory courses are: 

  • Introduction to analysis
  • Higher algebra
  • Analytical geometry
  • Differential calculus
  • Integral calculus
  • Application of analysis to geometry
  • Theory of surfaces
  • The theory of analytic functions
  • Integration of ordinary differential equations
  • Variational calculus 
  • Probability theory

And for each section – exercises. Among optional courses, two math – spherical trigonometry and the theory of functional sequences. Very well presented were physics, mechanics, thermodynamics, meteorology, physical geography, electromagnetic field theory and electronics. And all these courses included laboratory work and exercises. As optional courses Igor studied chemistry, the theory of relativity. Among social sciences in the program were historical materialism and the foundations of the political system of the RSFSR.

 The high level of instruction, the desire with which students were engaged gave the alloy of solid training and enviable erudition to the graduates of the university. A group of nineteen students, which Igor Kurchatov was part of, was not left indebted to the Motherland. Besides academic Kurchatov and a member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR K. D. Sinelnikov it produced six professors.

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