Lev Landau: The Man Behind Superfluidity

Ever thought who is the man behind the concepts of superfluidity and liquid Helium? Well, the only the name that should cross our minds when we come across these scientific theories is of the great Scientist Lev Landau. On his birthday let’s remember the life, work and the contribution of this great intelligency.

Lev Landau, Credits: Wikipedia

Early life

111 years ago from today, Lev Davidovich Landau was born to Jewish parents in the Russian Empire on 22nd January, 1908. His father being an engineer and mother being a doctor, Landau had a supportive educational background. He became a child prodigy when he learnt to differentiate at the age of 12 followed by integration at the age of 13. He graduated at the age of 13, and was made to study at the Baku Economical Technical school for a year as his parents considered him too young to join the University. At the age of 14 in 1922, he joined the Baku State University. Though he studied two departments simultaneously, being the department of physics and mathematics along with the department of chemistry, Landau always had his interest delved deep in physics.

In 1924 Landau finally chose Physics as his field of investment for the rest of his life and entered the main centre of Soviet physics during that time. Landau spend his further life dedicating himself completely to the world of theoretical physics. During 1930, Landau went to work at the Niels Bohr’s Institute for Theoretical Physics after which Landau’s approach to physics was greatly influenced by Bohr.

Credits: Science Photo Library

Scientific Achievements

Landau achieved many milestones in the field of physics and made immense contributions to the field of Theoretical Physics. His accomplishments included: independent co-discovery of the density matrix method in quantum mechanics (alongside John von Neumann), the quantum mechanical theory of diamagnetism, the theory of superfluidity, the theory of second-order phase transitions, the Ginzburg–Landau theory of superconductivity, the theory of Fermi liquid, the explanation of Landau damping in plasma physics, the Landau pole in quantum electrodynamics, the two-component theory of neutrinos, and Landau’s equations for S matrix singularities.

He also received the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physics for his development of a mathematical theory of superfluidity that accounts for the properties of liquid helium II at a temperature below 2.17 K (−270.98 °C).”

Personal Life

Landau always believed in the concept of “free love” rather than monogamy, though his wife never approved of it. Landau also was an atheist and did not believe in anything other than Scientific truths. On 7 January 1962, came the unfortunate day when Landau’s car collided with a truck and he was taken into two complete months of coma due to the severe injuries past the accident. Though Landau recovered taking many days, he could never return back to his scientific world of Theoretical Physics again. His injuries were severe to the extent that he could not even receive the 1962 Noble Prize for Physics in person. Landau died at the age of 60 on April 1st 1968 due to the immense complications of the car crash injuries which he was strong enough to sustain for 6 years.

Lev Landau, Soviet physicist
Landau trying to walk again after the car accident, Credits: Science Photo Library

All his life Landau was known for his witty nature and sharp humour. This is very well portrayed in his very popularly known conversation with a psychiatrist, who was trying to test for a possible brain damage of Landau post the car crash accident.

Psychiatrist: “Please draw me a circle”
Landau draws a cross
Psychiatrist: “Hm, now draw me a cross”
Landau draws a circle
Psychiatrist: “Landau, why don’t you do what I ask?”
Landau: “If I did, you might come to think I’ve become mentally retarded”.

A very Happy Birthday to you Sir..!!


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