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Andrey Sakharov

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Andrey Sakharov, in full Andrey Dmitriyevich Sakharov, (born May 21, 1921, Moscow, Russia—died December 14, 1989, Moscow), Soviet nuclear theoretical physicist, an outspoken advocate of human rights, civil liberties, and reform in the Soviet Union as well as rapprochement with noncommunist nations. In 1975 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Sakharov was born into the Russian intelligentsia. His father, Dmitry Sakharov, taught physics at several Moscow schools and institutes and wrote popular scientific works and textbooks. A man of principle, he had an enormous effect on his son. His mother, Ekaterina, remained at home and took care of the family. Andrey Sakharov was tutored at home for several years and entered school only in the fall of 1933. His exceptional scientific promise was recognized early, and in 1938 he enrolled in the physics department of Moscow State University. After the outbreak of war with Germany in June 1941, he failed a medical exam and was found unfit for military service. In October he and his fellow students were evacuated to Ashkhabad (now Ashgabat, Turkmenistan), capital of the Turkmen Republic in Central Asia, where they resumed their studies and graduated in 1942. He contributed to the war effort by working in the laboratory of a munitions factory in Ulyanovsk. While working there, he met Klavdia Vikhireva, and they were married in July 1943, a marriage that lasted until her death in 1969. They had three children: Tanya, Lyuba, and Dmitry.

In 1945 they returned to Moscow, where Sakharov began his graduate work at the P.N. Lebedev Physics Institute of the Soviet Academy of Sciences (FIAN) under the direction of Igor Y. Tamm, earning his doctorate in two years. In June 1948 Tamm was appointed to head a special research group at FIAN to investigate the possibility of building a thermonuclear bomb. Sakharov joined Tamm’s group and, with his colleagues Vitaly Ginzburg and Yuri Romanov, worked on calculations produced by Yakov Zeldovich’s group at the Institute of Chemical Physics. The Soviet discovery of the major ideas behind the thermonuclear bomb went through several stages. Later in 1948 Sakharov proposed a design in which alternating layers of deuterium and uranium are placed between the fissile core of an atomic bomb and the surrounding chemical high explosive. The scheme—analogous to American physicist Edward Teller’s “Alarm Clock” design—was called Sloika, or “ Layer Cake” as it is usually translated. Sakharov referred to it as the “First Idea.” Sakharov credits Ginzburg for the “ Second Idea.” In 1949 Ginzburg published reports proposing substituting lithium deuteride for the liquid deuterium. When bombarded with neutrons, the lithium yields tritium, which when fused with the deuterium generates a greater release of energy.

In March 1950 Sakharov arrived at the “Installation” ( KB-11 and later Arzamas-16), located in what became the secret Soviet city of Sarov. Under the scientific leadership of Yuly B. Khariton, work at KB-11 had begun three years earlier to develop and produce Soviet nuclear weapons. Members of the Tamm and the Zeldovich groups also went there to work on the thermonuclear bomb. A Layer Cake model, small and light enough to be deliverable by airplane, was detonated on August 12, 1953, with a yield of 400 kilotons. Sakharov was rewarded with full membership in the Soviet Academy of Sciences at age 32 and accorded the privileges of the Nomenklatura, or elite members of the Soviet Union. While the 1953 test was a significant milestone in thermonuclear development, it was not based on the most advanced principles, and further work continued.

Sakharov assumed the duties of the theoretical department at the Installation after Tamm returned to Moscow in 1953. The following year, there was a conceptual breakthrough to develop high-performance thermonuclear weapons. The “ Third Idea,” of which Sakharov said he was one of the originators, was a modern two-stage configuration using radiation compression, analogous to the successful design of the American physicists Teller and Stanislaw Ulam. On November 22, 1955, the Soviet Union successfully tested the design in a thermonuclear bomb detonated over the Semipalatinsk test site.

In the late 1950s Sakharov became concerned about the consequences of testing in the atmosphere, forseeing an eventual increased global death toll over time. After years of attempts at private persuasion, in 1961 Sakharov went on record against Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev’s plan for an atmospheric test of a 100-megaton thermonuclear bomb, fearing the hazards of widespread radioactive fallout. The bomb was tested at half yield (50 megatons) on October 30, 1961. Through these efforts, Sakharov began to adopt strong moral positions about the social responsibilities of scientists.

In 1964 Sakharov successfully mobilized opposition to the spurious doctrines of the still-powerful Stalin-era biologist Trofim D. Lysenko. In May 1968 Sakharov finished his essay “ Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom,” which first circulated as typewritten copies (samizdat) before being published in the West in The New York Times and elsewhere beginning in July. Sakharov warned of grave perils threatening the human race, called for nuclear arms reductions, predicted and endorsed the eventual convergence of communist and capitalist systems in a form of democratic socialism, and criticized the increasing repression of Soviet dissidents. From this point until his death, he became more politically active in support of the human rights movement and other causes. As a consequence of his social activism, he was banned from pursuing further military work.

In 1975 Sakharov was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. In detailing its reasons for awarding him the prize, the Nobel Committee noted,

Sakharov’s fearless personal commitment in upholding the fundamental principles for peace between men is a powerful inspiration for all true work for peace. Uncompromisingly and with unflagging strength Sakharov has fought against the abuse of power and all forms of violation of human dignity, and he has fought no less courageously for the idea of government based on the rule of law. In a convincing manner Sakharov has emphasized that Man’s inviolable rights provide the only safe foundation for genuine and enduring international cooperation.

The Soviet government reacted with extreme irritation and prevented Sakharov from leaving the country to attend the Nobel ceremony in Oslo. Sakharov’s Nobel lecture, “Peace, Progress, and Human Rights,” was delivered by Yelena G. Bonner, a human rights activist whom he had married in 1972. Sakharov and Bonner continued to speak out against Soviet political repression at home and hostile relations abroad, for which Sakharov was isolated and became the target of official censure and harassment. In January 1980 the Soviet government stripped him of his honours and exiled him to the closed city of Gorky (now Nizhny Novgorod) to silence him following his open denunciation of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and his call for a worldwide boycott of the coming Olympic Games in Moscow. In 1984 Bonner was convicted of anti-Soviet activities and was likewise confined to Gorky.

In 1985 Sakharov undertook a six-month hunger strike, eventually forcing the new Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev to grant Bonner permission to leave the country to have a heart bypass operation in the United States. During her six-month absence, she also met with Western leaders and others to focus concern on her husband’s causes, and she wrote a book about their plight, entitled Alone Together (1986). Several months after she rejoined her husband, Gorbachev released Sakharov and Bonner from their exile, and in December 1986 they returned to Moscow and to a new Russia.

The final three years of Sakharov’s life were filled with meetings with world leaders, press interviews, travel abroad, renewed contacts with his scientific colleagues, and the writing of his memoirs. In March 1989 he was elected to the First Congress of People’s Deputies, representing the Academy of Sciences. Sakharov had his honours restored, received new ones, and saw many of the causes for which he had fought and suffered become official policy under Gorbachev and his successors.

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Andrei Sakharov was an eminent Nuclear Physicist born in former Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.). He is regarded as the ‘Father of the Soviet Atomic Bomb.’ His activism towards disarmament, peace, human rights and civil liberties earned him the Nobel Peace Prize of 1975. Regarded as one of the most vocal, ardent and unrelenting voices of the twentieth century for human rights and freedom, he had to suffer political imprisonment and even physical torture in the hands of Cold-War era Soviet Union Government.


Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov was born on 21 May 1921 in Moscow, the Russian capital city. Dmitri Ivanovich Sakharov, a private school physics teacher, and an amateur pianist was his father. His mother, Yekaterina Alekseyevna Sakharova, was a housewife. His life was heavily influenced by the thoughts and personalities of his parents and particularly his paternal Grandmother Maria Petrovna.


Andrei Sakharov studied at the Moscow State University where he enrolled himself in 1938. During World War II he was evacuated to Ashgabat, which is in present-day Turkmenistan. He completed his graduation from Ashgabat in 1942. After his graduation, he started working in a laboratory of an ammunition factory in Ulyanovsk. In 1945, he returned to Moscow and started his Doctorate at the theoretical department of FIAN (P.N.Lebedev Physics Institute of the Soviet Academy of Sciences). He received his Ph. D. in 1947.


Andrei Sakharov initiated research work on cosmic rays after the completion of the World War II. The megaton-range Soviet Hydrogen Bomb was at the project development stage at this juncture. He involved himself in the project coordinating with Igor Kurchatov and Igor Tamm and played a very crucial role in developing the same. His contribution in the Soviet Atomic Bomb Project was decisive to the extent that the design used to evolve the bomb is popularly known as Sakharov’s “Third Idea’ in Russia and as Teller-Ulam design in the United States.

In the next two decades of 1950 and 1960, Andrei Sakharov concentrated his attention on top-secret research and development of thermonuclear weapons in a hidden place. In the early 1950s, his suggestion led to the idea of a controlled nuclear fusion reactor called ‘Tokamak.’ By late 1950s he increasingly became conscious about the severity of consequences, atomic research and development of nuclear weapons were bringing to the world. His awareness of the moral and political implications of his work in this field so far led him to protest against the nuclear proliferation.

In the late 1960s, Andrei Sakharov returned to the field of fundamental scientific research. He started working on Particle Physics and Physical Cosmology. He also suggested the idea of ‘Induced Gravity’ as an alternative option to ‘Quantum Gravity.’

Andrei Sakharov’s most famous political article ‘Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom’ was published in 1968. In 1970, he became one of the co-founders of the Committee on Human Rights in the USSR. The move offended the Soviet Government to a great extent. His public protest against the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan led to his arrest in 1980. He was then sent to an internal exile in the city of Gorky and was detained there until 1986.


1. Andrei Sakharov was awarded the Stalin Prize in 1953 for his outstanding contribution in the field of Physics.

2. In 1974, Andrei Sakharov received an international literary award called the Prix Mondial Cino Del Duca.

3.Andrei Sakharov’s work for human rights and strong objection to the abuse of power by the powerful nations earned him the 1975 Nobel Peace Prize.

4. Andrei Sakharov is also a recipient of ‘International Humanist Award’ by the International Humanist and Ethical Union. It was conferred on him in 1988.

5. The European Parliament honoured him by establishing ‘The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought’ in 1988 awarded annually to people or organization for outstanding contribution to the cause of human rights and freedom.

6. ‘Andrei Sakharov’ prize is named in his honor and is awarded bi-annually since 2006 by the American Physical Society in recognition of outstanding leadership and achievement of scientists in upholding human rights.

7. Sakharov was posthumously awarded the Grand Cross of Order of the Cross of Vytis in 2003, fourteen years after his death.


During his laboratory work in Ulyanovsk, Andrei Sakharov developed an intimate relationship with Klavdia Alekseyevna Viakhireva, a laboratory assistant working in the same factory. They eventually got married in July 1943. They had two sons and a daughter, Tanya, Lyuba, and Dmitry. Unfortunately, Klavdia died in 1969. In 1970, Sakharov met with another human rights activist, Yelena G. Bonner. They got married in 1972. She became his most reliable supporter in their future life under Russian government’s continued oppression.

On 14 December 1989, at the age of 68, Sakharov suffered a heart attack and died consequently.

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Andrei Sakharov


Translation from the Russian text

I was born on 21 May 1921. My father was a well-known teacher of physics and the author of textbooks, exercise books and works of popular science. I grew up in a large communal apartment where most of the rooms were occupied by my family and relations and only a few by outsiders. The house was pervaded by a strong traditional family spirit – a vital enthusiasm for work and respect for professional competence. Within the family we provided one another with mutual support, just as we shared a love of literature and science.

My father played the piano remarkably well, in particular Chopin, Grieg, Beethoven and Scriabin. During the civil war he earned a living by playing the accompaniment to silent films at the cinema.

I am especially grateful for the memory of my grandmother, Maria Petrovna, who was the family’s good spirit. She died before the war at the age of 79. My grandmother brought up six children and when she was around 50 years old she taught herself English all on her own. Right up to the time of her death she read English works of fiction in the original. From when we were quite small she read aloud to us, her grandchildren. I still have the most vivid memory of her reading to us those evenings. It would be Pushkin, Dickens, Malot or Beecher-Stowe, and in Holy Week, the Gospel.

The influence of my home has meant a great deal to me, particularly because I had my first lessons at home and later experienced the greatest difficulty in adapting myself to my classmates. I took my final school examination with distinction in 1938 and at once began to study at the Faculty of Physics in Moscow University. Here too I passed my Finals with distinction, in 1942 when because of the war, we had been evacuated to Ashkhabad.

In the summer and autumn of 1942 I lived for some weeks in Kovrov where I had originally been sent to work after my graduation. Later I worked as a lumberjack in a desolate rural settlement near Melekess. My first bitter impressions of the life of the workers and peasants in that very hard time are derived from those days. In September 1942 I was sent to a large munitions factory on the Volga where I worked as an engineer and inventor right until 1945. At the factory I made a number of inventions in the field of production control. But in 1944, while still employed at the factory, I wrote some scientific articles on theoretical physics and sent them to Moscow for appraisal and comment. These first works were never published, but they gave me the self-confidence so essential to every researcher.

In 1945 I began to read for my doctorate at the Lebedev Institute, the department of physics in the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. My teacher there was the great theoretical physicist, Igor Evgenyevich Tamm.

He influenced me enormously and later became a member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR and a winner of the Nobel Prize for physics. In 1947 I defended my thesis on nuclear physics, and in 1948 I was included in a group of research scientists whose task was to develop nuclear weapons. The leader of this group was I.E. Tamm.

For the next 20 years I worked under conditions of the highest security and under great pressure, first in Moscow and subsequently in a special secret research centre. At the time we were all convinced that this work was of vital significance for the balance of power in the world and we were fascinated by the grandeur of the task. In the foreword to my book Sakharov Speaks, as well as in My Country and the World, I have already described the development of my socio-political views in the period 1953-68 and the dramatic events which contributed to or were the expression of this development. Between 1953 and 1962 much of what happened was connected with the development of nuclear weapons and with the preparations for and realization of the nuclear experiments. At the same time I was becoming ever more conscious of the moral problems inherent in this work. In and after 1964 when I began to concern myself with the biological issues, and particularly from 1967 onwards, the extent of the problems over which I felt uneasy increased to such a point that in 1968 I felt a compelling urge to make my views public.

Thus it was that the article Progress, Peaceful Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom came into being. In reality these are the same themes which seven and a half years later were to become the title of my Nobel Lecture (“Peace, Progress and Human Rights”). I consider these themes to be fundamentally important and closely interconnected. My public stand represented a turning point for me and my entire future. The article very quickly became known throughout the world. For a long time the Soviet press contained no mention of the Progress, and later references were either disapproving in the extreme or else ironic. A great many critics, even if sympathetically disposed towards me, regarded my reflections in this work as exceedingly naive and speculative. Today, however, after eight intervening years, it seems that much of what may be termed important both in Soviet politics and in international politics is connected in one way or another with these thoughts.

From 1970 onwards the defence of human rights and the defence of the victims of political trials became all-important to me. Together with (Valery) Chalidze and Tverdokhlebov, and later with (Igor) Shafarevich and Podyapolski I shared in running the Committee for Human Rights, thus making my position quite clear. I feel bound to recall the fate of two of them. In April 1976 Andrei Tverdokhlebov was sentenced to five years exile for his social work, and in March Grigori Podyapolski was lost to us through his tragic premature death.

As early as 1950, Tamm and I were the joint originators of a Soviet work on controlled thermonuclear reaction (the thermonuclear reaction of hydrogen isotopes either for the production of electrical energy or for the production of fuel for nuclear reactors). Great advances have now been made in this work. A year later, at my initiative, experiments were started on the construction of implosive magnetic generators (devices by which chemical or nuclear reactions are transformed into magnetic field energy). In 1964 we attained a record with a magnetic field of 25 million gauss.

From July 1968, when my article was published abroad, I was removed from top-secret work and “relieved” of my privileges in the Soviet “Nomenclatura” (the privileged class at the top of the system). Since the summer of 1969 I have again been working at the Lebedev Institute where I studied, as an assistant, for my doctorate from 1945 to 1947 and began my scientific work. My present work concerns the problems connected with the theory of elementary particles, the theory of gravitation and cosmology and I shall be glad if I can manage to make some contribution to these important branches of science.

Nevertheless, it is the social issues which unremittingly demand that I make a responsible personal effort and which also lay increasing claims on my physical and mental powers. For me, the moral difficulties lie in the continual pressure brought to bear on my friends and immediate family, pressure which is not directed against me personally but which at the same time is all around me. I have written about this on many occasions but, sad to report, all that I said before applies equally today. I am no professional politician – which is perhaps why I am continually obsessed by the question as to the purpose served by the work done by my friends and myself, as well as its final result. I tend to believe that only moral criteria, coupled with mental objectivity, can serve as a sort of compass in the cross-currents of these complex problems.

I have stated in writing many times already that I intend to refrain from making any concrete political prognoses. There is a large measure of tragedy in my life at present. The sentences lately passed on my close friends – Sergei Kovalev (who just exactly at the time of the Nobel Prize ceremony was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment and three years’ exile) and Andrei Tverdokhlebov – represent the clearest and most unequivocal evidence of this. Yet, even so, both now and for always, I intend to hold fast to my belief in the hidden strength of the human spirit.

After receiving the prize, Sakharov continued to work for human rights and to make statements to the West through Western correspondents in Moscow. Early in 1980, after he had denounced the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, he was exiled to Gorky. In 1984, Elena Bonner joined him, also under sentence of exile. Isolated from family and friends, they continued to be persecuted by the KGB. Sakharov resorted to hunger strikes to secure medical treatment for Bonner, who was finally given permission to leave the Soviet Union for heart surgery in 1985. After Mikhail Gorbachev came to power with a policy of liberalisation, they were freed and allowed to return to Moscow in 1986. Despite the measure of freedom now possible, which enabled him to take up a political role as an elected member of the Congress of the People’s Deputies, Sakharov was critical of Gorbachev, insisting that the reforms should go much further. He died in Moscow on December 14, 1989.

Alarm and Hope. Edited by E. Yankelevich and Alfred Friendly, Jr. New York: Knopf, 1978. (Public statements and writings, 1976-78.)

Memoirs. New York: Knopf. 1990. (The first volume, covering the years through 1986. With documentary appendices and complete bibliography in English of his important essays, statements, and appeals.)

Moscow and Beyond. New York: Knopf, 1990. (Second volume of memoirs, covering the years 1986-1989.)

My Country and the World. New York: Knopf, 1976. (The second important essay to be published in the West.)

Progress, Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom. New York: Norton, 1968. (The famous “Manifesto”. Also referred to as Thoughts on Progress, Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom.)

Sakharov Speaks. Edited by Harrison E. Salisbury. New York: Knopf, 1974. (Includes the “Manifesto”.)

Bonner, Elena. Alone Together. New York: Knopf, 1986. (Memoirs of the years of exile in Gorky by Sakharov’s wife. Includes Sakharov’s documents.)

From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1971-1980, Editor-in-Charge Tore Frängsmyr, Editor Irwin Abrams, World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, 1997

This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and first published in the book series Les Prix Nobel. It was later edited and republished in Nobel Lectures. To cite this document, always state the source as shown above.

For more updated biographical information, see: Sakharov, Andrei, Memoirs. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1990.

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1975

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MLA style: Andrei Sakharov – Biographical. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2022. Sun. 1 May 2022.

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