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The man who changed the world. Remembering Zhores Alferov



Natalya Bandurina, reporter: “Leningrad Electro-Technical Institute. The great scientist’s first steps in science – back in the 1950s. And today, our work would’ve been impossible without his inventions. In other words, we would not have recorded an interview about Zhores Alferov without his help”.

Alexander Solomonov, doctor of physics and mathematics: “You switch on the light diode lamp – and each one has a transistor. Zhores Ivanovich won the Nobel Prize for those”.

Light diodes and lasers – all that happened later. Meanwhile, in 1948, Alferov was a top student in Minsk – his student card has only top marks. His teachers were touting him to become a scientist. These are unique documents. Only University’s employees had held them in their hands before me. And those might become museum items in the future.

Natalya Bandurina, reporter: “The personal file of Zhores Alferov, student of Leningrad Electro-Technical Institute. Here is the marks sheet. And here’s a written request to make another attempt at graphics design – to change the mark from “satisfactory” to “excellent”. He had never been about “satisfactory”. Alferov the student received many letters of gratitude. And also one stern warning – for losing his student ID”.

With the entire hall erupting in loud applause, that stern warning was abolished a few years ago. His colleagues came up with such original present for one of the last jubilees of the great scientist. The scientists who changed the world, making it different forever. Those were not the Wachowski brothers who put us into the “Matrix”. It was Alferov who put us onto social networks and connected the continents.

Natalya Bandurina, reporter: “If I had told my TV colleagues from, lets say, 1950s, that I do not necessarily need a cameraman for the filming, and that this video would be available online in a matter of seconds – they would say I was crazy. And that I can also make a phone call from it – like whaaaat?”.

Getting rid of wires and turning phones into actual mobile phones – that became possible thanks to high-frequency semiconductors. Let’s de-assemble a smartphone.

So, here are components responsible for data processing – filters on top of surfaced acoustic waves. And each phone has about 7 of those. There’s also a high-frequency amplifier, which delivers the information to the recipient. This amplifier is made entirely based on heterostructures.

Andrey Divov, engineer: “Thanks to heterostructrures it became possible to create components so small that an entire computer would fit into a tiny chip. This is the connectivity module. This is a Wi-Fi module, this is a Bluetooth module.

Its high time we explained what heterostructures are. In order to do that, we visit the Ioffe Physics-Technical Institute. It was here that Zhores Ivanovich made the discoveries which won him the Nobel Prize.

The institute’s most sacred spot – the laboratory created by Alferov. The first heterostructures were “grown” here. The work is still continuing here today.

Physics lovers must forgive us for such a simple explanation of what heterostructures are – but they essentially represent a layered cake of semiconductors with several connections, which are called heterocouple. Thanks to their properties, the electric current they conduct encounters fewer obstacles and it, essentially, generates light instead of heat. The main issue has been obtaining it in regular room temperature – not inside a laboratory. Alferov and his team managed to pull it off.

Peter Kopyev, head of Center for Nanoheterostructures Physics: “When heterostructures were invented, the technology was developed and laser became just the device which, essentially, serves as the foundation for the entire digital world”.

Zhores Ivanovich had received numerous invitations to work at the most prestigious scientific centers of the world. But he always politely rejected those. Even in the difficult times for his country – the 1990s – he stayed in his favorite St. Petersburg, with his team.

The Nobel Prize statute reads – only a scientist who’s discovery or invention contributes to the development of mankind is eligible for the Prize. Alferov’s work fully corresponds with this notion. Even a textbook on physics – which certainly has a part about semiconductors – we are buying with the help of laser reader. His invention. The scientist from St. Petersburg changed the world, changed us – and the age of information technologies carries his name.