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Ioffe, Abram Fedorovich

(1880–1960), physicist. A graduate of the Saint Petersburg Institute of Technology (1902), Abram Ioffe began his scientific career in Munich, where he worked as a doctoral student in the laboratory of Wilhelm Röntgen, the first Nobel laureate in physics. Ioffe’s collaboration with Röntgen on studies of the elastic and photoelectrical properties of crystals continued until 1914, although most of the results were never published because of Röntgen’s extraordinary experimental exactitude.

Ioffe played a central role in developing the study of physics in the USSR. From 1906 he lectured at the Saint Petersburg Polytechnic Institute, where he founded the seminar on modern physics (1915). Participants in his program—future Nobel laureates Petr Kapitsa and Nikolai Semenov, the theoretician Iakov Frenkel’, and many others—formed the kernel of the Russian school of physics. Ioffe was also among the founders of the X-ray and Radiology Institute in Petrograd (1918), the physics department of which was later transformed into the Leningrad Physical-Technical Institute (1923). This institute, together with the physical-mechanical department of the Polytechnic Institute, was the real cradle for twentieth-century Russian physicists; affiliates included heads of the nuclear and hydrogen weapon projects such as Igor’ Kurchatov, Isaak Kikoin, Lev Artsimovich, Iulii Khariton, and Iakov Zel’dovich.

Also among Ioffe’s significant contributions to Soviet physics was his organization of a system of education combining academic study with practical work in research laboratories. As a result of his activities, and with the support of state authorities, a system of physical-technical institutes was created, with institutions operating in Kharkov, Sverdlovsk, Tomsk, and other provincial centers. Although Ioffe’s main field was the physics of dielectrics, he initiated a program for the study of semiconductor physics (in the late 1920s) and nuclear physics (in 1932) at the Leningrad Physical-Technical Institute. He remained director of the Institute until 1951, when he was forced to leave because of Stalin’s antisemitic campaign. After Stalin’s death, Ioffe’s own laboratory was transformed into the Institute of Semiconductors of the USSR Academy of Sciences (1955).

Ioffe discovered significant findings in the physics of dielectrics and semiconductors, on topics such as ion transport, plastic deformation, polarization anomalies in dielectrics, current rectification, thermoelectricity, and impurity properties of semiconductors. He was a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences (from 1920) and vice president of the USSR Academy of Sciences (1926–1929; 1942–1945). Perhaps no less important an achievement was the fact that several generations of Soviet physicists called him “Papa Ioffe” and regarded him as their teacher.

Suggested Reading

Viktor Iakovlevich Frenkel’, “Abram Fedorovich Ioffe,” Soviet Physics-Uspekhi 23.9 (1980): 531; Abram Fedorovich Ioffe, Vstrechi s fizikami, 2nd ed. (Leningrad, 1983).