Zel'dovich, Yakov ("Ya") Borisovitch (1914–1987)
Russian physicist and astrophysicist best known for his work on shock
waves and gas dynamics. Having playing a significant role in the development
of Soviet nuclear and thermonuclear weapons, he turned in the 1950s to the
theory of elementary particles, and in the 1960s to astrophysics and cosmology.
He worked on the dynamics of neutron emission
during the formation of black holes, the
formation of galaxies and clusters,
and the large scale structure
of the universe. With Rashid Sunyaev he proposed what is known as the Sunyaev-Zel'dovich
effect, an important method for determining the Hubble
constant from the effect of gas in galaxy clusters on the microwave
background radiation. Zel'dovich was also a leader in attempts to relate
particle physics to cosmology and to develop a quantum theory of gravity.
From age 17 he worked at the Institute of Chemical Physics of the Academy
of Sciences of the USSR in Leningrad (later in Moscow), where he essentially
educated himself. In his later years he was also a professor at Moscow State
University and head of the division of relativistic astrophysics at the
Sternberg Astronomical Institute.
Adapted in part
from the biographical
entry at The Bruce Medalists website