One of the USSR’s finest physicists and the first physicist from Baku to win the prestigious Nobel Prize, Lev Landau is an undoubted star in the history of Baku’s Jewish community.
He was born on 22nd January 1908 in the oil settlement of Balakhani, where his father served as a senior engineer in the oil company owned by the Rothschilds – the famous Jewish dynasty who played a great role in developing Baku’s oil industry. Later the Landaus moved to an apartment in this elegant Oil-Boom era building in central Baku on the corner of Samad Vurghun and Nizami streets. Incidentally, in Soviet times there was a little bar on the first floor and people used to say, “Let’s go to Landau”, which meant “let’s go and have a drink”. The young Landau showed a great talent for science from early childhood and at the age of just 14 was admitted to Baku State University, where he studied physics and chemistry (later dropping chemistry). In 1924 he left Baku to immerse himself in studying theoretical physics at Leningrad State University, from which he graduated in 1927. During his working life he served as head of the physics department of the National Scientific Centre at the Institute of Physics and Technology in Kharkiv, and later of the theoretical department of the Institute for Physical Problems of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR in Moscow. In 1938 he was arrested and spent a year in prison for his anti-Stalinist views.
Landau was revered as a teacher and made world-famous by his many discoveries and theories in topics such as nuclear theory, solid-state physics, quantum field theory and astrophysics. For his groundbreaking work concerning condensed matter, especially liquid helium, he won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1962, the same year he sustained serious injuries in a car crash that led to his premature death 6 years later.