Scientific American lost a good friend today with the death of physicist and demographer Sergei Petrovich Kapitza, 84, the founding editor of V mire nauki, our Russian edition. Kapitza was at the helm of V mire nauki when it launched in 1982 in the Soviet Union, and he worked tirelessly to popularize science in his home country and abroad. Kapitza was perhaps best known as host of the long-running science TV show Ochevidnoye-Neveroyatnoye (Evident, but Incredible, launched in 1973), awarded UNESCO’s Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science in 1979.
Kapitza played an active role among Scientific American’s 14 foreign editions. “I had the good fortune to work with professor Kapitza as the head of the Scientific American edition in Russia for the past 11 years that I’ve been at the magazine,” says Scientific American Editor-in-Chief Mariette DiChristina. “He was a gracious man and a thoughtful colleague. Last year, he was our genial host when the entire Scientific American family met in Moscow for the first time in many years. He was warm and enthusiastic toward all of us.”
After graduating from the Moscow Aviation Institute in 1949, Kapitza contributed significantly to our understanding of physics in supersonic aerodynamics, applied electrodynamics and accelerator physics. Kapitza is also known for his work developing the microtron, a type of particle accelerator.
Kapitza was active in issues of science and society through his participation in the Pugwash conferences and the Club of Rome. Among his other accolades, Kapitza served as vice president of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Russia, president of the Eurasian Physical Society, senior research associate at the Lebedev Physics Institute, the Russian Academy of Sciences and professor of the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.
Born on February 14, 1928, in Cambridge, England, Kapitza came from a strong scientific pedigree. His father, Soviet physicist and 1978 Nobel Prize in Physics laureate Pyotr Leonidovich Kapitza, that same year discovered the linear dependence of resistivity on magnetic field for various metals in very strong magnetic fields. His mother was Anna Alekseevna Krylova, daughter of applied mathematician A.N. Krylov.
Kapitza married Tatiana Damir in 1949, with whom he had three children.
Evident, but Incredible has produced a video retrospective of Kapitza’s life and work.
Image of Kapitza, with Scientific American Editor in Chief Mariette DiChristina, at the publication’s 2011 international meeting in Moscow, courtesy of Richard Zinken, Spektrum.