I was born in 1928, June 25, in Moscow, USSR (now Russia). My parents were physicians. I graduated from high school in 1943 and was accepted as student of the Institute for Power Engineers. In 1945 I transferred to the Physics Department of the Moscow State University, from which I graduated in 1948 with a diploma (M.Sc. degree). After that I was accepted, as a Postgraduate (Ph.D. student) to the Institute for Physical Problems (now P.L. Kapitza Institute). My scientific adviser was L.D. Landau. After I defended in 1951 a thesis on thermal diffusion in completely and incompletely ionized plasmas, I got the Candidate of Science (Ph.D.) degree and was taken to the staff of the Institute, as Junior Scientist.
In 1951–1952 I worked with the experimentalist of the same institute, N.V. Zavaritskii on the experimental verification of the predictions of the recently published Ginzburg-Landau theory of superconductivity on the critical magnetic field of thin films. This resulted in our discovery of the “superconductors of the second group” (now Type II superconductors). After that I started to work on the magnetic properties of bulk Type II superconductors, and came to the conclusion that the transition from superconducting to the normal state happens gradually in increasing field with two limiting critical fields. Between these two values the field gradually penetrates the superconductor forming thin threads of magnetic flux surrounded by vortex currents. The array of these quantum vortices forms a regular structure (now referred in the literature, as Abrikosov vortex lattice). I compared my results with the magnetization curves obtained experimentally in the 1930s for superconducting alloys, and there was a perfect fit. The experimentalist explained their data, as due to inhomogenity of their samples. My paper was published in 1957 but the experimentalists accepted the vortex lattice only 10 years later, after it was demonstrated by decoration experiments.
In the middle of 1950s I worked also on the transition from the insulating molecular phase into the atomic metallic phase in hydrogen and on the structure of hydrogen planets. Another my topic was quantum electrodynamics at high energies. The latter works became my Doctor of Science thesis (this degree is similar to Habilitation in Germany), which I defended in 1955.
In the end of 1950s – beginning of 1960s we worked with L. Gor’kov on the microscopic theory of superconductivity. We constructed the theory of superconductors in a high-frequency field (with I.M. Khalatnikov) and the theory of superconductors with magnetic impurities, where we discovered the possibility of the so-called gapless superconductivity. We also solved the mystery of the finite Knight shift at zero temperature, taking into account the spin-orbit scattering. Simultaneously we worked with I.M. Khalatnikov on the theory of nonsuperfluid He3: thermodynamics, kinetics, sound dispersion, light and g-ray scattering, etc. These works were based on the theory of a Fermiliquid by L. Landau. I worked also during this time on the theory of strongly compressed matter.
In 1961 we published a book with L. Gor’kov and I. Dzyaloshinskii “Quantum field theory methods in statistical physics”. Originally written in Russian, it was translated into English, German, Chinese, Japanese, and became (and still is) the main textbook on the subject.
In 1962–63 with my postgraduate L. Falkovsky we constructed the theory of semimetals of the Bi type. These substances have a very small number of charge carriers (in Bi ~ 10-5 per atom) and a very peculiar crystalline lattice differing from a simple cubic lattice by two small deformations. The resulting lattice has two atoms per unit cell, and in principle it could be an insulator. However, a simple cubic lattice has one atom per unit cell, and should be a “good” metal with the number of carriers of the order of one per atom, and small deformations cannot transform it into an insulator. This paradox can be resolved by constructing an artificial phase, which at zero deformation has an energy higher than a conventional metal but the energy decreases with deformation, so that eventually this phase becomes energetically favorable. This gives the opportunity to approach the (almost) insulating phase continuously. In this series of papers the energy spectrum was calculated, and the metalinsulator transition with the vanishing of the energy gap was predicted. The infrared properties were analyzed and the transparency thresholds in the frequency were established. All this was confirmed by experiments.
In 1962 our dear teacher, L.D. Landau, got in a car accident and suffered heavy injuries. His life was saved but his brain was damaged, and he never returned to science after that. He died in 1968 from remote consequences of the accident. After the accident the attitude towards theorists at the Institute for Physical Problems changed, and the Landau Group started to think about leaving.
In 1964 I was elected Corresponding Member of the Academy of Sciences, USSR (now Russian Academy of Sciences). In 1966 I was awarded the Lenin Prize together with V.L. Ginzburg and L.P. Gor’kov “for the theory of superconductivity in strong magnetic fields”.
In 1965 I became the head of the Condensed Matter Theory Department in the newly organized Institute for Theoretical Physics (later named L.D. Landau Institute). I was one of its organizers.
In 1965–68 I published several papers on the Kondo effect at low temperatures, where I established the appearance of a resonance in the scattering amplitude of an electron from a magnetic impurity atom (now Abrikosov-Suhl resonance).
In 1971 I published a book “Introduction to the Theory of Normal Metals”, which was translated into English. In 1972 I was awarded the International Fritz London Award for my works on low-temperature physics.
In 1970–75 I constructed the theory of gapless semiconductors, where I showed, that in substances of the type of HgTe, a strong interaction region close to the band matching point exists where the dependencies of various quantities on temperature and magnetic field are described by nontrivial power laws. At the same time I worked on the theory of an excitonic transition in Bi in strong magnetic fields. The predictions were in complete agreement with experimental data.
In 1975 I was awarded the title Doctor of Sciences Honoris Causa by the University of Lausanne (Switzerland).
In 1977–81 with my postgraduate, I.A. Ryzhkin we constructed the theory of one-dimensional and quasi-one-dimensional metals. The main results were a) the probability distribution function of resistivity of a one-dimensional wire, where due to mesoscopic effects there was no self-averaging, and b) the conclusion that suppression of superconductivity in (TMTSF)2PF6 by nonmagnetic defects was an evidence of triplet pairing. Later this was confirmed. During the same years I worked on the theory of spin-glasses with short-range interaction, including semiconductor-based spin-glasses.
In 1982 with a group of experimentalists I was awarded the State Prize of USSR, for the works on semimetals and gapless semiconductors. In 1987 I was elected Full Member of the Academy of Sciences. In 1988 I published the book “Fundamentals of the Theory of Metals” on which I worked three years. It was translated into English and Japanese. The same year I was elected Director of the High Pressure Physics Institute in Troitsk, Moscow District. In 1989 L. Gor’kov, I. Dzyaloshinskii and myself were awarded the L.D. Landau award of the Academy of Sciences, USSR, for our book “Field Theory Methods in Statistical Physics”.
In 1991 I accepted the offer of the Argonne National Laboratory, USA, and became Distinguished Argonne Scientist. Since then I continue to work at the same position. In the same year, together with V.L. Ginzburg and L.P. Gor’kov I was awarded the International John Bardeen Award and was elected as Foreign Honorary Member to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1992 I was elected Fellow of the American Physical Society.
Being at Argonne I became interested by the high-Tc layered cuprates. This interest resulted in a theory which was based on the Bardeen-Cooper-Schrieffer approach but took into account the specific features of the electron spectrum, namely the quasi-two-dimensionality and the existence of the “extended saddle point singularities”, or “flat regions”, which made the motion of quasiparticles in some regions of the Fermi surface quasi-one-dimensional. At the same time these regions had the maximal density of states. Another idea was the resonant tunneling mechanism of the electron transport between the CuO2 planes. On the basis of these ideas I was able to explain almost all the unusual behavior of the high-Tc layered cuprates, including the isotope effect, neutron scattering, pseudogap and the metal-insulator transition.
In 1998 in connection with the experiments performed at Argonne and the University of Chicago I introduced a new phenomenon: “Quantum Linear Magnetoresistance”. The analysis of experimental data showed that it was first discovered experimentally by Piotr Kapitza, as early as 1928, but was confused with a different phenomenon. During these years in connection with experiments I studied also the effects of quantum interference on the magnetoresistance of layered substances and constructed a theory of an s-type superconductivity in UGe2.
In 1999 I became a naturalized US citizen. In 2000 I was elected member of the National Academy of Sciences USA, and in 2001, as Foreign Member of the Royal Society of London, UK. In 2003 I received the title Doctor of Sciences Honoris Causa from the University of Bordeaux (France) and together with V. Ginzburg and A. Leggett was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics “for pioneering work on the theory of superconductivity and super-fluidity”.
Apart from research, almost all my life I was teaching. First I was assistant, associated, full Professor at the Moscow State University, 1950–1969, then Professor at the Gorky (now Nizhniy Novgorod) University, 1970–72, and eventually Chair for theoretical physics at the Moscow Institute for Steel and Alloys (Technical University), 1976–1991. In USA I am Adjunct Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Utah. In addition I am a Leverhulm Adjunct Professor at the University of Loughborough, UK.
I am married and have two sons and one daughter.
This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and later published in the book series Les Prix Nobel/ Nobel Lectures/The Nobel Prizes. The information is sometimes updated with an addendum submitted by the Laureate.
Alexei Abrikosov died on 29 March 2017.