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Nikolai G. Basov

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Biography

Nikolai G. Basov was a Russian physicist who won the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics for foundational research in the study of masers and lasers.

Basov was born in Usman, Russia, in 1922. He served in the Soviet Army during World War II and attended the Moscow Institute of Physical Engineers. After his graduation from that university in 1950, he earned a doctoral-level degree in physics and became a deputy director of the P.N. Lebedev Physical Institute in Moscow. He directed that research laboratory from 1973 to 1989.

At the Lebedev Institute, Basov and Aleksandr M. Prochorov researched methods for moving electrons around atoms into higher-energy states. They also made findings that contributed to the development of a device known as the microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation, or “maser.”

A maser emits microwave radiation of a single wavelength and can be used to increase weak microwave signals. For example, space researchers masers use masers to gather satellite transmissions or chart data from distant planets. In turn, scientists developed lasers by applying maser techniques to shorter wavelengths of optical light.

Basov, Prochorov, and an American scientist, Charles H. Townes, who developed a maser independently at about the same time, shared the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Basov also became known for political advocacy. In 1982, he joined 97 Nobel Prize winners to call for a freeze on nuclear weapon proliferation, and in 1984, he signed a letter with three other Soviet Nobel Prize winners to President Ronald Reagan regarding imprisoned activist Leonard Peltier—likely as part of a broader Soviet effort to take attention away from the human rights advocacy and hunger strike of Soviet physicist Andrei D. Sakharov.

Further Reading

Nikolai G. Basov, Oral History (1984).