Following his graduation, Aleksandr Prokhorov moved to Moscow where he started work in the oscillation laboratory at the Lebedev Physical Institute, under academician ND Papaleksi. At Lebedev Institute, Prokhorov studied the propagation of radio waves in ionosphere.
During the early 1940s, with the onset of World War II, he enrolled himself in the Red Army. He fought in the infantry. Three medals and two major wounds later, he returned to the oscillation laboratory at the Lebedev Institute in 1944 to continue with his study and research. He investigated nonlinear oscillations under Professor SM Rytov.
In 1946, he defended his PhD thesis on ‘Theory of Stabilization of Frequency of a Tube Oscillator in the Theory of a Small Parameter’. The following year, he started working on coherent radiation emitted by electrons orbiting in a cyclic particle accelerator called synchrotron. He demonstrated that the emission is mostly concentrated in the microwave spectral range.
His study of the coherent radiation of electrons in the synchrotron in the region of centimetre waves formed the basis of his 1951 PhD thesis ‘Coherent Radiation of Electrons in Synchotron Accelerator’. Meanwhile, by 1950, Prokhorov was made assistant chief of the oscillation laboratory. Nikolay Basov was one of his students.
As an assistant chief, he formed a group of students and started working on radiospectroscopy of molecular rotations and vibrations. He later concentrated his study on quantum electronics. The group based much of their theoretical and practical study on a special class of molecules which had three non-degenerated moments of inertia.
The development of radar during wartime had made microwave equipment readily available. Much like his American and British counterparts who had started using the microwave equipment to study how atoms and molecules responded to microwave frequencies, Prokhorov too studied the same. Along with Basov, he began experimenting with beams of molecules which were all moving at a uniform velocity.
By 1954, he became the head of the laboratory. Subsequently, he, along with Basov, found that they could isolate molecules that were in an excited state in a separate beam. This gave them their biggest breakthrough. When extra energy from excited molecules was released in the form of a microwave, unexcited molecules absorbed the wave. However, if most molecules were excited, the microwave would stimulate other molecules to emit their energy at the same wavelength
Prokhorov and Basov also found that when molecular beam passed through a suitable microwave resonator, the emission built up on its own, or oscillated, generating microwaves that were aligned in phase and at the same wavelength. Analysing the process in detail, they published their findings in 1954.
The research work carried out by Prokhorov and Basov in the field of microwave spectroscopy resulted in the idea of a molecular oscillator. They developed theoretical grounds for creation of a molecular oscillator and also constructed a molecular oscillator operating on ammonia. In 1955, the duo came up with a method for the production of a negative absorption which was called the pumping method.
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In 1955, he commenced his research in the field of electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR). He carried out a cycle of investigations of EPR spectra and relaxation time in various crystals, primarily focussing on investigations on ions of the iron group elements in the lattice of aluminium oxide. He also investigated other, ‘non-optical’ topics, such as magnetic phase transitions in DPPH
While researching in the field of EPR, he collaterally studied the EPR spectra of ruby with A.A Manenkov. In 1957, he was struck with the idea of using ruby as a material for laser. He designed and constructed this new type of laser resonator called maser, using various materials. Most of his research on masers was done in cooperation with the laboratory of radiospectroscopy at the Institute of Nuclear Physics at Moscow University
In 1958, he suggested a laser for generation of far-infrared waves. As a resonator it was proposed to use a new type of cavity which was eventually named ‘the cavity of an open type’. Similar cavities are widely used in lasers.
In 1959, he was appointed as the professor at the Moscow State University, the most prestigious university in Soviet Union.
In 1968, he took up the position of Vice Director at the Lebedev Institute and later in 1971, the position of Head of the Laboratory at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.
From 1982 to 1998, he served as the Acting Director of the General Physics Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. From 1988, he was promoted as an Honorary Director.
During his lifetime Prokhorov was a member and one of the Honorary Presidents of the International Academy of Science, Munich. In 1993, he supported the foundation and development of the Russian Section of International Academy of Science, Moscow.
Awards & Achievements
In 1959, Prokhorov was awarded the Lenin Prize.
In 1960, he was appointed as a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Six years later in 1966, he was elected as an academician.
In 1964, Prokhorov was awarded Nobel Prize in Physics, which He shared with Nikolay Basov and Charles Townes. The trio received the award for their fundamental work in the field of quantum electronics which led to the construction of oscillators and amplifiers based on maser-laser principle.
He became a Hero of Socialist Labour, the highest degree of distinction in the Soviet Union for achievements in national economy and culture, twice in 1969 and 1986.
In 1971, he was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In 2000, he received the Frederic Ives Medal, the highest distinction of the Optical Society of America (OSA). Following year, he became an honorary OSA member. Simultaneously, he also received the Demidov Prize.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1941, Prokhorov married geographer Galina Shelepina. The couple as blessed with a son, Kiril, in 1945. Kiril followed the footstapes of his father and has become a physicist in the field of optics. Currently, he leads a laser-related laboratory at the A. M. Prokhorov General Physics Institute.
Prokhorov breathed his last on January 8, 2002 in Moscow, Russia.
The Russian Academy of Sciences, where Prokhorov served as an honorary director, was reamed A. M. Prokhorov General Physics Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, following his death.