Soviet physicist who discovered the form of radiation now known as Cherenkov radiation. He was awarded the 1958 Nobel Prize for Physics.
Born in the Voronezh region, of peasant parents, Cherenkov was educated at the Voronezh State University and the Physical Institute in Moscow, where he gained his doctorate in 1930. He remained on the staff of the Institute, being appointed professor of experimental physics in 1953.
In the 1930s Cherenkov was asked to study the effects produced when radiation from such a source as radium passes through various fluids. The faint blue light that regularly appears in liquids irradiated in this way was generally assumed to be caused by fluorescing impurities in the liquid. Cherenkov, using distilled water and noting that the light continued, eliminated this possibility. Further investigation showed the light to be caused by fast secondary electrons produced by the radiation. Indeed, Cherenkov created the effect by irradiating the liquid with the electrons alone. In a series of papers published between 1934 and 1937, he established the characteristics of the radiation soon to be named after him. It was left to his colleagues Ilya Frank (1908–90) and Igor Tamm (1895–1971) to provide a theoretical explanation of the phenomena. They showed that the electrons were travelling in the liquid faster than the speed of light in the medium, though not, of course, faster than the speed of light in a vacuum. The effect produced is in some respects analogous to the familiar sonic boom produced when a body travels faster than sound in a medium. For their work on this problem Tamm and Frank shared the Nobel Prize with Cherenkov. In later years Cherenkov worked on cosmic rays and on the design of large particle accelerators.
Subjects: Science and Mathematics — Contemporary History (Post 1945).