Today’s “Planet Earth Report” –The Shocking Death of the Physicist Who Took on Putin




Boris Nemtsov, the Russian opposition leader who was assassinated in 2015, began his career as an ambitious, creative, and aggressively questioning physicist.

On 27 February 2015, Boris Nemtsov, reports Physics Today, the prominent Russian opposition figure, was in Moscow publicizing an upcoming rally against President Vladimir Putin’s maneuvering in Ukraine. After a late-night dinner, Nemtsov and his girlfriend were walking toward the city’s Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge when a car pulled up behind them. Nemtsov was shot four times and killed.

The assassination was especially shocking in the West because Nemtsov had been viewed as possible head-of-state material since the Boris Yeltsin years of the 1990s. Nemtsov’s political star had dimmed after Yeltsin brought in Putin to the top governing circle, yet he remained a dedicated democrat and emerged as a vocal and unintimidated critic of Putin. Earlier this month, the Washington, DC, city council voted to rename a street in front of the district’s Russian embassy after Nemtsov.

Little known outside of Russia is that Nemtsov was also a physicist, one who published an impressive 60 papers during a decade of research prior to his turn to politics. He came from a unique place for physics, Nizhny Novgorod (officially known as Gorky until 1990), the capital of the Volga Federal District in southeast Russia. Best known in the West as the place of exile for Russian physicist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov, Nizhny Novgorod also has a distinct history as a radiophysics center that evolved to become a crucible for nonlinear physics—the study of phenomena that experience amplified effects from stimulations. There, Nemtsov explored propagating phenomena across disciplines, in radiophysics, plasma physics, fluid dynamics, electromagnetic waves, and notably acoustics by creatively delving into the possibility of an acoustic laser.

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