November 28, 2005

C.U. Physicist Wins Human Rights Prize

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Prof. Yuri F. Orlov, physics, is the first person to receive the Andrei Sakharov Prize for human rights awarded by the American Physical Society (APS).

The prize is named in honor of Andrei Sakharov, who spent much of his scientific career fighting for democracy and human rights in Russia.

According to the APS, Orlov received the prize “for uniting his love of physics with an intense dedication to international human rights.”

This is Orlov’s second APS award since he began researching at Cornell’s F.R. Newman Laboratory for Elementary-Particle Physics in 1986. In 1995, he received the Nicholson Medal for Humanitarian Service. What he did prior to coming to Cornell, however, is what made him world renown.

In 1973, after accepting a research position at the Institute of Terrestrial Magnetism and Distribution of Radio Waves, Orlov helped found the Amnesty International Chapter in Moscow. In 1974, he founded the Moscow Helsinki Group, one of the first groups to actively monitor human rights in the USSR.

“He reached out to ethnic groups. He built broad relationships.” said Prof. Emeritus Kurt Gottfried, physics.

Three years after founding the Moscow Helsinki Group, the KGB arrested Sakharov, and he was sent to a Gulag labor camp in Siberia.

“It’s a little bit of a big interruption. I forgot very much. But I am fine, very much now,” Orlov said of his time at the camp.

After being imprisoned for 10 years, Orlov was released with the help of President Ronald Reagan, He took a position at Cornell upon his return to America, partially because many members of Cornell’s physics faculty had lobbied for his release during his time in prison.

He was very thankful of Cornell’s warmth during his period of recovery.

“I want to thank the University for your hospitality. Your patience was important for me because of issues of recovery,” he said.

Since coming to Cornell, Orlov has actively studied particle accelerator design and quantum mechanics. He published an autobiography in 1991 entitled Dangerous Thoughts.

“He’s really contributed a lot to the research of the department. Getting him here was a great asset,” said Prof. Saul Teukolsky, chair of Cornell’s physics department.

Orlov, who also researches at the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, said he has no plans to stop researching or working to expand human rights in developing countries such as Russia.

“There will always be a need for such work,” he said.

Orlov will officially receive the prize, which includes $10,000, in April at the 2006 general assembly meeting of the APA.

Archived article by Nate Lowry
Sun Staff Writer