Yuri Orlov, a world-renowned accelerator physicist and leading figure in the worldwide campaign for human rights in Soviet Russia, passed away at the end of September at the age of 96 years.
Yuri was born in Moscow in 1924. He studied and worked there until 1956, when a critical pro-democracy speech he gave at the Institute for Theoretical and Experimental Physics resulted in him being dismissed and banned from scientific work in Moscow. He moved to the Yerevan Physics Institute in Armenia, where he earned his first doctorate in 1958. While in Yerevan, he designed the 5 GeV electron synchrotron, became head of the electro-magnetic interaction laboratory and was elected to the Armenian Academy of Sciences. In 1963/64 he worked at the prestigious Budker Institute of Nuclear Physics in Novosibirsk, Siberia, where he was awarded a second PhD.
In 1973, Yuri returned to Moscow and joined the influential dissident movement alongside Andrei Sakharov, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and others. After the signature of the final documents of the Helsinki Conference on “Security and Co-operation in Europe” in 1975, Yuri founded the Moscow Helsinki Group to press the authorities in the Soviet Union to respect the human rights specified in the Helsinki agreements. This activism led to his arrest in 1976. He was tried in a political mock trial in 1978 and convicted to seven years of forced labour in Perm.
As soon as news of Yuri Orlov’s ordeal reached Europe and North America, physicists protested against the treatment of their colleague. At CERN, where several physicists had had personal contacts with Yuri, the Yuri Orlov Committee was founded, with Georges Charpak as one of its founding members. The long-standing fruitful scientific collaboration with the Soviet Union was challenged and the support of eminent political leaders of the CERN Member States was solicited.
Yuri survived the seven years of labour camp under extreme conditions but was then deported to Siberia for an indefinite period. He was exiled to the USA in 1987 thanks to continuing international pressure. Yuri spent a sabbatical at CERN in 1988–89 as a Cornell University visiting scientist, working in the accelerator division to develop the idea of ion “shaking”. At Cornell, he joined the muon g-2 experiment, worked on proposals to measure the electric dipole moments of protons, electrons and deuterons, and lectured on accelerator physics and human rights issues. Among the many honours Yuri received are the Wilson Prize for outstanding achievements in the physics of particle accelerators, and the American Physical Society’s 2006 Andrei Sakharov prize "for his distinction as a creative physicist and as a life-long, ardent leader in the defence and development of international human rights, justice and the freedom of expression for scientists".
Yuri’s example, as a scientist committed to the freedom of science and to the defence of the right to express one’s convictions, is an inspiration to all of us. Thank you, Yuri.
Members of the former Yuri Orlov Committee