where oak trees used to grow
During the Second World War the Soviet Union started a secret project for creating a nuclear bomb. The location chosen was 120 km north of Moscow, along the river Volga, surrounded by woods and two other rivers. In 1946 work began on building a synchrocyclotron and a secret scientific village was settled by the “laboratory M”.
A decade later the village was declassified and given the name of Dubna and the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research was officially founded in 1956. Since its foundation, the institute has been international and when it began the USSR had only 50% membership.
In that same year my grandfather Lesha moved to Dubna soon after acquiring a degree in theoretical physics in Moscow. Many other young and well-known physicists of the period did the same. My father’s teacher and superior was Bruno Pontecorvo, who secretly emigrated in Russia.
All males of my family are physicists, some women engineers, and I grew up in an intellectual but at the same time creative, international, sporty, atmosphere. My best memories are mostly about the relationships between the people that surrounded me. Physicists are very open minded people with lots of hobbies and different skills. My grandparents used to be professional rock-climbing instructors and every summer they spent months in the mountains.
After Perestroika many physicists left Russia and my father was among them. After a short period in Geneva, he started working in Padua and we moved there as a family. Since Italy didn’t offer fixed positions for foreigners, he had to give up physics and retrain. When I look at him meeting his former colleagues and friends in Dubna I can see a lot of nostalgia and somewhere a desire to return.
Nowadays Dubna has become much bigger and the Institute is no longer the city’s main facility. My grandpa turned 93 in May 2021. He had actively worked at the Institute until he was 90. He also contributed to the NICA project, a new accelerator complex created to study the properties of dense baryonic matter. I can still remember him sitting in his chair with his eyes closed answering my questions with: “I’m working”.
JINR is still the main research institute in Russia and has received a lot of funding in recent decades. A lot of important scientific research has been done at JINR and some elements from the periodic table were discovered there, such as nb.105 Dubnium and the last one, nb 118 Oganesson, which was discovered by Professor Oganesian, who I recently met and portrayed. He told me lots of stories about my other grandfather, who I never met.