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Physical Attraction

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We are a physics podcast. But not just that - interviews with scientists, scholars, authors and reflections on the history and future of science and technology are all in the wheelhouse. Over the years, for over 200 episodes, we've had shows on the astrophysics of stars, a comprehensive history of nuclear fusion, thermodynamics, particle physics, climate change, economics, philosophy, the psychology of conspiracy theories, and even the lives of Louisiana Senator Huey Long, or scientists under Stalin in the Soviet Union. 

We are an independent show: everything you hear is created by one person out of passion and love. My aim in producing this show is never to talk down to people, but instead to discuss fascinating and vital subjects with scientific rigour, compassion, and an eye for narrative: to educate, inform, and entertain. I hope that you, the listener, will find something you like here. 

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We had a sister podcast, Autocracy Now, which deals with the lives of famous historical dictators. You can find some of their episodes on our feed, or the show itself at 

Mar 22, 2018

"Leave the physicists be," said Stalin to his chief of police, Beria. "We can always shoot them later."

In this series of episodes, we'll take you inside the world of science in the USSR - with a particular focus on how they developed the atomic bomb. The gulags were not the only prisons in the Soviet Union; in fact, they constructed entire secret cities, called "Atomgrads", to house the scientists working on the bomb project. 

Technical experts were detained in prisons called sharashka. It was a simple exchange: you got to stay somewhere warm, and live under slightly better conditions than in the gulags - and in exchange, you worked on weapons and other projects to help the Soviet state.

More broadly, the Communist state was a bundle of contradictions. They were focused on the power of science and technology to drag Russia into the 20th century, but also they were dogmatic and suspicious of any outside influence. Huge amounts were invested in technical education, but pseudoscience made it to the height of power and policy-making in the state. 

What was life like for these scientists? How did Soviet science react to its contradictions?

We'll explore all this and more in this episode.

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