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Physical Attraction


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We are a physics podcast. But not just a physics podcast - interviews with scientists, scholars, authors and reflections on the history and future of science and technology are all in the wheelhouse.

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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 www.autocracynow.libsyn.com 

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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