National Science Center Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine

National Science Center Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine (Національний науковий центр «Харківський фізико-технічний інститут» НАНУ; Natsional'nyi naukovyi tsentr ‘Kharkivs'kyi fizyko-tekhnichnyi instytut’ NANU). A scientific research institute in Kharkiv established in 1928 on the initiative of Abram Yoffe (at the time the director of the physical-technical laboratory in Leningrad). Until 1938 it was called the Ukrainian Physical-Technical Institute (UFTI) and was under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Council of the National Economy and the People's Commissariat of Heavy Industry. Its initial core group consisted of scientists who came from Leningrad (more than 20 of them, including Ivan Obreimov, Aleksandr Leipunsky, Pavlohrad-born Kyrylo Synelnykov, and Poltava-born Dmytro Ivanenko) and from abroad (among them the renowned Polish-Austrian physicist Aleksander Weissberg-Cybulski, who arrived in Kharkiv from Vienna in 1931). The promising young physicist Lev Landau, also from Leningrad (originally from Baku), was appointed head of its theoretical physics department in 1932. Invited by Landau, the famous Danish physicist Niels Bohr visited UFTI in 1934. Although it was the British scientists who were first in the world in 1932 to split the nuclei by bombarding lithium with the artificially accelerated protons, the Kharkiv physicists from UFTI were the first in the USSR to repeat this experiment. It was during that time that a high-voltage generator for nuclear fission—the first such generator in the USSR—was constructed at the institute. Thanks to this and other notable achievements UFTI gained an international reputation as an emerging leader in fundamental physics.

The Stalinist terror, however, decimated UFTI scientific personnel in 1935–8. It resulted in the death, arrest, or emigration of many of the institute’s leading scientists. In total, 16 staff members were arrested (including Dmytro Ivanenko and Lev Landau), and 8 of them were subsequently executed. Among the latter was Lev Shubnikov, UFTI’s pioneering specialist in low-temperature physics and physics professor at Kharkiv University. He was accused of belonging to a fictitious counterrevolutionary organization of Trotskyites and Bukharinites and executed in 1937. Also, all foreigners who worked at UFTI were forced to leave the USSR. In 1938 the institute was renamed Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology (KhFTI).

In 1940 the KhFTI physicists designed modern physics’ most controversial product— a nuclear bomb—and submitted several patent applications to the innovation bureau of the people’s commissariat of defense. In spite of the scientific validity of their design, these applications were rejected by various agencies as ‘unrealistic.’ Only in 1946 did KhFTI become the basis for the secret ‘Laboratory No. 1’ that played a key role in the emerging Soviet nuclear program. The laboratory’s biggest achievement was the design of a proton accelerator (1949–51) for the use in a nuclear antiaircraft mount. While this particular project never materialized, the accelerator was used for many years in the study of elementary particles and nuclear physics. In 1965 KhFTI scientists designed a linear electron accelerator with the record-breaking energy of 2 GeV.

After the 1950s nuclear physics ceased to be the main research area at KhFTI. Instead the institute began to focus more on reactor construction materials and plasma physics along with controlled thermonuclear fusion. During the 1960s and 1970s a large quantity of experimental equipment was constructed at the institute, including several electron and ion accelerators and a family of thermonuclear machines ‘Urahan’ (Hurricane) (in 1981). In 1967 KhFTI was awarded the Order of Lenin—the highest civilian decoration in the USSR. Both Soviet military and civilian industries benefitted from the designs, materials, and discoveries made by the scientists at KhFTI, such as the process of manufacturing fuel elements for nuclear reactors; the manufacturing technology of high-temperature heaters; the technologies of hardening cutting tools and machine components; vacuum rolling mills; and small-sized accelerators of charged particles. KhFTI developed a close relationship with Kharkiv University’s faculty of physics and technology (established in 1962 on the basis of the nuclear department of the faculty of physics and mathematics). An ongoing cooperation between the institute and the university’s faculty of physics and technology was facilitated by the fact that both were located in the Kharkiv suburb of Piatykhatky. From 1972 till 1991 KhFTI was the leading Soviet scientific research institution in the fields of radioactive materials and radiation technologies.

Following the collapse of the USSR in 1991, KhFTI has continued to be among the foremost scientific research institutes in independent Ukraine. In addition to the research on radiation, its fields of expertise included material science, accelerator equipment, and new sources of energy for the needs of civilian and military sectors. In 1993 KhFTI, as the first scientific institution in Ukraine, was granted the national science center status and it assumed its current name (NNTs KhFTI). The new status was elaborated in ‘The Program on Atomic Science and Technics of the NNTs KhFTI’ issued by the Cabinet of Ministries of Ukraine. This led to the reorganization of the center’s scientific departments into more vertically integrated institutes and scientific research complexes.

A significant part of research in NNTs KhFTI is carried out within the framework of international cooperation based on contracts with partners from the variety of countries, including the United States of America, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Spain, Netherlands, Brazil, Poland, Korea, China, and Japan. Until 2014 NNTs KhFTI cooperated extensively with scientific research institutions from the Russian Federation, but following the onset of the Russian military aggression against Ukraine that cooperation all but ceased. For many years, NNTs KhFTI was engaged in cooperative research on the development of the stellarator concept and plasma physics. As a result, in 2002 Ukraine was invited by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to join the Implementing Agreement for Cooperation in Development of the Stellarator Concept.

In 2004 NNTs KhFTI became a key member of the department of nuclear physics and power engineering of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. It is responsible for implementing the state research program in the area of nuclear and radiation technologies, which includes, among other things, providing a permanent scientific and technical support for Ukraine’s nuclear power stations. In 2010, after the government of Ukraine confirmed its nuclear-free status and promised to dispose of all highly enriched uranium it still had, NNTs KhFTI transferred its own reserves to the Russian Federation for treatment. As a replacement for these, the United States government agreed to supply Ukraine with low enriched uranium for research purposes. NNTs KhFTI remains a nuclear facility under the safeguards of IAEA. Adhering to the principles of nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, NNTs KhFTI cooperates with international partners in the area of nuclear export control and nuclear materials accountancy.

Currently NNTs KhFTI employs approximately 2,500 employees (including 300 candidates and 80 doctors of sciences and 10 members of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine) in five institutes (of plasma physics; of solid-state physics, materials science, and technologies; of plasma electronics and new methods of acceleration; of theoretical physics; and of high-energy physics and nuclear physics); one laboratory (of radiation research and environmental protection), and three ‘complexes’ (the Accelerator research complex; the Nuclear Fuel Cycle technological complex; and research-industrial complex of renewable energy). The Piatykhatky Corporation serves as the center’s marketing arm.

NNTs KhFTI’s overall accomplishments include the first induced nuclear transmutation in the USSR (1932), the production of liquid hydrogen (1931) and helium (1932), and the construction of the first three–co-ordinate radiolocator in the USSR (1938) and of the torsatron (1970). The directors of the institute have been I. Obreimov (1928–32), Aleksandr Leipunsky (1932–7), O. Shpetny (1937–44), Kyrylo Synelnykov (1944–65), V. Ivanov (1965–80), Viktor Zelensky (1980–96), Volodymyr Lapshyn (1996–2004), Ivan Nekliudov (2004–17), and Mykola Shulha (since 2017). Many other noted scientists have worked at the institute, including Lev Landau, Georgii Latyshev, Leonid Vereshchagin, Lev Shubnikov, Anton Walter, Oleksander Akhiiezer, Viktor Bariakhtar, Boris Lazarev, Boris Verkin, Oleksander Halkin, Antonina Prykhotko, Volodymyr Tolok, Yevhen Borovyk, Ihor Kulyk, and Oleksii Sytenko. Currently, NNTs KhFTI’s main fields of research are solid-state physics, physics of radiation effects, plasma physics and controlled nuclear fusion, nuclear physics and physics of electromagnetic interactions, plasma electronics and physics of high-current beams, and theoretical physics. It publishes the scientific journal Voprosy atomnoi nauki i tekhniki (137 vols, 1999–). During the Russo-Ukrainian war in March 2022 the NNTs KhFTI facilities were repeatedly shelled by the Russian military, which put at serious risk the safety of the centre’s nuclear installations.

Ivanov, V. (ed). 50 let Khar'kovskomu fiziko-tekhnicheskomu institutu AN USSR (Kyiv 1978)
Pavlenko, Iu. ‘Delo’ UFTI. 1935–1938 (Kyiv 1998)
Raiuk, Iu. Laboratoriia No. 1. Iaderna fizyka v Ukraїni (Kharkiv 2003)
NNTs KhFTI’s official website:

Serhiy Bilenky, Lubomyr Onyshkevych

[This article was updated in 2022.]

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