Lex Fridman Podcast - #100 - Alexander Fridman: My Dad, the Plasma Physicist

The following is a conversation with Alexander Friedman.

He’s a professor at Drexel University and the director of the Nijheim Plasma Institute.

He’s one of the top plasma physicists and plasma chemists in the world.

And most importantly to me, he’s my dad.

Plasma, by the way, is not referring to blood plasma in biology,

but to the fourth state of matter in physics, solid, liquid, gas, and plasma,

which is a gas of charged particles that behaves in fascinating ways.

Plasma makes up the sun, the stars, lightning, plasma displays, fluorescent lamps,

and is the most common state of matter in the universe.

This is the 100th episode of this podcast.

There were quite a few very big conversations, which were all options,

but I decided to go back to where it all started for me

and to do a personal conversation with my dad.

This was a difficult conversation for me for many reasons,

but life is short.

Perhaps we needed microphones to give us a chance to say the things

we never would have said otherwise.

This is that conversation.

This is also a chance to briefly look back.

If you don’t know, I stepped down from my full-time position at MIT

to pursue a dream of building a startup around AI systems

that form meaningful connections with human beings.

I didn’t have much money.

The videos I’ve made and this podcast was a way to try to pay for food and rent

while taking on the startup journey.

It also gave me a chance to have conversations with people who inspire me,

who make me think, and to share it with an amazing community.

Frankly, I don’t know what to do with the idea

that this thing has been listened to 35 million times.

I’m pretty sure most of those are AI bots,

but if you’re one of the rare biological systems listening to this,

thank you.

I feel the love.

It gives me a lot of strength in both this and the startup.

By the way, since some people asked,

my full, very Russian birth name is Alexei, Alexei, or Alyosha,

or as my mom might say, Lyoshenka.

But I’ve always enjoyed when my friends and people close to me

will call me Lex, or Lex in English.

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Jordan is awesome.

He gets the best out of his guests,

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His conversations with Kobe Bryant

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And now here’s my conversation with my dad,

Alexander Friedman.

What to you is the most beautiful idea

in physics, chemistry, or mathematics?

Oh, let’s go to that place first

before we go to Kiev.

The most beautiful in physics, chemistry,

I would say, I would say Einstein.

His ideas regarding stochastic motion

and Brownian motion,

I think it is the most beautiful,

clear, simple idea.

Because from this, like stochastics,

you can prove existence of molecules,

believe me or not.

It was, I think it was his first publication

in 1905 with his first wife.

Actually, it was significantly her idea.

That’s right.

They were collaborators.

Those five, four, four, five papers he published.

Yeah, actually, almost everything

which Einstein did,

it was published the most important stuff.

They were published in one year, 1905.

But the first idea was probably the most elegant.

Can you describe Brownian motion

and why you think it’s beautiful?

You see that people at that time,

they understand that if molecules,

if they exist,

their motion is absolutely chaotic.

What he proved that doesn’t matter

what size of particles is,

their motion is similar and about the same.

So it is not necessary to see molecules.

You can look at bigger particles.

Like if you smoke, there is particles

and you can see like a propagation of this smoke.

And from here, determine behavior of molecules.

And that’s actually relatively short,

very elegant, very clear.

And at that point, people,

they kept talking about molecules,

but it was no proof

because there is no like a super electronic microscope

to see them.

So, you know, I’m saying, yes, molecules exist.

You said, well, I mean, can you show me that?

So Einstein made it and boom.

And he proved, and a lot of people

after this publication said,

probably molecules really exist.

Einstein, 1905.

So what do you like about that idea?


Simplicity of proving something

very, very, very, very, very, very complicated.

So if I ask you, for example,

you know, molecules exist.

Can you prove it?

Obviously, like now you would say,

okay, I have a special electronic microscope

and I can take a look.

That’s a molecule, okay.

But when you go back to beginning of 20th century,

people, they were laughing.

Can you prove something?

No, you cannot.

I said, no, no, no.

Take a look.

It’s something very simple.

Very, very simple.

What do you think it takes to do that kind of thinking

and come to those ideas?

And how many times have you encountered

those kinds of ideas in your life?

Have you had any?



I would say

that’s a whole beauty, my feeling.

That’s a whole beauty of science.

It’s just, you know,

people, they say, no, no, no, no.

It’s impossible.

And you say, no, no, wait.

Take a look.

Wait a second.

Read it.

Take a look.

Just think for five minutes.

If something is very complicated,

you know, Kapitsa, Nobel Prize laureate,

like I work with him, by the way,

he used to say, if it is complicated,

it’s probably wrong.

Well, it was a lot of discussion between Kapitsa and Landau

because Landau, he enjoyed to do something

in a most complicated way.

While his friend Kapitsa,

he was trying to do everything in an absolutely simple way.

And they had all these discussions

because sometimes Kapitsa, he went to extremes

and he used to say,

well, this is simple.

It means this is right.

And Landau, he was like, okay,

you mean that everything with simple is right?

I mean.

Like Feynman too.

He liked the simple.

Yes, yes, yes, yes.

And that’s the whole point to find this simplicity.

That’s the beauty of science.

That’s the beauty.

Really, that’s the beauty of science.

That’s something worth to do.


At the risk of going religious for a second,

why do you think our universe allows for such simplicity

to be discovered?

That such simplicity exists at all?

I can tell you.

It is very similar to Darwin’s theory.

Why, I don’t know, why animals are this way, not other way.

So it is actually competition.

Take a look about simplicity.

In beauty of physics,

like you have two interacting planets

and the force is proportional to one over r squared.

In this case, they are able to go in circles or in ellipses.

If there is another law,

they are either falling or going out.

So like a…

So if like our solar system exists,

so just the interaction would be one over r squared.

That’s it.

That’s very interesting about Isaac Newton

and his way of thinking.

That’s also was a super, I would say, genius.

Is it weird to you, talking about Newton,

that action at a distance, for example?

This stuff I was doing in elementary school,

which is funny.

Without any knowledge of physics,

but I was doing physics because of fighting.

Throwing things.

Oh, better than that, better than that.

We played, well, it was third, second, third grade.

Second, third grade.

So it’s in 1962, 1963.

So from one hand, you know, Kyiv that time.

So people, they were excited about wars,

obviously, always, especially boys.

And also, you know, we were way better than Americans

because, you know, we have first Sputnik.


And Gagarin.

I remember how happy we were.

When was Gagarin?

What year?

Do you remember?

Oh, I’m afraid to make a mistake,

but I think it’s 1961 or 1962.

1961, 1962.

Because what I remember,

that I wasn’t either in the first grade or second grade.

And it was no bread, believe me or not.

At that time, it was a big problem because of Khrushchev.

And the kids…

Shortage of bread?

Shortage of all kinds of food?



No, it was a mistake, actually, of Khrushchev

because when he came to America,

he saw that corn is everywhere.

And he decided that if he put enough corn in Russia,

Russia will be way stronger

from the point of every cultures in America.

But he overdid it.

As a result, it was a shortage of wheat.

So that’s why I remember this moment.

So just for kids.

That’s how you remember?

So yeah, so for kids, what hurts is the lack of bread.

No, no, no, no, no.

Each day during the class,

the special guy used to come and give

a small piece of white bread to each kid.

White bread, yeah.

White bread.

And at the same time,

like a teacher announced,

oh, I forgot about this.

Gagarin went to the space.

And kids, they even forgot about this.

The bread.

So that’s how big of a moment it is

that it’s more important than bread.

Yeah, yeah, but take a look.

If you are a boy, you think about this,

you think about space.

So like one half of boys,

they want to be astronauts,

cosmonauts, we used to say.

And the other half wanted to design rockets.

So I was from this second part.

Second part.

So myself with friends,

we start designing small rockets

to fight.

Second grade.

Second grade.

Second, third, second, third grade.

And we have been fighting

with these guys from a next door house.

Because these idiots,

they used to use only stones against us.

Well, and it was a big fence between houses.

So just they throw stones.

And we decided to make rockets.

Well, and we made it.

And a scientist was born.

Engineer too.

Yes, it was both science and engineering.

Well, let me ask, was it that moment

or in general,

when did you first fall in love with science?

I would say science,

I think clearly this fight

with these bad boys.

Yes, the rocks.

With the kids.

Which keep throwing stones

from another side of the fence.

And we start making rockets.

What does it mean a rocket?

As a fuel, we use a mixture

of photographic films

with special chemicals.


We consult with the boys from high school

about some details.

And we made it more or less.

And then it was,

that stuff was actually wrapped

into the silver foil.

And in the end, we put like a match.

So with another match, we light it.

And this stuff was going like

sometimes 10 meters.


And it was able to go to like two meters high.

But very often it was mistakes

because we were bad with stability.

So what I try to calculate at this moment

is like a trajectory.

Stability meaning while it’s in the air,

the control problem.

Yes, yes, control.

So I try to-

You try to calculate what?

A motion.

To describe the motion.

Where to point it.

Where to point it to be sure

that it will go far enough

and it will go above the fence,

which was maybe one meter 80

or something like that.


So what was most interesting to you?

The calculations of the math of physics

or calculating the trajectory

or the fact that you could engineer,

build something that’s based on science?

In the beginning.

In the beginning, to be honest,

I was happy to fight these idiots

on the other side of the fence.


Which, what’s funny that we used to do that

and they kept throwing stones,

which actually you cannot prove anything.

But then in the end of this period,

actually I fall in love with science.

What is science to you?

Sort of in that period?

To an eight-year-old or whatever?

It’s predicting events.

So not just to throw a stone,

but just to make something

and just take a look, we made it.

So the creation.


And also another important stuff.

When you are doing this kind of stuff,

so your friends,

they start thinking that you are not so bad, you know?

Oh, it’s a way to earn respect.

Credit on the playground.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

We were not interested in girls.

When we are like a second, third grade,

we just, we hated girls.


But it was very important to have respect from.


From fellow boys.

From fellow comrades.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

It’s a camaraderie and just feeling

and secret from parents.

Just to linger on it,

because you brought up Gagarin.


What are your thoughts?

You know, it’s inspired, on the American side,

the Apollo missions inspired an entire generation of scientists.

What was your thought about Gagarin and the space race

and how did it made you feel?

What role did it play in your life?

To be honest, the whole country had a huge respect to Gagarin.

He was a nice person, very simple.

And he was a hero, because, you know,

to be first to go to the space,

knowing that percentage of success at the time with dogs

was way far from 100%, it’s a big deal.

I would not say that it inspired like a science.

No, it did not.

But making rockets, it was just interesting.

And about America, we are way better than America.

That’s the way we have been thinking.

I mean, come on.

Is that, yeah, that’s interesting.

It was even not a question.

Yeah, and America was saying the same.

It’s propaganda.

It’s propaganda, but keep in mind,

very, very important actually,

at that time, in these years,

Russia was way ahead, because it was no NASA.

That’s right.

So the fact that Russia was way ahead

is what motivated America to really step it up.

It’s from one hand, but from another hand,

for Russian kids of second grade and third grade,

come on, we didn’t think about America.

That’s like, you know.

Yeah, it’s millions of miles away.


Besides physics, you also have poetry in your blood.

So what has been your relationship to poetry, music?

What role did it play in your life?

Poetry, a lot.

But it is way later than elementary school.

Actually, like music-wise,

you know, like all teenagers,

they’re in love with music,

and it’s just exactly the same now

and 20 years ago and 30 years ago.

I would say at that time,

at that time,

we were all in love with one special group,

which is Beatles.

And what was extremely later,

I was in sixth grade, fifth grade,

64, 65, 66.

And in Soviet Union, Beatles, they were forbidden,

believe me or not.

It was absolutely strange,

but at the same time, if something is forbidden,

that’s exactly what you love most.

So I remember that for my big successes in science,

I was awarded with going to this best of the best

camps, pioneer camps, Artek in Crimea.

And over there, it was international,

so I met with, I lived together with a group

of people from France,

because I was the only one

kind of speaking fluently in French.

And we just made trade,

so we gave whatever we used to have,

and we got…

Beatles records?

Beatles records.

It’s so great.

That’s the rebellion you’re a part of,

but what about poetry?

When did you first,

I mean, you’ve written a lot of poetry.

I wrote a lot, that’s right.

Maybe, do you remember an early poem you’ve written?

A bad one?

A good one?

You know, I started doing that late,

so it was, I was in seventh grade, I think.

That’s late?

Writing poetry?

I thought, okay.

And writing poetry is a little bit related to

when boys, they start looking at girls

with a little bit different eyes.

I mean, we just…

So love is somehow behind poetry for you?

Even not so much, even love,

even just, you know, this imagination.


Like way far from reality,

and it is romanticism.

Were you a serious poet or a funny poet?

Because you have a lot of humor and wits in your poetry.

It’s later.


But at that time, I was extremely serious

and extremely romantic,

which never, ever after that.

Yeah, that’s hard to imagine.

Yeah, but it is kind of a little bit

like a childish romanticism.

Well, childish, I mean, you know.

But it’s interesting enough

that first poetry was actually almost immediately,

from my point of view, very good.

It’s not like, you know,

you’re doing something not good,

and then better, and then better, and then better.

It’s actually all the way opposite.

Best stuff which I wrote, it was like a…

Seventh grade.

Well, more like eighth and ninth grade.

And I wrote a lot at that time.

Why do you think you were…

So what does it mean?

What does good poetry mean?

That means it’s not cheesy.

It’s beautifully worded and crafted.

It is, yes.

And so where did that come from?

Because most people, even great poets,

are terrible at first.

So why were you so clever quickly?

Because most people know you as really clever.

No, I mean, with words, right?

Very good with words.

So you’re saying that was early on,

you already had that.

Yes, I have no good answer.

Just it comes from nowhere.

Yeah, from…

But my first…

From rockets to…

Oh, no, no.

To witty poetry, is there a connection?

It was, actually, to be honest, no, not so much connection.

But in Russian culture, romanticism,

it is extremely important element,

starting from 19th century, romanticism.

So just it was very popular.

So either you are writing good poetry or bad poetry,

or you are an artist, you are painting something.

So I have a lot of friends, they were painting.

Do you remember a poetry?

Do you remember a poem from that time

that you’ve written, by any chance?

Yeah, sure.

I remember most of them by heart.

You mind reciting?

They’re in Russian.

Russian is good, as long as they’re not in French.

I have in French also.

You want me just to…


What do you think, what’s comfortable?

You know, maybe I will read one poem,

which I like most from that period.

And I’m not sure that I wrote something better after that.

Well, it’s a little bit cheesy.

However, but not much.

It’s like a…

It’s even not about girls, it’s about music.

But still with a romanticized kind of theme.

With a very strong romanticism.

It was the result of me reading a book,

Переключения Катамура,

История печального капельмейстера Йоганна Крейслера.

Actually, it’s a story of a cat who found a book,

or like a notebook of people,

and he started reading about that and analyzing their life.

So it’s a life of people through eyes of a very, very smart cat.

So then I can read it in Russian, right?

I mean, this is poetry, if you want.

Please, please, that would be great.


Развалитесь в удобном кресле и послушайте «Развалясь».

Капельмейстер Йоганн Крейслер будет плакать сегодня для вас.

На белесах его ресницах Боль зрачка в голубой воде,

На его мнотосница улетела, мелькнула,

Где он, ударенный миром в челюсть,

Опрокинутый, сбитый с ног,

Все он кинул на мирощерсть,

Не играть вот только не смог.

И срывались костлявые пальцы,

Во мраке кричал рояль,

И холодные звуки падали

В ледяную сырую печаль,

А за окнами липы скрипели,

И шумела обезумевши дождь,

Сквозь кривые костлявые ели

Колокольный день,

Дон, дон этой ночью рояля парус,

Взмыт над миром сильнее бури,

И до хруста костлявые пальцы

Впились в горло ночной лазури.

Развалитесь в удобном кресле

И послушайте, развалясь,

Капельмейстер Йоганн Крейслер

Будет плакать сегодня для вас.

So, seventh grade, so this is…

Eighth grade, probably.


That is, that’s very good.

Yeah, and it’s, that’s romanticism, you know.

With a little bit of, like, too much.

It’s musically cheesiness, a little bit, I would say.

But very strong.

So let’s go, let’s go to Kyiv.

Okay, let’s go to Kyiv.

You were born and raised in Kyiv,

just like you said,

with the guys with the rocks and the rockets.

But that was the stupid guys.

You know, I guess we already got that.

You can hold a grudge.

What are some memories of your dad and mom that stand out?

Okay, yeah.

What we do?

Well, let’s drink.


Yeah, what are we drinking?

Japanese whiskey.

They call it From the Barrel.

We’re not sponsored by Nikko Whiskey.

But it’s good whiskey.

Yeah, we do not.

But they are doing a very, very good job.

And they are in Sapporo.

It’s Hokkaido, north of Japan.

So they are doing good beer, which is Sapporo.

They good, very good whiskey.

And a lot of red caviar.

And actually, that’s it.

Did you ever think,

when you were that shortage of bread

and you were doing the rocket,

that you would be sitting here in America

a few years later drinking Japanese whiskey,

talking about caviar?

Did you even know what caviar was?

No, no, obviously.

Because caviar, it was for holidays a little bit.

And it was distributed.

It’s not like you go and buy it.

But you got it a little bit, like a small can.

So all of us, we knew that.

And just, it was very popular.

Well, let me just actually ask that question.

How did you imagine where you would be 50 years from then?

How did you think about your future?

Actually, like in about eight grades, nine grades,

I was very, very, very, very, very, very good

in physics, mathematics, and chemistry.

So I was actually in this system

of like an Olympiad, so-called, competition.

I was absolutely number one in Ukraine twice.

And absolute number two in Soviet Union, also twice.

This is physics competition or mathematics competition?

Okay, it was physics.

So for people who don’t know, maybe you can explain.

I mean, this still goes on to this day.

These are very intense competitions.

I don’t know if they’re that popular in the United States.

Probably because United States folks don’t do as great.

It is extremely popular, but not in physics.

What is going on in this country,

I was very much impressed.

It’s a very serious and very tough competition in mathematics.

In math, that’s right.

In physics less, in biology less.

So you already knew someone in eighth grade

that you’re very good at, you said, wait a minute,

you said chemistry too.

Yes, chemistry too.

Physics, chemistry, and you competed.

You won in Ukraine.

And I was number two in Soviet Union, it was twice.

Now, very interesting that in Soviet Union,

it was a rule, you’re supposed to choose.

So you can participate in this competition

in physics, mathematics, and chemistry.

And all three of them, up to the level of championship

of the region, of the big city.

In my case, it was Kiev.

But then to go to competition in Ukraine,

you have to choose.

You can go only to one.


So I won physics and chemistry and mathematics in Kiev.

Then I choose physics.

And I was going to Ukraine.

And now if you win in Ukraine,

so a couple of people from the whole Ukraine

goes to this championship of Soviet Union.

That’s an incredible accomplishment, by the way.

It was incredible.

I mean, you peaked in terms of physics and poetry at age 14.

That’s a big difference.

In physics, I was really on top of the Soviet Union,

which is a huge country.

In poetry, it was just, I’m not a professional.

You can’t compete in poetry, right?

Yeah, well, basically over there,

gold medal from high school.

What do you call here, valedictorian?

Which is hard to do.

I would say here, it’s also very not so easy,

depending on the school.

But in Kiev, it was an interesting situation

because you have to,

the most difficult was actually not physics, mathematics,

and it was writing.


Because it was writing not on the computer

without spell check.

And you have to write 20, let me see, let me see.

No, 12.

12 pages as a minimum of an essay,

and it’s supposed to be zero mistakes.

And Russian language is not the easiest one.

And when you say mistakes, I mean, this is what is important.

Mistakes are grammar, grammar mistake.

It’s not just, it’s grammar, it’s writing mistakes too?

No, what do you mean writing mistakes?

Just incorrect use of word or something like that.

Can you cross stuff out?


This is the, you can’t make a mistake

in the actual writing process.

You’re writing with a pen, cursive.

You were not supposed to make any corrections.

And you’re not allowed to cross the lines,

and so it’s perfection in all the silliest forms.

And it’s silly.

But maybe, what do you think about that?

What do you think about that strictness?

Because it’s easy to criticize from a distance,

but there’s something powerful about it.

Yes, there is.

You know what country is more powerful

from this point of view is?


Is Japan strictness.

I was so much impressed with their kids,

what they keep saying that in Japan for kids,

it does matter if it’s a holiday,

or it’s a weekend, or whatever,

each day you’re supposed to train

with these Japanese characters,

because if not, it’s just impossible

just to remember it.

So they’re working too hard,

but as a result, they consider for them quality,

because quality means no mistakes.


That’s a very interesting point.

What does it mean quality?

It means perfectionism.

And this perfectionism creates this kind of whiskey.


This is what perfect tastes like.

It’s interesting.

I mean, it forces you to take education seriously,

everything seriously,

like this craftsmanship, craftsmanship seriously.

Yes, yes, yes.

And you know, I mentioned to you this exam,

this exam in Russian essay,

but it was something which was worse than that.

Because it was Kiev,

we’re supposed to take two essays,

one in Russian language,

and also in Ukrainian language.

So think for a second,

it’s not your native language,

and you’re supposed to also write this

at least 12 pages

with zero mistakes

and without any possibility to make any,

it should be perfect.

As a result, it was funny that I speak Ukrainian,

not bad at all.

Because of this,

I would not say that’s a good idea,

but it’s kind of Russian version of a Japanese story.

Yeah, and there’s a lot of interesting other strict things,

like you have to memorize poetry,

you have to memorize things,

which, I mean, that’s a really interesting exercise.

Yes, that’s what probably you remember.

Yep, it still was there when I was there, yeah.

Yeah, like I used to know at least thousand poems by heart.

By heart.

And you still remember many of your own by heart.

Yeah, it basically helps with mathematics.


Good memory, just…


Okay, so you said you already knew,

I mean, it’s an incredible accomplishment

to be at that level in physics at that young age.

So what did you think about the future,

returning to the original question?

Where do you think that would take you,

this fascination and this skill with physics?

Did you imagine being a professor?

Did you imagine being Einstein?

You know, kids in high school,

I mean, at least between us,

and I was like already in high school,

it was like special high school in physics and mathematics.

We were all like not only dreaming,

but being sure we can do that,

we can be best of the best in the world.

And it was a very popular subject.

At that time, if you are like the best in physics,

it’s way more, you are way more popular

than a guy who is the best in basketball.

Yeah, it’s interesting.

I mean, that’s…

Why do you think that is in the Soviet Union,

that it was so respected and so admired

when you were great at science?

It was propaganda.

So it was the state created that?


So, and it was good, actually.

Do you think we’ll ever see that in America

without authoritarian and a democracy?

Because in America, Brad Pitt and Michael Jordan

are the superstars and scientists.

Most people don’t know a single scientist

except Einstein in America.

Well, I would say, my feeling,

it should happen in America.

It should happen to boys and girls in America.

It should be.

It should, meaning like that’s a good thing

or should you think that way?

It’s very important because if kids in America,

they are just not so much good in sciences,

sooner or later, we will lose competition

to countries where science is

very much high prestige.

Example, today, unfortunately, it’s not Russia.

The best example today is probably China.

I’ve been there.

I saw their high schools.

We have to be very careful with that.

So, my feeling that it should be done

because in America, university education

is way stronger than in Russia

and is way stronger than in Europe,

but high school education in America

is not so strong.

Yeah, it’s difficult to understand why,

but why do you think the universities

are so strong in America?

Why do you think the most Nobel Prizes

are from America?

Why do you think science is so good

even though scientists were never

really worshiped in America?

Because in Russia, it was always a problem.

So, the strongest people, students, kids,

they are very hard workers

when they are in high school

because after that,

there is a very strong competition

to get to a good university.

Very, very, very challenging.

The same in China.

So, you have to be very good

to enter a very good university.

So, kids, they work like crazy to do that.

Also, boys, they knew that they have…

Take a look.

You have one chance in most of cases

with the exception of a couple of universities.

You have only one chance to go to one university

to try yourself.

If you make it, you become a student.

If not, you go to the army for three years.

So, it’s very interesting.

It’s a very psychologically interesting situation

because what is going on?

You have to make a decision by yourself.

Are you strong enough to go to the best place?

Because it’s only one place you can go.

Now, they start changing the system.

But in the 1960s, 70s, 80s, 90s, it was the case.

So, just you have…

And there’s a big cost of failing.

Once you choose and you don’t get in.

Cost, not money-wise, but real cost, you go to army.

If you are a boy,

if you just overestimate yourself…

Is that when you got that line in your hair?

That period?

So, for people who don’t know,

my dad’s hair now is white,

but he used to have this sexy stripe

down the middle for many decades.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

10, 20, 30, a lot of years.

In my pictures, I have this stripe now.

Anymore, not anymore.

That’s a good look now.

So, anyway, is that when you got the stress?

That’s when you were…

Oh no, the stress was…

It was a real stress.

What happened?

Well, that’s a bad story.

I told you that when I was finishing high school,

it’s a 10th grade at that time,

I became a champion of Ukraine, number one,

and second in Soviet Union,

which was a very, very big deal.

After that, five kids from Soviet Union

were supposed to go to international competition.

And this international competition was the same dates

as exams to enter the university.

So, if you are like in five best kids in physics,

five best kids in mathematics,

five best kids in whatever, chemistry,

they were able to skip these final exams,

which means to skip this essay in language,

one language essay, another language,

and you skip all exams.

But instead of that,

you prepare to international competition.

So, because I was number two,

I was clearly in the team,

so I was not supposed to go to these stupid exams.

And, well, but it was this telephone call

of our leader from Moscow.

He said that it’s like one week before,

but unfortunately you have to be replaced

with another guy

because they are unable to give you a visa.

Oh, wow.

And that was actually, yeah, that was like…

That’s what caused the stress?

It was a very big stress.

And at that point,

like people, including those from America

and Zionist motion,

they came to me and they asked me,

you know, to make speech

and just to say something and to do something.

And they talk to my dad, to your grandfather.

And he spoke with people from KGB

because he was like also a big guy at that time.

And he came to me and said,

okay, you do whatever you want

because it’s your life.

You make a decision.

But they told me that if you

forgot about what happened,

you’ll have gold medal,

which is over there.

You’ll pass all exams

and you will have A,

well, five in Russian,

A, the highest grade,

whatever you do,

it will be A.

And then you go to any university you want

and you’ll be accepted.

This is KGB talking, those kinds of folks.

Yeah. And I hesitated.

And I said, well, yeah, I agree.

I will not fight against the system.

So can you explain a little bit,

does you being Jewish have anything to do with it?

Absolutely. It’s 100%.

Because it was, actually, it was 1970.

And in this moment, it was a very significant,

actually, push to immigration for Jewish people,

to Israel and to America.

And they were afraid, always,

that they just give all these awards to the guy

and he will say, okay, guys, goodbye.

I just decided to go to whatever, to America

or to Germany or whatever, or to Israel.

Keeping that in mind,

just in case, they prefer not to give visa.

And at that time, interestingly enough, it’s KGB,

so they do not give visa

and they do not give any explanation why.


Just, you cannot do that.

However, however, they say he’s a good guy

and if he accepts, that will do everything for him.

Don’t worry.

It’s also a risk because you never know they can,

but I don’t know, maybe,

maybe I am so smart,

but actually, without special preparation,

I went to the super exams and I got A.

You did well.

I did well.

And that’s the reason of this strife,

which appeared in a very short boom.

It was a source of stress,

but I’m not exactly understanding the depth of the stress.

It was very significant.

Did you have a choice to make?

I mean, it doesn’t feel like there’s a choice.

It’s actually when already I made a decision,

I was already with a strike.

Okay, so the decision process was a strike for you.

Because I was, it’s like, you know,

I was falling from a limp or whatever,

because I was feeling that everything is like,

I’m best of the best in the world, whatever,

and booms, they actually put me in my place, you know.

It was a difficult moment,

but then I was accepted,

and it was, you know, immediately celebration,

because, you know, I got this gold medal,

which is a big deal in Soviet Union.

So gold medal represents being valedictorian.

Valedictorian, right.

So did you experience anti-Semitism

leading up to that moment in your life?

Did you feel that you were,

were you made to feel that you were Jewish?

Did you experience life as a Ukrainian Jew,

or simply as a Ukrainian?

Oh, well.

For the listener, my dad is uncomfortable,

likes to avoid uncomfortable conversations,

so I have to force him into uncomfortable conversations.


Well, it’s not only me,

just like all our generation.

At that time in Ukraine,

in Ukraine, Ukraine at that time,

it was not the same as Ukraine today.

So level of anti-Semitism was way higher

in Ukraine than in other places.

Other Soviet republics?


Why is that?

Is there any historical reason for that, do you think?

Well, it was actually historical,

significantly historical reasons,

starting from Bogdan Khmelnytskyi.

So at some point,

a couple of hundred years before that,

Jews, they supported Polish people,

and it was against Russia, against Ukraine.

So just level of anti-Semitism was very high

in these kind of countries.

Also, this area was inside of Pale of Settlement.

So it means there was a lot of Jews,

a lot of Jews, a lot of problem with Jews.

In Moscow, it was forbidden for Jews to leave,

so no Jews, no problems.

So when I actually moved from Kiev to Moscow,

it is like a day and night.

So Moscow, it was beautiful.

I mean, I did not feel, well,

I feel, I felt, but not so much, I would say.

In Ukraine, always I felt that I’m Jewish,

but from another hand,

you remember all these kids from our yard,

like stones, et cetera, et cetera,

both groups, they were Jewish.

So what I’m trying to say,

that Jews, they lived actually together.

So from that point of view,

you know, it’s less, it’s a huge anti-Semitism,

but they are somewhere.

You’re somewhat isolated from it because?

Because it’s like a Jewish ghetto.

Jews stick together.

I mean, the Jews, it’s historical ghetto.

Yeah, okay, let’s jump back.

We were saying that you were born and raised in Kiev.

What are your favorite

or maybe most representative memories

of your dad and mom from the earlier years?

Well, it was a beautiful family.

You’re only child.

You’re just, just the one.

Yes, and

my father, he was a hero of World War II,

and he was actually always with a stick

because, you know, he was.

Like a cane, yeah.

A cane, right.

He was heavily wounded during the war and.

He operated the gun, the machine gun.

Yes, yes, very complicated situations.

So he was risking his life enormously,

and the only reason he survived

because he was heavily wounded.

So just, it was the end of the war for him.

And, you know, and as a boy, you know,

for me, he was, and he was a real hero.

He was.

Like, you know, it’s not, it’s very different from me.

He’s like a big hands, you know, like always.

He was not drinking Japanese whiskey.

He was drinking only one thing.


Yeah, you remember, like we had somewhere.

Yeah, we’ll get to the vodka.

Yeah, but what I’m trying to say

that it’s a different personality.

And he just, from this Jewish boy,

he became an associate minister of construction of Ukraine,

which was a very big deal.

So he was like this, he’s very much different from me.

I’m like a little bit like a softer personality,

like my mother, but he was a very tough guy.

Yeah, were you afraid of him?

Um, what does it mean to be afraid?

He loved me, but he was a person,

like, you know, very strong personality.

So yes, when, if I did something wrong,

oh, you remember the story?

No, no, I mean, with these idiots from another.

From the, yeah.

In these rockets.

So yes, I was afraid of my father.

So I had huge respect.

And my mother, she was like a nice Jewish mother.

And that’s it.

Well, let me kind of ask a hard question.

You’ve lost your dad a few years ago.


What did it feel like when you learned that he died?

What went through your head?

What memories?

Well, like, you know, losing your parents, it’s losing your parents.

So I would say, what I can say, it’s a losing parent.

And my father, it was a whole generation.

You know, it is just like a, and, you know,

the feeling you have that now you are the man.

That’s interesting, but the feeling is

now it’s my turn to be great.

Now just I have to do something.

Now just, because when you have your parents,

you always have this feeling that there is something behind you, just in case.


And my father, he was very, very, very strong personality.

Just this interesting story that during this

during this

Jewish persecution in 1952 by Stalin,

when it was a so-called affair of doctors or whatever,

how to say in English,

дело врачей,

when Jewish people were actually said just they’re doctors and,

okay, most of doctors were Jewish, basically.

And so they used to say that they actually kill

half of the government or whatever as a doctors.

It was absolutely lie.

It just says nothing with reality.

And Jews, they were prepared actually to be moved

from all over the Soviet Union to Birobidzhan,

to like a close to Chinese border on Amur River.

Like, oh, it’s already,

they tried to move them closer to Japanese whiskey.

Um, so like in camps or what?

Just, just, just, just kind of move them.

To the so-called Jewish oblast, Jewish region or whatever.

But it’s like, it was nothing there.

And if you move like this kind of group of people,

it was about 3 million Jews, not to forget,

you know, at least half will die just during this moving.

So it was nothing.

And you’re preventing them from having a future.


So at that time, you know, people, they kept start,

kept talking about the same stupid stuff.

The Jews, they drink blood of babies, of Christian babies.

And, and that’s what my father used to say that his friends,

and it’s like, you know, it’s like a meeting.

And, you know, people, they’re asking,

have you seen something?

Have you seen him like a drinking blood

or something like that?

And he said that he was absolutely impressed with his friends.

And all of them, they, most of them, I mean,

they are, or either leaving the room,

just not to participate in this stupidity.

Or they say we haven’t seen, but who knows

if people, they write in newspapers.

It’s a very strong propaganda.

So that he lost, he was an associate director

of this manufacturing plant.

And, and they say that he’s supposed to leave.

Because, because this whole propaganda,

he’s a Jew and Jews are drinking the blood

of Christian babies.


Maybe, who knows.

But it’s, maybe it’s enough.

But there’s no evidence that they’re not.



So, so he’s not going to a prison,

but he’s not going to work in our enterprise.

So he said, okay, I am like associate director

and I want to be a worker, a simplest worker.

But because I love my plants.

I said, no.

So actually he left.

Yeah, but why, why does that memory stand out for you?


Because it was, it was 1952 and I was born in 1953.

So, so what was happening that he was without job

for one year because nobody wanted to,

to take him before Stalin died in 1953.

And it was a moment when I was born.

So my mother, she worked to support the whole family

and we lived in a small room, 14 square meters.

It was my grandmother, grandfather, father, mother, and me.

So the, I mean the.

It’s kind of, it was a big impact on,

and then Stalin died and everything become way better.

It is.

And in terms of antisemitism as well.


You see, there is a good movie, by the way,

made here in America, Russian Jews part one,

Russian Jews part two, Russian Jews part three.

I think it’s on YouTube actually.


So what is that?

It was almost no antisemitism before World War II.


It was very strong antisemitism

after the end of the World War II

and in 1945 and death of Stalin in 1953.

In 1953 situation become better, but not as good,

way not as good as in 1930s.

Why was there antisemitism after the war,

the second World War?

It seems.

It is.

How did Russia, sorry to interrupt.

How did Russians in your memory think about

the cruelty of the Holocaust?

Because there’s so much pride about Russia winning the war,

of being the, you know, to getting to Berlin.

Isn’t, how do you think about the people that were tortured?

Well, very, very strong, very strong propaganda.


Very strong propaganda.

So what happened that, okay,

what actually happened that in the end of, okay,

before World War II, before World War II,

actually Jewish people, they just,

they forgot that they’re Jews.

It was, I mean, they were all Soviet, so like-

Soviet first.

Soviet first, way, way first.

I mean, it was before war.

In the end of the war, Jewish people,

they create a lot of special organizations

and because of Holocaust,

they had significant support of United States of America

and the Western countries,

but mostly United States of America.

And Jewish people in the end of World War II,

they start thinking that,

it’s like my story with this,

when I graduated from high school.

So they started believing that they are the guys, you know,

because they have so much support from United States.

And it’s also, and on top of that,

like a cherry, it was a creation of Israel.

Right, that was around then, so-

In 1949.

There was a kind of a push that Jews are no longer Soviets.

Their homeland is Israel.

Yes, and Jews, they felt like initially very nice,

but they overdid it.

So bottom line, it was a,

and also don’t, not to forget about Hitler.

So as a result, level of antisemitism in,

from 1945 to 1953 was growing significantly.

Then it was a little bit better,

but actually significant improvements start happening

only in 1960s, not earlier than that.

So can you talk a little bit more

about your dad’s journey in World War II?

I mean, there’s, I remember a bunch of stories,

but, you know, just for people interested,

you know, World War II is at the core of our family,

in a sense.

So can you just linger,

and maybe if you have memories about his impact,

how did he get injured?

What was his relationships with, you know,

violence, with death, with bullets flying everywhere?


My father, he was born in 1923.

So in, and-


In Minsk.

Which is now Belarus.

And he was born in October.

So when World War started, he was 17.

And it was forbidden to go to army

if you are younger than 18.

So together with friends,

they make change in the passport.

They just change their year from,

they made themselves one year older

just to be accepted to the army.

And interesting enough that, like,

the way I understand, at least,

these people who organized, like, army,

they understand, they saw that these boys,

they are younger, but they let them go.

He wanted to go.


He wanted to go.

You know, there’s so many stories in Vietnam War in America

where there’s a lot of people, brave people,

who found ways to not go.



It’s absolutely opposite.

It’s absolutely opposite because most,

well, not everybody with this one,

but majority, propaganda was extremely strong.

So protecting your fatherland, motherland, it’s-

Even to die for your country is-

Yes, yes, yes.

So to die for your country, it was kind of like an honor.


And also they were sure that Red Army

is 100 times stronger than these Germans.


So, and they thought that, okay, we’ll go there,

so a couple of months and we are winners.

But in one way or another, but they were all wanted to go.

Especially when, you know, you are not like a very rich guy, you know.

So he went to the army and it was like a couple of months special preparation to become

like a lowest level of officers.

So junior lieutenant or whatever it is in this country.

In this country.

And he became like this low level officer.

And he starts actually near Moscow and just start going back and back and back and back.

And that’s it.

And he was with this machine gun, big one.

And, you know, the change of like,

this was very fast.

So people, they were killed very, very, very fast.


People that were operating machine guns.


Very, very fast.

Because just like the changeover.

So he became division commander reasonably fast.

Not division, but regiment.

That’s one way to move up when everybody’s dying.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

And what he kept saying, I think even to you,

because he just, it was like he kept saying that for some reason he was absolutely sure

that every, he saw that like everybody else are killed and he’s not.

So he was kind of sure that something is protecting him.

He’s invincible.

And yes, he’s invincible.

He might have been right.

And he was very strong, actually.

Very, very, very strong.

Like, by the way.

Physically and mentally?

Physically and mentally.

So kind of like, I mean, he’s like, because it’s a little bit not like myself,

but he’s very physically strong and mentally protected.

Like, I don’t know what best way to say that.

He was sure in himself and he was sure that.

Is it confidence?

Is that ego?

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

No, no, no.

It’s not ego.

It’s confidence.

It’s a confidence.

A little bit like a, kind of like a religious.

He did not believe to the God in the first place,

but he believed in what he used to say in his star.

So there is a star which protects him.

And he might be right.

He survived the war.

He survived the war because after like four, no, like five or six months,

he was heavily wounded, which was very good.


Actually, because that’s why he survived.

In the leg?

In the leg, yeah.

So he was like, and he had a lot of this award, et cetera, et cetera.

Do you remember what about the people in general?

You know, 20 million plus Soviet people died.

What impact?

Do you remember what impact the war had on the people?



That’s why for 20 million, it is a lot.

And at that time…

Maybe half of them were just civilians.

Because Stalin, he just operated this war without counting people.


But do you think it had powerful creative impact in terms of music, art, literature, science?


The sad thing about war, right?

All of the above.

Science mostly.

All of the above.

Because even before war, science was very much pushed up.

But after the war, scientists, they were considered like the key people in the world,

especially military scientists.

Well, I don’t think I’ve ever asked you this.

I haven’t asked you most of the things I’m asking.

But you’re Jewish.

Hitler killed a lot of Jews.

How did you feel about the Holocaust?

I don’t think we’ve actually really talked about…

Is it just an intellectual tragedy to you?

Or did it ever feel…

What do you think about human nature after that?

Oh, you see that I have parents, and my parents, they have parents, which my grandparents,

and they’re my great-grandparents.

So all of those, all of those, without exception, were killed in Holocaust.

Zero died with their own death, natural death.

All of them, they were killed.

Because they were already a little bit older, like I am now.

And they were sure that Germans, they will not touch them.

Come on, just do something to old people.

It’s kind of strange.

And all of them, without exception, all of them, they were killed.

So it is, you know, like initially in my life, it was like a clear hatred

with respect to Germans in general.

Which only later, I mean, it was clear that it’s not Nazi, it’s not Germany-Germany,

but it was very serious feelings about that.

So hatred.

But so as you grew up, did it, are you hopeful about whether people are good or evil?

And did that have an impact on, you know, the fact that you can see so much evil?

You can become cynical.

Were you still, did you, is there still an optimistic, positive person inside you?

Yeah, there is.

I’m optimistic.

Myself, I am optimistic.

So just like the point is that like I was, when I just started growing up, even in high school,

the level of anti-Semitism was like way lower.

And in general, I felt myself always way more Soviet

than I was a Russian, Ukrainian, or Jewish.

What was your relationship with the Soviet Union?

We’ll talk about coming to America, but what was your feeling?

So you’re proud?

For many years, I was very proud.

I was very proud of this style of life where science is really popular,

where people, they’re working not for money, but people are working for,

for to make something interesting, to make something good.

It’s a place where if you, if you, if you’re good, you are awarded.

And that was a healing.

It was propaganda, obviously.

So for like, when I was in elementary school, middle school, high school,

I would say in school, I was feeling that I’m extremely proud of Soviet Union.

Then it was this shock change.

And then a lot of friends, they started going to Israel or America.

So just everything started changing.

Everything started changing.

It’s after Stalin, after…

Oh, it’s, no, no, it’s way later.

It’s, it’s already, I’m talking about like 1970s.

In the 70s, yeah.

In 1970s, already like people, they again start feeling that they’re Jewish

because of significant immigration to America and to Israel.

Okay, so you were in Kiev through high school.

So let’s look to your next chapter of your life.

And can you tell me what is FISTECH?

As it’s, I don’t even know what the full in English name is.

Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.

And what is it in Russian, the full name?

Московский физико-технический институт.

МФТИ, да?

It’s like MIT, but with a P.

Yeah, it is, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.


Yes, yeah, yeah, it is M-I-P-T, yes, M-I-P-T.

I mean, it’s kind of…

It’s a kind of MIT.

Kind of, it’s maybe a little more like a Caltech.

Oh, no, was there an engineering component?

So it’s very small, right?

I mean, it was…

It was the size of Caltech.


And it was very much focused on science and military science.

And now, sorry to interrupt, now this was in Moscow.


And so you came…

From Kiev to Moscow.

To Moscow.

So how did you get into FISTECH?

So, yeah, so you said FISTECH is focused on science, military science.

This is like the…

I saw on the internet this description of, and maybe you can talk to it,

math and physics education at MIT.

The number of hours, I think, or compared to FISTECH.

And they were, I mean, they were making…

First of all, the FISTECH education is shorter

and covers like an order of magnitude more material.

Yes, exactly.

And what, can you explain what that experience is like?

What their idea of the kind of how they’re putting you through is,

what the philosophy is?

But that’s what I’ve been looking for.

Because, you know, don’t forget that, well, you’re coming to the place

and you feel yourself best in the world.

And when you meet people from, you know, outside,

you’re like a different personality.

You are from MIPT.

You are from FISTECH.

So it was a lot of songs, a lot of…

It was a very…

And we were so much proud, that number of credit hours.

It was incredibly…

We worked from nine to five each day.

You can, from nine to five, it is eight hours.

So it’s eight hours of classes.

How many days a week?

Six days a week.

So you can count, and it’s…

And the level was, and, you know, requirements,

they are very, very, very, very strong.

And this is math, physics, chemistry.

What was the range of subjects?

Important ways, importance.

When you enter, you start with very high-level mathematics,

physics, and chemistry, actually.

So why did you want to go to FISTECH?

So it’s basically because you felt

that you were one of the best people in the world

at math and physics, so this is the place to go?

And chemistry, yes.

And chemistry.

And that’s the way to go.

Basically, when I came to Moscow, I hesitated for about one day,

because I also, I was in love with mathematics,

and mathematics meant, like, freedom.

So they had less classes,

they were more open for, like, creative thinking,

while FISTECH, it was like,

what’s the best word to say,

what they do, like, in sports,

like, when you make, like, something extremely hard for you,

like, what’s the name, how you say,

for military, for military, for military.

Well, you want to say bootcamp.

Yeah, I want to say bootcamp, but…

Yeah, yeah, this is really intense process

of weeding out the week.

Yes, and that was going on, actually,

so the significant number of students,

they were actually leaving after the first semester.


It was extremely challenging.

Also, keep in mind that it was about, okay,

usually group, it was, like, 25 people, 30,

and usually one girl.

So it is, like, whatever, 3% girls, 97 boys.

It also creates a very special atmosphere.

Well, maybe just before we get into the special atmosphere,

what was your journey to FISTECH like?

So I think I read a book,

A Love and Math by Ed Frankel, also Russian.

I think he mentions FISTECH in there,

and he’s also Jewish,

and he said that there was a lot of anti-Semitism,

that there’s a bunch of schools that you weren’t,

there’s a bunch of schools that you weren’t,

I mean, it was either explicitly or implicitly

no Jews allowed.

Yeah, well.

So did you, so what was the process

of getting into this place,

and how much anti-Semitism was there in that picture?

At that period, it was 1970,

it was a clear, well, it’s anti-Semitism,

yes, absolutely, but what I mean,

that it was, like, for Jews,

it was very difficult to get into the universities,

very simple,

but in most of universities,

the rule was kind of hidden,

so just, it was like a Jewish boy and a non-Jewish boy,

and they were going to the same exam,

and the professor gives, like, a D or C for a Jewish guy,

and, like, B or A for a non-Jewish guy,

if their level is the same.

It was just in most of places,

but Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology,

it was very different.

Exams, they were absolutely honest.

However, they count grades.

It was two exams in physics,

and two exams in mathematics.

Oral mathematics, written mathematics,

oral physics, written physics.

A, B, C, D, and A is five,

B is four, C is three, D is two,

and if you’re Jewish,

an exam, they were very, very, very, very, very, very tough.

Yeah, the oral, I hear.

All of them, and both, written and oral,

they were extremely challenging,

but equally for, doesn’t matter,

you are Jewish, you are not Jewish, whatever.

Now, if you are Jewish,

you have to have, to go through that,

you have to have either 19 or 20,

which means, yeah,

which means it should be A, A, A, A, or one B.

While if you are not Jewish,

17 is absolutely okay,

16, some people, 15, some people.

So it was made clear,

and beside that, it’s completely fair.

Yeah, but it was, you know,

it was, from some point of view, it was good,

because it is not like cheating.

It was like a clear rule, let’s do it.

Also, it was very interesting that after exams,

it was a special interview,

and it was interview with really high-level scientists.

It was like two or three famous, famous, famous scientists,

and one or two KGB people.

And they just, you know, manage this operation,

and it is impossible to discuss, you know.

They say, yes, you are accepted, great.

Or they say, no, you’re not.


That’s our decision.

So what was your favorite subject, topic, ideas

that you fell in love with in the first few years of Vistech?

It was general physics,

because we had absolutely beautiful lecturer,

and I have his books, even now I have over there.

He wrote like a lot of books.

What’s his name, do you remember?



Yeah, and he was very interesting personality.

I was in love with him for, I would say, two years,

not more than that,

because his idea was you have to present physics

absolutely without calculus.

So it should be no derivatives and no integration.

How is that possible?

Just you do physics, you can…

When we say physics, you mean like mechanics, so it’s…

No, no, no, no, no, no.

Physics means physics.

It’s mechanics, it’s the thermal sciences,

it’s electricity, optics, and nuclear physics.


Without calculus.

The only thing he didn’t attach, it was no quantum mechanics.

Was quantum mechanics in the air back then?

Yeah, obviously.

But not for this gentleman, not for this professor.

He was not so much, he was not famous scientist.

He was a famous teacher.

And then, only then, I just, you know,

jumped to the world of theoretical physics and chemistry.

So the next step in my life

is just jumping into theoretical physics.

And what branch of theoretical physics were you interested in?

So I’ve never actually heard you talk much about

the world of the big, like general relativity,

so looking out into the stars.

You were more interested in,

like what physics phenomena were you interested in?

Now or that time?

So at that time.

At that time, after these two years with Sivukhin,

I just changed completely to absolutely opposite approach

to purely theoretical physics.

And at that time, the most popular,

it was the so-called Landau Minimum.

So Landau, 10 books.

And they are, believe me, they are wow.

So they are so hard.


They are just, for some reason, they’re just, you know,

hardest of the hardest, like very challenging, very difficult.

And the boys, so just they say,

if you want to show yourself,

you have to go the so-called Landau Minimum,

which you have to go through 10 exams.

Actually, 11, because the first one was mathematics.

And then whatever, physics one, physics two, physics 10.

And, you know, it was a challenge.

It was very difficult.

So I went through that just actually, I don’t know,

just to prove that I can do that.

To be honest, I did not, in the end, at least I hate that

because it was not so much, it is not Feynman.

You know, it is just something opposite to that.

The opposite, yeah.

But it’s painful almost for the sake of being painful.


It’s like you are doing the martial arts.


That’s just to show yourself that you can do that.


So that’s what I did.

And then when I was actually, I was keep doing that.

But in the middle, it was the first time

when I came to Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy.

So speaking of which,

what is the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy?

And who was your, sort of, I feel like in FISTECH,

there’s an advisor.

So who was your advisor?

Who were the mentors in this period of your life?

Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology,

it’s very interesting approach.

It’s a so-called FISTECH system.


What does it mean?

It means that first three years, you work in classes.

And then you go to actual national labs.

And you choose them, they choose you, et cetera, et cetera.

And three years, you work there and you listen to the classes.

But these classes, they are not from teachers,

not from teaching professors,

but from very, very high-level actual scientists.


And who was the person that you connected with?

Who was your advisors in that fourth year, fifth year?



And what’s Kurchatov?

So that’s the connection.

Yeah, yeah.

Kurchatov, it’s…

That’s downtown Moscow, right?

Yeah, yeah.

Kurchatov, it’s a guy, it’s like a father of Russian atomic bomb.

And he built a big reactor in center of Moscow.

And interesting enough that it was in 19…

In 19, 19, 1946, I think, yeah.

They built the first reactor and then the bomb in 1949.

So, and it was…

You know, like in America, there is a group of national labs,

different, like Oak Ridge National Lab, Los Alamos National Lab,

Argonne National Lab, et cetera.

In Russia, I would say most of these labs,

they were combined together in this one Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy.

So it’s like, you can imagine like a combination of

most of American national labs in one place.

It was 15,000 people working there.

15,000, it’s a huge…

It’s like a city inside of city.

And when they were created, they were focused on

nuclear physics and nuclear engineering

and everything around development to build atomic bomb.

And the same thing for fusion bombs, so for hydrogen bombs.

And, but later they add solid phase physics groups, et cetera.

So just, it was, I would say, and it’s still now,

the most, I would say, the strongest research center in the old Soviet Union.

So I decided to go there and I decided to go to plasma.

So in January, 1972, I came to…

They did not let me inside of Kurchatov Institute.

I came only to the gate.

And I met my first professor who brought me there.

It was Professor Leonid Rudakov.

He’s now Professor Emeritus of University of Maryland.

I saw him a couple of years ago, last time.

And he brought me to his house and we spoke and just, he said,

I just remember forever, he told me, you want…

It’s like the story with Winnie the Pooh.

And he said, you want a tea with milk or with honey?

And my answer was exactly the same as Winnie the Pooh.

I did not know Winnie the Pooh at that time.

I said, okay, all of the above, please, because…


Because we were hungry.

Very simple.

And he spoke to me and he started working.

It was and I made my first, actually, paper.

You wrote your first paper and that’s who you were?

And that was on plasma?

It was on plasma.

But then in the half of a year, he told me that he likes what we are doing,

but he will be unable to help me in the life because I’m Jewish.

And for a Jewish person, even like absolutely brilliant,

to get inside of Kurchatov, you have to have stronger helpers.

And he recommend me to meet Vladimir Rusanov and Valeriy Asov at that moment.

So it was a moment when I start…

Two names I know well, because Rusanov is this legendary…

So because of you, I seem to have met a lot of people from Vestiakh.


And much like MIT, they’re never shy about telling you that they’re from Vestiakh.

There’s a lot of pride.

So I know Rusanov well, maybe you can tell about him.

The other guy…

Valeriy Legasov.

Legasov, a lot of people these days know from the show of Chernobyl,

but he obviously has deep roots in Kurchatov and is a very also interesting person.

So, okay, so Rusanov, who’s this legendary human that I’ve heard so much about?

Well, it’s…

You know that plasma, fusion plasma, it is not only like making a stock mark,

but it is diagnostics, it’s a measurement, characterization.

So the most challenging is how to measure it.

So Rusanov was world accepted as a father of plasma diagnostics.

So he was a very, very, very nice person working with plasma diagnostics,

both theory and experiments.

And at that time, in 1973 approximately,

he decided, he was asked by Legasov to start plasma chemistry,

not plasma physics, but plasma chemistry,

because they wanted to dissociate uranium hexafluoride and plutonium hexafluoride,

and they were unable to do it without, like in traditional ways,

and they decided to try plasma.

So, and Rusanov agreed to take a lead in plasma chemistry.

And at that point, you see that I was in a good moment, you know, in a good place.

So I was lucky, actually, because all of them, they were physicists,

especially Rusanov, deeply, deeply, deeply physicist.

And he needs help from a good young person who is not afraid of chemistry, being physicist.

So he looked around, and Rudakov told him that there is a young guy,

a very interesting personality, he’s good in physics,

but he’s in love with chemistry also, so try him.

And to me, he said, go to Rusanov.

He’s a tough guy, but he will be able to help you,

because to help you to stay, to go further in your life,

because he’s a close friend working together with Legasov,

and Legasov was associate director, vice president of Kurchatov Institute.

So that’s how it all started, and they asked me a couple of things.

Can you do this, can you do that in chemistry?

So it is just physicists and talking chemistry.

So let me step up, because I’d like to step back in a little bit

to talk about what is plasma, even.

But before all that, let’s talk about Rusanov.

So let’s step away from science.

What impact did he have on you as a human being?

What memories do you have of him that you love or hate, or both?

You know, I would say the best word would be both,

because do you remember Rusanov?

Not much.

It’s hard to know what I remember, because I was told so many stories.

He’s the personality, he’s the personality.

He’s extremely tough, very quiet.

He’s mostly not talking.

He’s only looking at you, always in your eyes.

He’s like, well, that’s…

He’s brilliant? Smart?

He was absolutely smart, absolutely brilliant, and very tough.

And tough, and so you have to…

Basically, that makes for a great advisor, because…

This is a person to be afraid of.

Yeah, and you basically, for the rest of your life,

are trying to prove yourself to him.

Yes, that’s exactly the case with academician Vladimir Rusanov.

That’s the personality.

Is there a memory, a story that stands out to you,

maybe that represents him?

Well, without going to science, right?

Without going.

I remember one story just forever.

One of the…

I was already not a postdoc, well, graded student.

So it was one undergraduate student, you remember, from third grade,

in Moscow Institute of Psychology,

and she was supposed to start, you know, after vacation.

But something happened, and she came about one week later.

So I…

It’s her advisor, which is another famous scientist,

and I was in the office of Rusanov.

So he brought this girl, and it’s a nice girl.

Not so many girls in MIPT, in PhysTech, not so many girls.

So she came to this office, and Rusanov, he just looked at her,

like a snake, you know, like look at her without any words

for about maybe 20-30 seconds, just look at her eyes.

And then she said, he said,

your colleagues, they start working one week ago.

Your what?

Your colleagues, well, other students.

Other students, they are already working, start working one week ago.

That’s all he said.

And kept looking at her.

Just staring.

And staring, right.

And she, you know, like…


Started going from her face, and it was like a torture.

He didn’t say anything.

Torture by silence and staring.



It’s a good advice.

Maybe like three minutes.

But even for me, it was like maybe one hour.

For her, maybe it’s like a whole life.


Let’s go to the most important question.

How did you meet mom?

So this is before Kurchatov, I suppose, or around that time?

It’s, no, it is already, I met mom in 1973.

Which is second, third, fourth year of yours?

It was my third year.

No, it was my fourth year, actually, already.

And for mom, it was the second one.

She was there.


I told you that it’s like three percent.

So she was one of the girls.

One of the special things.

In this special, and yeah, and she survived this kind of also super training.

Survived the first year.

She survived everything, yeah, I mean.

So how did you, okay, so there you are, part of the 97%.


With a giant ego, as you can already tell.

By the way, does your ego serve you well?

We’ll talk about it a little bit more.

Yeah, actually, yes, I think yes.

What about, so in science, yes, I think people will hear that you have a bit of an ego.

But I think it’s deserved.

So you’re, it’s the same with Feynman.

It’s the same with Leonard Susskind.

A lot of physicists have this weird dance with ego.

It’s a useful weapon when you wield it cautiously.

But did it help you in terms of, with mom?

I would not say so.


Well, the most difficult is, you know, to go to this, because it’s a boy.

So, and girls, they live separately in different, like, place.

Is there alligators and, or, like, what?

Yeah, I mean, you have to, you have to…

Be clever?

How to get to this, like, a place, I mean.


So what happened that, on their floor, something disappeared.

I don’t know, some money or whatever, or some books or something.

And a friend of mine, he was, you know, like a, how to say, druzhinniki, we used to say.

So he was like a student responsible for, like, everything should be nice.

So I said that, I will help you.

Let’s go to these girls and let’s try to help them.

So we come to them, start helping, and spend then the whole night reading poetry.

Just reading poetry.

I think with tea, that’s it.

Reading poetry with tea.

It was you and who else?

Me, mom, and two of my friends.

And it was also two other girls, which live in the same room.

So do you remember what poems you were reading?

Is there something?

If you can imagine, if we are talking about eight hours, or whatever, seven hours.

So it was a lot of poetry.

But is there something from that period that stands out to you?

Maybe as poetry that you were reading.

Not something you’ve written for mom yet.

But do you remember from that night?

I mean, it’s an important night, right?


You remember what kind of tea?

The cheap one, because that’s the only stuff we used to have.

No, no vodka.

So it was…

No, no.

So, okay, tea and…

It’s like it was offensive for girls.

We had a huge respect to them, you know.

And then gentlemen don’t drink vodka in front of girls.


At least in the beginning.

So when did you first fall in love with mom?

You know, when you have, like you said, it’s 97%.

It’s being recorded.

It’s immediately.

One, two, three, yes.


So, but…

She was beautiful and she is beautiful.

And it was December 14th.

And still, even now, we celebrate this date.

December 14th is when you met?


Well, that’s this poetry stuff.

But it was the same day.

Wait, December 14th, two days ago.

So we celebrated 46 years.

46 years since you met.

Of this day with tea and poetry.


My guitar, also guitar.

I think, yes, also guitar.

And when you say guitar, I mean, there’s a barred tradition.

It’s basically poetry to music.


And it’s kind of lyrics is really important.

Yeah, I would say it was 96%.

I mean, it was mostly lyrics and guitar.

It was just like…

How did you win her over?

Oh, that’s…

That’s our…

What’s your secret?


How’d you do it?

Actually, also, I became her mentor.


Which made my life a little bit easier.

And, you know, I started with poetry and I end up with science.

And then, actually…

And we stayed together.

We married three years after that.

Do you remember any poems you’ve written her?

Well, I…

Of course, you’ve written her hundreds of poems through the years, but at that moment.

I would say, like, reciting all these life poems is probably not the best stuff to do now.

It should be a special discussion about that, probably together with her.

But I can say that I have a couple of these…

Not book, but booklets of poetry.

But it is already not the same.

I was already not the same as I was in high school.

Which means that at that time, already, most of my poetry was…

I would say not funny, but more like…

Yeah, yeah.

Witty, playful.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.


When did you know you will marry her?

When did you know that, you know, sort of, this is gonna be…

This is the one.

You remember this one, two, three?


Maybe not during first five minutes, but maybe after 20 minutes.


I’m gonna marry that one.

Yeah, it is very…

I mean, she is beautiful, and she was even…

Well, she was younger.

Me too.

So just almost immediately…

But it was clear that we cannot do it, you know, immediately.

So we were waiting until I graduate from…

Not undergraduate, from master level.

Because, you know, in Soviet Union it was undergraduate plus master.

It was like higher education, and after that it was PhD level.

So just we wait until I’m done with master.

When did you first learn that you will be a father?

So for people who don’t know, I have an older brother,

uglier, fatter, stupider brother named Greg.

Oh, he’s good.

Just uglier.

No, he’s good.

It’s 1977.

He was born in 1978.

So it was not an easy moment for me.

I would say even very difficult moment, because it was a concept in Soviet Union

which is difficult to understand here.

The so-called propiska is just even not possible to translate,

which means that you have to have a special, absolutely complicated permission,

enormously complicated permission to live in Moscow and Leningrad,

which is in St. Petersburg now.

So to do that, you either have to be born there,

and that’s it actually.

So it was closed cities.

So and I was from Kiev, and mom, she was, and she is from Middle Asia.

So just how to do that?

In 1976, in 1977, I was like the first grade of PhD, first year of PhD.

And without this permission to live in Moscow,

so just it was a difficult moment.

So it’s a practical thing, because you want to stay in Moscow longer term.

Because, yeah, because in Soviet Union, Moscow, it was like a number one place,

but not so easy to have this permission.

It’s extremely complicated.

And because mom is originally from a different area of the Soviet Union.


And there’s complications, bureaucracy, all that kind of stuff.

Mom, she was born, she lived in the area of the first uranium,

the most important uranium mines in Soviet Union.

So that’s, she’s from Warsaw.

So how did…

And that’s where you born, he was born.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

A little bit nuclear.

That explains so much.

So how did it feel like when Greg was born?

I mean, just becoming a father.

What was that story like?

Yes, it’s a pain.

I was very much, well, obviously I was very happy.

But I was nervous about future.

Because future was not clear at that time.

Not clear at all.

About this time, my situation was actually very sophisticated.

Well, it’s a little bit long story.

But what happened that I get sick.

And they didn’t know where to put me.

It was infectious.

And finally I end up in the house of Sakharov, which is interesting moment.

And it was mixed all together with Greg birth, with me being sick, with this Sakharov,

all together, whatever.

It was like a…

Just a mess, a stressful mess.

It was just a stressful mess.


And when I came to, again, to this Chkalovsk, to the city in Middle Asia, near,

now they call it Khodzhent.

So it is near Khodzhent.

Well, I was very happy.

And one of the first…

At that point, I wrote my first, not book, but chapter in the book.

What was the topic?

Plasma chemistry.

Plasma chemistry.

And topic of my chapter, it was synthesis of nitrogen oxide from air.

And there is a very famous, I love it, picture of Greg on the wall, when he just,

you know, has maybe a couple of weeks.

And he’s reading the book.

And he’s in front, and he’s just like so much interest,

and he’s reading this plasma chemistry book.

Yeah, it’s a good picture.

It’s a good picture, right.

So how did it feel like…

So obviously Greg is a disappointment.

So how did it feel like when I was finally born?

Oh, with you, it was way easier.

And we were way more happier, because it was 1983.

So which means that we were already in Moscow.

We got this propiska, we got this permission.

And we got our apartment.

So just everything was so nice and so beautiful.

And, you know, cherry on top of this cake, it was you.

And the only funny story, which is like always mom, she used to say,

is like, for some reason, I don’t know even why,

but everybody was sure that you are a girl.

Not you, but like that it’s a girl.

It’s a girl, yeah.

And everything was prepared for a girl.

And we were staying near this clinic.

And me and Greg and just…

And it was now that it is a boy.

And Greg, he mentioned this famous phrase

that he’s so much happy that you are a boy.

And, you know, the story also that he was five years old.

And he was, for some reason, sure that men,

they make boys, and women, they make girls.

And he was so much surprised.

And he said that, mom, she’s so good.

Yeah, he was impressed.


That she could make a boy.

A boy.

So that…

Were you ready to be a father, would you say?

You know, being a father, it’s a big commitment.

Big, big, big commitment, because now it’s a real family.

When Greg was born, it was like, it was a mess.

So it was very challenging.

It was very difficult.

When you were, like, fun and nice, and everybody was so happy.

And even if you look at pictures, you know,

like pictures with you, that’s just…

Yeah, smiling is happiness.

It’s a smiling.

It’s a happiness.

It brings joy to the world.


And by the way, that’s the way you were when you were, like,

you were always, you know, you wake up and you smile.

That’s good.

That’s a good sign.

Very good sign.


Well, let’s go.

Let’s go.

So I wanted to be a psychiatrist, so let me psychoanalyze you.

Do you think you were a good dad?


Well, to be honest, it’s not for me to judge.

What I can tell you, that my whole life, I just tried.

Sometimes more successful, sometimes less successful to be a good dad.

But it’s not for me to judge.

I mean, you know, I can give an example.

Like, when Greg was very young, for me, like,

very important was Landau books.

And I had these 10 books of Landau.

By the way, they are…

Oh, no, they are not here.

They are in my office.

And, you know, that’s the books which I read and just, I put my…

Yeah, sweat, blood, and tears.

Sweat, and blood, and tears, right, into this book.

And what Greg did, he just took these books and he took, like, this,

for a master, what is that?

Like, markers.

Markers, markers.

And he put everything around this, like, the cover of this.

He drew on it.

No, he just…

It’s like graffiti.

It’s not, like, it’s all over this.

And it was, how to say, you know, for me, it was…

Yeah, it’s a sacred document.

But it’s sacred, I mean.


And I was just, I remember this moment, I was so much not happy.

Just, you know, and I just tried to explain and, I mean…

And I even…

And Greg, he keeps saying, even now, that he was sure that he’s doing something good.

That he’s just, he knows that I love these books.

So he tried to make them even, you know…




So what I’m trying to say that…

Welcome to being a dad, right there.

Yes, yes, yes.

So if you can go back and do something different in terms of being a dad, what would you?

Is there something you regret?

Well, you know, I would say…

People, they’re different.

Some people, they always, they want a different life and they…

Sure, for some reason, that if they start again, it would be better.

It is not my case.

For some reason, I don’t know.

Maybe it is just like internal strengths, just to…

Like you mentioned about Feynman.

But I just always think that it’s not my case.

I just always try to protect myself and family and just…

I was sure, like my father during the war, that if I am strong, everything will be good.


And as a result, believe me or not, and it’s psychologically…

It helped me psychologically significantly.

I really believe that I am always right.

Which is strange, maybe.

But it is a way to protect myself, I don’t know, and protect family.

So when you ask me what you would be differently, nothing.

My feeling always is that my son is the best one.

I always try to give advice, sometimes more than necessary.

And probably it’s…

I’m doing that wrong, but I cannot do differently.

I’m sure that I’m right.

It’s a kind of defense mechanism.

It’s a defense mechanism.

So you’ve done…

You, our family, have done a lot to make a better life for us, for me.

And I think I’ve seen you work very hard to take steps through life

to make a better life for all of us.

We took risks many times.

And there is a feeling that it looks like everything is okay.



So while creating, sort of creating, taking risks,

creating opportunities for our family, for me, for my brother,

there’s, to me always, I felt a distance.

So what if I told you you felt distant to me as a father?

And then I never really felt close to you.

To this day.

Do you think that’s true?

I don’t know.

What I can say that I tried as much as possible

to be as good father as I can.

Sometimes it’s difficult to combine the system with this self-protection, like you said.

So that’s, you know…

So there’s an interesting, it could be a Russian immigrant thing.

It could be a Jewish thing too.

But sort of, say if you’re captain of a boat or something,

and so you have somebody precious, your family on the boat,

it seems that you were more focused on just making sure the boat doesn’t crash.

Or like, sort of focusing on, or maybe getting a bigger boat,

or for the family, like there’s this focus of the journey

and providing and stability and so on,

than not actually, not sitting down and enjoying time on the boat that you’ve built.

You know, I have…

With the family.

I agree with you.

But it is not Russian.

It is not Russian.

It’s a Jewish and it’s immigrants.

Because so many times I was very nervous that one thing goes wrong and everything crashes.

And there’s a million things in our life.

But I am always feeling that this point is the most dangerous.

Dangerous here.

That is okay.

That’s dangerous.

So I feel this danger and I’m overdoing this nervousness.

And it is always with me.

And that’s why…

Even now, at any point, I’m too much nervous.

Because I see, it looks like, my feeling is that like people,

they do not see that this is a deadly point, like a crucial bottleneck or whatever.


And I know that if I say that directly, people, it can be not good.

So I have to play with that in one way or another.

But I would say that it’s typical for Jewish people,

because they went through hundreds and hundreds and hundreds,

even a thousand years of problems.

And also for immigrants, because that’s immigrant life.

You remember your own story with high school, when you first time came there.

I mean, there is some kind of tiny details which can make your life miserable.

Yeah, middle school.

I mean, that was a particularly interesting moment that I think…

It’s an interesting moment that I don’t know how to explore correctly.

Because we came to this country, so I was maybe 13.

I don’t even remember.

It was middle school.

And it was a very different culture change.

It was a very, very…

It was tough.

Very different culture.

And we went to…

Middle school is tough for people in general.

But I went from having a lot of friends, from culture that I loved somehow deeply,

sort of this math and science that you talked about.

I mean, there’s so many deep friendships to a very shallow place.

And sort of the difference between what, you know, everybody…

I don’t want to discount the suffering of people, but I would say I suffered.

You know, you want to be like, that’s stupid.

But I really psychologically suffered.

And at the same time, you were sort of totally unable to understand that, obviously.


Well, hold on a second.

I think you came to America…

The step to come to America is a beautiful step of opportunity.

So there’s this dichotomy of…

Like, to me, that was a horrible thing.

From my own selfish personal little experience,

I didn’t see the…

I didn’t, you know, at that age, you don’t think about the big picture of things.

But it’s an interesting difference.

The step to America is a really interesting step.

Because you’re sacrificing so much of who you are.

It’s a big, big leap, big leap.

But it’s the good leap for the future of the family, for opportunity,

for building a life together.

And it’s an interesting…

How did you think about that process?

We’ll talk about it a little bit.

We’ll take a step back and talk about it more as our bigger family.

But as a dad, as a family, not big, but just day to day, how did you…

That move, how did you experience it?

How did you think about it?

Well, this is a moment when I can read for you a poetry.

Unfortunately, again, it’s in Russian.

But I will use…

No, no, it’s okay.

It’s only a couple of sentences I’ll give you from there.

And it’s a beautiful, very nice, basically, Jewish poet.

In 1941, beginning of the war, he said,

Когда на смерть идут — поют,

А перед этим можно плакать,

Ведь самый трудный чась в бою —

Часть ожидания атаки.

Well, it’s a wonderful poem.

I can read the whole poem later, not with the microphone.

But listen to that.

You are very nervous before, but when it is already attack,

when you are just already in action, you don’t think about that.

So this moment of coming to America, the first period,

I was not nervous.

I was like a machine.

I was doing that.

So, yeah, I mean, it’s the same.

When you decide the decision is the right one.

Yeah, you see that this poetry, I can just, you know,

it’s easy to translate it like when you are going to attack,

you are singing.

When you cry, it’s before that.

Yeah, the stress, the anxiety, the tears, the worries.

But when you’re already there, you believe in your star.

And you go, and you don’t think much.

Well, let me pause on this.

Since I asked you if you think you were a good father,

was I a good son?


The better one than Greg, obviously.

But what would you…

You know, without any hesitation,

I can say that you were and you are a very good son.

Because you understand.

When you are talking, and it was from the beginning,

you always, even when you’re a kid, you’re not…

Kids usually, they think about themselves.

And they see the whole world is rotating around them.

But you were way less.

You’re just, for many years, you just, you saw people around.

You were able to see, okay, this is mother, this is father.

I mean, you just see people, and that’s incredible.

Also, just from the first months of your life,

you were laughing, smiling.


And believe me, it is not so many kids are doing that.

Kids are doing that.

Which means that somewhere deeply in your, I don’t know where,

it’s genes probably, I don’t know, you were smiling.

So, you know, like when I see a good person or not so good person,

take a look at the person when this person wakes up.

Some people, they wake up and they immediately smile a little bit.

That’s something, I don’t know, it’s like a miracle.

So you are, okay, so thank you for being a good son.


Maybe I’m not so good father, that’s another story, but.

Well, this context makes it much more important for me to criticize you.

It makes it impossible for you to criticize me,

which is exactly how I set it up.

Okay, but so you mentioned Ligasov as one of the people in your story at Kurchatov Institute.

Can you tell the story and your involvement in Chernobyl?

Sort of that played a part in our lives as well.

So what’s the story there?

What is Chernobyl for people who don’t know?

Yeah, Chernobyl, it’s a small city, town with a huge nuclear power plant.

And it’s the place of world ever biggest nuclear severe accident.

The reason of this accident, the best if you know,

but other people, they can watch the movie, which is.

HBO show.

Yeah, HBO show, very good actually.

I did not expect, but it is really very good.

The major reason is they just went through special tests and just testing new regimes.

And they start to decrease activity of reactor very fast.

And the reactor starts dying and they just increase activity.

And then they were unable to stop it.

And the temperature go very high.

Metal clothing start reacting with cooling water, producing hydrogen.

Hydrogen reacts with oxygen.

And it was a huge hydrogen explosion, the so-called DDT.

And because of this explosion, actually the very, very, very, very heavy,

like a tip of the reactor jump up, fell down.

And 40 tons or something like that, it was huge.

Just then destroy the whole reactor and all this nuclear fuel start falling down,

create some critical mass.

And it was a nuclear explosion, but not contained.

So just it was.

What part of the story did the show get right?

And what part of the story does it get wrong in your view?

Just things you’ve experienced personally.

No, I just very shortly describe what happened.

That like it was this kind of already nuclear expansion.

And everything from inside was boom, went out.

And actually with the wind make almost a half circle around the world.

So that’s an accident.


For Institute of Atomic Energy, it was a very big deal.

Because the whole community, the whole country, actually,

they consider that this huge institute is responsible for this accident.

So their action, don’t forget, it’s a communist country.

They decided it’s like an army, that all people, all scientists, they are responsible.

Doesn’t matter whatever if you’re doing plasma or you’re doing nuclear reactor,

it doesn’t matter.

You have to go and help.

You want it, you don’t want it, you like it, you don’t like it.

In the movie, it was shown.

I would say movie is about 97% absolutely right, absolutely correct.

It’s unbelievable how good they made this, nice they made this movie.

Yeah, from the people, the culture, the scientists, the interaction, the bureaucracy.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

They did not overdo that.

Because it’s very easy to go like, ah, it’s a communist country, that’s why.

And vice versa.

So they did it very good harmony, very good balance.

That was perfect.

What did they get wrong?

Here, at least my impression is that they show the apartment of Legasov.

Legasov was actually almost a copy of real Legasov.

Visually, too?

Yes, yes, yes, yes.

As this actor, he looks like Legasov.

And just, you know, wow, it’s just like…

He’s a good actor, actually.

It’s a good actor.


Yeah, you know, and that’s…

But it was shown, that’s like a little bit of already American propaganda.

They show this Legasov living in like a small apartment, like smoking cigarettes or…

No, come on, it was…

Can you imagine like a vice president of Academy of Sciences,

vice president of Kurchatov Institute?

He lived in an apartment?

Come on.

Especially in the Soviet Union, where that position means you get handed,

given out the apartment.

He lived not in an apartment.

It was like a special house belonging to him, like next door to the institute.

This house did not belong to him.

But that’s where he lived.

So just he lived like in a castle.

And in the movie, it was a little bit not like…

What’s your memory of him?

Have you ever met him?

Come on, he’s my supervisor.

It’s like Moshe for you.

I had like Rusanov, and like for you, Steve Webber.

And like Legasov for me, it’s like Moshe Kam.

So did you have a chance to see Moshe Kam?


You see, you’re laughing.

It’s like each other day.

Every day, yeah.

My feeling is he was very good in nuclear chemistry.

He was a member and very significant member of Communist Party.

The difference with Rusanov, Rusanov was

not very much liking Communist Party.

While Legasov, he was.

So he was a secretary of a Communist Party organization of Kurchatov Institute for a

couple of years.

So this kind of personality.

So he was a great scientist, very interesting, very bright.

But at the same time, he was a communist.

And he kind of believed in these communist ideas.

And he took all that responsibility very close to his heart.

And that’s exactly like it is shown in the movie.

Especially when the director of the Chernobyl station made an incredibly strange mistake.

Because the reactor was already destroyed.

You remember my explanation.

But what they see, the temperature is going up.

And his decision was, you know, you are in artificial intelligence, not so much in physics

and chemistry.

But if temperature is going up, what people do if they are not professionals?

Let’s put water there.

And he made a decision to put enormous amount of water into the reactor to cool it down.

But people, they’re talking, come on, I just, we have seen a couple of seconds ago, there

is no reactor.

There is nothing to cool down because it’s, now can you imagine this huge temperature

and you put water into this huge temperature and metals, metals immediately react with

water producing hydrogen.

So, actually what they did, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s extremely bad and it’s nicely

shown in the movie when they made a decision for three people to go inside, under the reactor

and open the valve to let this hot water, to let this water out.

And these people, they did it.

Obviously, it was clear that they were going to die.

Do you think the accident could have been avoided?

The Chernobyl accident?

You know, it’s so deeply interlinked to Soviet culture, to say no, why no?

You know, how to say, is it possible to be sure that it will be no fire in the city?

It is, it’s very low probability, it’s a, it’s actually a coincidence, it’s a couple

of stuff with extremely low probability happened at the same time, but it was really important


Chernobyl happened, first of all, because it was no automatic system of control.

It was impossible, if let’s say, already accident, there is no automatic system to

stop it.


Because it’s a huge reactor, very heavy, like very, very, very heavy and big, way bigger

than reactors which we have here in the United States.

So, this is way more difficult to control.

So, I would say it was clear for many people that sooner or later it will be this accident.

And actually, it is a copy of accident which happened in America, in Trimai Island.

It’s very similar, but American accident was more, better controlled, so it was not so

huge, it’s still severe accident.

Well, Legasov, he took this stuff very close to his heart, and it is very nicely shown

in the movie.

And actually, that’s why he suicided.

He took his own life, yeah.


And by the way, he tried twice, first time not successful, and second one, second time.

So, there’s a journey of suffering there afterwards.

He wore the burden of credit for that, the responsibility.

And yes, because actually, he was claiming that these reactors are the safest in the

world, and they are, but they are way more resistive to small accidents, but they have

this tiny chance of severe accident.

Even now, a lot of these reactors are still the same and still around.

Okay, let’s get into the fun.

Can you tell me, what is plasma?

The simple explanation would be like, the plasma, it is what we have in fluorescent


If you look around in your room, it is something you have in all kind of sources, like most

of monitors, TV screens, etc.

Significant number of them, it’s plasma.

What’s plasma?

Plasma is ionized gas.

What does it mean?

We have gas around us, and let’s say with electric field, electrons are separated from


So, just you take electron out of molecule.

So, molecule becomes positive ion, and electron is separate.

What’s an ion?

Ion, it’s if you take an atom or molecule and take one electron out, would stay there.

So, ion, it is like an atom or molecule after this robbery, when they lost an electron.

And what’s interesting about an ion?

Okay, wait a second, probably when you apply electric field, whoever is lighter, take energy

immediately, it’s energized very fast.

So, ions, they stay regular, usually they stay cold.

Because they are heavy, they are not very much moving, so they stay cold.

While electrons, they are energized almost immediately.

And their temperature in most of plasmas, whatever you do, electron temperature is usually

on ballpark, it’s about 10,000, 15,000 Kelvin or Celsius, which means 20,000, 30,000 Fahrenheit.


So, electrons are very, very, very, very, very hot.

And ions, like gas, they’re usually, in most of cases, they’re cold.

So, if I take like a cell phone and touch the screen, well, inside you have, very often

you have electrons with a temperature 20, 30,000 Fahrenheit.

But you cannot feel it.


Because it’s one electron per million of molecules.

So, it’s not so many of them.

It’s like, let’s say, city of Philadelphia.

Do we have billionaires in the city of Philadelphia?


Maybe one or two, but it’s not so much easy to meet them on the street, because it’s

only one or two for a huge city.

So, the same story here.

So, plasma, it is very energized electrons and usually relatively cold gas.

But these electrons, they can do a lot.

Like these billionaires in Philadelphia.

If you have like a couple of these billionaires, they can do a lot.

It’s only two of them.

But actually, they can influence life in the city more than everything else.

Because they have abilities.

The same story there.

So, electrons, depending on gas, they are able to create very active species.

So, they can be used as a source of light, like fluorescent lamps.

They can be used to three different materials.

So, most of synthetic…

No, I would say 100% of synthetic materials, they are treated before coloring.

Because like, you have a nice black tie.

But how to make tie black?

If it is synthetic, if it is natural, it’s a little bit easier.

But if it is synthetic material, and if you try, you know, paint synthetic material,

you know, paint doesn’t stick to it.

So, you plasma treat it, these electrons activate the surface,

and colors, they start sticking to the surface.

What does it mean to activate a surface?

So, there’s a lot of plasma is interacting somehow with the surface.

Whether it’s human skin or it’s some kind of surface.

So, what does it mean to treat a surface?

Okay, I’ll try.

It’s a little bit more difficult question.

But it’s, you know, if you have polymer, like in the case of your tie,

if you have like a polymer, what this electron does is just create OH,

and this OH take hydrogen out of your tie.

And this is a opening bond, and usually oxygen stick to there and become polar.

So, you cover the surface with the polar groups, which are always sticky.

So, that’s what is going on.

You just take one atom out, you have free bound oxygen there,

polar groups, you stick, you can paint.

If you put a droplet of whiskey on the surface of glass,

it will stay like a droplet.

But if you just plasma treat this glass, and then you put droplet,

droplet will go, oops, immediately, cover a very significant area.

Okay, so let’s step back a little bit.

So, there is a solid liquid gas, you said, it’s ionized gas.

Why is plasma sometimes called the fourth state of matter?

So, what’s the difference between gas and ionized gas,

such that it’s a fundamental difference?

It is a fundamental difference.

Because, like, what is going on, that this ionized gas

immediately has very different behavior.

The word plasma was actually created just because of similarity with blood plasma.

So, like, you ask the difference between plasma and gas,

it is about the same difference, like, difference between water and blood.

So, species inside of blood, they’re very much interacting with each other,

while water, they’re not much interacting.

So, why Irwin Langmuir, in 1934-36, he started using the word plasma versus ionized gas,

because he said, take a look, take a look, take a look,

these species, they interact with each other.

Yeah, I didn’t know that.

So, there’s echoes, connections to inspiration from blood plasma.


And it’s because of the interactive elements.

Way more than that.

So, the guy who just Nobel Prize laureate, Irwin Langmuir,

was the first to analyze, basically, interaction,

plasma interaction with surface.

So, you can say that he’s like a father of modern electronics, hardware.

So, he come up with this word, he said, take a look,

this plasma is kind of funny, it looks like a blood plasma.

And people, they start, like, using this phrase like a joke,

then, you know, like, everybody’s like, it’s stuck.

Oh, that’s really interesting.

Okay, so, you said electrons, really hot.

So, traditionally, plasma is supposed to be very high energy, very hot.


So, you said…

It’s electrons.

Well, there is a hot plasma and cold plasma.

Okay, in hot plasma, everything is hot.

So, if you have more electrons, and they are able to heat up the whole gas,

it’s a hot plasma, like solar plasma.

The sun.

Or sun, solar plasma, sun.

And in this case, temperature is very high, fusion plasma.

So, just everything is very hot.

In most of engineering plasmas today, including your cell phones,

including fluorescent lamps, et cetera, et cetera,

in this case, only electrons, they are hot.

And they are unable to heat up everybody.

It’s like these couple of billionaires in the city of middle-class people.


And, but, these electrons, they are…

If it is air, for example, they just…

Electrons, they react with oxygen, making atomic oxygen.

Atomic oxygen immediately produces ozone.

So, atomic oxygen sticks to O2, creating ozone.

By the way, ozone means, I think in Latin, means a smell.

So, the name of the guy who first saw that, it was Siemens.

If you remember, company Siemens.

So, that’s the creator of this company, because he was the first one

to understand this ozone and said, wow, it smells.

Then they use like a Latin or whatever word for that, ozone.

And they start using ozone for water cleaning.


So, what’s hot plasma and what’s cold plasma?

So, you said in the cold plasma, the electron,

like the billionaires, is the only thing that stays hot.

So, what…

Hot plasma, everybody billionaires.

And so, in terms of applications, in terms of theoretical physics underpinning,

what’s the difference between hot plasma and cold plasma?

Because there’s entire groups of researchers that work on that.

Yes, yes.

You know, the fundamental difference is when everything is 10,000 degrees,

what you can do with this material, with this plasma, if everything is 10,000,

like a 10,000 Kelvin, like a 20,000 Fahrenheit, what you can do?

I mean, that stuff melts everything and convert everything into vapor.

So, scientifically, it’s way easier, because it’s like close to thermodynamic equilibrium.

So, it’s just very, very, very hot substance.


20,000 degrees.

But how many applications?

Applications, the major application is if you want to melt something,

which require temperature above 2,000 Celsius.

Which is what? Is this torches?

So, if you want to cut metal.

Metal, you can actually, you can cut metal with…

Most of metals, they’re just, you know, they melt at the level of below 2,000.

So, for these metals, with some exceptions, but for these metals,

fire, you know, combustion, torches, they’re okay.

Now, if you want to melt something which is impossible to melt, like a special hard ceramics,

if you cannot melt it with anything, first of all, why do you need it?

Why do you need to melt something which is impossible to melt?


If you, let’s say, if you want to protect your airplane,

your airplane, it’s a good idea to cover airplane with a thin layer of a substance,

which is impossible to melt, which is not afraid of anything.

Not afraid of lightning, not afraid of anything.

How to do that?

How to do that?

You have to melt, you have to cover it with this material.

But to cover, you have to melt it.

Now, how to melt something which is impossible to melt?

Well, you have to take plasma.

So, plasma goes, hot thermal plasma goes to this huge temperature.

Then you put this powder, you melt it, and you spray.

What’s thermal plasma?

That’s the hot kind of plasma?

That’s a high-temperature plasma.


So, what’s cold plasma then?

And what kind of temperatures are we talking about?

What’s this world, in terms of applications and theory,

that’s now fundamentally different from the hot kind?

Cold plasma, it is, it’s a situation when you have electrons,

only electrons are hot, and they generate a lot of active species.

Radicals, atoms, so they can treat different materials,

they can make very sophisticated structures,

but temperature is low, so you do not damage.

So, let’s say, jumping to artificial intelligence.

If you are talking about computer, how to make a computer?

How to make these wafers?

How to make these chips?

You have to be able to dig tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny ditches.

How to do that?

You have to have, you cannot use mechanical devices,

so you have to have something different, beams, lasers.

No, because laser, it’s heating, it’s temperature up,

but you cannot take, if you just use laser,

you will, if you go to temperature, I don’t know,

1,000 degrees, you will damage your phone,

cannot withstand this temperature, the same computer.

So, that’s why there is no alternative today,

only cold plasma, to make, I would say,

vast majority of electronics, devices.

So, hardware, it’s almost, you say hardware, it is plasma.

So, let me beautifully put, what’s, now you said application,

we’ll talk about some applications,

including plasma medicine, but from a,

if you put on your theoretical physicist

or chemist, like fundamental science hat,

what are the interesting problems in plasma?

Mysteries that are not yet understood,

or things that have been recently understood.

I’ve seen you talk about incredible applications,

but let’s not cover that first.

Is there some open problems?

How well is it understood, from a theoretical perspective?

Is there some mysteries?

I can give you a couple of examples.

It’s a lot of mysteries, a lot.


Because this is strongly non-equilibrium medium.

Almost everything else which we have around us,

it’s an equilibrium.

What does that mean?

What does it mean for a medium to be an equilibrium?

Equilibrium means it has temperature.

Has temperature?

Yeah, some temperature.

Like, this is, let’s say, room temperature.

Well, no, I mean, what you mean by that

is there’s a uniformity to it.

Uniformity, temperature, not space uniformity,

but homogeneity, like it’s, you have temperature.

Now, can you imagine something

which has a couple of different temperatures

at the same point?

Is it possible?

Yeah, that’s what it is.

So electrons are very hot,

but they are inside of gas, and gas is cold,

like people, they are swimming in the ocean,

so temperature of a person is higher.

But here, just temperature is way, way, way higher.

Now, what starts happening in this case,

it’s a lot of funny miracles, a lot of funny miracles.

For example, electron impact creates

excitation of molecules.

So molecules, they start, let’s say, oscillate.

And people, they learn that distribution

becomes very strange.

Energy-rich molecules, they take more energy

when they have already something.

And, okay, rich people, they become richer.

And poor people, they become more poor.

Exactly the same thing, they call it capitalism

in molecular life happens in plasma.

So what is going on, you take molecules in plasma,

you excite, and very fast, against all rules

of whatever nature, a couple of molecules,

they have two quantum, and they have more,

and more, and more, and more, and more, and more,

and very soon, like some molecules,

they have everything, and most of molecules have nothing.

As a result, you have this kind of non-equilibrium

immediately creates lasers.

So this is one of the reasons why lasers,

all first lasers, they were created in plasma.

Even now, the most energetic, like CO2 laser,

it’s plasma lasers.

And there’s also plasma lasers.

So plasma, it’s very accelerated application,

but physics is here.

I can explain it a little bit longer how it works,

but it’s very similar to what is going on with people.

If you already have money,

it’s easier for you to attract new money.

If you are actually poor, sooner or later,

you will lose your money in the favor of rich people.

I’m not sure how well that analogy works,

but probably, but you’re saying that there’s some

fascinating, complicated instability

about that whole richer capitalism.

It’s interesting instability.

It’s instability, not space instability.

It’s energy instability.

It’s like a-

Yeah, you said capitalism, yeah, yeah.

Capitalism at the molecular level.

It’s a capitalism, it’s like a wild capitalism,

where just everything works against middle class.

Who’s the Bernie Sanders in this physics analogy?

I’m just kidding.

Who’s the socialist?

Okay, let’s not take this analogy too far.

That’s interesting that you know that plasma

works against Bernie Sanders.

So nature, nature-

Yeah, nature is a-

More Republican.

It’s a more Republican.

Nature is Republican.


No, not nature.

I mean, plasma, it’s only non-equilibrium plasma.

Non-equilibrium plasma.

Equilibrium plasma, everything is very much

Bernie Sanders.

It’s very much honest distribution.

Yeah, well, non-equilibrium plasma is

live a short life and die quickly.



So if you want a long, peaceful existence,

you want to go-

That’s one of the reasons why-

With Bernie Sanders.

In physics.

That’s very interesting that for this reason,

non-equilibrium plasma, cold plasma,

is able to produce way more miracles.


Miracles meaning very interesting structures, patterns.

Structures, patterns, treatment.

You cannot use hot plasma to make electronic device.

Well, you can do it.

It’s just one example.

Another example is like recently, I came yesterday.

Well, yeah, yesterday from Japan.

So we presented ionization of liquids, not gases.

So it’s a lot of interesting new stuff.

Oh, liquids, very interesting.


So you’ve mentioned physics and chemistry.

What is plasma physics?

What is plasma chemistry?

In terms of application, in terms of theory,

what are the different lenses of physics and chemistry

that you use to explore plasma?

And how do they differ?

You have books on each.


The simplest, I think that it was Feynman who was asked,

what is physics?

And I think it’s him.

And after some thinking, he said,

well, that’s what physicists do.


So that’s a good point.

So actually…

It’s a nice way to say that’s a stupid question.

But give the question more of a chance.

So what’s the difference?

Between plasma physics and plasma chemistry.

And even physics and chemistry more broadly.

I mean, I don’t know what’s the more easier distinction to draw.


I can compare with languages.

What’s the difference between English language and Chinese language?

In one case, you have how many?

I forgot, 23 or whatever characters.

How many?

Yeah, five, six?

Okay, something like that.

Something 20s, yeah.

And in Japanese, oh, in Chinese, you have 10,000, 40,000 characters.

So Chinese, it’s chemistry.

English, it’s physics.

Physics has a small number of rules and laws of nature and operates with that.

So understanding, let’s say, how to ionize gas, it’s physics.

Understanding how to create plasma in liquid, it’s physics.

Understanding how to make a device, how to make a light source, plasma light source,

it’s physics.

Now, when we are coming to Chinese, I mean, to this chemistry, it means that there is

a million different…

Tables, not rules, tables.

Yes, it’s tables instead of rules.

So what’s going on, you just look at that and say, oh my gosh, this plasma,

especially non-equilibrium plasma, creates thousands of species.

And we have to understand what kind of species.

And sometimes you need this species, but you don’t need this species.

So how to have more of that and how to have less of these, and there is no rules.

Well, there are some rules, but about as much as in creating Chinese characters.

So a lot of it is, a lot of the knowledge in plasma chemistry is discovered

through experimentation?

Yeah, and I would say chemistry is more art.

Physics, it’s a little bit more science, like linguistics, you know, English language,


It’s also a lot of challenges, but it’s simple.

Well, talking about simple and complicated, going from physics to chemistry, let’s go

to biology.

One of the exciting fields that you’re one of the founders of is plasma medicine.


What is plasma medicine?

Okay, cold plasma, cold plasma, creates a lot of species, interesting species,

unexpected species.

You remember this capitalism in molecular life, you can a little bit change parameters

and it can be, wow, look, I start generating this strange substance, et cetera, et cetera.

So plasma is very sensitive, it’s like a human body.

Plasma generates very interesting active species.

Actually, to be honest, almost exactly the same.

So Professor David Graves, he keeps saying that he was impressed when he looked, you

know, books of medical biology books and he said like a species, active species inside

of human body and in cold plasma, they’re the same.

So plasma creates this very interesting stuff and it was clear for people from the beginning,

like already for more than 100 years, that if you put plasma in contact with human body,

you can treat some diseases, you can do a lot of stuff.

The problem was that if plasma is energetic and you put this energetic plasma in contact

with human body, you’ll kill the person.

So actually, the whole point, the whole interesting point of plasma medicine, so plasma medicine

came from physicists, actually, where it become possible to make uniform, not damaging,

very energetic plasmas.

Example, at atmospheric pressure.

Example, we have atmospheric pressure around atmosphere and there is a lightning.

Lightning is hot and very energetic and very damaging.

Plasma sources, plasma discharges like lightning, it’s impossible to use to treat human body,

you’ll just…

You destroy a lot of body.

You destroy it, right, you’ll kill the person.

The tissue, yeah.

Now, what happened like 16 years ago, it was the first time when physicists learned how

to make lightning not like concentrated in a tiny channel, but to be diffused and just

around the big, big, big, big area.

To make it something like Aurora Borealis from lightning.

And it was actually in 1990s a lot of efforts.

It was a French approach, they just, et cetera.

But finally, we won because it was like an out-of-the-box solution to make extremely

short electric pulses.

Short spatially or temporarily, in time?

Time, in time.

So, let’s say, because we have, when we have lightning between clouds and ground,

it’s like a continuous voltage.

But if we apply this voltage between skies and ground, let’s say, a couple of nanoseconds,

there is no time to create the lightning channel.

Just simply no time.

So, what is going on?

You start creating something like Aurora Borealis, so you have it glowing everywhere.

Because there is no time to create the channel.

So, you make this pulse, and then you stop.


And then you repeat this pulse again, and you stop.

And you repeat this pulse again.

So, through this nanosecond pulsing, it becomes possible to create uniform plasma.

And if plasma is uniform, it’s not damaging.

Aurora Borealis, you will not kill anybody.

With lightning, you will.

So, that allows you, not damaging, to now start allowing plasma to interact with the

human body somehow.

So, treating tissues, for example.


Why is that interesting?

Yeah, what kind of applications are we talking about?


Today, the biggest application is related to treatment of chronic wounds, like ulcers,

especially diabetic ulcers.

Also, recently, treatment of cancers.

Because plasma sources are permitted to be used during surgery.

So, when a surgeon is making a surgery, he removes cancer, but some margins are not treated.

So, they start using this plasma just to remove tissue, bad tissue, without damage.

Because instead of a scalpel, it’s like a jet, a small jet.

But for wounds, it’s a very effective generation of, it’s a stimulation of angiogenesis.

So, just growing of blood vessels.

So, that’s, I would say, two most successful applications today.

What plasma-related Nobel Prizes do you think will be given in the next 50 years?

So, if you look at the big ideas in plasma, what do you think is there to be discovered,

understood, or may have already been understood and will be recognized for it?

Okay, closer to our field, at least where we are playing.

Our field is plasma?

I would say, cold plasma for medical, biological applications.

I would say, if there is a significant, actually, accepted by FDA, et cetera,

success in treatment of cancer, there is a big chance to get Nobel Prize.

What discipline would you get?

It will be medicine.

In medicine, that’s fascinating.

That’s fascinating.

That is this.

Another example, which I like a lot, personally, it is this plasma,

it’s ionization of liquids without bubbles.

That’s a chance also to get Nobel Prize for that,

because it’s, first of all, it’s a fascinating physics.

Ionization of liquids without bubbles, what’s the nature of the bubbles, the form?

If you take liquid and put two electrodes in the liquid,

to ionize liquid, you need a huge electric field.

At least that’s what most of the people, they used to think,

because mean free pass is small.

So electrons, they have to be accelerated to have this huge energy.

So it’s either electric field is huge, or there is enough distance, just to accelerate.

Now, if I have liquid, that’s not much place to go.

So you have to have about a thousand times greater electric field.

Or you have to create some voids.

If you create voids inside of liquid, that’s okay.

Now, that’s what people, they used to believe.

But maybe about five, seven years ago, people, they understood that even when they have

very high electric field, but not a huge, they start having ionization of liquids.

So just the same as plasma in fluorescent lamps, but you have the same thing in liquid.

And first of all, it’s very interesting physics.

It’s a longer story to explain.

It’s very interesting physics, but also it’s very interesting application,

because you have possibility to have cold plasma inside of liquid.

So you can synthesize new materials.

You can do something.

So that was a reason, like I came a couple of, yesterday, making this presentation of

these discharges and creation of this, in this discharge, creation of polymeric nitrogen.

Because people, they don’t have nitrogen polymers today.

And that’s in cold plasma, it was synthesized.

So it is very interesting from fundamental point of view of synthetic chemistry,

but nobody were able to make like this kind of change from nitrogen.

So that was created, which is very interesting.

Now this material, it’s normal conditions, is converted back to regular nitrogen,

releasing huge energy, way more than any explosive materials.

So, it’s okay.

So those are two interesting ideas close to your heart.

What about the sun?

What about hot thermal plasma?

Do you think there’s interesting open problems there that will help us understand the universe

or something like that?

I don’t think so.

Today, there is no, I think for thermal plasma, there is very low chances for Nobel Prize

kind of results.

However, there is a so-called fusion plasmas.

So plasmas, because this thermal plasma, which we discussed, it’s thermal engineering plasmas.

It’s plasmas like melting, welding, these kind of applications, coatings, and surface

of the sun, surface of the sun.

But if you go to higher temperatures, you have fusion, nuclear fusion.

But if in normal plasma, thermal plasma temperature is about 10,000 Kelvin, 10,000, for fusion,

you have to have 100 million.

So it’s more.


So inside the sun is like 100 million.

It’s deeply inside.

And the physics there is interesting?

Physics is extremely interesting because it’s a lot of questions with stability.

And this plasma, this kind of temperature will behave very different.

So it is, I would say, superfluidic material.

So it’s just, it’s…

Do you think there’s possible breakthroughs in terms of using fusion as an energy source

or somehow, you know, that kind of, okay, crazy ideas, but out there ideas.

But on this podcast, I talk to people about aliens and traveling across the universe.

So if you want to travel across the universe, you’re going to have to…

My feeling is that, my feeling is that like a fusion plasma in its traditional way,

which was started by Sakharov in 1953, almost no chances.

Well, I mean, they have it.

They have it already.

But the system is so complicated.

This tokamaks, this big ether, big tokamak is so complicated, so difficult.

That personally, it’s difficult for me to believe that it will be like a real

energy generating plant.

So this is being able to control fusion in order to leverage it for energy.


I just say try already for how many years?

Cold fusion.

That’s an interesting point.

That’s what I’m trying to say, that I’m almost sure that at some point, hopefully soon,

it will be a young, well, not so much young, but usually young,

out-of-the-box thinking person who will say, guys, take a look, I did it.

Something like cold fusion.

You know, there’s been a lot of guys and girls like that who are called crazy,

who’ve been talking about cold fusion for decades.


So you think, you hope that there is a breakthrough idea that might lead?

Yes, yes.

I’m almost sure about that.

And I can explain you simple physics, if it will take 40 seconds, 30 seconds.

It won’t take longer, but okay.

I’m timing.

Take a look, take a look.

What is fusion?

You take deuterium, tritium or deuterium, deuterium.

You bring them together and they fuse and they release energy.

That’s it, right?

The problem is that this is iron, this is iron.

They’re positively charged and we have to bring them extremely close.

And energy required for that is 100 million degrees.

That’s what they try to do now.

Now take a look.


We have to bring them so much close.

We can bring them a little bit and it will be tunneling.

So they will start reacting.

It requires more time.

Yes, but that’s okay.

But to do that, you have to have way smaller sizes.

You have to have dense matter, maybe 30, 40, 50 times denser than what we have now.

How to do that?

You have to replace electron by something very similar to electron, but heavier.


If you do that, immediately substance becomes smaller and you start having cold normal fusion.

But like a production and reproduction of this material, it’s kind of complicated.

People there try.

What I’m trying to say is that somebody will come up with an interesting,

out-of-the-box solution.

That’s what I believe.

Well, you’re right.

A lot of people there are a little bit, how to say, not professional.

They just say, oh, look, I did it.

But between these people or between serious scientists, thinking out of the box, something

will happen.

Tokamaks, yes, they work, but they’re too much complicated.

It’s very difficult to keep 100 million degrees for reasonably long time.

Just very difficult.


But whatever will do that, Nobel Prize without any question.


Okay, we talked about coming to, here’s to you, you’re doing good, three hours in.

We talked about the journey to America a little bit.

Let’s take a step back.

It seems like an unlikely journey that has to do with a bunch of different factors, ideas,

hopes and dreams and goals and plans.

Why did we move to America as a family?

Can you tell the story there narrowly and broadly as our big family?

That’s a lot of details, a lot of interesting stuff which happened at the same time together.

First of all, I was already in France most of the time, which made the situation easier

to go to America.

But absolutely significant role was played by Kaplan’s family.

What was the Kaplan’s family?

Yeah, it is…

Our last name is Freedman.


Picking attention.

What’s Kaplan?

It’s the name of your grandmother, yours?

My grandmother?

My great-grandmother.

Your great-grandmother, right?


So her name was Kapilevich and when her family came in America, they changed name to Kaplan’s.

And it was forbidden to contact family during Stalin period.

To reach outside the country, the Soviet Union.

So there’s this big family, well, at that time not big,

but now big Kaplan family that came to the United States.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

And my father, your grandfather, had this interesting picture and without much hopes

he wrote a letter without speaking English.

And you saw this letter where it is said like a Jew newspaper, that’s it.

And the word Jew was G…

Spelled with a G.



Newspaper, Cincinnati, that’s it, America.


Well, he got to his destination.

And that’s like a miracle that the letter came to destination.

It’s interesting because the newspaper published the letter.

Yeah, yeah.

It’s kind of a miracle.

And that, yeah, it’s a miracle.

So that started…

That’s a miracle.

That gave a catalyst.

That was a catalyst.

Yeah, it was a catalyst for connection.

And just as a result, you know, we met and it was a catalyst for me to accept the position

already from France, position of a full professor in University of Illinois.

And at Chicago, and that’s actually how we moved to Chicago.

So did you ever think that you would come to America?

Honestly, no.

Even with my good friends, we were usually talking and my plans, when I understand that

it’s better for a scientist to go like outside of Soviet Union…

Europe, then you would go to France.

And my choice was clearly France.

And we usually say that…

I spoke with Boris Potapkin that I will go to France.

I said, well, and I want to go to South America.

Well, but actually happened all the way opposite, so…

Yes, okay.

I spoke way better French language.

Yeah, and I started taking French.

There was an alternate reality where we moved to France and I’m French and you’re French.

And chances for that were very high.

50-50 kind of thing.

I mean, I remember there being is pretty certain that we’re going to France.

Yeah, it was more than 50% chance.


Because we have already, I mean, it was very, very high chances.


You remember the picture I show you over there when we are with French people,

with Albin Chernyakhovsky, if you remember.

I just forever remember like Albin Chernyakhovsky and he loves you.

He used to love…

Oh, he’s alive.

But the pianist, yeah.

Yeah, and he plays very nice piano.


It’s a very, very nice people and…

It’s a different world of scientists.

It is very different.

Perhaps more pure in their pursuit of science,

more support for the kind of labs and the spirit of the scientific process.

America’s academic research system is a little bit more capitalistic, I guess.

American professor spends about 50% of time looking for funding.

And they’re a little bit more independent,

meaning their own little startup more.

It’s very difficult to do an institute and so on.

Speaking of which, I don’t know how I forgot to mention,

but the institute, you’ve headed the Drexel, the Nihilm Plasma Institute for a long time.

From 2002.

From 2002.

What was that journey like of all the many brilliant people

that have worked there through the years?

All the different ideas.

Having an institute in America is an interesting thing in itself.


What’s that journey been like?


It was very exciting and very challenging.

And I would say that I worked very hard,

but I would say I was very much lucky that I was able to bring

with me a nice group of people.

It was Nestor, Gutzal, Porzhnev, and more recently Rabinovich,

and Daniel Dobrynin a lot now, and others.

So it was a lot of people, and they were good.

And it was a very nice feeling of, how to say, camaraderie.

Yeah, including Greg, who made a huge contribution to that, enormous.

So it is like a family.

Greg is my brother.


And I’ve been on the outside of that, sort of looking in,

so I know a lot of these people.

They’re almost like a part of family.

I know they’re part of our story in America, really.

And we have Ansem, do you remember, of Nihilm Plasma Institute?

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Go ahead, don’t be shy.

No, no fear, no fear.

Don’t be shy, go ahead.


NPI, did you write that?

Yeah, I wrote that.

It’s proving that since eighth grade, your poetry has been going downhill.

And I mean, we talk about that a lot,

that writing poetry in English is actually much more difficult.

And hence why it’s not as popular.

It’s now more popular, I guess, in music, through hip hop, through rap.

That’s the popular kind of poetic writing is in America.

Very different.

By the way, in France, it is way closer to Russian.

The French language allows for poetry.

Yeah, French language allows for this song-oriented poetry.


What would you say is the difference between the Soviet Union and America?

That kind of, and maybe to ask it another way,

what do you miss about the Soviet Union, about Russia, about Ukraine?

You see that while me and other people which came in our generation,

which came from Russia, Ukraine, Soviet Union,

we just, we were not happy, absolutely not happy with the political system over there.

But I would say without any exception, we are all, I would say,

deeply in love with Russian culture, which is absolutely unique and absolutely beautiful.

And my feeling that while I like American culture also,

but Russian is way closer to my heart, and I think it’s way richer.

The same thing is approach to science, which in Russia was very,

first of all, I like it because I was younger, which is always nice to be young.

But, you know, this kind of feeling of science is more important than everything else.

And being a professor, it is the most prestigious profession.

That’s kind of interesting culture.

But the political system was not good, and now it’s also challenging.

What do you think about Putin?

Putin, sorry to interrupt, Putin came to power after we left.

Yeah, 2000, year 2000.

Exactly, you remember this moment when we were in Miami Beach?

New Year’s.

New Year, it was exactly the day when Putin became a president.

Because absolutely unexpectedly, one day before that,

it was like a New Year greeting from a president at that time, Boris Yeltsin.

And he said, happy holidays, happy New Year, guys.

And you know what?

I decided to step down.


And just, I want another person to lead the country during transition period,

and then we have elections.

So that’s the day.

So we talk, and I, in different ways, also love certain parts of Russia.

And they’re still a part of me, even though it’s,

I didn’t spend there more than 13 years or whatever.

But Putin represents modern Russia.

So that’s why I ask, if, you know, we’re Americans now, really.

But what do you think about this man who’s carrying,

who’s defining the 21st century Russia?

I would say there is two phrases, two sayings, which come into my mind.

You see, you gave me 10 seconds to think, which is important.

Um, there is a saying, the ends justifies the means.

You know who said that?

It’s a, there is a book here.

It’s a, it’s a Machiavelli.

Oh, this is, by the way, his sculpture, small one.

Yeah, the, the, the, the, the head, the.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Bust rate.

It’s a Machiavelli.

In the book Prince, he said that the ends justifies the means.

Another phrase, it’s another nice guy.

Maximilian Robespierre.

He used to say, you cannot make an omelet without breaking eggs.

That’s Robespierre.

And these two phrases, actually, they describe, for me, at least, Putin.

You know that his way of thinking is, it was a huge geocatastrophe.

Because think for a second, a huge Soviet Union, where Russians, they were everywhere.

Russian people, Russian, Russian.

And in, during a short period of time, booms.

It is a 15 independent countries.

What the hell?

And, and like significant, I don’t know.

I would say almost half, okay, less than half, but very significant number of Russians.

They become like people living in other countries, not very much friendly to Russia.

So he put all his efforts to change it, to, to, to make it easier and better.

And this is the ends, which justifies means.

And he’s breaking a lot of eggs.

And he’s making a lot of not good steps, but for the good purpose.

Now, just what I keep thinking, that Russian empire, it is not first empire to disappear.

Now, take a look what happened to other empires.

French empire.

Oh my gosh.

They had enormously problems, very similar to Putin.

And you know, who was there Putin?

It was de Gaulle.

Because in late 1950s, it was an enormous war in Algeria and a whole group of Maghreb countries.

And you know what happened?

They just even stopped the republic and they create absolutely new constitution.

And it was actually absolute disaster in late 1950s, early 1960s.

But they actually went out faster than Russia.

Well, why?

It’s a different story.

Now, take a look another huge, the biggest empire in the world, it’s a British.

They lost their empire and a huge number of British people, they just stay somewhere.

The same thing like Soviet Union.

But interesting enough, they made like these other countries, which get rid of British

empire, but they were still in love with the queen.

They become part of this commonwealth and it was relatively smooth.

So British, they did excellent job.

French, like always, you know.

But Russia so far doing not good.

So they are just, they try to help, they try to make this kind of, but they break a lot

of eggs.

Should I interview Putin on this podcast?

He’s a very interesting personality.

He’s very smart.

And try.

But sure, but what you’re going to talk about?


Power, future of Russia.

Future of Russia is great and it’s right.

No, no, no, not in those kinds of questions, but in the kind of omelet and eggs way.

And in the space of technology, sort of innovation of science, of becoming a superpower again,

which is where you have to, you know, the space race.

He will like this kind of discussion because what I know about him, by the way, he supported

plasma medicine, believe me or not.

Plasma medicine?

Yes, because when he defined like three or whatever, four major directions of development

of science, he mentioned both artificial intelligence and plasma medicine.


Okay, interesting.

He really thinks that the ends justifies the means.

So he’s not afraid to make any kind of decision, but to make countries stronger.

And he did actually, he did very good job from the point of view of, like, you know,

all other republics, they were saying that all our problems is because of Russia.

But what Russia can say that all these problems because of…

Yeah, he took responsibility, but with power, authoritarians, power is very useful, but

it can also cloud your judgment.

You can slowly become a lesser man that you could have otherwise been without being checked.

So it’s a complicated, interesting story.

So you can compare him with Maximilian Robespierre.

So without a microphone between us, we often talk about artificial intelligence.

You have a lot of opinions.

Like you said, you always think you’re right, and you’re right, you know, barely half of

the time.

No, I’m right absolutely always with exception of cases when I’m wrong.

When I’m wrong, which never happens.

It hasn’t been observed.

Okay, so let me get your profound, deep opinions about artificial intelligence.

Do you think we’ll ever build systems that are as intelligent or more intelligent than

human beings in the same kind of way that we think humans are intelligent?

You know, the most important, it’s the last remark which you made.

I strongly believe in artificial intelligence.

I believe that it will be a lot of development in the direction of like a human, similarity

to human, but I very much doubt about artificial consciousness.

This kind of stuff, from my point of view, it’s very questionable, so I don’t know.

What is consciousness to you?

Consciousness, it’s way more, it’s a wider stuff, it’s like a love, it’s a complex of


It’s a complex of feelings, like intelligence, it’s smartness, it’s knowledge, it’s a possibility

to operate with knowledge.

Consciousness, it’s knowledge, but way much together with feelings.

Way much together with feelings.

Do you think science will ever be able to understand consciousness?

Yeah, I believe.

I believe that sooner or later, at least in this direction, will be big breakthroughs.

So do you think we’ll be able to put consciousness inside a Roomba, inside a phone, inside a

camera, devices?


I don’t know.

You know, like a Jewish answer to most of the questions, I mean, we don’t know.

Just we don’t know.

I mean, it’s very difficult to predict what will happen with science in 300 years.

It’s like to ask 300 years ago, in what, in 1700, come on, it’s way before Napoleon.

Yeah, the internet.

It’s the last years of Louis XIV, whatever, Ludovic XIV, and you ask them about cell phones.

If you ask Louis XIV, if you ask him a question, what he thinks about cell phones, he will

say, je suis roi soleil, I am a sun king.

That’s it.

No, you’re simplifying, because perhaps, perhaps, perhaps, but because he doesn’t know the word

cell phone, but if I asked him about artificial intelligence and explained it correctly, he

would actually have an opinion already.

They’ve had opinions about these kinds of things.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

So can man, this is a fundamental philosophical question, can human beings create artificial

versions of themselves with Frankenstein?

I mean, people have been thinking, when you build up statues, it’s a, and people have

been, maybe not Jews, but people have been confidently providing answers.

Okay, what I can tell you, my feeling, yes, artificial person will be created.

The question is, how close it will be, this synthetic person will be with respect to reality.

Is it good or bad?

It’s just different, but it is doable.

So we have this disagreement a lot, and you think that, so do you think such a system

needs to have a body?

And our disagreement is often about the senses.

You say to have a full, rich experience of consciousness, you need smell, touch, and

I say you can do just words.

Words and image.

No, even just words, but yes, image is helpful.

But words, even just, yeah, words, voice.

Okay, you know, like, don’t forget, I lived many years in France, so for me, smell, like

a aromaniac, I mean, smell is very much often more important than taste.

But image can be even less important.

So just taste and smell.

So what I’m trying to say that, I mean, but that’s.

Yeah, wait, wait, if I give you an option, I had to kill all your senses except one,

which one would you like to stay with?

I would not, you know, that’s not.

That’s not a good question.

It’s like a question, if you have a choice to kill your father or mother, what you would


I mean, it’s not.


Well, what I’m trying to say that it’s, my feeling, it’s more holistic that people,

they can lose one of feelings, it’s okay.


Yeah, that’s true.

I mean, yeah, that’s not a useful question, but you think.

Consciousness, it’s actually, it’s a bouquet, including, like you said.

Consciousness is a bouquet, I like it.

But you think a system should have a sense of smell, a sense of touch.

And my feeling is that it’s not so difficult to do.

Yes, so this is where we have disagreements and debates on software versus hardware.

I mean, you’re much more comfortable with hardware and taste and smell.

These are kinds of things that, it’s almost like a sensor.

It’s a chemistry problem.

But for me, actually, I am from harmony.

I’m not saying this is hardware, this is software.

I would say that it’s not a bouquet in this case, it’s a harmony.

Harmony, yeah.

No, I guess I come from a world that’s a very kind of AI world and computer science world,

where you think that most of the problems in the world can be converted into a 99%

software problem.

And that’s the dream, because it’s easier then.

But you know, it was a Russian comedian, absolutely beautiful, Zhvonetsky,

maybe you remember him, maybe not.

He used to say in Russian,

Давайте спорить о вкусе устриц, если бы хотя бы кто-нибудь из нас их пробовал.

What does it mean?

Well, can you translate it into English?


No, don’t even try.

It’s fine, it’s fine.

It’s fine.

But what I’m trying to say, this is the point, is, is it possible to describe with words

tastes of oysters if you never ever tried them?

And that’s a very important moment.

Sometimes this big data and artificial intelligence, they say,

Okay, we don’t need smell.

We can describe it.

What does it mean, describe the smell?

It means that they can collect data about like a smell of cheese and put it in like

a huge database.

And based on that, to help you to choose what is the best taste without smelling.

So in this case, I have to recommend to this computer or to this computer scientist

to think about Zvonetsky and this argument about taste of oysters

without trying them at least once in their life.

That’s why I think that taste and smell should be also important.

Yeah, I disagree because I think it is.

So I agree that it’s very important, but I believe our mind and artificial minds will

be able to fill in the gaps.

So without being able to smell, you start without ever having tasted or smelled oysters,

you can start imagining smell and taste.

It won’t be connected to reality at all, but you’ll construct a world that’s consistent.

So I would say in this case, it’s not artificial intelligence.

It’s synthetic intelligence.

And I prefer artificial because in the word artificial, you have the word art.


You know what I mean?

So and synthetic means like you synthesize something.

Yeah, it’s no, there’s no, it’s lacking of the human experience.

And artificial has that art.


Well, you might be right because the only intelligence system we have now has smell.

Oh, really?

Ah, us.

Us, humans.


Very good.

I like it.

Do you think about mortality, your own mortality?

Yes, because there’s three elements to that.

One, like I’m a normal person, and I think about that especially in relation with parents.

When you lost your dad?

Yes, and mom also.

So, you know, you cannot, that’s something which happened to everybody at some point

when you lose your father and mother, you understand that now it’s you.

You’re next.

That’s, well, that’s human.

The second element what I think about is religion.

Because at least for me, but for many people also, like going to beliefs of your parents,

grandparents, et cetera, helps.

Helps, and you start to understand.

The older you are, the closer you are to this moment, the more you just feel it.

So, role of the religion is huge.

And number three, I’m a scientist.

And a couple of weeks ago, we had a long discussion on the conference about


It was on this cosmetic meeting, because I mentioned to you that with this LVMH,

like Louis Vuitton or whatever, and Hennessey.

That’s the important one.

We have been talking about like a possibility to change direction of aging.

And this is one of challenges which actually in the beginning of plasma medicine we start

trying to do.

And it was like a kind of serious experiment trying to using plasma to

determine aging process.

I can explain you a little bit more details, but it’s a longer story.

But as a result of these experiments, unfortunately, we show that in all 100% of

like experiments we did, we actually accelerated aging.

Not, but maybe we have to.

But ideas you might be able to, from a scientific perspective, control it.

There is a solution.

Because you know that mortality, it’s just God or nature put it in us, this mortality.

In which way we have stem cells, and they just providing differentiation,

which is like a renovation of us.

When there is a tiny, small kid, he change his nose, I don’t know, each couple of days.

So just it’s always like a renovation of the tissue.

Yeah, it’s death and birth, death and birth.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

It is not like a nose is like growing.

No, it’s just let’s say each time I have a new one.

Now, when in your age, like I’m simplifying, it happened less often.

Maybe once in, I don’t know, five, 10 years.

But for me, unfortunately, I will stay with this nose forever.

Now, so the only thing we have to do, actually, is just to…

And these cells, stem cells, they’re still there.

But their efficiency is, for some not very much known reason, going down, down, down, down, down, down.

So what do we have to do?

We have to actually help these stem cells, stimulate them just to become again more active.

And if we do that, and plasma medicine tried,

then just, you know, instead of getting older and older, we’ll go back younger and younger.

Is it possible?


It’s against the law of nature, no?

So this is a third way to think about that.

But that’s a real challenge.

Interesting that it was a discussion on this subject with Louis Vuitton.

If science does arrive at that breakthrough, if you could live forever, would you?

Would you like to live forever?

I think yes.

I would try.

Why not, you know?

Well, I’ll give you a reason not.

Is it makes a life, you know, the fact that stuff ends gives it some deep meaning.

You know, Jewish people, basically, they are deeply, deeply, deeply in love with life.

You know, they say Lechaim, to life.

So Jewish people, they actually believe that God gave us life to enjoy.

What will happen?

We’ll have another life or not.

Or maybe it will be like, again, we’ll be young.

Is it possible?

The Jewish answer is absolutely clear.

We don’t know.

So, but enjoying life, it’s a law.

Absolute law.

So if you have a possibility to leave, you have to go on with life.

That’s a Jewish answer.

And I like it.

Are you afraid of death?



I remember when you asked me how long did it take for me to fall in love with your mother.

One, two, three.



Yeah, you answered that pretty quickly.

So what do you think is the meaning of life?

Oh, that’s a difficult question.

You never like the silly questions.

Go back to your eighth grade self and be romantic for a second.


What’s the meaning of life?

Yeah, meaning of our existence here on this little planet.

Well, I remember that I kept asking myself this question when I was in eighth grade.

It was one of the crucial questions for me at that time.

By exactly the same time when I wrote this romantic stuff.

And at that time, I remember my answer.

I kept saying, day by day.

Which means the meaning of life is just to enjoy today’s life and go to tomorrow.

Survive the day, enjoy the day.

Enjoy the day.

You’re a French existentialist.

You’re Sartre and…

Yeah, it’s Sartre.

But at that time, I didn’t have any knowledge about existentialists, whatever, Sartre,

especially Sartre.

But I was absolutely sure about that.

But if you ask me now, I would say I was right.

I thought that was a natural extension of the axiom, which is, I’m always right.

Yes, yes, yes.

But you know, in each joke, it’s a 50% of joke, 50% not.

But after reading, it was a book, Les mots, words, right?

What’s in English you say?


Sartre, yeah.

Les mots, words, slova.

I think in this book, he just…

When I read that, it’s by the way, absolutely bad book to read.

Yeah, Sartre is…

I prefer Camus and the other French guys.

Yeah, I just understand that I was not alone with this kind of ideas.

Yeah, there’s other French guys.

What do you hope Greg and I accomplish in life?

And next, I’ll ask you for advice.

And after that, we’ll drink some vodka.

Are you calculating?

No, I’m not calculating.

I’m just trying to recall a very nice poetry.

You know, I love Russian poetry.

And it’s interesting that my favorite Russian poet, it’s actually a woman.

It’s Marina Tsvetaeva.

And she wrote like a short poetry, just answering that.

She said,

Well, and it is in Russian, but I think that it’s kind of deep and it’s kind of smart.

We wish, I wish you to be happy.

And I know that if I push you in some direction,

or Greg, it’s nothing happened.

I mean, okay, I will be always recommending.

Yeah, you’re always pushing anyway.

And don’t forget, I’m always pushing anyway.

But you know that.

And I have to do that because I am a father.

So I will, and I’m always pushing in conservative direction.

Because, because I’m a father.

And I very much wish you to have your son, my grandson, or granddaughter.

And I almost guarantee you that you will do the same.

You will not recommend your daughter to take a risk and to go to Hollywood,

try to be an actress.

She’s supposed to do it without your permission.

And that’s beautiful.

We make our own way.

And you always have given me brilliant advice

that I almost never follow and usually disagree with.

So, but…

And that’s the way it should be.

Yeah, that’s the way of life.

So what, speaking of which, what advice do you have for me

for the next 10, 20 years in life?

Sort of in any direction.

You see, I’m

I’m hesitating, I’m thinking about, I mean, I have two ideas and they’re kind of very much…



So from one hand, my approach was the same as Sartre.

So just from one hand, I like the idea just to live your life and to enjoy.

And to be prepared for tomorrow, which everything will restart again.

It’s from one hand.

From another hand, I remember myself in elementary school.

You remember the beginning of our discussion about these stupid guys,

these idiots with stones.

And I just had an idea just to build a rocket to put there.

So I wanted to do that and I did it.

So this is another idea, when you just put your heart into something for a longer time,

not for one day, but you have to find your own way just…

And my feeling is that you personally found it with artificial intelligence.

And that’s why my feeling is that in your specific case, my advice will be just

not to let these idiots with stones to succeed.

You have to be a winner.

And that’s what I…

And that’s what I…

Maybe don’t put the mercury in the rocket, but build the rocket.

It’s your choice.


Because that’s a rocket which you are building.

But what is important?

That you’ll do it.

Well, I think this is a good time to maybe toast our family.

Oh, that’s a good idea.

We thought we’ll probably drink more vodka,

but we decided to be responsible adults and just save the vodka to the end.

It’s always a question how much vodka we have to drink.

In Russian tradition, usually we calculate for adults like one bottle per person.

Take a look.

It is made in Soviet Union and it’s 1986.

This is vodka of my father because in 1986, in the year of Chernobyl,

he gave this bottle to a friend of mine because this friend of mine, he went to America.

And he just…

This is my friend.

He just saved this vodka for us to be able to just whatever to think about.

Can we say his name?

Your friend.

Oh, he’s Sasha, but we call him Shura, but that’s the same thing.

This is your best friend, your lifelong friend.

Yes, it’s like your Matt.

My Matt.

Matt Harandy, shout out.

And first, you can toast the family, but let me just toast to the best dad I’ve ever had.

The best dad I could ever ask for.

I love you, dad.

Yeah, I love you, son.

Let’s go.

Thank you for listening to this conversation with my dad.

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And now let me leave you with a request.

If there are close people in your life who you’ve never sat down to really talk with,

and they’re still here with us, talk to them.

Heart to heart, podcast or not.

They won’t always be here with us.

Life is short.

And most of it is a distraction from what really matters.

Family, friendship, and love.

Thank you for listening.

And hope to see you next time.

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