By Ernie Tretkoff
In November 2003 the APS Council approved a new prize named for Andrei Sakharov, in recognition of his work on behalf of human rights. A fund-raising committee is currently seeking donations to secure an endowment for the prize. The first Sakharov Prize will be awarded once they have finished their work.
The Sakharov Prize is named "in recognition of the courageous and effective work of Andrei Sakharov on behalf of human rights, to the detriment of his own scientific career and despite the loss of his own personal freedom."
The purpose of the prize is "to recognize outstanding leadership and/or achievements of scientists in upholding human rights." The prize normally will be awarded to one or more physicists, but scientists in other fields may be eligible if the selection committee feels their qualifications are appropriate.
The stipend will consist of $10,000, and it is intended that the prize will be awarded in alternate years, beginning after the endowment has reached a level sufficient for supporting the prize.
Andrei Sakharov spent about 20 years working on the Soviet top-secret nuclear weapons project, and became known as the father of the Russian hydrogen bomb. Though he initially believed his work on nuclear weapons was necessary for the balance of power, he became increasingly aware of the dangers of nuclear fallout and atmospheric testing. He advocated for nonproliferation, and was instrumental in convincing the Soviet Union to sign the partial test ban treaty of 1963.
Sakharov also worked to defend human rights and in 1968 wrote an essay entitled "Reflection on Progress, Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom," which was published in The New York Times. In 1975, Sakharov was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts for human rights. The citation called him the "conscience of mankind."
After speaking out against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1980, Sakharov was arrested and exiled to Gorky. He returned to Moscow in 1986, and continued to push for democratic reforms in the Soviet Union. He died in 1989.
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