Tuesday, June 16, 2009

June 16: Alexander Friedman

Alexander Alexandrovich Friedman
June 16, 1888 – September 16, 1925

Alexander Alexandrovich Friedman or Friedmann was a Russian and Soviet cosmologist and mathematician.

Alexander Friedman lived much of his life in Leningrad. He fought in World War I (on behalf of Imperial Russia) as a bomber and later lived through the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Friedman obtained his degree in St. Petersburg State University (1910), became a lecturer in St.-Petersburg State College of Mines, and a professor in Perm State University in 1918.

He discovered the expanding-universe solution to the general relativity field equations in 1922, which was corroborated by Edwin Hubble's observations in 1929 (Ferguson, 1991: 67). Friedman's 1924 papers, including "Über die Möglichkeit einer Welt mit konstanter negativer Krümmung des Raumes" (On the possibility of a world with constant negative curvature of space) published by the German physics journal Zeitschrift für Physik (Vol. 21, pp. 326-332), demonstrated that he had command of all three Friedman models describing positive, zero and negative curvature respectively, a decade before Robertson and Walker published their analysis.

This dynamic cosmological model of general relativity would come to form the standard for the Big Bang and steady state theories. Friedman's work supports both theories equally, so it was not until the detection of the cosmic microwave background radiation that the steady state theory was abandoned in favor of the current favorite Big Bang paradigm.

The classic solution of the Einstein field equations that describes a homogeneous and isotropic universe is called the "Friedmann-Lemaître-Robertson-Walker metric", or "FLRW", after Friedman, and Robertson, Walker and Georges Lemaître who worked on the problem in 1920's and 30's independently of Friedman.

In addition to general relativity, Friedman's interests included hydrodynamics and meteorology. In June 1925 he was given the job of the director of Main Geophysical Observatory in Leningrad. In July 1925 he participated in a record-setting balloon flight, reaching the elevation of 7,400 m (24,000 ft).

Friedman died on September 16, 1925, at the age of 37, from typhoid fever that he contracted during a vacation in Crimea.

Another famous physicist, George Gamow, was a student of Friedman.

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