Thank you, dear Bruno

T.D. Blokhintseva

Practically all my professional life was set in the Department headed by Bruno Maximovich Pontecorvo. I came to the JINR Laboratory of nuclear problems in 1958 when I was a student of the Moscow State University, and since then I have always been within the walls of this laboratory. I shall not, or nearly not, mention the scientific activities of Bruno Maximovich. This may seem somewhat strange, Bruno Maximovich being a most prominent phsyicist of our time. But there are people who will be more justified in writing about Bruno Pontecorvo's scientific genius, and who will do so with a more profound understanding. Moreover, the scientific interests of Bruno Maximovich lay in a sector differing somewhat from the one in which our group was involved. In no way, naturally, did this rule out numerous discussions, advice, "nudges" in the correct direction, brilliant and precise comments. And, really, - when one entered the study, where this handsome man with intelligent eyes, which at the beginning were so cheerful and, then, toward the end of his life piercingly sad, sat working at the table or stood at the blackboard, one felt that one was entering a temple of knowledge and spiritual beauty. This was what I felt during our first encounter, when Bruno Maximovich summoned me to his study for a talk with the novice and very young scientific staff member. Time has just enhanced and expanded such feeling, transforming it into an understanding of the exclusiveness of this person.
I have been lucky to know Bruno Maximovich (or, in any case, to be close to him) for a long time and to see him in diverse capacities: at scientific seminars and discussions, in social activities, with his family, working with students, in sport, joking, making tricks, and constantly resolving complex moral problems, which required much effort of his soul as well as manifestation of the most profound qualities of his character.
Nevertheless, I am quite conscious that I am familiar only with the tip of the iceberg and, maybe, with a small part of its underwater bulk. During all our long and far from superficial acquaintance with Bruno Maximovich, I was constantly being taken by surprise by his manifestation of new qualities; to be more precise, he just remained true to his integrity in all possible situations; neither age nor illness or any other most difficult circumstances were capable of bending, or even, one may say, of touching, the pivot of his personality.
Handsome, elegant in behaviour and in clothing, always ready for a joke, quick to appreciate happiness and beauty - such was Bruno Maximovich in his free minutes. There were few such minutes, but he consumed them very actively. The conservatoire, cinema festivals, tennis, underwater swimming, alpine skiiing, hiking, which could, for instance, be autumn mushrooming or underwater, and sometimes actually under-the-ice, hunting at the Pleshcheevo lake.
One can speak about the versatility of Bruno Maximovich for hours, tales and humoresques can be written. I shall quote some episodes or conversations characterizing diverse facets of his numerous talents and hobbies.
"Did you know I was champion of the Kalinin (now Tver) region?" "Yes, of course, I do." Then followed the story about how, at the age of 16, Bruno was included in the National junior team of Italy and was to attend a training session in France. But his parents didn't let him go, since they considered such activity not to be serious and wanted Bruno to prepare for studies at the university. What was surprising in his story was that one could still hear the boy's bitter disappointment with his parents. He actually had to be consoled and assured that his achievements in physics were also not too bad. Yes, of course, but one would also like to be the Italian tennis champion. Well, he didn't become champion, but he was an excellent tennis-player, who always did credit to the tennis-court both by his game and by his invariably snow-white tennis costume. He was also an ardent sports fan. So ardent that many years, in spite of his being extremely busy, he used to go to Tallin to see the Wimbledon tournament broadcasted by Finnish television. I never happened to see Bruno Maximovich playing football, but he was a really dangerous fan, so much zeal was there in his reaction. And when a certain scientist made scornful remarks on such a non-intelligent occupation, Bruno Maximovich looked at the ignoramus reproachfully and said: "If I could have had two youths, I would have spent one playing football." It would certainly have been possible to add a youth for the bicycle. "I could perform in a circus", - this claim of Bruno was no exaggeration.
His tricks with cars were also legendary. He was an excellent driver. So, in the middle of a conversation he would take his hands off the steering-wheel and use his knees. This was not seen by the passenger in the back seat, who would start becoming nervous. But Bruno would continue the conversation quite relaxed, taking perfidious pleasure in seeing his companion turning pale. This ended up with general laughter.
I know of two cases, when this trick was unsuccessful. The first was when a young lady occupied the back seat with her child. Bruno took his hands off the steering-wheel, his face showed poorly concealed anticipation of a merry performance. The lady, however, reacted instantly: "Bruno Maximovich, I am familiar with your art of driving and with your love for tricks. But when I have my child in the car, my sense of humour leaves me."
Bruno Maximovich immediately lost interest and dutifully took up the steering-wheel.
The second case involved such a remarkable passenger as Yakov Abramovich Smorodinsky. As soon as the car started moving, an animated conversation began. Yakov Abramovich gave a lively account of the latest news in science intermingling it with news from the world of books (Yakov Abramovich learned about the publication of a book in any part of the World with a speed surely exceeding any natural-scientific possibilities). And so, in the middle of such an intellectual conversation Bruno took his hands off the steering-wheel - no effect. He started gesticulating, then to whistle - no reaction. Finally, he turned around to the back seat, which was already somewhat dangerous for "knee" driving. And at this point Yakov Abramovich asked imperturbably: "Is your car under automatic driving control? What brand is it?" So the joke had no success with the theorist, which, naturally did not hinder the general merriment.

Bruno Maximovich knew classical music very well and loved it. He often went to the Conservatoire, by the way, "without renouncing his duties at work". He used to leave Dubna at 4 o'clock in the afternoon and return late in the evening or early in the morning of the next day. We would whistle Verdi for hours. He was a great connoisseur of the cinema and was very proud that a certain Italian newspaper placed him as a cinema-critic ahead of his younger brother Gillo, a well-known film-director.
He loved poetry, and worshipped Dante, he often quoted Dante both in Italian and in Russian.
When teaching his beloved grandson his first lessons in morality, Bruno Maximovich would often turn to quotations from the Georgian classic Shota Rustaveli for support: "What you have given away is yours." Then practical lessons were held. I remember how the two-year-old boy was told to share a candy, which he just received as a present. The candy was very difficult to divide, and the little fingers just couldn't, with all good intention, break off a peice. But grandfather was relentless, and, finally, Sasha, found the correct solution: he bit off a small piece of candy and gave it to grandfather with relief. For the sake of truth, it must be said that the game was not quite fair, since, besides the literary argument, Bruno added the more traditional and efficacious: "I won't take you for a ride on the bicycle." Sasha has grown up, and it can be asserted with certitude that the early lessons in morality (naturally, together with the genes) have yielded an excellent result.
Coming back to the numerous hobbies of Bruno Maximovich, I would like to recall underwater hunting, and not only in Crimea, but also in the Far East. He went there to give lectures to frontier guards, who liked him so much that they gave him the official certificate of "Honorary frontier guard of the USSR". Bruno Maximovich was very proud of this document, especially so because, for some reason, the document had a magic effect on the inspectors of the State road police.

The influence of Bruno Maximovich on the scientific, moral and psycological climate in our Laboratory cannot be overestimated.
At the end of the 50-ies and in the 60-ies, the laboratory seminars and sessions of the Scientific Council for awardding scientific degrees could be considered exemplary in their respective genres. Benevolence, on the one hand, and scientific professionalism, on the other, - such was the atmosphere in the Laboratory. To a significant degree we owe this to Bruno Maximovich and, naturally, to the invariably democratic Direction.
The state of a collective, even very professional, depends strongly on the presence of a prestigious personality determining the general mood. Bruno Maximovich was such a personality in our laboratory. He served as an example of a true democrat. Faithfulness to the law, a priori respect for the opinion of others, the ability of identifying and taking into condsideration what leads to the correct solution, invariable adherence to the truth - these individual qualities of Bruno Maximovich influenced the entire collective. In the Laboratory there was in action an invisible law which required professional and moral behaviour both in science and in relationships.
Bruno Maximovich had exceptional scientific intuition and exceptional qualities of an experimental physicist of the same level. His ideas were always related to fundamental phenomena, while his experiments and projects of experiments were always masterpieces of experimental skill. This, however, did not prevent him from appreciating results of lesser scale, if only they were reliable. The latter requirement was absolutely rigorous. It sometimes happened that during a seminar a sudden silence set in, indicating that either the audience no longer understood the speaker or it had some doubts concerning the results. At this point the voice of Bruno Maximovich would be heard: "I'm sorry, I'm an idiota (footnote: His favorite way of being polite, although often sincere self-criticism.). I'm not quite sure I understood how you separated the effect from the background?" In most cases this meant the group would have to work some more on its data. Other participants also voiced criticism, but no seminar proceeded without questions and comments; everybody was used to every issue, even if elaborated thoroughly, requiring a scientific discussion. The criterion of truth was assigned, as commonly said today, the highest priority. Experiments were much more compact, as compared to modern experiments, so they could be apprehended from the project to the final result, at least, this was quite within the power of such professional collectives as the laboratory seminar or the Scientific Council.
The above statement concerning the Truth seems banal, since otherwise physics stops being a science studying Nature. However, the requirement of truth in science cannot, ultimately, remain intact, if global moral principles are violated. This philosophical deviation is directly related to Bruno Maximovich. His influence in the Laboratory was so significant precisely because it was based not only on his generally accepted scientific authority, but on his moral authority as well.

The attitude of Bruno Maximovich toward the youth occupies a special place. Doubtlessly, he paid particular attention to students and young physicists. Besides current discussions, Bruno Maximovich was sure to summon a young specialist at the end of the year. That was not just a formality. Bruno Maximovich asked what the young specialist was working on, very tactfully tried to understand if he was satisfied with the atmosphere in the group, whether or not there was a possibility for fruitful activity and scientific growth. At the same time, there were certain demands: absence of personal activity, wasting time, and, Heaven forbid, a drop of the interest in science would be apprehended very very badly.
For a long time Bruno Maximovich held the Chair of elementary particle physics of the Dubna Branch of the Physics Department of the Moscow State University. Practically every year, students came to our group for preparing their theses. Bruno Maximovich was constantly interested in their activities. Bruno Maximovich took particular, without exaggeration, paternal trouble in finding work for the post-graduates. There may have been some unpleasant circumstances, and some young specialist may have not been satisfied with his destiny, but we know for sure how much energy and time Bruno Maximovich spent, when working places were distributed among the students graduating from his Chair and especially in those cases when some unpredictable circumstances complicated the situation.
Being a wise and kind person, Bruno Maximovich did not like anyone to be labelled all a sudden as "bad". "Don't make sharp boundaries: white or black. Look how the black has already become grey, and now white spots have appeared... That is a reason to be happy...".
But when it was necessary to make a choice of principle, Bruno Maximovich always identified "white" and fought against "black". Many a time he defended the innocent and weak sparing no pains in doing so and often reaching up to very high authorities.
He had a striking ability of feeling unfairness, falsehood. One may say that Bruno Maximovich had an absolute ear for morality. Like a talented director of an orchestra, who suffers from a single false note and makes the orchestra repeat the rehearsal, Bruno Maximovich not only detected any insincerity, tactlessness, not to mention malice or unfairness, but reacted in a most active manner. He was generous in sharing the energy of his soul and never made others the work. Most likely, God, in presenting him with the gift of compassion, also supplied a large reserve of fortitude, for in what concerns compassion Bruno Maximovich remained faithful to his principles to the very end.

August 22, 1993 was the 80-th birthday of Bruno Maximovich. He had been for some time in Italy, and the Laboratory had not been preparing for the jubilee and had postponed the celebration till autumn, when everybody was supposed to gather together. Then, all of a sudden, Bruno Maximovich unexpectedly returned to Dubna; it was so unexpected that it took the efforts of the JINR Director to send a car in time to meet him at the airport. We now understand that it was unexpected only for us, but for Bruno Maximovich it was a profoundly deliberate act, his last decision.
The jubilee was informal. And this was especially remarkable, because Bruno Maximovich did not like, one may say, physiologically could not stand any official celebrations held in his honour. Just before one of his jubilees he once threatened to shoot himself, if something official were organized.
In spite of the holiday time, many people gathered together in the office of Venedikt Petrovich. Warm, heart-felt words were addressed to Bruno Maximovich by the JINR Director Vladimir Geogievich Kadyshevsky, the Vice-Director Alexei Norairovich Sissakian. The Directors of all the JINR Laboratories spoke, and each one had found something particularly interesting and pleasant for Bruno Maximovich. Practically everyone present in some way or another expressed their love and gratitude. Bruno Maximovich sat at the seat of honour together with Marianne and their children. It was apparently the first time his family was present at such a celebration in the Laboratory, and it seems the first time that Bruno Maximovich listened, nearly without embarassment, to the words of love and gratitude addressed to him.
The jubilee was wonderful, is proceeded literally in an atmosphere of love, respectfulness, and a fair amount of humour. Bruno was loved, and he understood that.

On September 24, 1993 Bruno Maximovich passed away. I heard that when he was in the reanimation room, Bruno Maximovich regained consciousness for a moment, saw the doctors bustling about and said "thank you". Such was his last word. And that is the truth about Bruno.

It is lucky that Bruno lived a long life. He had time to leave a large scientific legacy, a deep trace in the souls of people. I have no doubt that for many young people he presented an example of high morality, that he influenced them even if they had not noticed it. I do hope this thread will be pulled farther on, and that it will turn out to be infinitely long.

The standard phrase: "Will forever live in our hearts" in the case of Bruno Maximovich not only reflects a concrete truth, - indeed, Bruno Pontecorvo's lucid image will always remain in the memory of those who knew him, - but also has a profound philosophical meaning. He will remain in the World as the carrier of Goodness and Excellence, as a quantum of these fields.

I am extremely grateful to Providence for having realized such an improbable event of such small probability by providing for me to have happened to be close to Bruno Pontecorvo in time and space. I am also most grateful that Bruno lived for a long time, continued to delight us for a long time, and that I had time to grow up and more profoundly understand and appreciate the extraordinary nature of this person.

Thank you, dear Bruno Maximovich.

July 10, 1996, Dubna.