The Story of a Cover Photo

Lab-to-Lab: US-Russian Lab-to-Lab Collaboration Story [Archived]

Scientist looking at book cover with photo of same image of him with Sig

Vladimir Mikhailovich Shmakov, Snezhinsk, Russia

It was a regular business trip to the Monte Carlo Department at VNIIEF (Russian Federal Nuclear Center for Experimental Physics) in February 1992. That time, two colleagues from the physics department at VNIITF and I came from Ekaterinburg to Arzamas by train. An institute bus was sent to pick us up and we spent another hour and a half riding to another Arzamas, the Arzamas-16 (as VNIIEF was known during Soviet times). I don’t really like to go on business trips to visit these guys, as one has to travel with transfers and long rides from one place to another. However, these inconveniences played an important role in our future story.

Snowy day with a street leading to a tower and people walking.

Sarov street in February 1992

My work with Monte-Carlo folks (монте-карлики – what we called the VNIIEF Monte Carlo team) went along in typical fashion, but on Wednesday my colleagues invited me to participate in a meeting. This was not just a meeting, but a Constituent Assembly. It turned out that our physicists agreed with their physicists to create the Union of Nuclear Charge Designers – UNChD (Soyuz Razrabotchikov Yadernogo Oruzhiya, SRYAZ)! So, my colleagues invited me to “strengthen” the delegation from VNIITF and we mounted a team of three people. There were 20-30 people from VNIIEF and there were three of us. The meeting followed a regular procedure – the adoption of the Statute, the nomination and election of the chairman of the UNWD. As a result, by secret vote, we elected our own Boris Mikhailovich Murashkin. As it turned out, the story of the photo is connected with this meeting. It was there that I learned about the visit of the directors of the US nuclear laboratories that was taking place at the same time. I also learned that they would continue to Chelyabinsk-70 (VNIITF) via a direct flight to Ekaterinburg.

Through secretaries of the department, I found the telephone number of the person who was responsible for the visit of the Americans. I called, introduced myself and asked if the two of us from VNIITF could get to the C-70 with this delegation. At the other end of the line, they asked to wait and hung up. I realized that just a few years ago my request would have been, to put it mildly, naïve. However, some fifteen minutes later, the phone rang and we were told that they were taking us and where and when we should come the next day.

Group of men talking outside on a snowy day

Leaving Sarov – on the way to the Urals

So, we showed up in the designated place and time. On the airfield there was a small plane and quite a lot of people – those departing and those who were seeing them off. I knew some of them, and others were not familiar to me. Among the latter there was an official photographer with a tripod. I quietly took out my Zenith camera and started taking pictures, one after another. Nobody took any note of me, no one stopped me, which was a little surprising.

At some point, Yuli B. Khariton appeared and headed for Hecker. They stretched their hands out to greet each other and … a memorable snapshot was born. The captured gesture reminded me the Michelangelo’s fresco “Creation of the World.”

Everything then proceeded as planned. Flight to Ekaterinburg, transfer by bus to C-70. Once at home, I developed the film, printed some photos and showed them to a few colleagues at work. Someone of the institute leadership asked to have this film for the gift album about the visit of Americans to VNIITF. I provided the film, the album was made and presented to the Americans. The film was returned to me and I never touched it all this time. I never saw the album and did not know which photos made their way into it.

Group leaving while two men shaking hands saying goodbye.

The stretched hand

Fast-forward 26 years. Passing the doors of the library of my Physics and Mathematics department at VNIITF, on new library acquisitions display, I saw the cover of the book Doomed to Cooperate. I was pleasantly surprised to see the photograph that I took in Sarov almost a quarter of a century ago. Even back at the time, I considered this frame to be the best shot of the entire film. As it turned out, the publishers thought the same and they decided to put it on the cover. In my view, the dynamics and the very figures in this photo perfectly reflect the meaning and title of the book.

Men walking down stairs outside

Guests leaving Sarov’s House of Scientists

I am very pleased that these amateur photos attracted attention when composing the story of those distant events. Who knows, maybe the future still holds similar opportunities for me; and new photos will appear.

See the complete lab-to-lab photo gallery.

Two men in coats and hats standing for the camera

Vladimir Shmakov and Sig Hecker

Man standing for the camera outside in a hat and coat

Alexander Pavlovsky, VNIIEF

Two men shaking hands outside in front of a bus with snow in the background

Yuly Khariton on the air field

Group photo

Everyone is facing an ‘official” photographer

Two men in front of a bus, one has a camera

The photographer with the tripod at work at the airfield


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