Artem (Russian Artyom) Alikhanian, regarded as the father of Armenian physics, was born in the historical Armenian city of Gandzak (Elizavetpol during the Russian Empire, and now Ganja, in Azerbaijan). He did not attend school regularly, but was mostly schooled at home. Later, he received an external degree from school Nr. 100 of Tiflis.
In 1930, before he graduated from Leningrad State University, he became a staff member at the Physico-Technical Institute of Leningrad (nowadays St. Petersburg), working together with his elder brother Abraham Alikhanov (Alikhanian, 1904-1970). The Alikhanian brothers, together with Piotr Kapitsa, Lev Landau, Igor Kurchatov, and others, have been credited with laying the foundations of nuclear physics in the Soviet Union.
During the siege of Leningrad by the German army in World War II, Artem Alikhanian and some of his colleagues were excused from full-time defense tasks in order to work on the design of a synchrocyclotron, the accelerator of particles eventually constructed in 1955. The Alikhanian brothers, who were not members of the Communist Party, received the USSR State Prize in 1943. They started a scientific mission on Mount Aragatz, the highest peak of the Republic of Armenia, and researched the third (proton) component of cosmic rays. They founded a cosmic ray station at an altitude of 3250 meters, and participated both in the foundation of the Armenian SSR Academy of Sciences (now National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia) and the Yerevan Physics Institute in 1943. Abraham Alikhanov—who founded the first nuclear reactor of the USSR in 1949—went on to found and direct the Institute for Theoretical and Experimental Physics in Moscow, which he headed until 1968.
The brothers’ findings deserved them the USSR State Prize for the second time in 1948 (Alikhanov would win it alone for the third time in 1953). They initiated the creation of the Yerevan Synchrotron in 1956, together with astrophysicist Victor Hambartsumian.
Artem Alikhanian promoted the training of young physicists and from 1961 to 1975 organized and directed the International Schools of High Energy Physics at Nor-Amberd. A staunch supporter of the international co-operation of scientists, his fidelity to science, his personality, and his great erudition captivated everyone. In 1965 he was invited by Harvard University to give the Loeb and Lee lectures in Physics, and he became the first Loeb professor of Harvard University from Europe. He founded the chair of Nuclear Physics in the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute and was a professor at Yerevan State University. He received the Lenin Prize in 1970, together with his colleagues, for the work on wide-gap track spark chambers.
In 1966, director Frunze Dovlatian filmed “Hello, It’s Me!” (Բարեւ, ես եմ, Parev, Yes Em), a drama based on the life of Alikhanian (the main character is a physicist called Artyom Manvelian who has founded a cosmology laboratory at Mount Aragats). The film was nominated to the Golden Palm of the Cannes Film Festival of 1966 and awarded the State Prize of Armenia in 1967, the same year when Alikhanian obtained the title of Honored Scientist of the Armenian SSR in recognition of his scientific achievements and contributions.
Alikhanian resigned from his position at Yerevan Physics Institute in 1973 and left Yerevan, after conflicts with very high level Soviet statesmen. He passed away in Moscow on February 25, 1978. The Physics Institute was named after him, and a street in Yerevan has been named after the Alikhanian brothers. In 2010 the government of Armenia decided to rename the Institute as Artem Alikhanian National Scientific Laboratory.