Astrophysics in Armenia became linked to the world-famous name of Victor Hambardzumian. One of his students would become an important name in cosmic astronomy.
Grigor Gurzadyan was born on October 15, 1922, in Baghdad (Iraq), the child of survivors from the Armenian Genocide. He emigrated to Soviet Armenia with his family when he was just a child. His brother Sargis (1929-2015), born in Yerevan, would coauthor the project of embellishment of Tamanian Street (the area known as Cascade).
Grigor Gurzadyan entered the Polytechnic Institute of Yerevan (now Yerevan State University of Engineering) and graduated in 1944 from the faculties of hydrotechnics and construction. Afterwards, he made a big shift in his career and entered the field of astronomy. He was one of the founding members of the observatory of Biurakan, created in 1946 by Hambardzumian. Under his direction, Gurzadyan defended his doctoral thesis at the State University of Moscow in 1948, at the age of twenty-six, with the subject “The Radiation Equilibrium of Interstellar Gas Material.” He became a professor at Yerevan State University from 1948-1978 and head of the section of Physics of Stars and Nebulae of the observatory from 1950-1966.
He defended his second doctorate in 1955 at the State University of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). In the same year, he married Marianna Kalantar, a professor of Russian and daughter of Ashkharbek Kalantar, one of the founders of Armenian archaeology and victim of the Stalin purges. Their children Vahagn and Gagik would also become well-known physicists.
Gurzadyan became a well-known name in Soviet science. He published ten voluminous monographs about issues of astrophysics and more than 200 scholarly articles in Russian and English. He studied the physics and dynamics of nebulae and predicted the role of magnetic fields in nebulae from the 1960s, formulating a theory of star explosions based on the non-thermal phenomena going in them. He headed the observations of ultraviolet and X-rays in the sun and the stars with the launching of orbital telescopes in the 1960s. In 1965 he was elected corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences of Armenia, From 1967-1973 he was the head of the branch of cosmic studies at the observatory of Biurakan.
Gurzadyan’s most important achievement in the design of orbital telescopes was the series “Orion,” which contributed to important scientific results. The telescopes “Orion-1” and “Orion-2” were launched in 1971 and 1973 by the spatial station Salyut-1 and the Soyuz-13 spacecraft. From 1973-1978 he directed the laboratory of astronomy at Garni, where more than 40 Soviet astronauts had their pre-flight training. He went back to Biurakan in 1978 as head of the laboratory of exo-atmospheric astronomy until 1992 and in 1979 he headed the chair of construction of spatial devices at his alma mater, the Polytechnic Institute. From 1992-2004 he was director of the Institute of Astronomy in Garni.
Besides his many scientific achievements, Gurzadyan was also a much-sought essayist from the 1980s. He published many reflections on philosophical and current issues in the press, which were collected in a dozen of books.
An emeritus worker of science since 1975, he was elected full member of the Academy of Sciences in 1986. He passed away on February 22, 2014, in Yerevan, at the age of ninety-two.