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MFTI – Moscow Physical-Technical Institute

Fiztekh. Fiztech. Phystech. MIPT.

MFTI – Moscow Physical-Technical Institute

Fiztekh. Fiztech. Phystech. MIPT.

Excerpts from

my 15 years at iki by mike gruntman

My Fifteen Years at IKI, the Space Research Institute:

Position-Sensitive Detectors and Energetic Neutral Atoms Behind the Iron Curtain

Interstellar Trail Press, 2022. ISBN 979-8985668704

detailed book content    paperback    Kindle    book preview

Chapter 1. From Fiztekh to IKI

Fateful telephone call (pp. 1,2)

The Russian abbreviations FAKI and MFTI [Moscow Physical-Technical Institute] stood for the names of my faculty and institute, respectively. People commonly called the latter Fiztekh. (Today the institute's name is often rendered in English as the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology or MIPT.) Arguably the most elite school in physics and applied physics in the Soviet Union, Fiztekh boasted exceptionally difficult and competitive entrance examinations.

The institute graduated half a thousand physicists each year who went to work in leading research and development organizations of the Academy of Sciences and industry. Many specialized in areas of importance for defense programs. World-class Soviet physicists taught and mentored MFTI students.

Studying in Fiztekh was particularly challenging. In their secondary school years, many incoming freshmen won national, regional, and local competitions, known as "olympiads," in science and mathematics. (Secondary schools usually combined the primary, middle, and high school levels common in the United States.) Some studied in magnet-type schools with a focus on natural sciences. Quite a few students had spent one or two years in science boarding schools, one in Moscow and the other in Akademgorodok near Novosibirsk, established for specially gifted boys and girls.


Fiztekh and Fiztekh system (pp. 6ff)


IKI 15 pages 006-017

Bachelor of science degrees did not exist in the Soviet Union. After five or five and a half years of studies in universities or institutes, students received degrees equivalent to those of a master of science. Higher education in technical fields concentrated in specialized institutes rather than in universities that typically had programs in natural sciences but no engineering schools.

The Moscow Physical-Technical Institute stood out from other institutions of higher learning by its unique system of education and exceptional quality. In the late 1930s, several leading Soviet scientists published a letter [3] in Pravda (Fig. 1.4). The daily newspaper Pravda, the main organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, CPSU, was the most authoritative official publication in the country.

In the letter, the scientists advocated the creation of a new elite engineering school in Moscow to address a problem that no institutions in the country prepared "engineer scientists, engineer researchers, who combined the perfect knowledge in certain areas of technology with broad general education in physics and mathematics." The history of the French École Polytechnique that had been "established during very difficult times" of the French Revolution in 1794 to provide "real military technology and military art" inspired, in part, the proposal.[4]

After the end of World War II, the importance of a new school specifically focused on the education of physicists as an alternative to existing universities became appealing to many top officials.[5] The country poured enormous resources into the development of new weapons in the late 1940s.[6] The recent war experience and "the obvious role of science and technology in the post-war world in assuring the security of the country forced to return to the question of establishing the corresponding institution of higher learning."[7]


In the early 1970s, Fiztekh had six schools, or faculties (fakul’tet), focused on different areas of physics. Each fakul'tet enrolled about one hundred new students, the freshmen, every year. Females constituted on average one-tenth of the students.

From the early days, admission to the institute required excelling in particularly difficult and competitive entrance exams in physics (written and oral) and mathematics (written and oral). For many years, the government allowed the pupils of the secondary schools graduating with distinction (known as the "gold medal" and "silver medal") to enroll into the institutions of higher learning without entrance exams. Fiztekh was an exception and did require entrance exams for everybody.

At each exam, an applicant earned a grade and had to achieve a certain overall score to be admitted. Some passed (that is did not fail at) the entrance exams at Fiztekh but did not earn sufficient grades for admission to the institute. Per government-approved rules and from MFTI’s early days, they "had the right to enroll without further entrance examination to mechanical-mathematical and physics faculties of universities and engineering educational institutions."[11] This rule was in place throughout the entire history of Fiztekh during the Soviet times. MFTI students who were dismissed during their studies for poor performance were usually transferred to and welcomed by numerous other leading engineering institutes of higher learning.

MFTI assigned third-year students, juniors in the American terminology, to groups linked to various research and development organizations. Such an external center, institute, or design bureau was called a base institution or simply a base (baza in Russian). The third-year students spent one day each week at their base, attending lectures by leading specialists working there. The fraction of time at the base organizations gradually increased.

During the fifth year of studies, the students spent four full days each week there and already engaged primarily in research under the guidance of science advisors. Informally, students called such an advisor a "shef," which roughly corresponded in meaning to a "chief" or "boss" in English or "el jefe" in Spanish. Only one day each week the fifth-year students went to the main MFTI campus in Dolgoprudny to attend the remaining institutewide coursework, including mandatory reserve officer military training and Marxist-Leninist indoctrination classes. During the last sixth year, the students spent their entire time at the bases working on their master’s theses.


IKI 15 page 011

Fig. 1.6. Satellite photograph of the Moscow Physical-Technical Institute (55°55.8' N, 37°31.1' E), MFTI, in 1976. The institute spread over an area next to the railroad station (“platform”) Novodachnaya in the town of Dolgoprudny. Suburban trains provided the primary means for reaching Fiztekh. The box in Fig. 1.5 shows the location of this photograph. Original satellite reconnaissance photograph by KH-9 camera (Mission 1212; September 2, 1976) available from the U.S. Geological Survey; photograph identification, interpretation, and processing by Mike Gruntman.


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