Lev Vasiljevich Shubnikov was born on September 29, 1901. His father was an accountant and his mother was a house-wife. On graduating from the gymnasia in 1918, Shubnikov entered the Mathematical Department of the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics (in speciality "Physics)" at Petrograd University.
At that year he was the only student of the Department, so he had to attend lectures, first with those who entered the University the year before (among those were S.E. Frish, V.A. Fok) and then with the next intake of students, for example, A.V. Timoreva and O.N. Trapeznikova, the latter became his wife in 1925.
The students and the lecturers of the Physical Faculty (separated in 1919) were keen on sailing. L.V. Shubnikov was one of the active "sailors", and this fact has happened to play a fatal role. In Autumn 1921, having agreed to sailing on a yacht along the Gulf of Finland with little known men (supposedly, for a sail trip), he found himself in Finland where he was deported to Germany from. He could return to Petrograd only in 1922 where he proceeded with his studies but at the Polytechnical Institute which was graduated by him in 1926.
Combining his studies with laboratory work, he, first, mastered and, then, in cooperation with I.V. Obreimov, imported the method of growing large-sized metal single crystals of a given form. When in 1926 V.I.de Haas (Leiden Laboratory) needed a scientist of this kind, A.F. Ioffe recommended L.V. Shubnikov.
At that time Leiden Laboratory was the only laboratory in the world that had liquid helium, so physicists of various specialities strove for working there. The attractiveness of Leiden was also associated with P. Ehrenfest who headed the Theoretical Physics Department at Leiden University. P. Ehrenfest had an uncommon gift of stimulating criticism, so one could meet A. Einstein, N. Bohr, V. Paul, P. Dirac, etc. at his seminars.
When studying bismuth crystals of low impurity concentrations, Shubnikov in cooperation with de Haas discovered magnetoresistance oscillations at the low temperatures in magnetic field (the Shubnikov-de Haas effect). The importance of the effect for the condensed state physics became completely clear much later, in the fifties through the sixties. Today this effect is one of the principal instruments in studying quantum electron properties of solids.
Leiden Laboratory with its slogan "From Measurement to Knowledge" has become a good school of experience for Shubnikov and his personal contacts with those who were permanent coworkers of the Laboratory or came to seminars or to work on probation have contributed to the store of his scientific knowledge, permitting him, on his return from Leiden in 1930, to head (in 1931) the cryogenic Laboratory at the recently established (1928) Ukrainian Physico-Technical Institute (UPTI) in Kharkov. The Laboratory had liquid hydrogen even in 1931 and liquid helium in 1933, and beginning with 1934, the Laboratory, owing to its research works, became one further cryogenic center (the fours one in the world at that time. This has been made possible, on the one hand, by the assistance of V. de Haas and V. Keesom who supervised Leiden Laboratory and sent to Shubnikov the necessary matters and devices unavailable in the USSR at that time.
The cryogenic equipment at Shubnikov’s laboratory was managed by the excellent master I.P. Korolev; the glass-blowing operations were performed by E.V. Petushkov. Among the first workers of the Laboratory were Yu.N. Ryabinin, O.N. Trapeznikova, A.I. Sudovtsov, V.I. Khotkevich, then the Laboratory staff was supplemented by N.S. Rudenko, M.F. Fedorova, G.D. Shepelev, G.A. Milyutin, L.F/ Vereshchagin, S.A. Zlunisyn and later by N.E. Alekseevsky, A.K. Kikoin, S.S. Shalyt. There were several physicists from Germany in the Laboratory, who escaped from Nazis’ persecution or worked under contract.
One of the central lines of activity of the Laboratory was research of superconductivity. Many of the investigators of the Shubnikov contribution to the progress of low-temperature physics believe, not without reason, that the effect referred to as the Meissner effect was discovered by Shubnikov independently of and almost contemporaneously with Meissner. As for study into magnetic properties of superconducting alloys, Kharkov Laboratory, as acknowledged by Kurt Mendelson, left behind Leiden and Oxford ones. Giving Shubnikov and his co-workers credit for their contribution, the state of type 11 superconductors in the field range Hc1 – Hc2 is named Shubnikov’s phase.
A great number of works made at Shubnikov’s Laboratory were concerned with investigation of thermal and magnetic properties of transition metal chlorides. This is considered to have resulted in the experimental discovery of antiferromagnetism and to have generated Landau’s interest in these problems (Landau was on the staff of UPTI at that time).
L.V. Shubnikov and L.D. Landau were not only co-workers but close friends as well. They could be frequently seen together . “Lev the Stout and Lev the Slim”, as they were called, discussed not only scientific problems but also the problems of training scientific (both of-them gave lectures, first, at the Physico-Technical Department of Kharkov Mechaniko-Mashinostroitel’nyj Institute and, them, at Physico-Mathematical Department of Kharkov University).
In this period of time Shubnikov in cooperation with B.G. Lazarev attached to the Laboratory from the Urals Physico-Technical Institute, has measured a proton magnetic moment. In E. Parcel’s opinion, a nuclear magnetism scientist, that measurement was “a triumph of physical experiment”.
Since the first days the Laboratory team has been engaged in research of the properties of liquefied and solidified gases (nitrogen, argon, oxygen, methane). The measurement of methane heat capacity under pressure made by Shubnikov, Trapeznikova and Milyutin was a major achievement of the low-temperature experimental technique. The measurement accuracy was highly competitive with that of modern experiment.
The Laboratory team embarked on a study into helium properties. The first publications on the properties of liquid helium in the USSR were that by Shubnikov and Kikoin (1936).
By Shubnikov’s initiative, a Pilot Plant of deep cooling engaged in applied research was established, and part of the Laboratory workers passed on to it.
The research program of the Cryogenic Laboratory included a lot of ideas determining the ways of development of the low-temperature physics/ But on August 6, 1937, the day when Shubnikov together with Landau came from the Crimea where they were on their holiday, he was arrested and fell a prey to Stalin’s repression. He is gone, not managing to realize completely his potentialities and creative power in science. But he succeeded in laying the foundation for the cryogenic physics school in Kharkov. Even today this scientific school remains a leading one in Kharkov, and the best demonstration of the fact is the scientific activity of B.I. Verkin Institute for Low Temperature Physics and Engineering of the National Academy of Science in Ukraine.