The National Research Centre for Physics, KFKI, was founded exactly 70 years ago on September 1, 1950. The institution remains one of the most significant strongholds of Hungarian scientific life.
The institute was reorganized several times, divided into several and fewer parts, and then reunited, always adapting and optimizing its approach to match the circumstances. Preserving the legacy of its predecessors, the researchers working at the Csillebérc site aim to pursue the highest quality scientific research to date, an endeavor that has been marked by countless world-class achievements over the past 70 years. Numerous famous foreign scientists have visited the campus, and countless stories have emerged from the natural woodland environment.
The KFKI site is currently the location of Hungary’s two largest research institutes for physics, the Centre for Energy Research and the Wigner Research Centre for Physics, under the auspices of the Eötvös Loránd Research Network (ELKH). These two institutions continue the high-quality work started in the former “physics research center”, and KFKI is also home to several technology companies.
KFKI was established by a decree of the Council of Ministers on August, 18 1950. After World War II and the release of the atomic bomb, politicians also recognized the importance of physics, which was a somewhat neglected field of science at the time. According to the preparatory committee, “The objective of KFKI is to raise Hungarian physics research from its current state, which is far behind other disciplines, and to enable productive scientific research in all fields of physics, which are primarily important for the development and application of science.”
When the institute was established, one of its primary goals was to launch nuclear physics and materials research, but it was also important to measure radiation as accurately as possible and learn about its effects, so the departments of atomic physics, radiology and cosmic radiation have played a key role at KFKI from the very beginning. Later, the fields of research became even more diverse: from the 1960s onwards, solid physics, optics, particle physics, materials science, reactor physics, and later, space research were introduced.
The Budapest Research Reactor started operating in 1959, and has played an important role in the field of radioactive isotope production and non-destructive materials testing ever since. The Soviet-built Budapest Research Reactor, originally with a capacity of 2.5 MW, was renovated in 1990 based on Hungarian plans, and has since been operating at 10 MW, with a number of newly added modern devices. The Budapest Neutron Centre (BNC), established for the scientific utilization of the reactor, is still the most significant domestic research infrastructure operating within an international network of users. The neutron-spin-echo principle and method discovered by Ferenc Mezei in 1972 was born at the reactor, which became a widely used spectroscopic method worldwide. György Marx evaluated the discovery as the most significant result of 20th century Hungarian experimental physics.
The Solid State Research Institute at KFKI has been conducting serious optical research since the 1960s, which resulted in the construction of the first domestic gas laser (1963) and the first domestic solid laser (1964).
Built in 1968, the first TPA computer copied products from the western company DEC, but was a more advanced version in several ways. “It was such a success that the profit from the machines sold at the time covered 20 percent of the total Hungarian scientific budget,” said József Gyulai, former director of the Institute for Technical Physics and Materials Science. By the end of 1990, 1,490 TPA computers had been built.
In 1971, in exchange for two TPA computers, an implanter system was installed at KFKI to perform one of the most important processes in IC technology.
The measurement automation system of the T-15 tokamak testing equipment at the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow was the largest and most complex computer enterprise at KFKI’s Institute for Measurement and Computer Science. The prototype of the project was the measurement system of the MT-1 tokamak, also installed in Csillebérc.
Together with the preparatory work, the implementation project took ten years. The size of the system is characterized by the fact that 14 TPA-1148 computers were connected to 51 microprocessor machines and 1,479 CAMAC modules via their own local network. It cost nearly 18 million Russian rubles, which at the exchange rate at the time (1986) amounted to more than 500 million Hungarian forints. The complexity of the networked application of nearly 70 computers did not lag behind the JET (Joint European Torus) computer system of Western European fusion research.
Károly Simonyi wrote about issues associated with the practical implementation of fusion energy production as early as 1959, but the physical experiments did not begin until the 1970s. These were aimed at gaining a better understanding of the phenomenon of nuclear fusion and thus facilitating the realization of fusion power plants. Based on the experience gained with the only Hungarian tokamak experimental device, MT-1, the Hungarian fusion community gained considerable knowledge and experience in measuring plasma properties, one of the great results of which was the launch of the world’s largest stellarator in 2015, which could be seen through Hungarian-developed cameras in the entire world.
The Pille (butterfly) dosimeter, developed in 1978, was the first on-board radiation meter to be used by Bertalan Farkas during his spaceflight. In 1984, Sally Ride, the first US female astronaut, also successfully deployed the equipment aboard the Challenger Space Shuttle; this was the first Hungarian device used on an American spacecraft. The Pille is in use on the International Space Station to this day.
One of the largest Hungarian space physics missions to date started at the beginning of the 1980s to participate in the Venus─Halley (VEGA) program, during which a space probe approached a comet moving at high speed. During its peak period, around 400 people worked on the program at KFKI under the leadership of Ferenc Szabó and Károly Szegő. In March 1986, the two VEGA probes approached the comet to a distance of approximately 8,000 km. One third of the probes’ instruments were made in Hungary, a significant proportion of them at KFKI. The camera system designed and built at the Research Institute for Particle and Nuclear Physics not only transmitted images of the comet ─ allowing us to obtain images of a comet’s nucleus for the first time in history ─ but also searched for and continuously monitored the comet’s bright nucleus and directed the instruments of the probes at it independently without instructions from the ground. This was the first time in the history of space exploration that autonomous control was performed based on real-time image processing. The other, scientifically even more effective instrument was a diagnostic device called Plasmag, designed at the Atomic Energy Research Institute, which measured the composition and energy spectrum of gas coming out of a comet and its interaction with solar wind for the first time.
Researchers at the Centre for Energy Research and the Wigner Research Centre for Physics also played a significant role in the Rosetta mission, which began in 2004. This was the first mission where a spacecraft landed on a comet.
KFKI researchers also played a key role in Hungary’s accession to the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in 1992. Hungarian researchers first started working at the Joint Nuclear Research Institute in Dubna, Russia, and then an agreement was made that gave them the opportunity to continue their work at CERN in Geneva. From here, there was a straight path for Hungary to become a full member of CERN in 1992, after which Hungarian researchers contributed to a number of world-class results, including the discovery of the Higgs boson and quark-gluon plasma. As a result of the collaboration with CERN, the Wigner Data Center was set up in 2012, which still provides high-quality IT services for scientific research.
Today, a group of colleagues interested in gravity study the gravitational waves in the framework of the LIGO/VIRGO partnership, regularly analyzing events detected every six month period.
Many world-famous scholars have also visited the site. One of the most interesting personalities was Stephen Hawking, but Roger Penrose, among many others, also visited KFKI, both attending relativity theory workshops. In addition to science, KFKI has always had a vibrant social and cultural life. The New Year’s Eve cabaret of the Hungarian Radio was once recorded here, for example.
The Centre for Energy Research and the Wigner Research Centre for Physics will commemorate the 70th anniversary of KFKI with several interesting photos this week on their Facebook pages.
Centre for Energy Research:
Tamás Szabolics, firstname.lastname@example.org, +36 30 388 6770
Wigner Research Centre for Physics:
Csilla Dovicsin-Péntek, email@example.com, +36 30 487 9869
- László Jéki’s book entitled KFKI
- László Jéki: A Központi Fizikai Kutatóintézet (National Research Centre for Physics) – special issue of Természet Világa (World of Nature), 01/24/2006
- István Bekény, Dezső Dányi: Magyarország a XX. században (Hungary in the 20th Century)
Épül a Budapesti Kutatóreaktor
Számítástechnika a KFKI-ban
Az egyetlen magyar fúziós kísérlet színes gyorskamerás felvételei