A view of the MIPT campus and the city of Dolgoprudny from the Applied Mathematics Building
In late 1945 and early 1946, a group of Soviet scientists, including the future Nobel Prize winner Pyotr Kapitsa, lobbied the government for the creation of a higher educational institution radically different from the type established in the Soviet system of higher education. Applicants, selected by challenging examinations and personal interviews, would be taught by and work together with, prominent scientists. Each student would follow a personalized curriculum created to match his or her particular areas of interest and specialization. This system would later become known as the Phystech System.
In a letter to Stalin in February 1946, Kapitsa argued for the need for such a school, which he tentatively called the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, to better maintain and develop the country's defense potential. The institute would follow the principles outlined above and was supposed to be governed by a board of directors of the leading research institutes of the USSR Academy of Sciences. On March 10, 1946, the government issued a decree mandating the establishment of a "College of Physics and Technology" (Russian: Высшая физико-техническая школа).
MIPT campus before renovation
For unknown reasons, the initial plan came to a halt in the summer of 1946. The exact circumstances are not documented, but the common assumption is that Kapitsa's refusal to participate in the Soviet atomic bomb project and his disfavor with the government and communist party that followed, cast a shadow over an independent school based largely on his ideas. Instead, a new government decree was issued on November 25, 1946, establishing the new school as a Department of Physics and Technology within Moscow State University. November 25 is celebrated as the date of MIPT's founding.
The four oldest residence halls are across the street from the academic buildings.
Kapitsa foresaw that within a traditional educational institution, the new school would encounter bureaucratic obstacles, but even though Kapitsa's original plan to create the new school as an independent organization did not come to fruition exactly as envisioned, its most important principles survived intact. The new department enjoyed considerable autonomy within Moscow State University. Its facilities were in Dolgoprudny (the two buildings it occupied are still part of the present day campus), away from the MSU campus. It had its own independent admissions and education system, different from the one centrally mandated for all other universities. It was headed by the MSU "vice rector for special issues"—a position created specifically to shield the department from the university management.
As Kapitsa expected, the special status of the new school with its different "rules of engagement" caused much consternation and resistance within the university. The immediate cult status that Phystech gained among talented young people, drawn by the challenge and romanticism of working on the forefront of science and technology and on projects of "government importance," many of them classified, made it an untouchable rival of every other school in the country, including MSU's own Department of Physics. At the same time, the increasing disfavor of Kapitsa with the government (in 1950 he was essentially under house arrest) and anti-semitic repressions of the late 1940s made Phystech an easy target of intrigues and accusations of "elitism" and "rootless cosmopolitanism." In the summer of 1951, the Phystech department at MSU was shut down.
A group of academicians, backed by Air Force general Ivan Fedorovich Petrov, who was a Phystech supporter influential enough to secure Stalin's personal approval on the issue, succeeded in re-establishing Phystech as an independent institute. On September 17, 1951, a government decree re-established Phystech as the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.
The following is a summary of the key principles of the Phystech System, as outlined by Kapitsa in his 1946 letter arguing for the founding of MIPT:
Rigorous selection of gifted and creative young individuals.
Involving leading scientists in student education, in close contact with them in their creative environment.
An individualized approach to encourage the cultivation of students' creative drive and to avoid overloading them with unnecessary subjects and rote learning common in other schools and necessitated by mass education.
Conducting their education in an atmosphere of research and creative engineering, using the best existing laboratories in the country.
The institute has eleven departments, ten of them with an average of 80 students admitted annually into each.
Nano-, Bio-, Information and Cognitive Technologies
Most students apply to MIPT immediately after graduating from high school at the age of 18. Traditionally, applicants were required to take written and oral exams in both mathematics and physics, write an essay and have an interview with the faculty. In recent years, oral exams have been eliminated, but the interview remains an important part of the selection process. The strongest performers in national physics and mathematics competitions and IMO/IPhO participants are granted admission without exams, subject only to the interview.
In accordance with the traditions of the Soviet education system, education at MIPT is free for most students. Further, students receive small scholarships (as of 2020, $70–105 for bachelor's and $110–140 for master's degree per month, depending on the student's performance) and rather cheap (as of 2020, $13–20 per month, depending on location and comfortability) housing on campus.
A student studying the class schedule
Hybrid convertiplane "Irbis-538" during the "Armiya 2021" exhibition.
It normally takes six years for a student to graduate from MIPT. The curriculum of the first three years consists exclusively of compulsory courses, with emphasis on mathematics, physics and English. There are no significant curriculum differences between the departments in the first three years. A typical course load during the first and second years can be over 48 hours a week, not including homework. Classes are taught five days a week, beginning at 9:00 am or 10:30 am and continuing until 5:00 pm, 6:30 pm, or 8:00 pm. Most subjects include a combination of lectures and seminars (problem-solving study sessions in smaller groups) or laboratory experiments. Lecture attendance is optional, while seminar and lab attendance affects grades. Andre Geim, a graduate and Nobel prize winner stated "The pressure to work and to study was so intense that it was not a rare thing for people to break and leave and some of them ended up with everything from schizophrenia to depression to suicide."
MIPT follows a semester system. Each semester includes 15 weeks of instruction, two weeks of finals and then three weeks of oral and written exams on the most important subjects covered in the preceding semester. Starting with the third year, the curriculum matches each student's area of specialization and also includes more elective courses. Most importantly, starting with the third year, students begin work at base institutes (or "base organizations," usually simply called bases). The bases are the core of the Phystech system. Most of them are research institutes, usually belonging to the Russian Academy of Sciences. At the time of enrollment, each student is assigned to a base that matches his or her interests. Starting with the third year, a student begins to commute to their base regularly, becoming essentially a part-time employee. During the last two years, a student spends 4–5 days a week at their base institute and only one day at MIPT.
The base organization idea is somewhat similar to an internship in that students participate in "real work." However, the similarity ends there. All base organizations also have a curriculum for visiting students and besides their work, the students are required to take those classes and pass exams. In other words, a base organization is an extension of MIPT, specializing in each particular student's area of interests. While working at the base organization, a student prepares a thesis based on his or her research work and presents ("defends") it before the Qualification Committee consisting of both MIPT faculty and the base organization staff. Defending the thesis is a requirement for graduation.
As of 2005, MIPT had 103 base organizations. The following list of institutes is currently far from being complete:
Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies (established 1991) 
Before 1998, students could graduate only after completing the full six-year curriculum and defending their thesis. Upon graduation, they were awarded a specialist degree in Applied Mathematics and Physics and, beginning in the early 1990s, a Master's degree in Physics. Since 1998, students have been awarded a Bachelor's degree diploma after four years of study and the defense of a Bachelor's "qualification work" (effectively a smaller and less involved version of the Master's thesis).
The full course of education at MIPT takes six years to complete, just like an American bachelor's degree followed by a master's degree. The MIPT curriculum is more extensive compared to an average American college according to the school. There is an opinion at the school that an MIPT specialist/Master's diploma may be roughly equivalent to an American PhD in physics.
Traditional university rankings are often based in part on the universities' research output and prizes won by faculty.
About 15% of all students are residents of Moscow and nearly the same are from Moscow region; the rest come from all over the former Soviet Union. The student population is almost exclusively male, with the female/male ratio in a department rarely exceeding 15% (seeing 2–3 women in a class of 80 is not uncommon). In 2009 more than 20% of first year students were females.
There are no reliable statistics on the careers of MIPT graduates.
Mstislav Keldysh - a Soviet mathematician who worked as an engineer in the Soviet space program. Among scientific circles of USSR Keldysh was known with epithet "the Chief Theoretician" in analogy with epithet "the Chief Designer" used for Sergey Korolyov.
Grigory Volovik - theoretical physicist, who specializes in condensed matter physics. He is known for the Volovik effect.
Vladimir Zakharov - mathematician and physicist, who is known for his contributions in nonlinear wave theory in plasmas, hydrodynamics, oceanology, geophysics, solid state physics, optics, and general relativity.
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