Zhores Alferov, a Nobel Prize-winning Russian physicist who developed a new form of semiconductor that was considered vital to the Internet, cellphones, laser technology and other parts of the modern information revolution, died March 1 at a hospital in St. Petersburg. He was 88.
A representative of St. Petersburg Academic University, long led by Dr. Alferov, told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti that the cause was a heart ailment.
In awarding him the prize, the Nobel committee credited him as a pioneer in creating heterostructure semiconductors. These have made possible vast improvements in transistors and are considered integral to the operation of laser diodes, modern room-temperature lasers, and modern satellite and ground-based communications.
With devices made of sandwiches of different semiconductors, it became possible to operate the laser at room temperatures and make it a commonplace, everyday device.
To a great degree, the room-temperature laser, which Dr. Alferove developed, provided the key to transmitting information over the network of fiber-optic cables that undergird the Internet.
Although a primary allegiance was to science and to knowledge, Dr. Alferov also served in the Russian parliament. His aim there, he said, was to protect the interests of science. His name appeared on the Communist Party’s slate, but he was said not to have been a party member.
He and Hebert Kroemer, an engineer and physicist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, shared half of the physics Nobel Prize in 2000 for their independent work on semiconductor heterostructures. The other half of the prize went to Texas Instruments engineer Jack S. Kilby for helping to invent the integrated circuit.
Developed in the mid-20th century, semiconductors made possible the high-speed, low-power binary switching of electric currents on and off — opening the doors to the computer era and the rapid transmission of information.
Early semiconductors and the transistors made from them were often fabricated from a single substance, such as silicon. But heterostructure semiconductors were fabricated from layers of two or more different kinds of semiconductors. Components often included gallium and arsenic compounds.
They were more efficient and offered far higher switching speeds and other important physical properties. They proved vital in creating the practical lasers that have proliferated throughout the world and send signals through the optical fiber network that binds the world together.
The Nobel committee credited heterostructure semiconductors and the integrated circuit, known as the microchip, with helping to form the scientific foundations for the modern electronic and communications revolution.
Zhores Ivanovich Alferov was born in Vitebsk, in what is now Belarus, on March 15, 1930. His mother was a homemaker and librarian; his father was a committed Bolshevik who led a cavalry unit in the Russian Civil War and recounted meetings with Soviet leaders Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky.
Dr. Alferov’s first name, Zhores, was a Russian rendition of the last name of Jean Jaurès, a French socialist leader who was assassinated in 1914. Dr. Alferov’s older brother was given the first name Marx in honor of Karl Marx and was killed while serving in the Red Army during World War II.
Dr. Alferov developed an interest in physics while at an all-boys school in Minsk and, in 1952, graduated from the Electrotechnical University in what was then known as Leningrad. He completed his schooling at the city’s Ioffe Physical-Technical Institute, where he worked as a senior researcher and laboratory head before being elected director in 1987.
Dr. Alferov and his laboratory began producing heterostructure devices in the late 1960s. Of “utmost importance,” he wrote in a biographical sketch for the Nobel, was the production of lasers that could operate at room temperature.
He recalled that when he made his first visit to the United States, in 1969, a report he developed on laser advances “produced an impression of an exploded bomb on American colleagues.” Creation of the continuous wave laser that operated at room temperature, he said, resulted in the “rapid development of optical fiber communication.”
Dr. Alferov had two children with his wife, Tamara Darskaya. A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.
In his biographical sketch, Dr. Alferov emphasized the importance of upholding scientific research through the Russian Academy of Sciences. The academy was nearly dissolved in the 1920s, he said, when it was viewed as “an inheritance from the tsarist regime,” and faced a similar threat in the 1990s, when it was deemed “an inheritance from the totalitarian Soviet regime.”
Dr. Alferov said scientific workers of all kinds stood firm in support of the academy, and that he consented to become a member of Russia’s parliament in 1995 only to ensure the organization’s safety. In doing so, he said, he and other researchers made compromises with power but never with conscience.
“All that had been made by human beings, in principle,” he added, “was made due to science.”