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    The Moscow Times / 04 October 2011
    Foreign Scientists Drawn by Lucrative State Mega-Grants
    • By Natalya Krainova
    Программа "мегагрантов" - это не только большие перспективы, но и большие проблемы - от бюрократии до отсутствия оборудования и квалифицированного персонала. Неясен также вопрос с авторскими правами и последующим использованием разработок.

Leading German oceanographer Peter Koltermann was fascinated when he won a Russian "mega-grant" of 150 million rubles ($5 million) last year to research natural disaster risks.
"The Russian government is very daring, allocating a lot of money only under a promise [from researchers] to do it," Koltermann told a recent roundtable in Moscow.
But he has struggled to concentrate on studying tsunamis, earthquakes and melting Arctic ice. Instead, he has spent much of his time fighting red tape.
"I don't expect Russian bureaucracy to be simple," Koltermann said, speaking in English. "And I think that in every bureaucracy, there is some way around. But I'd like to know for sure" how to navigate the bureaucracy in Russia.
In Russian academia, the 1990s are known as the brain drain era. Thousands of leading scientists and hopeful doctorate students moved abroad, prompted by meager salaries and nonexistent research funding at home.
A decade into the "fat years" of oil prosperity, the government is finally trying to reverse the trend, allotting 40 "mega-grants" to people like Koltermann in 2010 and to a new batch of 39 people, including Nobel laureates, last month.
But for now, the government seems to be learning that managing science is a science of its own.
The program is obviously working, because this year's 39 recipients include two Nobel Prize laureates, astrophysicist George Smoot and organic chemist Osamu Shimomura, as well as the former director of the German-based Max Planck Institute of Plasma Physics, Friedrich Wagner, and surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, the first person to successfully transplant a trachea grown from a patient's own stem cells.
But the six mega-grant recipients who took part in the roundtable in Moscow last month had a lot to complain about, including visa problems, endless paperwork, spending restrictions, and a lack of equipment and qualified staff.
Then there is uncertainty about schedules, copyrights and the application of their research in Russia, where the high-tech industry is no less decrepit than academia.
"We need to internationalize our science and education," Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin's first deputy chief of staff and political strategist, said when the grant program was rolled out in April 2010.
"We must take a practical view of things: Researchers in both the West and the East have moved further than we have," Surkov said, in remarks published in Kommersant.
To rectify the situation, the Education and Science Ministry started the mega-grant program, whose recipients get 150 million rubles each and are required to establish laboratories or research centers in Russia. Each grant is to be used within two years, and recipients must spend at least four to five months a year in the country.
"The 150 million rubles are not just to work on a specific issue. The main task is to open a research center where other scientists will work after the program ends," Andrei Malyavin, head of the science department at the Moscow State Medical and Stomatological University, told The Moscow Times.
"The money is to be spent on salaries and the purchase of modern equipment and research materials," Malyavin said in an interview in November.
His university, for one, attracted Ferid Murad, a U.S. Nobel Prize laureate in physiology and medicine.
"Murad, like other scientists [in the program], has skills lacked by our researchers in setting up scientific research," Malyavin said.
Other prominent names in 2010 included Gerard Mourou, a French pioneer in the field of electrical engineering and lasers; Manfred Thumm of Germany, winner of the prestigious IVEC award for excellence in vacuum electronics; and Stanislav Smirnov, the Russian-born and Geneva-based winner of that year's Fields Medal, a top award in mathematics.
Program supervisor Igor Protsenko, a department head at the Education and Science Ministry, called the mega-grant project unprecedented.
"In essence, this is the first time that international expertise has been used" in Russian research, Protsenko told the roundtable.
Indeed, the project is "one of the first instances where a Russian institute has invited a foreign scientist to work on its soil," Jörn Thiede, a German marine geologist taking part in the program, said in an interview.
Paper Sea
The general idea for the mega-grant program is a good one, researchers agreed at the roundtable. But the bureaucratic obstacles in the scientists' path are many and varied.
One major problem is the federal law on state tenders, which involves protracted - to put it mildly - procedures to purchase necessary equipment and materials.
"In Russia, to buy a chemical agent, you need three months," said Yuri Kotelevtsev, a researcher at the British Heart Foundation Centre for Cardiovascular Science with the University of Edinburgh.
"If you need just one chemical agent, no one will talk to you, and you will have to wait till someone orders a truckload of them," said Kotelevtsev, who won a grant to open a laboratory for stem cell research at the Pushchino State University in the Leningrad region.
The system of online tenders was introduced to curb graft among state officials but is applied to government-backed scientific institutions as well.
The government also demands reports on every bit of spent mega-grant money, which results in towering piles of paperwork.
"Don't make our life crazy by constantly demanding to explain why we need this or that," complained Sergei Lukyanov, a researcher at the Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
"How we do research - using this or that device - is our own business. The main thing is to get results," said Lukyanov, a grant recipient who has opened a laboratory at the Nizhny Novgorod State Medical Academy.
The tenders are actually supposed to be handled by college administrators, but they tend to offload responsibility onto the researchers, the researchers said.
"We have very little administrative support," oceanographer Koltermann said. "And not every scientist is a good administrator."
Yet another inconvenience is that the grant money cannot be spent on capital repairs, even though "it's next to impossible to find ready-to-use premises of high quality and fit to conduct research in a short time," said Malyavin of the Moscow State Medical and Stomatological University.
Biochemist Lukyanov said the Nizhny Novgorod university provided his laboratory with a basement where repairs are being carried out "in full swing."
Some people simply give up. Eight researchers failed to arrive at the laboratory of algebraic economics at the Higher School of Economics because they "were unable to cope with … filling out endless papers," grant recipient Fyodor Bogomolov told the roundtable via speakerphone.
Time vs. Money
The proposed time frame of two years to use the grants also appears too short, Koltermann said. In Europe and the United States, he said, grants to start a laboratory usually last four to five years, with the researcher required to spend the entire time in the country that pays him - and not waste much time on paperwork.
Another shortcoming is that similar contests for grant money are usually announced a year in advance, while in Russia the first was announced two months before it was held. "Therefore, it was rather difficult to prepare a substantiated bid," university official Malyavin said.
Also, while 150 million rubles is certainly an impressive sum, it may not be enough to operate a laboratory for two years, Malyavin said.
"Co-financing is not mentioned in the contract but was an indispensable part of the bid and will be one of the main criteria to achieve the grant's goal," he said.
Malyavin's college managed to attract private sponsors and other European grants to help the laboratory's work.
Dim Future
What will happen after each two-year project ends is another concern.
"In two years, a foreign professor can take our best specialists and leave," biochemist Lukyanov said. "This way, [the program] can turn into a personnel recruitment drive for the foreign specialist. We risk seeing a new wave of specialists fleeing abroad."
Any Russians who leave may not be to blame because Russian industry has little way to apply whatever breakthrough discoveries are made.
Industrial production in Russia is not developing, which means "any results in research here … go to the West," said Sergei Nikitov, deputy head of the Institute of Radio-engineering and Electronics of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
"There will be results, but in 10 or 20 years, not one or two," said Nikitov, who won a grant to open a laboratory at Saratov State University.
"You can shower someone with money, but it's impossible to do something fundamental in two years," added Vladimir Klimenko, head of Laboratory of Global Power Engineering Problems at the Moscow Power Engineering Institute.
That is provided that the laboratories survive long enough. No funding is guaranteed for them after the mega-grants, and how the first ones will continue to work after 2012 is anyone's guess, said Vladimir Malakhov, a researcher at the biological faculty of Moscow State University who has opened a laboratory at Far East Federal University to study the fauna of local seas.
Who Owns What
The program gives all rights to the research's findings to the college that hosts the grant recipient, which means that "the leading researcher can't sell the results of his research," medical scientist Malyavin said.
In the United States, researchers can take out a patent on their discoveries, but Russian laws give them no such option, he said.
Imperfect and contradictory patent legislation results in less than 10 percent of Russian discoveries being patented, which hinders the practical application of the research, he said.
Larisa Petrova, a senior researcher at the Physics Research Institute at St. Petersburg State University, said profits from a patent sale would likely go to the host university, leaving out the researcher who actually made the discovery.
Moreover, grant rules oblige a university to pay for securing legal protection of the research's findings from its own pocket, and most colleges do not have the money, Petrova told The Moscow Times in an interview in November.
"Consequently, as soon as such an opportunity arises, the patent - if the university gets one - will be sold by the university, possibly in cooperation with the Education and Science Ministry," Petrova said.
She also said buyers would likely be foreigners because there are "no developed structures in our country to adapt a product of scientific research for commercial use."
They're Working on It
Program supervisor Protsenko of the Education and Science Ministry pledged to have most wrinkles ironed out in the near future.
Amendments to the law on state tenders, exempting scientific research from the cumbersome procedures, are to be passed by the State Duma this fall, he said at the recent roundtable.
He insisted that successful projects would not be abandoned because the program's rules allow financing to be prolonged to laboratories for one or two years, depending on their performance.
Evaluation criteria for success are still being worked out, Protsenko said. But this means grant recipients can contribute to the discussion, he said, urging researchers to submit their proposals on how their work must be judged.
He also condemned college administrators for "shifting their responsibility" on administrative matters onto the researchers. "The only documents a researcher must sign are the research paper and the bill," Protsenko said. He gave no advice on how that might be achieved.
Home Front Problems
Eduard Kruglyakov, who chairs a commission against bogus science at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Novosibirsk, said Russian universities had enough qualified scientists, but their achievements are often modest because authorities allocate almost no money to modern equipment and materials for research.
"I think that inviting the researchers is a humiliation of our own academia and an attempt to destroy it," Kruglyakov told The Moscow Times in an interview in November.
He also blamed poor school education for the dried-up "inflow of smart youth" into scientific research.
Grant recipients might struggle to staff their laboratories because the "prestige of higher education has fallen, and few young people want to do scientific research," agreed Klimenko of the Laboratory of Global Power Engineering Problems at the Moscow Power Engineering Institute.
Two foreign mega-grant recipients were more optimistic about the professionalism of Russian researchers, saying they are well educated. But they also said their Russian colleagues have few opportunities to apply their knowledge and skills inside the country.
Peter Sloot, a professor of computational science from the Netherlands, said by e-mail that Russian scientists are "very good," but the problem is that "sometimes their scientific results are not published in international peer-reviewed journals." "This is mainly because of the language problem and because of traditions," Sloot said, referring to the Soviet-era isolation of Russian science.
"Due to this, these results might not be recognized by the international scientific body for a long, long time," he said. Russian researchers have "excellent basic education," at least in planetary geodesy, Jürgen Oberst, a German specialist in the field, said by e-mail.
But "what is missing are projects and jobs for young researchers," he said.

© Copyright 1992-2011. The Moscow Times. All rights reserved.
* * *
    The Hindu / October 10, 2011
    Russian miracle dressing cures without drugs
    • Vladimir Radyuhin
    Томские ученые разработали инновационную ранозаживляющую повязку "ВитаВаллис", ускоряющую заживление и не требующую применения антибиотиков.
    Создали уникальный "нанобинт" специалисты Института физики прочности и материаловедения СО РАН совместно с учеными Сибирского государственного медицинского университета (СибГМУ) и НИИ фармакологии СО РАМН. Производством занимается малое инновационное предприятие ООО "Аквелит" (резидент томской особой экономической зоны).

Russian scientists have developed a drug-free method of healing wounds that may prove as revolutionary as the discovery of penicillin.
The miracle nano-dressing, VitaVallis, created by researchers in Tomsk, Siberia, helps clean up wounds of all known types of toxic bacteria. It does not get stuck to the wound and heals burns, cuts and any septic and infected wounds two to three times faster than traditional methods do. The dressing stops bleeding, ends inflammation, eliminates swellings and stimulates skin regeneration. It also helps kill pain and remove foul wound odour.
The most remarkable thing about VitaVallis is that it contains no antibiotics and is therefore effective against drug-resistant bacteria, the gnawing problem of clinical medicine.
"The traditional way of treating wounds is to apply antiseptic medicated bandaging to kill pathological microbes, whereas our dressing "sucks" microbes from the wound without administering any drugs," said Dr. Marat Lerner, whose laboratory at the Tomsk Institute of Strength Physics and Materials Sciences developed the technology.
During hospital trials the new dressing cured a 4th-degree massive burn with ghastly-looking lesions at the back of a young man's head within 80 days, against 150 to 180 days normally required to heal such wounds.
The new method was developed at the junction of physics and medicine. It is based on the long-known fact that pathological bacteria typically carry a negative electric charge. Siberian researchers figured that positively charged material should be able to extract bacteria from wounds.
The secret of the VitaVallis antiseptic dressing is the positively charged nanosized alumina fibre which drags negatively charged microbes and lock them down in the absorbing layer.
"The method works with all types of pathological microorganisms and it does not matter whether they are resistant to antibiotics or not," said Dr. Sergey Psakhye, Director of the Institute of Strength Physics of the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. "There are no analogues of our method in the world."
In the 21st century when more people die from sepsis infections than from strokes and heart attacks, the VitaVallis technology may prove just as ground breaking in saving lives and revolutionising healthcare as the discovery of penicillin was in the 20th century.
Aquelite, the company set up in Tomsk to commercialise the new technology, has recently launched the first production line and plans to expand the output from the current from million to 100 million nano-dressings next year. A 10x10 cm dressing sells in Russia for 120 roubles or about $4. Interestingly, the technology was first developed for innovative water filters that dramatically improve the efficiency and speed of cleaning biologically contaminated water. The creators of AquaVallis filters claim it is the world's first water system that guarantees 100-per-cent protection from viruses, bacteria and parasites and does not require any additional disinfection.

Copyright © 2011, The Hindu.
* * *
    HPCwire / September 29, 2011
    Russia Plans to Build Exascale Supercomputer in 2020
    Утверждена концепция развития в России технологий высокопроизводительных вычислений на базе суперкомпьютера экзафлопсного класса на 2012-2020 гг. Производительность у такого компьютера - около квинтиллиона операций в секунду, почти в тысячу раз больше, чем у самого мощного на сегодняшний день российского суперкомпьютера "Ломоносов" (МГУ).

Like China and Japan, Russia intends to build an exascale supercomputer in 2020. A possibility of being there on time has been preliminarily estimated at around $1,5 bln by the local experts.
Russian specialists have prepared a concept of exascale technology development in the country in 2012-2020. This was reported by the document authors at a recent meeting of Russia`s National HPC Technology Platform that CNews has attended.
The group of the document authors consists of experts from the Russian state nuclear corporation - Rosatom, institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences and some leading local universities. The workgroup was formed for concept preparation by the interdepartmental group for supercomputing development in Russia, headed by Rosatom CEO Sergey Kirienko.
At the moment the document is being updated with suggestions by the Ministry of Telecom and Mass Communication who wants to add GRID networks to the concept, the Ministry representatives said to CNews. After the update, the concept will be shown for approval to one of the Russia`s presidential units this October, said one of the workgroup members.
The document has been in work for over half a year by now. The concept authors marked it implies stage-by-stage construction of an exascale super, as well as development of a special processor for exascale computing, HPC platforms, system and applied software.
The exascale machine is not to be an all-purpose computing instrument, they also say, but intended for only a number of narrow compute jobs in some strategically important sectors, such as defense and oil&gas industry.
This year the Federal Nuclear Center located in the Russian city of Sarov, which is part of Rosatom corporation, announced launch of the first petascale system in the country built by its own engineers. Due to the organization`s high secrecy level this supercomputer has not been applied to any HPC ratings. According to the workgroup members, in 2014-2015 it is planned to build a system with performance of upto 10-15 Pflops, in 2017-2018 - to 100 Pflops, and in 2012 try build an exascale computer. It is not, however, specified yet, if it is all going to be extentions onto Rosatom`s initial cluster or different systems.
A source close to the concept workgroup said to CNews the preliminary budget of the project is estimated at around 45 billion rubles (nearly $1,5 bln by the current exchange rate). Another source, familiar with the document, has confirmed the amount is around that. However, after the concept is updated and approved by the state units, the final budget might change, he says, suggesting the amount could exceed 55 billion rubles (nearly $1,8 bln by the current exchange rate).
The same source also says the concept proposes certain project contractors. Fundamental research is supposed to go to academic organizations while the hardware part - to Rosatom and T-Platforms. The latter, says CNews source, could participate in the system architecture development and be involved in the microelectronics works.
It stands to remind that the most powerful supercomputer in Russia, according to the local Top-50 list, now has performance of 1,3 Pflops and is installed in Lomonosov Moscow State University.

Copyright © 1994-2011 Tabor Communications, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
* * *
    HPCwire / September 28, 2011
    Supercomputer Dedicated at Russia's Tomsk State University
    27 сентября в рамках общего собрания Ассоциации образовательных и научных учреждений "Сибирский открытый университет" в Томском госуниверситете состоялась презентация суперкомпьютерного информационно-вычислительного комплекса СКИФ Cyberia.
    СКИФ Cyberia построен на базе 1280 высокопроизводительных процессоров, обладает пиковой производительностью 62 Тфлопс и занимает 10 строчку в рейтинге ТОP50 (мощнейших вычислительных комплексов стран СНГ) и третье место среди суперкомпьютеров университетов СНГ.

On September 27, as part of the "Siberian Open University", the general forum of the Educational and Scientific Institutions Association at the Tomsk State University, a T-Platforms 62 teraFLOPS supercomputing cluster was dedicated in a ceremony attended by the CEO of T-Platforms, Vsevolod Opanasenko, representatives of the Tomsk Region Administration, several large companies, and members of the "Siberian Open University" Association.
The SKIF Cyberia supercomputer with an initial peak performance of 12 teraflops was built for the TSU by Russian company T-Platforms in 2006. In 2010-2011 it was considerably upgraded in accordance with the Tomsk State National Research University Development Program.
Today, TSU's computing cluster is one of the most powerful supercomputers in Russia behind the Urals. SKIF Cyberia is based on 1,280 high-performance processors and has a peak performance of 62 teraflops. Along with the computing system, it includes a data storage system of 100TB and the software to solve scientific, technical and economic problems.
The supercomputer of TSU is included in the latest edition of TOP500 list of the most powerful supercomputers in the world. It ranks 10th in the TOP50 ranking of the most powerful computing systems in the CIS and is the third largest supercomputer of CIS universities.
The TSU Data Center is a unique hardware and software complex, which consists of more than 250 high-end servers, 70TB of data storage, and the software to access the network. The Data Center includes the Situation Analytical Center for monitoring of natural and man-made processes, as well as prediction and assessment of natural disasters and emergencies.
Among the many complicated tasks being addressed by TSU scientists are integrated environmental monitoring of atmosphere and hydrosphere, river floods and spread of fires and epidemics, management of forest and mineral resources, search of new competitive methods of oil and gas exploration, remediation of contaminated soils, design of rocket and space technology and safe mine equipment, creation of new types of rocket fuel and super hard coatings with nanotechnology.
"Siberian Open University" Association is an online community of 42 scientific and educational institutions in Siberia, Far East, Ural, and Kazakhstan regions. It includes universities, research institutes of the RAS SB, general education, and professional education institutions.
About T-Platforms
T-Platforms Group (www.t-platforms.ru) is a global supercomputer developer and a supplier of the full range of solutions and services for the high performance computing. Founded in 2002, T-Platforms Group maintains headquarters in Moscow (Russia) and regional offices in Hanover (Germany), Kiev (Ukraine), Taipei (Taiwan) and Hong Kong (China). The company has implemented more than 200 integrated projects, six of which are included in the Top500 list of the world's most powerful supercomputers. T-Platforms Group owns patents on a number of supercomputer technologies and electronic components. Solutions of T-Platforms are used for fundamental and applied research in various fields of science, including life sciences, nuclear physics, chemistry, mathematics, as well as for highly calculation-intensive tasks in engineering, computer graphics and many others. In 2011, HPCWire named Vsevolod Opanasenko, CEO of T-Platforms, one of 12 most famous and respected people of the global HPC community.

Copyright © 1994-2011 Tabor Communications, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
* * *
    RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty / October 08, 2011
    Siberian Yeti Conference Seeks Out Elusive Hominid
    • By Richard Solash
    6-8 октября в Таштаголе прошла международная конференция, в ходе которой специалисты из России, США, Канады, Монголии, Швеции, Эстонии и Китая должны были окончательно решить вопрос о существовании снежного человека. К окончательному решению не пришли, но вероятность обитания йети в Кемеровской области оценили в 95 %.

Russia's Kemerovo region, located in southwestern Siberia, is home to some 2.8 million people. Plus, purportedly, about 30 yetis.
Yes, yetis - the hairy, towering, forest-dwelling humanoids that many say are the stuff of imagination, but that some maintain are really out there, cleverly evading man's gaze.
And since yeti sightings are on the rise in Kemerovo - up 300 percent in the past 20 years, according to local scientists - the regional town of Tashtagol was chosen to host an international conference recently on the sought-after beast.
Yeti specialists from Russia, the United States, Canada, Mongolia, Sweden, Estonia, and China are participating in the event, which ran October 6-8, and which featured a sharing of alleged evidence and a hike into the surrounding forests and caves to search for clues.
Believers
While some were quick to write off the conference as a gimmick to boost area tourism, there are true believers such as Jeffrey Meldrum, an anthropologist at Idaho State University in the United States.
He and others place their faith in rare, recorded sounds said to be of the yeti.
Also participating in the conference is the 2.1-meter (7-foot) tall Russian heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuyev, himself known as "The Beast of the East," who claims to have seen evidence of yetis and is convinced that they live in nearby caves.
While searching for them alongside reporters on an expedition last month, he deduced that the yeti - referred to in other countries as Bigfoot, Sasquatch, and the Abominable Snowman - must be a rather understanding creature.
"You would think [the yeti] should already be mad [about people looking for him] but he is not, so I guess he is a good-natured being," Valuyev said.
On the opening day of the conference, one local professor presented a document allegedly written by a German soldier in the late 14th century which described a captured man and woman "whose bodies were covered with hair while their hands and faces were hairless." The next day, Igor Burtsev, the leader of the Russian delegation to the conference and director of Moscow's International Center of Hominology, presented photos taken of a bowl left in the wilderness, stripped of the dog food it once contained, and destroyed.
Television reports also showed a Russian researcher, surrounded by onlookers, pointing out hairs and footprints found on a floor of the nearby Azasskaya Cave.
There was also no shortage of graphs, charts, drawings, and eyewitness testimonials at the gathering. Taken together, it doesn't amount to proof of a human-like mystery creature, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything, Burtsev says. The North American variety, he points out, are less averse to contact with people.
No Bones
Still, not all scientists participating in the expedition are working under the assumption that the yeti exists.
Kemerovo State University's chief archeologist, Valery Kimeyev, told the television channel "Rossiya 1" that some hard evidence is needed to complete the picture.
"Until we have found some bones, it doesn't make sense to talk about the yeti. The yeti is not an alien and his lifespan is hardly longer than that of a human being - maybe 100 years, but that is debatable. There must be some skeletal remains," Kimeyev said.
But most of the experts associated with the conference appear to have faith in what they have yet to prove. U.S.-based Loren Coleman, who was invited to participate in the event but declined - in part due to the organizers' unwillingness to cover the cost of traveling to Siberia - says DNA evidence from hair and fecal samples suggests that some unknown beast is indeed out there.
He says he has been fascinated by cryptozoology, or the study of hidden and unknown animals, for some 50 years, authoring multiple books on the yeti and establishing a museum on the field in the U.S. state of Maine.
And while he concedes that a quick trek into the taiga likely won't find the yeti, he thinks the search is far from pointless.
"I have always been one of the proponents that I think we will eventually find some of these hominids, not by quick excursions in the field looking at old evidence, [but] by long-term funding of probably some good female researchers, putting themselves in the field for as long as 6 months," Coleman said.
"Bigfoot, the yeti, the snowman - all of these different kinds of hominids and anthropoids that are unknown - are merely waiting to sort of be found if people have patience."
Females should carry out the search, he explains, because much like apes, the undiscovered primates could be intimidated by male pheromones.
Someone like a Jane Goodall for yetis, he says, is what's needed.
The Siberian yeti conference and expedition is not the first time such an event has been held in Russia.
In 1958, one Professor Boris Porshnev went on expedition sponsored by the Russian Academy of Sciences in search of a "relic hominid."
However, this is certainly the first Russian yeti hunt accompanied by a local creature tweeting his own commentary. In a message tweeted late on October 7, the Russian-speaking hominid thanks visitors for having left their cigarette butts in his cave.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty © 2011 RFE/RL, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
* * *
    Washington Post / October 13 2011
    Young Russian scientists rally against bureaucracy
    • By Will Englund
    В Москве несколько сотен ученых выступили с протестом против бюрократических проволочек в науке, осложняющих работу. Основных требований два - право свободно распоряжаться средствами, полученными по грантам или госконтрактам, и отказ от неэффективных способов финансирования науки.

MOSCOW - Frustrated by a bureaucracy that they say makes research here almost impossible, several hundred scientists staged a protest Thursday and demanded more control over their work.
"We need to liberate our scientists," said Alexander Zinoviev, a physicist at the Ioffe Institute in St. Petersburg. "Don't push us from our country!" the mostly young crowd chanted while a cold rain washed over Pushkin Square.
The protesters were not asking for more money (for the most part) but more discretion over how they can spend what they get now.
Russian budget figures show a fivefold increase in spending for science over the past decade, but with that have come rules that make purchasing of even the most basic equipment a nightmare. And while overall spending has gone up, a fund that dispenses the grants that are a lifeline to many researchers has seen its share of budget money halved.
As a consequence, the number of published papers by Russian scientists - a standard measure of productivity - has been virtually stagnant over the past 10 years. "They're pouring in money, and basically getting no result," said Mikhail Gelfand, a biologist at the Research and Training Center on Bioinfomatics in Moscow. "There are huge funds that are basically wasted."
And scientists - especially young ones - continue to seek opportunities at institutions abroad, which tend to pick the brightest minds. "It's very difficult for them," said Anton Konushin, a computer scientist at Moscow State University and one of the organizers of the rally. As brilliant young researchers hit their prime years, he and others said, they are stifled by bureaucratic delay, rampant cronyism and a strong reluctance among older scientists to retire and make way for them because pensions are so small.
They can get more done in the United States, Konushin said, and get a better salary at the same time.
Zinoviev said it took him two months to buy a new computer because of the onerous tender process. But the hardest-hit specialties are chemistry and, especially, biology. Scientists complain, for instance, that they can buy only generic reagents, rather than specify those from a firm that they know to be of good quality. Biologists can't import cell lines or mice or any other living things, because they will die while held up in customs.
"It makes doing experimental research essentially impossible," Gelfand said.
Most of the problems, said Georgy Bazykin, a colleague of Gelfand's, arise not out of evil or mendacity, but out of stupidity.
Russian science is riven by deep feuds, as the old Soviet infrastructure contends with pressure from above - from the government, that is - and from below, among scientists with a more independent bent.
"Lots of people here can't stand each other," Gelfand said as he addressed the crowd. "But we've come together today."
The organizers said they hope that with parliamentary elections coming in December they might for once get a hearing. "This is some kind of absurd situation," Konushin said. "We just want to draw attention to something that should be done - and fast."

© 1996-2011 The Washington Post.
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    The Wall Street Journal / October 12, 2011
    Russian Entrepreneurs Hoping For Silicon Valley Magic
    • By Lizette Chapman
    Технологические предприниматели из Сколково встречаются с венчурными капиталистами калифорнийской Кремниевой долины. Цель - советы, партнерство, инвестиции. Встреча проходит в Пало-Альто, где 13 сколковских компаний демонстрируют свои проекты.

Tech entrepreneurs from Skolkovo - Russia's emerging Silicon Valley - are meeting VCs in the Golden State this week.
They're showing off their start-ups and asking for feedback. They're seeking partnerships with portfolio companies. And they're hoping California VCs will invest - a move that'll provide both cash to grow their companies and a jolt to the Russian venture community to step up with future funding.
"Right now there's no early VC culture in Russia," said Alexander Turkot, executive director of the Skolkovo Innovation Center's IT cluster. "We need to have examples for our VCs."
Turkot acknowledged some Russian investors like DST Global and Russian Venture Company are successful, but said there are still too few firms to support the tech ecosystem Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is seeking to build at Skolkovo as Russia transitions from an oil-and-gas economy to a tech-based one.
Located outside Moscow, Skolkovo is a 600-hectare business park now under construction and designed to house several hundred start-ups that will be eligible for special tax breaks, visa privileges for foreign workers, grants and other perks. The center includes five clusters-biotechnology, energy, IT, space and nuclear technology-with IT now accounting for 100 of the 300 start-ups now enrolled.
More than $145 million in grants have been awarded so far, but Turkot called it "dumb" money because it doesn't come with the introductions, insight and other magic that VCs sprinkle on start-ups to help transform them into billion-dollar companies.
So, in an effort to get to know Silicon Valley VCs better, the contingent of 13 Skolkovo start-ups has been meeting with firms all week and will do a formal VC demo day today in Palo Alto, Calif. A dozen or so firms, including Accel Partners, Charles River Ventures and Khosla Ventures, have said they plan to attend.
"Companies started in Russia are cheaper (to run) and the quality and talent level is high," said Alex Gurevich, a partner with Javelin Venture Partners. "Innovation is happening everywhere-not just in the Valley. I want to see what Russia has to offer."
Gurevich said the visit comes at an opportune time. Competition to invest in hot Silicon Valley start-ups is intense, with too much money chasing too few early-stage deals. Companies in the mobile, social, gaming and consumer Internet sectors often get pre-emptive rounds at frothy valuations thanks to a confluence of early-stage VCs, angel investors and the increasing number of accelerators and incubators ready and willing to fund them.
"One thing that's clear is that there's some amazing technology in Russia. It's better than what I've seen stateside," said Bill Reichert, managing director of Garage Ventures, who said he also plans to attend the demo day.
Companies presenting run the gamut from Bazelevs Innovations, which makes interactive 3D visualization of scripts for TV and film, to SpeakToIt, which allows smartphone users to better retrieve information with natural language.
"We want to get as much feedback as possible," said Alexey Khitrov, director of strategic development for STC Innovations, which offers voice and facial biometrics. Khitrov said he's already met with representatives at Cisco Systems Inc. and other companies, and is eager to engage now with investors.
"We want to make sure it's the right product at the right time. Our dream investor would be a VC with a strong track record of bringing new technology to market."

Copyright © 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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    Bloomberg Businessweek / October 12, 2011
    Trend to Watch: Innovation, Made in Russia
    Russia has been suffering a brain drain. By supporting entrepreneurs, a Skolkovo incubator hopes to lure many expats back
    • By Janko Roettgers
    О некоторых российских IT-компаниях, представивших свои проекты в Пало-Альто.

The first trip to Silicon Valley often has a profound impact on foreign entrepreneurs. But for the founders of 13 Russian startups currently touring the region, visiting the Valley isn't just about changing their own points of view; it's about changing their country.
The startups, all part of the state-sponsored Skolkovo IT Cluster, are accompanied by a reality TV crew that documents the founders' every move.
The idea is to encourage young Russians to take risks, pursue IT opportunities, and maybe adopt a little bit of Silicon Valley culture in the process (such as the idea that failing with a startup doesn't mean you need to change careers). Katia Gaika, IT Cluster's deputy director for education and research, told me that Silicon Valley's embrace of failing is very foreign to people in Russia. "Failure is not acceptable," she said.
Skolkovo IT Cluster was founded last year as part of a larger initiative to turn Moscow's Skolkovo suburb into a kind of Russian Silicon Valley. The plan was initiated by Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev, and the Skolkovo foundation has since won financial and logistical backing from pretty much every U.S. tech heavyweight. Cisco alone has committed to invest $1 billion over 10 years in the region. Part of that money is now used to jump-start Russian startups. "In order to change things, you have to start doing things," Gaika told me.
SOME STARTUPS TO KNOW
So what kind of things are Russian startup founders doing these days? Definitely things we should pay attention to. The 13 companies taking part in the trip are going to demo their products on Wednesday, Oct. 12, as part of a showcase, but I got to meet representatives of three of them earlier this week. I have to say I was impressed.
One of the founders I met was Ilya Gelfenbeyn, whose startup Speaktoit has launched a virtual assistant on Android that looks a bit like Apple's just-launched Siri, albeit with a friendlier avatar.
Speaktoit is using a cloud-based service to process voice input, translate it into more formalized search queries for external Web services, and send the resulting data to the end user as part of a conversation with the app's avatar.
Gelfenbeyn told me that downloads of his company's Android app have tripled since Apple announced Siri and that Speaktoit hopes to have an iOS app out in two weeks.
BIOMETRIC ID; 3D ANIMATION
Alexey Khitrov from STC Innovations demonstrated how you can use the webcam that's standard on every laptop and many mobile devices for advanced biometric security. What if, he asked me, your cloud-based e-mail wasn't secured by a simple password, but by a biometric ID check that could be launched right within the browser? Khitrov's startup has been founded out of STC, a Russian speech recognition specialist with 20 years of experience and an R&D team of 150. Khitrov now wants to use the inherited knowledge to build his own biometrics empire. "We want to build the company to be a force to be reckoned with," he told me.
The last pitch I got was from Bazelevs Innovation, and the idea was the most original: Bazelevs has built a technology called FilmLanguage that can turn text input into 3D animation. It was initially built to visualize ideas during the production process of a movie, but the company quickly realized this could be used in a whole range of settings.
What if you sent someone a text message, and the recipient's phone would turn it into a small animated clip? Or how about helping lawyers and insurers visualize accidents based on witness reports? Bazelevs Innovations' vice-president for business development, Sergei V. Kuzmin, told me the company is targeting the U.S. especially for this kind of forensics visualization. "We don't have the liability industry," he joked.
Other startups taking part in the roadshow have come up with solutions for image tagging, 3D cloud rendering, clustered Web search, and more. Most of them have been doing significant technology development, which IT Cluster Executive Director Alexander Turkot characterized as a key part of the initiative. Turkot said the goal isn't simply to copy U.S. innovations or build yet another social network. "We try to utilize Russia's advantages," he said, arguing that the country's strong education and research foundation can help local startup founders compete internationally.
Of course, some simply choose to leave and seek their fortunes in the Valley instead. "Brain drain is kind of unavoidable," Turkot admitted, but added: "We believe in brain circulation." Build a better foundation for innovation, and some of those expats may come back, he argued. Skolkovo is part of that plan, and the roadshow was also to signal that Russia is getting serious about innovation. Said Gaika: "These are our ambassadors."

© 2011 Bloomberg L.P. All Rights Reserved.
* * *
    PhysOrg.com / October 17, 2011
    Through the looking glass: physicists solve age-old problem
    Вопрос о природе стекла интересовал физиков несколько столетий. Стекло занимало место где-то между жидкостями и твердыми веществами - его молекулы перемешиваются случайным образом (как у жидкости), но движутся намного медленнее (как у твердого вещества). Многие физики полагали, что в определенный момент стекло должно претерпевать фазовый переход, как это делает вода, меняя состояние от жидкого к твердому.
    Доктор Константин Траченко из Колледжа королевы Марии при Лондонском университете (Великобритания) и профессор Вадим Бражкин из Института физики высоких давлений им. Л.Ф.Верещагина РАН предположили, что стекло - это жидкость, вообще не подверженная фазовым переходам. Различия между стеклом и жидкостью только количественные, а не качественные.

(PhysOrg.com) - A problem plaguing physicists across the globe for centuries has finally made a leap towards resolution. The nature of glass has stumped scientists for years but now a researcher from Queen Mary, University of London has a novel theory to re-ignite the glass debate.
Glass has historically sat in an unknown classification territory, somewhere between being a liquid and a solid. Its molecules are jumbled randomly, similarly to a liquid but moving a lot slower, to the point where they almost aren't moving at all, in a similar state to a solid.
Many theorists have argued that glass must enter a phase transition at some point like water does in changing its state from liquid water into solid crystalline ice.
Dr Kostya Trachenko from Queen Mary's School of Physics, together with his collaborator Professor Vadim Brazhkin from the Russian Academy of Science, took a fresh look at the physics debate and argued that glass is a liquid with no phase transition at all.
"It is difficult to think of glass as a liquid when it displays all the qualities of a solid - it is hard and it shatters when it breaks," Dr Trachenko said.
"However, contrary to what has been previously thought, we propose that glass is not different from a liquid from a physical perspective, in that the differences between the glass and the liquid are only quantitative but not qualitative."
Dr Trachenko and Professor Brazhkin decided to go back to the drawing board in order to explain the accumulated data in a new and non-controversial way.
"When matter, being it gas, liquid or solid, changes between its different phases, its properties change profoundly. A similar important change, the jump of heat capacity, also happens during liquid-glass transition, which is why physicists thought there is some sort of a phase transition, between the liquid phase and the glass phase.
"However, there has been no evidence to support the existence of a distinct glass phase: we know that the glass and the liquid are nearly identical in terms of structure. It was this simple yet persisting controversy that was at the heart of the problem of glass transition.
"What we have shown is that you do not need to assume a new phase or a phase transition of sort to explain the jump of heat capacity. Instead, the mere fact that the liquid stops flowing at the experimental time scale necessarily results in the jump of heat capacity as well as the change of other important properties such as elasticity and thermal expansion. This, in essence, is our new and simple proposal to solve this old-standing problem in physics.
"It has been noted that glass in old, medieval churches is thicker at the bottom, and it has been proposed that this is because glass flows over time. This explanation might not be correct from the quantitative point of view because a few centuries is not enough time for the glass to flow. Indeed, we show in our paper that it may take longer than the age of the Universe for some glasses to flow. However, the qualitative idea is correct: any glass is just a slow-flowing liquid from the physical point of view."
Dr Trachenko likens the theory of glass being a liquid to that of pitch, a name given to hard tar-like substances. He cites an experiment in Australia where pitch (in this case bitumen), was put in a funnel in 1927 to see whether it would in fact drip.
"Pitch, at room temperature, is similar to glass in that it shatters when broken with a hammer," Dr Trachenko said.
"The pitch experiment, which is still running, shows that it actually drips every 10 years or so. Our theory says that pitch heat capacity and other properties would show a change if you compare high- and room-temperature data during a short period of time only (say hours), during which room-temperature pitch does not flow.
"On the other hand, if you take the same measurements over time exceeding 10 years, system heat capacity and other properties will not change because the apparently "solid-like" pitch at room temperature becomes a flowing liquid."
"Nature is often quite economical with its laws. Uncovering this economy and underlying simplicity is the ultimate task of a physicist. This can be hard, but we were excited about getting to the bottom of this problem. When we realised how glasses work, we were quite astounded how simple it was".
Dr Trachenko is excited that the recent theory can be used to explain other dynamic systems which undergo no apparent phase transitions yet show profound property changes once they stop flowing at the experimental time scale.
Dr Trachenko and his collaborator Professor Brazhkin published their findings in the flagship physics journal Physical Review, earlier this year.

© PhysOrg.com™ 2003-2011.
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