|Российская наука и мир|
(по материалам зарубежной электронной прессы)
Times of India / Dec 1, 2014
Russian scientists plan project to detect space threats
Институт астрономии РАН и корпорация «Комета» разработали проект создания системы обнаружения астероидов, комет и других опасных космических объектов диаметром от 50 метров.
MOSCOW: Russian scientists plan to create a space observatory which can spot asteroids measuring over 50 metres at a distance of one astronomical unit and other space objects a decametre in size, similar to the Chelyabinsk meteorite, in the near Earth orbits.
An astronomical unit measures roughly the distance from Earth to Sun.
The project is being developed by the Astronomy Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Kometa Corporation.
"We have been advocating the project as a Russian one, which might (however) be integrated into world systems of mass detection and monitoring of hazardous space objects," said Boris Shustov, director of the Astronomy Institute.
Shustov expressed the hope that Roscosmos, the Russian federal space agency, would support the project of creating a system for detection of space threats.
Copyright © 2014 Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved.
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The Business Insider / Dec. 2, 2014
Russia's Brain Drain Is Astounding
Россия переживает новый всплеск утечки мозгов: если в 2010 году уехали менее 34 тыс. человек, в 2012 - почти 123 тыс., то с апреля 2014 года страну покинули более 200 тыс. человек. По большей части это специалисты высокого уровня, уезжающие ради профессионального будущего.
Russia is experiencing another major brain drain.
Although emigration trended downward from 1997 to 2011, there was a sudden spike in people leaving the country around the third term of President Vladimir Putin, according to Rosstat, Russia's federal state statistics service. In 2012, almost 123,000 people left, and in 2013, more than 186,000 got out.
Additionally, a UN report showed that 40,000 Russians applied for asylum in 2013 - 76% more than in 2012.
The biggest bombshell of all is that since April 2014 - a month after Russia annexed Crimea - 203,659 Russians have left the country.
By comparison, approximately 37,000 people left the country in 2011, and less than 34,000 people left in 2010.
Furthermore, the emigration numbers may be even higher. "The official statistics are very low," Mikhail Gorshkov, the director of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Sociology told Reuters.
What's particularly interesting is the type of people who are leaving the country.
"While the total number of Russians who leave for good remains relatively small, the profile of the typical emigrant has changed. When the Soviet Union dissolved, the most common emigrant was a poor, unskilled young man. Today, it is a well-off professional," according to World Policy.
"People who have it good are starting to leave," Anton Nosski, a tech entrepreneur, told World Policy.
Notable individuals who have left include chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, economist Sergei Guriyev, journalist Leonid Bershidsky, and the founder of VKontakte (Russia's version of Facebook) Pavel Durov.
For the most part, these people are leaving either for their children or for their professional futures. "Corruption, red tape, and allegedly crooked courts are [also] driving the exodus among entrepreneurs," according to Reuters.
"I want my children to grow up in a fairer country, one where the rule of law is more or less observed. I used think it was possible to build a better society in Russia, but I've basically lost all hope now. It's time to leave," one Russian businessman told Vocativ.
"Russian venture capital funds want to invest their money only in Russia," start-up founder Artem Kulizhnikov told Bloomberg news, "but we want to build an international business and they won't support us."
Additionally, Russia's "creative class" is starting to feel isolated, although some politicians seem unfazed.
"Russia won't lose anything if the entire so-called creative class leaves. What's the creative class anyway? For me, a woman who gets up at 5 a.m. to milk a cow is creative because she produces something. Not some guy with a stupid haircut who sits in a cafe all day long writing in his blog," said Vitaly Milonov, a Member of the Legislative Assembly of Saint Petersburg.
But the brain drain isn't the whole story. A huge influx of immigrants are entering Russia as well.
his makes sense: If many high-level individuals and intellectuals are leaving Russia, more high-end jobs and opportunities will become available in Russia.
According to the UN, Russia saw the second-largest number of international migrants in 2013. The number of people moving into Russia actually tops the number of people moving out (which you can see above.)
Many of the immigrants come from countries like Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, according to data from Rosstat.
Additionally, millennials who are culturally Russian but were born in the US or Europe are considering opportunities in Russia.
"There are opportunities for my children in Moscow that aren't found anywhere else," one parent told BI.
"I believe that Russia is at a point where they realize they cannot rely on just oil and gas to keep up with the other BRIC countries and Western economies. Russia is looking to diversify its economy," one 20-something told BI. "The opportunities in Russia seem to be more promising than here in the States currently. Before the current sanctions and drastic low oil prices, Russia was a top seven economic power. As a young Russian-American, I've thought about pursuing opportunities abroad that do not exist in the US."
The bottom line: Russia is seeing some dramatic demographic changes that could greatly influence its economic and political future.
Copyright © 2014 Business Insider Inc. All rights reserved.
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bulletins-electroniques.com / 3/12/2014
Prix "Pour les Femmes et la Science" L'Oréal Unesco Russie 2014
24 ноября 2014 года в Москве состоялась VIII ежегодная церемония вручения национальных стипендий L'OREAL-UNESCO «Для женщин в науке».
La société L'Oréal Russie a créé en 2007 un programme qui a pour but de promouvoir le rôle des femmes dans la recherche scientifique. Les prix attribués récompensent des jeunes chercheuses russes de talent,œuvrant dans le domaine des sciences du vivant ou de la matière, pour les soutenir à un moment clé de leur carrière. Ce programme opère sous l'égide de l'Unesco et associe l'Académie des sciences de Russie, les représentations de l'Unesco en Russie ainsi que le ministère russe de l'éducation et de la science. La huitième cérémonie de remises de ces prix a lieu le 24 novembre dernier à Moscou.
Ce prix "Russie" est l'une des cinquante déclinaisons nationales du programme international "Des femmes pour la science" imaginé par la fondation L'Oréal en 1998 avec le soutien de l'Unesco et qui, en ciblant exclusivement un public féminin, constituait une véritable innovation dans le paysage des récompenses scientifiques. Ces prix nationaux ont permisà plus de 2.000 chercheurs de poursuivre leur carrière dans de bonnes conditions. Et depuis seize ans ce sont au total 82 bourses internationales qui ont été attribuées. A noter, deux des lauréates ont ensuite reçu le prix Nobel : Elizabeth Blackburn en médecine et Ada Yonath en chimie toutes deux en 2009, un an après leur reconnaissance par L'Oréal.
Depuis la création du Prix Russie, 65 jeunes chercheuses ont été récompensées. Le président du jury est le vice-recteur de l'université Lomonossov, le professeur A. Khokhlov. Ce jury comprend également le professeur Tatiana Birshtein de l'Institut des composés macromoléculaires de Saint-Pétersbourg qui a reçu l'un des quatre prix internationaux l'Oréal en 2007.
Les lauréates russes de l'édition 2014 sont :
1. Acharova Irina, astrophysicienne à l'Université fédérale du Sud de Rostov-sur-le-Don,
2. Vologzhanina Anna, chimiste à l'Institut des composés d'organoéléments Nesmeyanov de Moscou,
3. Didenkulova Irina, physicienne à l'Université technologique de Nizhny Novgorod,
4. Ignatieva Daria, chimiste à l'Université Lomonossov de Moscou,
5. Ievleva Aglaia, chercheuse en médecine à l'Institut d'oncologie Petrov de Saint-Pétersbourg,
6. Logacheva Maria, biologiste à l'Université Lomonossov de Moscou,
7. Ostroumova Olga, biologiste moléculaire à l'Institut de cytologie de Saint-Pétersbourg,
8. Pletneva Nadezhda, biologiste à l'Institut de chimie bioorganique Shemyakin-Ovchinnikov de Moscou,
9. Elena Suprun, chimiste à l'Institut de recherche de chimie biomédicale Orekhovich de Moscou,
10. Khrenova Maria, chimiste à l'Université Lomonossov de Moscou.
Pour cette huitième édition du prix L'Oréal Russie, les organisateurs ont reçu 250 candidatures de toute la Fédération. Les candidates sont titulaires d'un doctorat, âgées de moins de 35 ans, travaillent en Russie dans un établissement d'enseignement supérieur ou dans un organisme de recherche et en physique, chimie, médecine et biologie. Les critères de sélection sont le niveau scientifique de la candidate, l'intérêt des travaux envisagés, leur faisabilité ainsi que l'envie manifestée de poursuivre sa carrière scientifique en Russie. Le jury s'appuie notamment sur des critères bibliométriques très élevés.
bulletins-electroniques.com tous droits réservés.
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Royal Society of Chemistry / December 3, 2014
A week of chemistry in Russia
Continuing a history of scientific collaborations.
- Rosalind Onions and Stuart Govan
Итоги Российской недели химии, проходившей 20-27 октября в Москве. Организаторами выступили Королевское химическое общество Великобритании - одна из старейших и влиятельных научных организаций в мире и Отдел науки и инноваций посольства Великобритании в России.
In the last few years, our activities have expanded all over the world. With eight international offices, more than 20 staff in China and six in India, our international presence is stronger than ever before. It is our aim to support the chemical sciences all across the world, including those countries whose chemical science community displays strong growth and potential.
Our activities in three of the four "BRIC" countries - Brazil, India and China - now range from scientific conferences to support for teachers. The fourth country is Russia, which itself has a long scientific history. After years of underfunding, stagnation and the "brain drain" of the 1990s, Russia has big ambitions to get back on the scientific grid, and has prioritised chemistry as one of the nine key fields that are crucial to its national interest.
Russia has a strong entrepreneurial and innovative culture that focuses on commercialising research, and the government has provided large amounts of funding for universities and is encouraging scientists to share their work and collaborate internationally. We recognised this as an opportunity to become a leading partner in shaping future developments across Russia's chemistry community, and began building relationships with universities, companies and the public sector. Back in November last year, Robert Parker attended a signing ceremony between UK and Russian ministers to mark the beginning of the UK-Russian Bilateral Year of Culture and the Russia-Europe Year of Science in 2014. Following on from this, we organised an entire week of chemistry-related activities that took place in Moscow between 20 and 27 October.
A focus on science innovation
Russia Chemistry Week was our first event in Russia with the aim to support innovation, understanding and collaboration in chemistry between the UK and Russia. It featured four specific strands looking at themes with specific appeal to Russian audiences: industry, publishing, cheminformatics and education.
We covered the first three themes as part of the Chemistry+ exhibition in Moscow. Through our exhibition stand, we informed chemical scientists of the work we do and engaged them with our activities. In addition, we held a range of different discussion sessions, open forums and presentations to bring together academics, industrialists and others working in the chemical sciences.
Our opening event focussed on industry in Russia, providing a forum for us to explore the role we can play in supporting innovation in Russia, by supporting SMEs, research groups and multinationals alike. The event was opened by Professor David Phillips, former RSC president; Professor Natalia Tarasova, incoming president of IUPAC; Barbara Habberjam, Minister Counsellor at the British Embassy Moscow; and Alan Thompson, Director of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce. Key industry representatives highlighted both the opportunities and challenges of encouraging innovation and technology transfer in Russia, and representatives from SMEs and universities shared experiences of industry-academia collaboration.
Opening speaker Tatiana Schofield from Synergy Lab said about the day: "The innovation in industry forum provided a great opportunity to showcase best practices in innovation. This event has made a great contribution towards unlocking synergy potentials between universities, industry and the public sector."
Her feelings were echoed by Kendrick White of Lobachevsky State University of Nizhny Novgorod who explained that it "was a terrific opportunity to meet world-class chemistry experts, share experience and make new contacts."
Helping chemists share knowledge
The second day focused on supporting Russian scientists in promoting and sharing their knowledge. It offered us a chance to showcase the depth and breadth of our publishing activities, but also provided a platform to discuss the changing publishing landscape in Russia and the UK, with a focus on Open Access.
Chaired by the University of Nottingham's Professor Martyn Poliakoff, the event enabled attendees to find out about editorial and data publishing from one of our Executive Editors, Serin Dabb, and our Chief Technology Officer Valery Tkachenko. Representatives from NEICON, the Russian publishing consortium, and Moscow State University, added further details on publishing from a Russian perspective.
The Royal Society of Chemistry and UK chemists have had scientific relations with Russia for more than 100 years, as evidenced by a 19th century certificate sent to the Mendeleev Chemistry Society by what was then the Chemical Society to honour the achievements of Alexander Butlerov.
Stressing the long history and the importance of scientific diplomacy between Russia and the rest of the world, Martyn Poliakoff said that "at a time of political difficulties one should maintain scientific links. There are numerous acute problems in the world - famine, clean water, food security … and scientists can solve those when they are working together."
Serin Dabb also emphasised that the current political situation does not influence our editorial policy as a fair and ethical publisher. Whilst we currently publish relatively few papers from Russian authors, this is due to a low number of submissions, which, in turn, is most likely the result of our journals not yet being very visible in Russia.
Finally, the sessions on cheminformatics on the third day highlighted advanced work in mining research data and the role that Russian scientists have played in these developments. In addition to hearing from Valery Tkachenko about some of our activities in the cheminformatics field, participants also had the opportunity to share best practice and explore potential new collaborations.
Connecting people with chemistry
The final part of the chemistry week was a two-day programme of lectures and workshops at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art to showcase the connection between chemistry and art.
Working together with the museum, we were able to translate several of the activities we run in the UK in order to share with the Russian public the importance of chemistry in our everyday lives.
Students were able to explore hands-on chemistry through activities based on those we showcased at the Big Bang Fair earlier this year, and the general public heard about how chemistry and art connect through a public lecture by National Gallery scientist David Peggie. In addition, our Spectroscopy in a Suitcase coordinator Claire Doyle held a spectroscopy masterclass focused on pigments and blueprinting.
Through the week-long programme aimed at audiences ranging from scientists to the general public, we were able to share with people in Russia some of our activities. We were also able to form new connections with the community, which we are looking to build on in the future. Our plans to expand our activities in Russia will begin with us supporting a British Council Researcher Links workshop on molecular materials in February 2015.
© Royal Society of Chemistry 2014.
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The Canadian Press / Dec 04, 2014
Scientists find ancient case of human cancer in man who died 4,500 years ago
Findings refute claim that cancer is a modern phenomenon.
Международная группа археологов из США, Канады и России обнаружила под Иркутском останки человека раннего бронзового века (около 4588 г. до н.э.). У скелета были обнаружены разрушения, свидетельствующие о том, что при жизни этот человек, умерший в возрасте 35-45 лет, болел раком. Таким образом, это еще одно доказательство того, что рак не является исключительно современной болезнью.
Статья «Paleopathological Description and Diagnosis of Metastatic Carcinoma in an Early Bronze Age (4588+34 Cal. BP) Forager from the Cis-Baikal Region of Eastern Siberia» опубликована в журнале PLOS ONE.
A group of researchers, including a Saskatchewan scientist, have found what may be the oldest case of human cancer in the world.
Bones of a man exhumed in Siberia that date back 4,500 years to the Early Bronze Age show he had lung or prostate cancer, which eventually spread through his body from his hip to his head. He died between 35 and 45 years old.
"This is one of - if not the oldest - absolute cases of cancer that we can be really, really confident saying that it's cancer," said Angela Lieverse, a bioarchaeologist at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. She said there have been similar cancer discoveries in remains estimated to be 5,000 to 6,000 years old. But those involved unconfirmed cancers or tumours that were later found to be benign.
The latest study, co-authored by Daniel Temple from George Mason University in Virginia and Vladimir Bazaliiskii with Irkutsk State University in Russia, was published Wednesday in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.
Lieverse said the cancer she and her partners found refutes a widely held belief that the disease is a modern phenomenon.
"We've had this perception that it was almost non-existent in antiquity, because people didn't live the same kind of lifestyle that we live now. They lived in these pure, toxin-free environments and they were very active and ate natural foods," she said. "But it was more common than we like to think it was."
Smoke inhalation may have caused cancer
Lieverse speculates that as well as non-environmental factors, natural carcinogens played a role in ancient cancers. The man in the study was a hunter-gatherer, who would have built wood fires to keep warm in the cool climate. He would have often inhaled smoke, which could have given him lung cancer, she suggested.
The cancer then ate holes throughout the man's bones, which were meticulously preserved and therefore easier to diagnose than typical remains. Lieverse said as soon as she saw the skeleton in 2012, she recognized the marks left by cancer.
She had travelled to Russia as part of a project based at the University of Alberta that studied age-old hunter-gatherers in northeast Asia. But when she saw the bones of the man, her research began to focus on him. She stayed for months documenting the remains and taking photographs.
Lieverse said the man had been buried in a small cemetery in the Cis-Baikal region. He was found in a fetal position in a circular pit with an intricately carved bone spoon, unlike most men of the time who were buried lying on their backs with their fishing or hunting gear.
He must have lived a distinct life in his community, she said, but he also would have experienced a most agonizing death. Near the end, he would have been nauseous, fatigued, unable to breathe and in constant pain.
"It's a tragic story. It breaks your heart to think of what he went through."
© The Canadian Press, 2014.
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Scoop: Independent News / Thursday, 4 December 2014
Times Higher Education: Brics & Emerging Economies Rankings
Журнал Times Higher Education (THE) опубликовал очередной ежегодный рейтинг вузов стран БРИКС и развивающихся стран на 2015 год. На этот раз в список попали сразу семь российских вузов: МГУ (5 место), МИФИ (13 место), Новосибирский госуниверситет (34 место), СПбГУ (64 место), МФТИ (69 место), Уфимский авиационный технический университет (70 место) и Московский государственный технический университет имени Баумана (90 место).
Times Higher Education magazine today publishes its annual BRICS & Emerging Economies Rankings 2015 - the world's only independent ranking for universities in Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa (BRICS) and 17 other emerging economies.
These new annual tables are based on the same trusted and comprehensive range of 13 separate, rigorous performance indicators used to create the prestigious THE World University Rankings, covering all aspects of the modern university's core missions (teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook). But they have been specially recalibrated to better reflect the character and development priorities of universities in the emerging economies.
Some 22 countries classified as emerging economies by FTSE have been analysed: Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, Chile, Colombia, Czech Republic, Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
China has dramatically strengthened its position as the number one nation of the emerging economies, matching its growing economic dominance with rapidly improving universities increasingly able to challenge the established Western elite. China retains the top two positions (Peking University followed by Tsinghua University) in the rankings, and claims a total of 27 top-100 institutions, up from 23 last year. Fudan University follows Peking and Tsinghua, taking ninth place, while University of Science and Technology of China loses its top-10 position, moving into joint 11th place.
Taiwan is the next best represented country with 19 universities in the top-100 list, but this compares with 21 institutions last year. National Taiwan University has slipped from fourth place last year to sixth this year. Also in East Asia, Thailand has three top-100 institutions (down from five last year), while Malaysia has only one, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (down from two institutions last year). Although considered as part of the analysis, Indonesia and the Philippines do not make the top 100.
India has strengthened its overall representation in the list, with 11 top-100 universities compared with 10 last year - including new entrant (and new national number one) Indian Institute of Science in 25th place and the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay in 37th place. This year, Pakistan can claim a top-100 place: National University of Sciences and Technology claims joint 95th place, as a first-time entrant.
Brazil's flagship institution, the University of Sгo Paulo, makes the top 10 this year - moving up one place from 11th. It is followed by the State University of Campinas (27th), the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (61st) and UNESP (slipping from 87th to 97th), giving Brazil four top-100 institutions.
Brazil's South American peer, Colombia, has a single representative on the list, the University of the Andes, which falls from 17th to 28th position. Also in the Americas, Chile and Mexico have two top-100 universities each. Mexico's National Autonomous University of Mexico moved up from 59th last year into the top 50, in 48th place.
Russia has seen a dramatic improvement in its standing - increasing its representatives in the top 100 from just two last year to seven this year, and seeing its number one university, Moscow State University, moving from 10th to 5th. St Petersburg State University also rose, from 67th to joint 64th, while Novosibirsk State University rocketed into the top 100 for the first time, taking 34th place. A methodological change to the rankings this year, reducing the requirement that institutions publish at least 200 research papers indexed by Thomson Reuters a year down to 100 papers, allowed three small specialist institutions in Russia to join the rankings, led by Moscow State Engineering Physics Institute (National Research Nuclear University) in 13th place.
Apart from Russia's improvements, other parts of Eastern Europe lost ground: Poland has two top-100 institutions (down from four last year), led by the University of Warsaw (46th down from 23rd); the Czech Republic and Hungary have two each, both down from three each last year.
South Africa's University of Cape Town slipped one place from third to fourth, while University of Witwatersrand (15th to 14th) and Stellenbosch University (21st to 17th) both moved up the table. Overall, South Africa has five top-100 universities, the same number as last year.
Turkey improved its position significantly. It now has eight universities in the list, up from seven, and the Middle East Technical University moved from ninth place to third - making it the highest ranked university in the developing world outside China.
The Middle East and North Africa region has mixed results. Egypt lost all three of its top-100 representatives (which were all in the 90s last year), but Morocco's sole representative, University of Marrakech Cadi Ayyad, jumped from 83rd to 50th. The United Arab Emirates retained its two representatives, with its leading institution, United Arab Emirates University, moving up from 76th to joint 71st.
The Times Higher Education BRICS & Emerging Economies Rankings are the latest addition to a portfolio that has established Times Higher Education as the world's most respected provider of comparative university performance data.
The methodology of the 2015 BRICS & Emerging Economies Rankings is slightly different from the methodology used in 2014. While the 2014 BRICS & Emerging Economies Rankings used a methodology identical to the overall THE World University Rankings, the 2015 BRICS & Emerging Economies Rankings have been adjusted to better reflect the characteristics and development needs of a university in the emerging economies. The overall World University Rankings require that institutions publish at least 200 research papers a year across the five-year publication period that is assessed before they can be included in the rankings, but to reflect the fact that developing institutions may not have research systems as mature as those of the developed world, this requirement has been reduced to 100 papers a year for this ranking. Accordingly, the weighting given for "research influence", judged by publication citations, has been reduced in weight from 30 per cent in the world rankings, to 20 per cent. The weighting for "industry income - innovation" has been increased from 2.5 per cent to 10 per cent, while the weighting for "international outlook" has been increased from 7.5 per cent to 10 per cent.
Phil Baty, editor of the Times Higher Education Rankings, said:
"Last year, Times Higher Education was the first in the world to produce a specialist ranking of universities in the emerging economies and already the ranking has become an essential resource. As well as helping students get a clearer picture of their global study opportunities, the new ranking is an important tool for institutions to benchmark themselves against the tough international standards set by the flagship THE World University Rankings, and a serious resource for governments to help monitor the contribution their universities are making to their countries' global competitiveness and economic growth.
"Strong universities can be fundamental to a country's economic growth, and with China's outstanding performance, the BRICS & Emerging Economies Rankings provide a clear case study of what can be achieved with a comprehensive, coherent policy to develop world-class universities. The rankings also provide a stark warning of how much distance some developing economies must still travel before their universities can compete on the world stage - and how much they risk if they fall too far behind."
© Scoop Media.
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Christian Science Monitor / December 8, 2014
Russian scientist spies mountain-sized asteroid heading our way
Российский астрофизик, профессор МГУ Владимир Липунов с помощью роботизированной сети телескопов обнаружил астероид 2014 UR116 диаметром примерно 370 метров, который в будущем может представлять опасность для Земли - ее орбиту он пересечет через три года. Вероятность столкновения невелика, но движение астероида планируется постоянно отслеживать.
MOSCOW - A Russian astrophysicist says his team has located a huge, mountain-sized asteroid whose orbit crosses the Earth's every three years.
Even though experts say the giant object, known as 2014 UR116, poses no immediate threat of collision, its unexpected discovery underscores how little is still known about asteroids and their unpredictable orbits.
Vladimir Lipunov, a professor at Moscow State University, announced the find in a short documentary, "Asteroid Attack," posted on the website of the Russian Space Agency on Sunday. Mr. Lipunov says the asteroid, which he calculates is 370 meters in diameter, could hit the Earth with an explosion 1,000 times greater than the surprise 2013 impact of a bus-sized meteor in Russia. That object entered Earth's atmosphere over the city of Chelyabinsk, resulting in a series of ferocious blasts that blew out windows and damaged buildings for miles around.
In the film, Lipunov says it's difficult to calculate the orbit of big objects like 2014 UR116 because, as they hurtle through the solar system, their trajectories are constantly being altered by the gravitational pull of nearby planets. "We need to permanently track this asteroid, because even a small mistake in calculations could have serious consequences," he said.
There is little indication that this particular asteroid could hit the Earth in the next few decades, though over a much longer period a collision looks quite likely, says Natan Esmant, an expert with the official Space Research Institute in Moscow. A more serious issue, he says, is the estimated 100,000 near-Earth objects, such as asteroids and comets, which can cross our planet's orbit and are large enough to be dangerous. Only about 11,000 have so far been tracked and cataloged.
"Every couple of days new ones are being discovered," he says. "Scientists have increasingly powerful tools to do this work, but there's a lot still to be done. Every object that crosses the Earth's path can be a potential threat."
Since the Chelyabinsk meteor, which came as a complete surprise to experts, scientists have been warning about the danger and trying to pool their data in order to get a clearer picture of the swarms of debris that are lurking in space. Scientists use conventional telescopes, radar and infrared detectors to hunt asteroids. The first satellite specifically designed to identify asteroids was launched last year.
A movement of scientists, astronauts, musicians, and businesspeople have launched a campaign to dramatize the danger and seek ways of protecting Earth from what seems like an inevitable destructive collision. They declared June 30, 2015, the world's first Asteroid Day.
© The Christian Science Monitor. All Rights Reserved.
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New Scientist / 11 December 2014; iss. 2999
Russia to cut up "floating Chernobyl" but risks remain
Атомфлот наконец приступил к демонтажу плавучей технической базы «Лепсе», с 1981 года использовавшейся для хранения отработанного ядерного топлива и радиоактивных отходов. Уничтожить «плавучий Чернобыль» предлагалось еще в 1994 г., поскольку радиоактивность его содержимого составляла 2.7 X 1016 беккерелей, что сопоставимо с уровнем выброса цезия после катастрофы на Чернобыльской АЭС.
RUSSIA is finally going to demolish its "floating Chernobyl", a ship full of highly radioactive waste from the Soviet Arctic fleet, 21 years after its existence was first revealed by New Scientist.
Even if it is dismantled safely, more dangerous radioactive junk lurks in the Kara Sea off north-west Russia, much of it unmapped and in the path of oil and gas exploration.
The ex-Soviet ship Lepse contains 2.7 X 1016 becquerels of radioactivity - comparable to the caesium released by the 1986 Chernobyl accident. It comes from 638 fuel assemblies, submarine reactor parts containing spent fuel rods. Half are from the submarine Lenin, which lost reactor coolant in a 1966 accident, overheating and deforming the fuel so it could not be removed.
The European Union is worried that radioactivity will leak out and contaminate Arctic fishing grounds, and it offered to cut up the ship and remove its contents in 1994. But Russia resisted, possibly because it didn't want foreign operators to learn that the uranium was more enriched than usual, says Nils Bøhmer of Norwegian environmental group Bellona, who took part in the negotiations. That would reveal how long the military subs could stay at sea without refuelling - more enriched fuel lasts longer.
The Lepse was finally towed into dry dock in late October, and will be cut up using Russian technology starting this December, says Bøhmer. The midsection containing the fuel assemblies will be taken onto dry land for dismantling in 2016. "That is the most dangerous part," says Bøhmer. "No one knows the condition of the fuel assemblies." If one breaks and falls, the change in geometry could start a chain reaction. This would heat, melt and ignite the highly radioactive material. "It would be a real mess," says Bøhmer.
Meanwhile, 16 whole submarine reactors dumped as waste by Russia still lie offshore, some complete with fuel. Two reactors are still in their subs. One sank in 2003 as it was towed to be scrapped, and another was scuttled in 1981 after an accident. The two sunken subs alone account for "about half the radioactivity in spent nuclear fuel on the seabed in the Arctic", says Per Strand of the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority.
In 2015 Norway and Russia will release a scientific assessment on whether the two subs should be raised, but so far Russia has no plans to clear the rest of the sea's sunken radioactive hazards. Its own scientists, however, fear that severe contamination is imminent.
Strand took part in joint Russian-Norwegian surveys of the wrecks in 2012 and 2014, which found no radioactive leakage. But, he says, because saltwater will corrode the metal around the radioactive material, the "radioactivity from the spent nuclear fuel will eventually leak into the environment". This could even happen by 2020, according to a September report by
Valery Osminov of the Nuclear Safety Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. And given that the nearby facility for demolishing submarine reactors is due to close in 2020, the wrecks should be raised by then, he says.
Meanwhile, there are also 17,000 containers of solid radioactive waste sunk in the area. Recent surveys by Russia and the EU found only a little contamination in nearby sediments. But, says Osminov, 4000 were judged to be in poor shape and could corrode even faster. And unlike the sunken vessels and reactors, we know only roughly where the containers are - and some lie within an area where oil and gas companies plan to explore. "If oil drilling takes place and you hit one of the containers, you could release the radioactivity," warns Bøhmer.
"Unfortunately," Strand says, "there are no concrete plans for raising the objects." That is a Russian responsibility - but so far, says Bøhmer, no Russian ministry wants to take charge.
© Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
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Nature / 16 December 2014
Putin's Russia divides and enrages scientists
Are geopolitical tensions destroying important links with the West, or can Russian research go it alone?
5-6 декабря в Европейском университете в Санкт-Петербурге состоялась конференция, на которой собрались российские ученые, в том числе работающие за рубежом, и представители власти. Обсуждали будущее российской науки, ее проблемы и перспективы, в том числе перспективу оказаться в полной изоляции в результате событий последнего времени.
Even before the slide bearing a portrait of Joseph Stalin appeared, the mood at a St Petersburg meeting on the future of Russian science was tense. But when Andrei Starinets, an expatriate theoretical physicist now at the University of Oxford, UK, used the former dictator's image to reinforce a call for Russia to lead the way in science - and to ask his fellow émigrés to stand united in "turbulent political times" - tempers exploded.
"I'm not going to take this anymore," shouted Alexey Kondrashov, an expatriate geneticist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Seething with rage, he jostled his way out of the room and slammed the door behind him.
After Russia's annexation of the Crimea earlier this year and the violent separatism that threatens to tear apart the rest of Ukraine, Starinets' reference to Stalin - whose actions led to the exile and deaths of millions in the gulag system in the first half of the twentieth century - was provocative. But heated debate bubbled up frequently at the meeting, which was convened on 5-6 December by the private European University at Saint Petersburg.
The geopolitical situation has not yet severely hurt collaborations such as the International Space Station or the ITER fusion reactor that is being built in France. But the gathering, which brought together 100 or so expatriate and resident Russian scientists, as well as government officials, revealed deep divides.
There are those like Starinets, who are staunchly loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin and think that Russian science can restore its strengths by going it alone. And there are those like Kondrashov, who are deeply worried that their country's recent actions in Ukraine and its weak democracy at home are making Russia an unpleasant place to do science and are driving away scientists, whether they come from Russia or elsewhere.
"Any discussion about the future of Russian science is pretty much pointless when this country behaves like a bull," said Kondrashov shortly after he stormed out of the meeting. "I love Russia, but the outlook for science here is gloomy and I'm very concerned about where that country is going."
One goal of the meeting was to devise ways to restore Russian science. The Soviet Union was a scientific powerhouse, but Russian science is still struggling to recover from its near-collapse in the 1990s, and its output lags behind that of rivals such as China (see "Widening gap"). Although Russia has kept its strengths in mathematics and some areas of physics, it trails other large nations in the life sciences.
Tensions at the St Petersburg meeting ran high from the start. On day one, scientists lobbed complaints at Andrei Fursenko, a leading science adviser to the president and one of several close Putin allies on whom the US government imposed sanctions in the spring in response to Russia's actions in Ukraine.
"Do you have a vision for the future of science in this country?" shouted one researcher at Fursenko. "Will we have a say?" another demanded. In part, they were referring to a leaked letter sent by Fursenko to Putin in June, which proposed areas of research to be prioritized for science - and bearing a handwritten "I agree", apparently from Putin. Many scientists saw that letter as a sign that science policy is being decided behind closed doors, without researchers being consulted.
Meeting attendees also complained to Fursenko about a 2013 reform that put the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) under the control of a federal agency that reports directly to Putin. "We are always open about our vision," replied Fursenko. He added that Russian scientists have a negative attitude towards their government, and he made a promise to increase support for "the best Russian labs" - a sentiment that earned some applause.
Another goal of the meeting was to formulate plans to stem an alarming brain drain from Russia. "Students and intellectuals are fleeing this country," said Mikhail Gelfand, deputy director of the RAS Institute for Information Transmission Problems in Moscow. One of those is Sergei Guriev, a prominent economist who was a speaker at a similar meeting held four years ago, and who fled Russia over fears about government repressions.
The loss of scientists is not new for Russia: over the past quarter of a century, an estimated 30,000 have migrated to the West and only a few hundred have returned. But many think that the government's current stance is making things worse.
And although there have been positive consequences of this migration for Russia - mainly the links that grow up between Russian and Western labs as a result - there are signs that these links are under strain. "Most of us grew up, studied, and launched our careers in Russia and later benefited from support and political stability in the West," says Valery Yakubovich, a sociologist and management scholar at the ESSEC business school in Cergy-Pontoise, France. "Maintaining connections is getting more difficult, but even more important in these turbulent times."
At the meeting there were suggestions that the political climate in Russia is interfering with attempts to lure foreign scientists to work there, and to encourage expatriates to return. In 2010, the government launched a "mega-grant" programme worth 12 billion roubles (US$428 million at the time) to attract scientists from abroad to do research at Russian universities.
But "why would anyone who lives a decent life abroad decide to do science in Russia at a time when fear and intimidation interfere with everything in this country?" asked Maxim Frank-Kamenetskii, a biomedical engineer at the University of Boston in Massachusetts. He fears that Russia risks falling back to Soviet-era scientific isolation.
Some say that the way to reverse the brain drain is to change things from within. Gelfand has previously joined Moscow rallies of young Russian scientists and members of the RAS. He called on scientists to have the "moral courage" to create a political environment in which science can flourish. "With a more pronounced civic stance, many bad things here might not happen," he told the meeting.
But not everyone there saw discussion of politics as fruitful. Elena Grigorenko, an epidemiologist at the Yale Child Study Center in New Haven, Connecticut, and one of only four women who succeeded in the competition for the mega-grants, chose not to discuss politics. "I'm a Russian citizen and I do care about politics, but it's my choice when to express my opinions," she said.
And at least one émigré sees the political situation in Russia as a reason to return. Artem Oganov, a Moscow-born computational materials designer formerly at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, relocated to the Russian capital this month. He will take up a faculty position at the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech), an English-language research university that was set up in 2011 in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Oganov is keen to help Russia to restore its science output.
"I'm not a refugee, nobody treated me badly, and I am perfectly at peace with my country," he says. "I do worry about the sanctions and the growing economic problems here, but I could never forgive myself if Russia needed me and I was not there."
© © 2014 Nature Publishing Group, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited. All Rights Reserved.
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Russia and India Report / December 18, 2014
Russian scientists developed new type of prosthetic implant
Ученые Лаборатории медицинского материаловедения ТГУ и Лаборатории наноструктурных функциональных материалов ИФПМ СО РАН разработали эндопротезы межпозвонковых дисков из пористой нанокерамики, которые срастаются с костью и не вызывают послеоперационных осложнений.
New nanoceramic intervertebral disk implants fuse with the bone and are not rejected by the body. According to preliminary estimates these prosthetic implants will be 10 percent of the price for the metal or polymer equivalents thanks to their lower material intensity.
Scientists from the Medical Materials at Tomsk State University and the Laboratory of Nanostructural Functional Materials at the Institute of Strength Physics and Materials Science have developed nanoceramic intervertebral disk implants.
Their expertise has contributed to the invention of a unique material. In its composition, this porous bioceramic material is extremely close to human bone. The implants have a special bioactive coating that promotes cell growth and ensures that the bone grows into the cavity of the endoprosthesis. They fuse with the bone and are not rejected. This material can also be used to replace damaged small joints of the hands and feet and in craniofacial surgery.
Tomsk scientists are convinced that their brainchild will be able to help millions of people all over the world. A herniated disk (HNP) is one of the most widespread ailments on the planet. The most common treatment for it now is a metal or polymer implant, which can cause inflammation or destroy the bone. A porous bioceramic cage is installed between two vertebra and fuses with them, which makes it possible to reduce the risk of complications and repeat surgeries.
The Siberian scientists' work has drawn interest from their foreign colleagues. An international medical materials laboratory comprised of experts from Russia, Germany, Britain, Italy, Greece and Hungary has already been operating at Tomsk State University for a year.
One of the results of its work is cooperation with the University of Cyprus. Joint research with scientists from this university has shown that under certain parameters of the porous structure of ceramic samples, cells that are seeded on their surface begin to produce calcium phosphate compounds. This material is a likely candidate to become a natural bone substitute.
"This coating allows us to endow the ceramic with qualities that help to 'infiltrate' it into the body without causing subsequent rejection," says Professor Sergei Kulkov, the research group's head. "Ideally, in the future we will be able to customize every implant for a particular patient using 3D prototyping. We will be making the first experimental bone for a specific person already in 2015."
"Axis of the world"
The first prototypes have been created and the team is now researching biological cell response and establishing an implants' maximum strength and elasticity. This work is being done with participation of the Federal Research Center of Transplantology and Artificial Organs, the Novosibirsk Institute of Trauma Surgery and Orthopedics, the Tomsk Regional Clinical Hospital and the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences' Institute of Oncology. Implants will be made at NEVS-Ceramics, a vacuum tube plant in Novosibirsk.
"In our estimates, porous bioceramic implants will cost approximately ten times less than the existing foreign equivalents thanks to their lower material intensity," Kulkov told RIR. For instance, he said that a set of small joint implants now costs an average of about $1,100, whereas a Russian porous bioceramic set will cost from $56-93, with their production in Russia amounting to about $74 million.
Independent scientists, however, are cautious in their assessments. They want to see how well the geometry of artificial vertebra will be developed and whether bioceramic implants will be rejected by human tissue.
"This is a very important area of work, which must receive funding and state support at all stages," says Vladimir Balakirev, a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. "It is not for nothing that the spine is often referred to as "the axis of the world": all human organs depend on it. But it is important to test these endoprostheses on living organisms to make sure that these implants are not rejected by human tissue."
© 2007-2014 Russia Beyond The Headlines.
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The Independent / Thursday 18 December 2014
Ivan Pavlov: A Russian Life in Science by Daniel P. Todes, book review: Pavlov wasn't a Pavlovian
В издательстве Oxford University Press вышла книга историка науки Дэниэла Тодса «Ivan Pavlov. A Russian Life in Science» - биография первого русского нобелевского лауреата, физиолога Ивана Петровича Павлова. О социальном контексте науки, неверной трактовке открытий Павлова на Западе и его неопубликованных работах о науке и религии.
Russian science has an illustrious history - Mendeleev (Periodic Table), Kapitsa (nuclear physics), Tsiolkovsky (rocket pioneer), Sakharov (nuclear physicist and dissident) - but it has always laboured under some handicaps: firstly Tsarist repression then distortion for political ends by communism (the Lysenko Affair).
Today, although many of the world's leading scientists are Russian, they practise in the West, where science is better supported than in post-communist Russia. Our Nobel Prize-winning Manchester graphene team of Sir Andre Geim and Sir Kostya Novoselov is a good example.
All of which makes this new biography of Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) interesting because, although he was a Nobel Prize-winning world scientist, the book explicitly sets him in a Russian context.
Pavlov's background was the Russian provincial torpor well known from Chekhov's plays. His father was a priest and Pavlov himself initially trained in a seminary.
But he was happy in the date of his birth because in Russia the Sixties means not the 1960s but the 1860s, when a ferment of progressive, materialist ideas blew in from western Europe to shake the autocratic reactionary Tsarist empire.
Throughout the tumultuous events that unfolded in the early 20th century, Pavlov was a survivor. He did not welcome the Revolution and, like most Russians, suffered greatly during the Civil War of 1918-20. But, as a world famous scientist, the regime supported him, even if he would not reciprocate. In fact, Pavlov was a leading dissident, speaking out in public against the Bolsheviks and drawing ripostes, but not persecution, from the Politburo.
A crude Pavlovianism had a powerful influence on the 20th century. That animals, including humans, could be conditioned to respond in certain ways was one of the themes of Huxley's Brave New World. But Daniel Todes points out on the first page that Pavlov was not a Pavlovian in that sense. He never rang bells to get his dogs to salivate and he didn't deal in conditioned responses; Todes pays scrupulous attention to the original Russian and it transpired that Pavlov talked of "conditional reflexes" and the "bells" were in fact "a metronome, a harmonium, a buzzer, and electrical shock".
A mistranslation in The Lancet of a speech Pavlov gave in 1906 produced the long-running myth of the "conditioned reflex" and the "bells" that made the dogs salivate. Neither was Pavlov a behaviourist: he sought to use his experimental method to illuminate the working of the mind and consciousness, not to dethrone subjectivity.
Pavlov held that the conditional reflex, the dog salivating when a trained stimulus was applied, was the atom of mental activity and he believed he would be able to synthesise a complete account of mental activity from these "atoms". He was, of course, deluded: he knew nothing of neuronal organisation and the neurotransmitters in the brain.
If Pavlov was not the person he was thought to be, who was he? He was an "excitable, choleric" man, attached to his dogs, which he anthropomorphised relentlessly. Not only dogs: among birds in Petrograd Zoo he claimed to see: "literally all the types in Gogol's Dead Souls". To find such nuggets in Todes' biography you must negotiate tracts of mundane institutional matters but, in the end, a much misrepresented icon is given his due.
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Phys.Org / December 18, 2014
Crows join human, apes and monkeys in exhibiting advanced relational thinking
Серые вороны давно уже известны своей сообразительностью - они способны запоминать лица, использовать различные приспособления и общаться между собой довольно хитроумными способами. Группа российских и американских ученых (МГУ и Университет Айовы) доказала, что эти птицы способны также к обобщению по признаку сходства и выявлению сходства по аналогии. До сих пор считалось, что абстрактное мышление свойственно лишь человеку и некоторым высшим приматам.
Статья «Crows Spontaneously Exhibit Analogical Reasoning» будет опубликована в журнале Current Biology.
Crows have long been heralded for their high intelligence - they can remember faces, use tools and communicate in sophisticated ways.
But a newly published study finds crows also have the brain power to solve higher-order, relational-matching tasks, and they can do so spontaneously. That means crows join humans, apes and monkeys in exhibiting advanced relational thinking, according to the research.
Russian researcher Anna Smirnova studies a crow making the correct selection during a relational matching trial.
"What the crows have done is a phenomenal feat," says Ed Wasserman, a psychology professor at the University of Iowa and corresponding author of the study. "That's the marvel of the results. It's been done before with apes and monkeys, but now we're dealing with a bird; but not just any bird, a bird with a brain as special to birds as the brain of an apes is special to mammals."
"Crows Spontaneously Exhibit Analogical Reasoning," which was published December 18 in Current Biology, was written by Wasserman and Anna Smirnova, Zoya Zorina and Tanya Obozova, researchers with the Department of Biology at Lomonosov Moscow State University in Moscow, Russia, where the study was conducted.
Wasserman said the Russian researchers have studied bird species for decades and that a main theme of their work is cognition. He credits his counterparts with a thoughtful and well-planned study.
"This was a very artful experiment," Wasserman says. "I was just bowled over by how innovative it was."
The study involved two hooded crows that were at least 2 years old. First, the birds were trained and tested to identify items by color, shape and number of single samples.
Here is how it worked: the birds were placed into a wire mesh cage into which a plastic tray containing three small cups was occasionally inserted. The sample cup in the middle was covered with a small card on which was pictured a color, shape or number of items. The other two cups were also covered with cards - one that matched the sample and one that did not. During this initial training period, the cup with the matching card contained two mealworms; the crows were rewarded with these food items when they chose the matching card, but they received no food when they chose the other card.
Once the crows has been trained on identity matching-to-sample, the researchers moved to the second phase of the experiment. This time, the birds were assessed with relational matching pairs of items.
These relational matching trials were arranged in such a way that neither test pairs precisely matched the sample pair, thereby eliminating control by physical identity. For example, the crows might have to choose two same-sized circles rather than two different-sized circles when the sample card displayed two same-sized squares.
What surprised the researchers was not only that the crows could correctly perform the relational matches, but that they did so spontaneously - without explicit training.
"That is the crux of the discovery," Wasserman says. "Honestly, if it was only by brute force that the crows showed this learning, then it would have been an impressive result. But this feat was spontaneous."
Still the researchers acknowledge that the crows' relational matching behavior did not come without some background knowledge.
"Indeed, we believe that their earlier IMTS (identity matching-to-sample) training is likely to have enabled them to grasp a broadly applicable concept of sameness that could apply to novel two-item samples and test stimuli involving only relational sameness," the researchers wrote. "Just how that remarkable transfer is accomplished represents an intriguing matter for future study."
Anthony Wright, neurobiology and anatomy professor at the University of Texas-Houston Medical School, says the discovery ranks on par with demonstrations of tool use by some birds, including crows.
"Analogical reasoning, matching relations to relations, has been considered to be among the more so-called 'higher order' abstract reasoning processes," he says. "For decades such reasoning has been thought to be limited to humans and some great apes. The apparent spontaneity of this finding makes it all the more remarkable."
Joel Fagot, director of research at the University of Aix-Marseille in France, agrees the results shatter the notion that "sophisticated forms of cognition can only be found in our "smart" human species. Accumulated evidence suggests that animals can do more than expected."
Wasserman concedes there will be skeptics and hopes the experiment will be repeated with more crows as well as other species. He suspects researchers will have more such surprises in store for science.
"We have always sold animals short," he says. "That human arrogance still permeates contemporary cognitive science."
© Phys.org™ 2003-2014, Science X network.
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Hürriyet Daily News / December/19/2014
As sanctions hit harder, Russia cautiously opens up to innovation
В условиях экономических санкций Москва сосредотачивается на развитии энергетической экономики с помощью инноваций. Однако даже инновации в России работают по-другому.
Amid international economic sanctions that have pounded Russia increasingly hard, Moscow is focusing its efforts on diversifying its energy-based economy with the help of innovation that brings not only commercial promises but also many existential paradoxes.
* * *
"Rumors have it that everything gets more expensive, absolutely," say the lyrics of a song by the legendary Russian artist Vladimir Vysotsky, who died 34 years ago as an unusual figure in the Soviet society, banished by the establishment, but cherished by the masses.
A similar tune is ringing in the streets of Moscow today, as the increasingly tight sanctions from the United States and European Union against the Russian policy in Ukraine have led to a 50 percent fall in the value of the ruble against the dollar this year, bringing an annual cost of up to $140 billion. With foreign capital markets shut down in Russia, the country's growth has stalled and the purchasing power of its citizens has dramatically decreased.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's Dec. 17 statement that "market mechanisms" would be enough to save the ruble did not stop Russian consumers from flocking to stores to pre-empt the imminent rise in prices the same day.
This was not the case just last week, when a group of foreign journalists visited the Russian capital for the "It's Time for Moscow" press tour organized by Russian media group RBC.
Once home to artistic giants like Tolstoy and Tarkovsky, and now the most expensive district in Moscow's city center, Khamovniki was calm when its wealthy residents left their houses in luxury cars to shop around for designer brands or enjoy their time in the neighborhood's upscale venues, like Soho Rooms. Similarly for the middle class, there was neither panic at grocery stores in Taganskaya, nor an extraordinary halt of activity in the shopping malls around Red Square.
The lack of public panic, however, was not due to ignorance or apathy in the face of the upcoming storm. It might be more about what is called "Russkaya dusha," or the Russian soul, that fatalist resignation to suffer for others when the time comes.
Literary critics say Russians see themselves and look ahead with a unique optimism for the future rooted in the past, in spite of today's challenges. For political observers, this socially-bonding self-reflection was what kept the fabric of Russian society from tearing apart in the deepest crises, like the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the crash of the ruble in 1998.
After enjoying a decade of stability, Russian authorities and foreign businessmen now sound equally resilient as the crisis deepens. Kirill Tokarev, editor-in-chief of RBC TV, described the mood as "reservedly optimistic," while Sergey Cheryomin, a minister of the Moscow City Government, said the Russian capital's claim to become an international finance center continues, despite what he dubbed as "new political realities."
Apparently everyone braced for impact in Moscow with a somber readiness. "We see that the Russian market is shrinking and each company feels the effects of the crisis. Everybody sees that recession is coming. But we will overcome it," Thomas Kerhuel, a director of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Between France and Russia (CCIFR), which represents 450 companies, said during a panel on Dec. 9.
Turning the crisis into an opportunity
"I don't know any single investor who says he wants to leave Russia now. Like in the 2008 crisis, those who stay in Russia will get long-term benefits," he added.
"Turning the crisis into an opportunity" is today's favorite phrase for politicians and businessmen in Moscow.
As the weak ruble could be considered relatively good news for Russian exporters, officials in Moscow tell foreign companies that they will have additional benefits if they "localize" their production, instead of seeing the country merely as a market.
European businessmen, on the other hand, say they are happy to see that the Kafkaesque labyrinths of the Russian bureaucracy have become much easier to navigate after the sanctions.
Russian officials and businessmen in the country prefer to not debate whether "it was worth the trouble." After all, President Vladimir Putin had assuredly declared that Ukraine was in Russia's "sphere of influence," and some of his predecessors had dubbed the whole region as "blizhneye zarubezhye," or "the near abroad."
"Not that I have any fear to speak about the issue ... But arguing over Ukraine won't solve today's problems," one Moscow-based businessman argued, while an adviser to a Duma deputy uttered on the condition of anonymity, "You want a summary? Money, money, money."
The Russian government's response to the crisis is also generally approved of in business circles, at least publicly. "The reason that there is no panic is because Russia plays by the rules of liberalism. The ruble should have remained flexible and it is flexible," says Andrei Joosten, the CEO of Lincoln International Russia.
"Not the current exchange level of the ruble, which is adaptable, but rather its volatility is the problem, because people can't see the future now," adds Tim Millard, regional director of advisory group JLL Russia.
Taking steps to stabilize the ruble, attract FDI, increase exports and invest in the ailing infrastructure - which needs some $753 billion - with more dynamic policies for public-private partnerships are seen as a need to alleviate the damage of recession, which is "likely" according to Millard.
The Russian dream vs. reality
Nobody disagrees, however, that the long-term key is in diversifying the energy-based economy by expanding in technology, finance and tourism through innovation, as the Gulf countries have been doing for a while.
In fact, the Russian government had begun to focus on an "innovation-for-diversification" program long before the crisis, but sanctions have urgently rekindled their interest at this time. Putin, himself, stressed the importance of diversifying the Russian economy during his key press conference on Dec. 18.
STROGINO, for instance, was created by the city government in 2007 as a 17,000-square-meter technopark in the suburbs of Moscow. Its purpose is to encourage young scientists and entrepreneurs to innovate through a series of incentives, like providing their newly-created companies an affordable headquarters, equipment and business services, as well as making them come together with mentors and investors to reach a global market.
Small and medium-sized companies based in the technopark's "incubator" are from various fields, from genetics to heating. Whether a local or a foreigner, anyone who would like to invest in such areas is welcome, Russian officials say, counting a number of incentives including zero income tax for the salaries of high-tech sector employees.
Even outside high-tech sectors with added value, many foreign entrepreneurs manage to flourish in Russia. CoffeeBean, founded by an American citizen, competes with Starbucks and BuzzFactory, while a digital marketing agency founded by French citizen Thierry Cellerin, dominates the Russian market.
The problem with the pragmatic Russian approach to innovation lies in its highly controlled, centralized attitude, which clashes with the essence of this concept itself.
As long as the product of innovation does not touch upon sensitive political and social issues, it is wholeheartedly supported by authorities, who allow the individual to achieve "the Russian dream." However, if it does touch on other issues somehow, like Russia's involvement in Ukraine or its own political opposition, it can turn into a nightmare.
Passion of Durov
Take Pavel Durov, who founded Russia's largest social media network VKontakte when he was a 22-year-old. Soon after he was dubbed "the Mark Zuckerberg of Russia," Durov's house was raided by Special Forces after the government demanded the removal of pages of opposition politicians in 2011.
After weathering this storm, Durov publicly refused to hand over the data of Ukrainian protesters to Russia's security agencies in April 2014. Five days later he was dismissed as the CEO of his company. Accusing "Putin's allies of taking over" his innovative company, Durov now lives in self-exile in San Francisco.
"Vladimir Putin's Russia presents one of the most dire media freedom situations in Europe, characterized by ongoing impunity for attacks on journalists and an increasingly repressive climate," the Vienna-based International Press Institute's (IPI) Senior Press Freedom Adviser Steven M. Ellis says.
"He also has expanded control over new media, hinting at unplugging Russia from the rest of the Internet, even as he created an online blacklist, granted authorities sweeping powers to shut down "extremist" websites and requiring bloggers to register with the government," Ellis adds.
Entrepreneurs whose businesses do not have any relation with free speech choose to ignore people like Durov.
"Business is business. Politics is politics. Business is free and there is no influence of politics," BuzzFactory's Cellerin insists. But cases like Durov's are likely to have a chilling effect on the Russian government's policy to encourage innovation to improve the economy in the long run.
One may argue that innovation has some peculiarities in the Russian mind, as compared to the Western one, as for many other concepts imported to Russia from the West. Like the concept of "the Russian soul," many see a certain degree of exceptionalism in Russia as business-as-usual.
After all, even the Open Innovations Forum organized two months ago in Moscow and featuring speakers including Prime Minister Medvedev had chosen the main theme of "Creative Disruption," but together with China as the official partner.
Knowing the limits of innovation in Russia
But how could a new Russian social media network flourish now, for instance, after it has been seen that it could guarantee neither the privacy of its users nor the safety of its founder in an environment where "creative disruption" is allowed only under certain conditions?
In STROGINO, Russian engineers develop many high-tech products that can compete in global markets, like next-generation drugs developed by molecular geneticists at Peptogen. In the same technopark, however, a digital game developer knows the limits of innovation here.
After I checked the website of 101XP, an international publisher of online and social games for the largest Russian and international gaming platforms including VKontakte, I asked if they only produce fantasy games to stay away from political troubles.
"Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes," exclaimed Andrey Skochok, a PR manager of 101XP, while laughing. He recounts how the Canadian-made "Company of Heroes 2," a real-time strategy game, had to be taken off the shelves in his country last year because of depicting World War II in an "anti-Russian" manner.
At the same technopark, Russian company Rantex produces an innovative secure flash drive that "would be loved by Edward Snowden," the American computer professional who is now in self-exile in Moscow after leaking classified information from the U.S. National Security Agency, the NSA.
A European member of the foreign media delegation hosted by the Moscow city government argued that "all countries have double standards when it comes to free speech and public interest," so "exceptionalism is not a Russian-exclusive phenomenon."
A Moscow-based entrepreneur disagreed, though, while admitting how Russia adopted the free market, but not free speech, which led to the janus-headed practice of its innovation policy.
"Whatever other countries do to themselves or to us, we must uphold the highest standards of democracy, reaching from culture-specific peculiarities to truly universal values not only in commerce, but also in all political and social domains. The solution to all crises is in opening up, not closing down," he added, reminding of the word "glasnost."
But as Vysotsky, an all-around artist who can be seen as one of the greatest Russian "innovators" ever, says in his song, "Rumors have it that even rumors might be banned soon," underlining the existential paradox that "the Russian soul" has been facing for decades - struggling between national security and universal freedoms.
EurekAlert / 22-DEC-2014
Russian scientists "map" water vapor in Martian atmosphere
Учёные из Института космических исследований РАН и Московского физико-технического института совместно со своими французскими (лаборатория LATMOS) и американскими (Центр космических полётов Годдарда) коллегами создали карту распределения водяного пара в атмосфере Марса.
Статья «Mars' water vapor mapping by the SPICAM IR spectrometer: Five martian years of observations» опубликована в журнале Icarus.
Russian scientists from the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT), together with their French and American colleagues, have created a "map" of the distribution of water vapour in Mars' atmosphere. Their research includes observations of seasonal variations in atmospheric concentrations using data collected over ten years by the Russian-French SPICAM spectrometer aboard the Mars Express orbiter. This is the longest period of observation and provides the largest volume of data about water vapour on Mars.
The first SPICAM (Spectroscopy for Investigation of Characteristics of the Atmosphere of Mars) instrument was built for the Russian Martian orbiter Mars 96, which was lost due to an accident in the rocket launcher.
The new updated version of the instrument was built with the participation of the Space Research Institute as part of the agreement between RosCosmos and the French space agency CNES for the Mars Express orbiter. The apparatus was launched on June 2, 2003 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome using a Russian Soyuz rocket launcher with a Fregat propulsion stage. At the end of December 2003, Mars Express entered a near-Mars orbit and since then has been operating successfully, collecting data on the planet and its surroundings.
Staff of the Space Research Institute and MIPT, including Alexander Trokhimovsky, Anna Fyodorova, Oleg Korablyov and Alexander Rodin, together with their colleagues from the French laboratory LATMOS and NASA's Goddard Center, have analysed a mass of data obtained by observing water vapour in Mars' atmosphere using an infrared spectrometer that is part of the SPICAM instrument over a period of five Martian years (about 10 Earth years as a year on Mars is equal to 1.88 Earth years).
Conditions on Mars - low temperatures and low atmospheric pressure - do not allow water to exist in liquid form in open reservoirs as it would on Earth. However, on Mars, there is a powerful layer of permafrost, with large reserves of frozen water concentrated at the polar caps. There is water vapour in the atmosphere, although at very low levels compared to the quantities experienced hereon Earth. If the entire volume of water in the atmosphere was to be spread evenly over the surface of the planet, the thickness of the water layer would not exceed 10-20 microns, while on Earth such a layer would be thousands of times thicker.
Data from the SPICAM experiment has allowed scientists to create a picture of the annual cycle of water vapour concentration variation in the atmosphere. Scientists have been observing the atmosphere during missions to Mars since the end of the 1970s in order to make the picture more precise, as well as traceits variability.
The content of water vapour in the atmosphere reaches a maximum level of 60-70 microns of released water in the northern regions during the summer season. The summer maximum in the southern hemisphere is significantly lower - about 20 microns. The scientists have also established a significant, by 5-10 microns, reduction in the concentration of water vapour during global sandstorms, which is probably connected to the removal of water vapour from the atmosphere due to adsorption processes and condensation on surfaces.
"This research, based on one of the longest periods of monitoring of the Martian climate, has made an important contribution to the understanding of the Martian hydrological cycle - the most important of the climate mechanisms which could potentially support the existence of biological activity on the planet," said co-author of the research Alexander Rodin, deputy head of the Infrared Spectroscopy of Planetary Atmospheres Laboratory at MIPT and senior scientific researcher at the Space Research Institute.
Copyright © 2014 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
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Le Figaro / le 23/12/2014
La recherche russe refait lentement surface
По мнению корреспондента Le Figaro, ситуация с научными исследованиями в России, оказавшимися «на дне» после развала СССР, постепенно выравнивается благодаря финансированию.
La crise majeure connue après la chute de l'URSS se dissipe peu à peu, en raison de nouveaux financements.
Au bord de la Volga, à 120 km au nord de Moscou, la ville de Doubna reprend lentement des couleurs. Pas seulement parce qu'en automne le feuillage doré des bouleaux tranche avec le ciel bleu azur, mais aussi parce qu'à cet endroit, à quelques dizaines de mètres sous terre, un nouvel accélérateur de particules est en construction. Lorsqu'il sera terminé, en 2019, selon la date prévue, il devrait faire 503 mètres de circonférence et sera dédié aux ions lourds, la « spécialité » de l'Institut de recherches nucléaires, l'âme de Doubna.
Ce centre scientifique, fondé en 1956 sur le modèle du Cern, a dû adopter une stratégie draconienne pour pouvoir survivre à l'effondrement du système soviétique. Désormais doté d'un budget plus conséquent, il est en mesure d'entreprendre de nouveaux projets et d'attirer des chercheurs: sur 1200 scientifiques, 400 viennent des 17 autres pays membres de l'institut de recherches.
À l'image de l'Institut de recherches nucléaires, la science russe revient peu à peu de loin. La crise majeure qu'a traversée le pays après la chute de l'URSS a engendré une fuite massive des cerveaux vers l'étranger ou le secteur privé. Pour ceux qui avaient choisi de rester, la vie était devenue extrêmement dure, poussant certains à exercer des métiers qui n'avaient rien à voir avec le leur, voire à faire pousser des légumes dans leur jardin pour remplir leur assiette.
En 2009, l'État russe a recommencé à réinjecter massivement de l'argent dans le secteur scientifique, tout en le restructurant. Le budget a quadruplé en douze ans, même si cet effort risque d'être affecté par la chute actuelle du rouble. L'organisme centralisateur, l'Académie des sciences, décerne des « mégabourses » de 2 à 3 millions d'euros chacune pour que des scientifiques ouvrent des laboratoires dans le pays. Les étrangers peuvent postuler, comme le Prix Nobel de physique George Smoot (américain), qui en a reçu une en 2011. Mais l'idée est surtout de faire revenir les scientifiques russes expatriés. Evgeni Rogaev, chercheur en génomique, qui travaille notamment sur la maladie d'Alzheimer, a saisi cette opportunité pour ouvrir un laboratoire à Novossibirsk, à 3000 km à l'est de Moscou. Mais il passe toujours la moitié de son temps à l'université du Massachusetts. « J'aimerais bien que ces chercheurs s'installent en Russie de façon permanente, soupire Alexeï Khokhlov, vice-recteur de l'Académie des sciences, mais ce n'est pas le cas. »
Les salaires ont été augmentés l'année dernière, faisant passer celui d'un professeur d'université de 500 € à 1500 €. C'est encore trop peu dans un pays où une grande partie des étudiants pensent qu'ils s'en sortiront mieux en devenant économistes ou avocats. Et où la compétition internationale reste rude. De très nombreuses publications continuent de ne se faire qu'en russe, alors que la langue des revues spécialisées est l'anglais. La bureaucratie demeure lourde et complexe. « Nous sommes encore loin de pouvoir retrouver notre position d'autrefois », confie une biologiste.
La tendance s'est ressentie dans le secteur spatial. À l'IKI, l'Institut de recherche spatiale, au milieu des grandes figures et des maquettes de missions qui ont marqué l'histoire, les chercheurs travaillent sur cinq projets d'exploration du pôle Sud de la Lune, où ils ne sont pas allés depuis 1976. Un retour d'échantillons est prévu. Mais en raison de collaborations avortées et de financements restreints, les études avancent lentement, et le calendrier est régulièrement ajourné: le premier lancement aurait lieu en 2019. La planète Mars, après vingt tentatives infructueuses, reste en ligne de mire avec les missions Exomars 2016 et 2018, réalisées en coopération avec l'Agence spatiale européenne. « Nous avons tiré quelques leçons de l'échec de Phobos-Grunt, explique Lev Zelenyi, directeur de l'IKI (partie en 2011 pour étudier un satellite de Mars, la sonde n'a jamais pu prendre la bonne route et s'est abîmée dans l'océan Pacifique, NDLR). Nous n'avions pas fait assez de tests. Et nous savons que nous ne pourrons retourner vers Phobos qu'en unissant nos efforts avec ceux de nos partenaires. »
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Nature Geoscience / 23 December 2014
Russia's scientific legacy
Многие открытия и новаторские идеи российских ученых за пределами страны либо неизвестны, либо давно забыты. Например, до недавнего времени мало кому на Западе был известен трактат Михаила Ломоносова «О слоях земных» (1763), одна из важнейших геологических работ, созданная за четверть века до трудов «отца современной геологии» Джеймса Хаттона. Полностью на английский язык трактат был переведен лишь в 2012 г. Языковой барьер сохраняется и в наши дни, делая недоступными для широкой международной аудитории огромное количество ценной научной информации, опубликованной на русском языке.
Many insights of Russian scientists are unknown or long-forgotten outside of Russia. Making the Russian literature accessible to the international scientific community could stimulate new lines of research.
Space scientists from around the world gathered at the Lomonosov Moscow State University this past August for the fortieth scientific assembly of the Committee on Space Research (http://cospar2014moscow.com) amidst a tense political climate. Moscow is a complex city, where aging grandeur and pomp of past decades contrast with the bustle and construction of a modern metropolis. Similarly complex is Russia's scientific legacy: its history has evolved largely separate from the West, isolated by political differences and made inaccessible by language. Nevertheless, there are few countries with as strong a heritage in the space sciences as Russia.
Lomonosov Moscow State University - one of the most prestigious in Russia - was co-founded in 1755 by the scholar Mikhail Lomonosov, who is perhaps best known for his discovery of the Venusian atmosphere from observations of the transit of Venus across the Sun in 1761. Lomonosov's contributions to the geosciences, however, are less well known outside of Russia. His name is probably most familiar in the context of the submerged Lomonosov Ridge that runs across the centre of the Arctic Ocean. The ridge was discovered by Soviet expeditions in 1948 and lies at the heart of a territorial dispute between the nations bordering the Arctic (Nature Geosci. 2, 310-313; 2009). Meanwhile, however, Lomonosov's own contribution to Arctic research is little known. He explained the formation of icebergs in 1760, before anyone else.
In fact, Lomonosov is the author of one of the most important treatises of geology that those of us who were educated in the West have probably never heard of. On the Strata of the Earth was published in 1763 and many of the ideas put forth in the book predate - by a quarter century - similar theories from James Hutton and others considered today, in the West, to be the founders of modern geology. Instead of being heralded alongside his European counterparts, Lomonosov's contribution to the geosciences has been buried, partially due to the fact that On the Strata of the Earth, like Lomonosov's other texts, was published in Russian.
Russia had a rich scientific history from the mid-1700s. Fruitful investigations continued until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to a reduction in research funding and caused many Russian scientists to head to western institutions. Much of this historical research is published in Russian-language journals, creating a language barrier to a broader international readership, a practice that continues to the present day.
A glimpse of the wealth of information hidden in the Russian-language archives was afforded us in the process of handling a paper in this issue of Nature Geoscience. On page 35, Aggarwal and co-authors report that groundwater discharge is the primary pathway for the degassing of radiogenic 4He from the continental crust. However, in the course of the review process, it came to light that a potential role of groundwater flow in 4He degassing is not an entirely new idea. The notion was presented 80 years ago, in a Russian-language journal (V. P. Savchenko, Nat. Gases 9, 53-197; 1935).
For the purpose of the review process, this pioneering 1935 Savchenko paper had to be tracked down and its key points translated by Russian language speakers to allow the authors to cite the paper and the reviewers and editors to assess the advance of the manuscript under consideration over the existing, albeit not readily accessible, literature.
Of course the sophisticated 4He measurements and 81Kr groundwater dating used by Aggarwal and co-authors were not available in 1935. With the help of these modern techniques, a process that could only be hypothesized 80 years ago could be tackled quantitatively. As an added bonus, the research by Aggarwal and co-authors highlights a little-known piece of the Russian literature that will hopefully be considered in this field of research going forward.
But, apart from the occasional paper bubbling to the surface with a citation in an English language journal, the immense wealth of the Russian scientific literature remains largely unknown and inaccessible to researchers outside of Russia. More effort needs to be made to translate and digitize this rich body of research, so that the world's scientific community can build on these insights.
Lomonosov's On the Strata of the Earth was finally translated into English in 2012 (Special Paper 485, Geological Society of America, 2012) and thus integrated into the internationally accessible scientific literature. At this time of renewed tensions between Russia and the West over the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, Ukraine and the risk of renewed isolation of Russian science, it is especially important that the scientific divide of language and politics be lifted so that the body of literature can grow from a stronger, united base.
© 2015 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All Rights Reserved.
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The Epoch Times / December 24, 2014
Siberian Scientists May Be on Brink of Parkinson's Cure
Продолжаются клинические испытания препарата против болезни Паркинсона, разработанного учеными Института органической химии им. Н.Н.Ворожцова СО РАН совместно с коллегами из Томска (ИФАР).
From The Siberian Times: Siberian scientists are spearheading the global fight against Parkinson's disease with tests about to begin on a possible cure. Researchers at the Vorozhtsov Institute of Organic Chemistry in Novosibirsk have already completed trials on animals using a new substance derived from turpentine.
There is hope the chemical, which is mild and could be the first to work without any major side-effects, could hold the key to eradicating the debilitating condition.
Physicians around the world are keeping a close eye on developments in Siberia, particularly as no cure yet exists to help the approximately 10 million people with the illness worldwide. If trials begin next year, a medication could be available to use before 2019.
"Our substance helps to restore the balance of neurotransmitters and is mild and works without major side effects," said head chemist Konstantin Volcho. "Currently, the tests on animals are nearing completion so the next stage would be to test on human volunteers. Sufferers are telling the scientists to hurry up - they're calling and writing to the project manager asking us to accelerate the research."
It is thought as many as 523,000 people in Russia suffer from Parkinson's, a debilitating condition in which part of the brain slowly becomes more damaged over many years. Russian chess grandmaster Leonid Shamkovich, who died in 2005, was among the famous people afflicted by the disease.
The main symptoms are tremors or shaking of parts of the body, particularly the hands, slow movement, and stiff and inflexible muscles. However, sufferers can also experience other problems, including depression, constipation, insomnia, and memory loss.
Currently there is no cure for the illness, which is caused by a loss of nerve cells in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra. This, in turn, leads to a reduction of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine regulates movement.
Scientists are still undecided about what causes the condition, although the majority believe it is a combination of genetic and environmental reasons. The research team in Novosibirsk has been working with a complex formula including turpentine in their possible cure.
Physicians have long known that turpentine baths soothe nervous patients, with some clinics in Russia already using them to dampen down the symptoms of Parkinson's. In preparation for clinical trials on people, a company in Tomsk is already compiling a list of volunteers to take part.
Nariman Salakhutdinov, the head of the medical chemistry department at the institute, said he had been inundated with requests for the drug, even though it has not been fully tested.
He said: "Somehow they managed to find my mobile phone number, and they have been calling from all over the world. But it's not a medication yet, it's only a chemical agent, so, of course, I can't give it to anyone.
"The only thing I can advise to all the patients getting in touch with me is that the company Innovative Pharmacology Research (IPHAR) in Tomsk is creating a database of people ready to volunteer for the clinical tests."
Turpentine is obtained by the distillation of resin from pine trees, and it is most commonly used as paint thinner. However, it has had medicinal uses as far back as the 15th century, when seamen navigating the globe used it to treat cuts and wounds, or as a treatment for hair lice. Mixed with animal fat, it is also used as a chest rub or inhaler for nasal and throat ailments.
Clinical trials with people for the Parkinson's cure will only begin next year if the Russian government continues to foot the multi-million-ruble research bill (at the current conversion rate, US$1 is equal to about 56 rubles).
Copyright © 2000-2015.
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Le Temps / Lundi 29 décembre 2014
Le difficile renouveau de la science russe
Репортаж из нескольких лабораторий и институтов - российские ученые о прошлом и настоящем науки.
La science russe, déliquescente dans les années 1990, veut se reconstruire à coups de milliards. Plusieurs initiatives visent à faire rentrer les chercheurs russes exilés et à attirer les cerveaux étrangers. L'instabilité relative du pays, le cadre de vie, des visions à trop court terme et une bureaucratie parfois lourde freinent encore cet élan. Reportage dans divers laboratoires de Moscou, ainsi qu'au Joint Institute for Nuclear Research de Doubna.
« Santé! Que l'on se porte tous bien. Je suis content que vous visitiez notre institut, ça signifie qu'il est encore en vie. Ça me fait même bizarre! ». Et, dans cette taverne ukrainienne de Moscou, le directeur de l'Institut Vavilov de génétique générale, en souriant derrière sa moustache en bataille, de lever son verre à l'adresse des 26 journalistes européens invités cet automne à prendre le pouls de la science russe. Nick Yankovsky ne l'avouera pas, mais il a dû craindre les remous qui agitent son univers professionnel. Et surtout la pluricentenaire Académie des sciences de Russie, dont son institut dépend, et qui se verra dès 2015 gérée par une agence gouvernementale.
Coincé devant les mets typiques (poisson au fromage, graisse animale pure en tranches, etc.) qui couvrent la table, Evgeny Rogaev a sagement écouté son supérieur. Ce spécialiste en génétique des affections mentales fait partie de ces chercheurs qui sont rentrés au pays, attirés par la renaissance promulguée de la recherche russe. Aujourd'hui, il loue les moyens déployés pour lui redonner son lustre d'antan. Pour autant, prudent, il ne renonce pas (encore) à son autre poste de professeur à l'Université du Massachusetts, aux Etats-Unis, où il est parti au début des années 1990, comme tant de ses collègues.
Après l'éclatement de l'URSS, la science ne figurant pas parmi les priorités de la nouvelle Russie, les financements se sont taris. Dans une inflation galopante, les salaires des savants ont été rognés, ce qui a poussé nombre d'entre eux à trouver un second emploi. « J'ai dû travailler dans des instituts à l'étranger, j'y gagnais en un mois mon salaire annuel russe, admet même Lev Zelenyi, le directeur du prestigieux Institut des études spatiales IKI, où ont été conçus les engins de l'exploration spatiale soviétique, tel le spoutnik. Beaucoup d'autres - entre 25000 et 100000, dit-on - ont préféré s'exiler, vers les Etats-Unis, l'Angleterre, Israël… « De ma volée de 150 collègues en 1989 à l'Université de Moscou, 90% ont émigré », raconte la biologiste Maria Lagarkova. Ceux qui sont restés, comme elle, avaient des raisons familiales.
« Dès l'an 2000, avec l'arrivée de Vladimir Poutine, la situation a commencé à s'améliorer, poursuit Lev Zelenyi. Davantage d'attention a été vouée à la science. Or la vie étant devenue chère à Moscou, les étudiants peinaient à s'y loger, donc à y venir. Un déficit de savants s'est fait sentir. Même les techniciens sur moteurs de fusée, contraints à ouvrir ailleurs un garage à voitures, ne sont pas revenus. »
Aujourd'hui, le ciel est un peu plus clair. Le gouvernement a lancé un vaste programme de « Développement de la science et de la technologie » pour la période 2013-2020, affirmant avoir provisionné 1603 milliards de roubles (48 milliards de francs à l'époque) d'ici à son terme. Cela même si l'objectif affiché de dépenser pour la science et la technologie d'ici à 2020 l'équivalent annuel de 3% du PIB (soit 58 milliards de francs avec les valeurs de 2013) ne sera pas atteint. Et si l'ambition reste bien de rendre la science russe compétitive, on ne réforme pas en deux coups de cuiller à pot un système de recherche et d'éducation complexe et constitué d'institutions historiques, telle l'Académie des sciences de Russie (RAN), fondée en 1724 par le tsar Pierre le Grand.
Considérée par les milieux officiels comme un groupe archaïque d'éminences grises plus soucieuses de leurs privilèges que de produire une science efficiente, la RAN est la cible du gouvernement depuis des années. En septembre 2013, les Chambres du parlement ont approuvé sa réorganisation par une loi: une Agence fédérale pour les organisations scientifiques (FASO) supervisera directement dès l'an prochain d'une part les 434 instituts du pays affiliés à la RAN ainsi qu'aux Académies des sciences médicales et agricoles, employant une soixantaine de milliers de personnes, d'autre part les locaux dont la RAN est propriétaire (260000 hectares!).
Les chercheurs concernés, tout en demandant des moyens supplémentaires, ne nient pas la nécessité de moderniser la vénérable institution, mais dénoncent là une action visant à sa dissolution, qui a d'ailleurs provoqué des protestations dans les milieux scientifiques occidentaux. « Le gouvernement veut liquider l'Académie en tant que pourvoyeuse d'opinions indépendantes. Et veut mettre la main sur son patrimoine immobilier », a écrit en juillet dans Nature Alexey Yablokov, conseiller de la RAN. Et d'annoncer un retour de balancier suite à l'incertitude générée: « Il y a trois ans, les salaires ont un peu augmenté, davantage de cerveaux ont décidé de rester. Mais, au début de 2014, leur fuite s'est à nouveau accentuée. »
Sans se réjouir des déboires de la RAN, certains plébiscitent les changements, comme Alexei Khokhlov. Le vice-recteur de l'Université d'Etat de Moscou (MSU), la meilleure de Russie, a son bureau boisé à mi-hauteur du monumental édifice ressemblant plus à un palais qu'à une haute école accueillant 40000 étudiants. C'est l'une des Sept Sœurs de Moscou, ces gratte-ciel staliniens construits au sortir de la Seconde Guerre mondiale pour faire rayonner la capitale. Le physicien de formation se dit mitigé: s'il souligne l'importance de garantir l'indépendance de la recherche et sa prépondérance sur les aspects managériaux, il l'affirme: « L'argent est là, il devrait simplement être utilisé plus efficacement. » Et d'expliquer qu'il s'agit d'abolir le « système féodal » selon lequel les postes au sein des académies sont garantis à vie, peu importe leur échelon. « Une partie des académiciens se contentent de signer de temps à autre des articles modestes servant à justifier leur statut ». En 2012, l'index global des publications scientifiques mondiales a en effet relevé que seules 2% avaient été produites par la Russie (dont la moitié par des membres des académies - trop peu selon le gouvernement, en regard du nombre de chercheurs qu'elles abritent), contre plus de 27% pour les Etats-Unis. Suite à la réforme, c'est désormais une nouvelle structure indépendante, le Fonds scientifique russe, qui est chargée de répartir sur concours le gros des sommes naguère accordées aux académies.
Par ailleurs, Alexei Khokhlov souhaite que ces savants d'expérience enseignent davantage - ils n'y sont pas tenus - afin d'augmenter le niveau général des étudiants: « Seuls environ 3000 chercheurs en Russie, soit 5% du total, peuvent prétendre jouer dans la cour mondiale. » Les universités russes n'apparaissent ainsi que dans le ventre des classements internationaux, la MSU occupant la 84e place dans celui dit « de Shanghai », et la 114e dans le QS. « Le niveau académique est crucial pour redonner aux jeunes le goût des sciences et technologies, abonde Lev Zelenyi. Bien sûr, ils doivent bénéficier après leurs études d'un salaire décent. » Or là aussi, de premiers efforts sont consentis: « Le salaire mensuel moyen à Moscou est de 65000 roubles (1180 francs), dit Alexei Khokhlov. Pour les professeurs, il valait 140% de ce montant en 2014, et pour 2015 ce sera 145%. C'est parfois plus que dans les académies. »
Pour assurer le salaire de ses 19000 employés, dont 4000 professeurs, « la MSU bénéficie d'un budget de 1 milliard de francs, dit le recteur, Viktor Sadovnichiy. Une moitié est assurée par l'Etat, l'autre par des fonds privés. » Aujourd'hui, si un scientifique peut faire vivre sa famille à Moscou, il n'échappe en effet souvent pas à devoir traquer en sus des bourses et fonds privés ou industriels. « On peut décupler son salaire », assure le vice-recteur, Alexei Khokhlov.
Tous les acteurs rencontrés le reconnaissent: afin de redynamiser la science russe, il semble sensé de miser d'une part sur les domaines où les chercheurs russes bénéficient d'une bonne réputation et de leur expertise, d'autre part sur les secteurs où existe un potentiel immédiat grâce à un savoir-faire présent. A titre d'exemple de ce second champ, la MSU, misant sur les compétences russes en technologies informatiques, se lance dans la course aux superordinateurs. « Dans le classement des machines les plus puissantes, nous sommes à la 37e position, dit Alexander Tikhonravov, directeur du Research Computing Center à la MSU. Mais, avec un budget d'achat de 25 à 30 millions de dollars pour de futurs éléments, nous ambitionnons d'atteindre le top 10. »
Dans la première catégorie figurent les sciences dites « dures », comme les mathématiques ou la physique, surtout atomique et nucléaire (lire ci-contre). Autre domaine dans lequel la Russie veut conserver une place de choix: l'exploration spatiale. Outre le fait d'être pour l'heure la seule nation à pouvoir accéder à la Station spatiale internationale (ISS), elle a un excellent taux de succès de ses lanceurs (un nouveau cosmodrome doit d'ailleurs être inauguré en 2015 à Vostochny, dans l'est du pays). « Avec quatre satellites lancés, nous sommes les leaders dans la détection des radiations spatiales, qu'il faut mieux connaître avant tout long voyage humain dans l'espace », clame Vladimir Kalegaev, du Space Radiation Monitoring Center de la MSU.
A l'IKI, dans des labos qui ont gardé une austérité toute soviétique, on prépare les sondes qui devraient repartir à la (re)conquête de la Lune dès 2018 pour mieux en préciser l'exploitation commerciale des composants et de l'eau présente à ses pôles (LT du 30.08.2014). Dans une pièce qu'occupent un simple bac à sable noir et un dispositif de tiges assemblées à la manière d'un Mecanno, on nous indique avec fierté que ce dernier permettra à la sonde Luna-27 de creuser ou forer dans le régolite lunaire.
A l'étage, dans un anglais parfait, Igor Mitrofanov souligne que les instruments « uniques au monde » que développe son laboratoire de spectroscopie à neutrons, servant à traquer l'hydrogène dans les sols, sont actifs sur l'actuel robot martien américain Curiosity. Plus loin, on s'active autour des éléments qui constitueront son futur pendant russo-européen, ExoMars.
La planète rouge, d'ailleurs, a été au centre d'une autre expérience mondialement médiatisée, en 2011: Mars500. A l'Institut des problèmes biomédicaux (IBMP), en plein cœur de la capitale, six hommes sont restés enfermés durant 520 jours pour reproduire un voyage vers Mars. Dans les hangars poussiéreux, les containers vides qui ont servi à cet exercice semblent n'attendre qu'un prochain équipage. Comme souvent dans les laboratoires russes, on préfère parler du passé glorieux qu'évoquer l'avenir. Mark Belakovskiy, manager de Mars500, accepte toutefois de révéler que ses équipes planchent sur de futures expériences de simulation longue durée, avec pour la première fois des équipages mixtes, et visant à tester des systèmes utiles pour un périple vers Mars (purificateur d'eau, régénérateur d'oxygène, etc.). Une telle expédition interplanétaire - tous le rappellent - ne peut être qu'internationale, et la Russie ne cache pas qu'elle veut jouer un rôle prépondérant.
Si cette nation est restée solide dans ses sciences dures, il en va autrement en sciences de la vie. « Ce domaine a été anéanti sous l'ère stalinienne, dit Maria Lagarkova dans son petit laboratoire de l'Institut Vavilov, où elle travaille sur des cellules souches. On repart de très loin, le niveau général actuel est extrêmement bas car, à l'exception de quelques pointures, il manque ici une masse critique de biologistes. »
Pour tenter de dynamiser ce secteur des sciences de la vie en particulier, mais aussi la recherche russe en général, le gouvernement a lancé des actions concrètes d'envergure. La première, en 2009, fut l'annonce par le président d'alors Dmitri Medvedev de la création, en partenariat notamment avec le Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), du campus Skolkovo. Avec l'appui de l'oligarque Viktor Vekselberg, codirigée par l'ancien manager d'Intel Craig Barrett, cette Silicon Valley russe ambitionne d'insuffler un esprit d'entrepreneuriat dans la technologie russe, en créant de nouveaux laboratoires et start-up ainsi qu'en faisant venir scientifiques et entreprises étrangères phares (IBM, Microsoft, Siemens, etc.). Or cinq ans plus tard, plombé par des affaires de corruption, le chantier n'avance pas vite, malgré les 6 milliards de dollars avancés par le Kremlin: seuls deux bâtiments sont sortis de terre. De plus, le projet est critiqué dans les hautes sphères académiques, car il concentrerait trop de ressources au même endroit: « En réponse à Skolkovo, nous projetons notre propre « scientific valley », Vorobievy Gory, centrée sur différents points forts (espace, nanotechnologies, biotechs, génétique) », annonce de son côté le vice-recteur Alexei Khokhlov.
Afin de rapatrier ses cerveaux et d'attirer ceux de l'étranger, la Russie a mis sur pied en 2010 les « mega-grants » (ou méga-bourses). Sur une durée limitée, les candidats peuvent obtenir jusqu'à environ 3 millions de francs pour lancer un nouveau laboratoire en Russie, avec certaines conditions, comme d'y passer au moins quatre mois par an et d'employer au moins deux doctorants.
Evgeny Rogaev, psychiatre à l'Université du Massachusetts, est l'un des quelque 100 chercheurs à en avoir obtenu une. A l'Institut Vavilov, il a installé un laboratoire pour étudier les gènes de la schizophrénie. « Je ne comprends pas qu'aujourd'hui les scientifiques en Russie se plaignent », dit-il. Avant d'admettre que, malgré ces impulsions bienvenues, les conditions restent « délicates »: « Pour acquérir un séquenceur de gènes Illumina de dernière génération à 1 million de dollars, afin d'être à la pointe, j'ai pu compter sur l'appui d'un mécène… » Et, lorsqu'on l'interroge sur les conditions imposées - passer un tiers de l'année à Moscou par exemple - il élude: « Je crée un labo ici, j'emploie des jeunes chercheurs, je publie mes résultats: que me demander de plus? »
« Ces «mega-grants» ont été un demi-succès jusque-là, commente Alexei Khokhlov. L'idée était de faire rentrer définitivement les scientifiques russes et de conserver les étrangers, mais cela ne s'est pas toujours passé ainsi. Peut-être parce qu'ils ne considéraient pas toujours les perspectives ici comme assez solides, ou que le style de vie est différent. » Le vice-recteur regrette que de telles bourses ne soient pas mises au concours pour les chercheurs locaux.
Toutes ces initiatives de soutien ont un objectif secondaire: renforcer les collaborations internationales entre la Russie et les autres pôles scientifiques mondiaux. Celles-ci ont-elles été impactées par la situation politique et les sanctions infligées en raison du conflit en Ukraine? « Le monde scientifique, indépendant de la situation économique, n'est pas touché », assure le recteur Sadovnichiy. Or, ce printemps, les relations entre les agences spatiales russe et américaine n'ont-elles pas été orageuses, jusqu'à remettre en question la survie de l'ISS? « La NASA a besoin de nous », rétorque Igor Mitrofanov. Son collègue Oleg Orlov, directeur adjoint de l'IBMP, rappelle que « même durant la Guerre froide, la collaboration spatiale s'est poursuivie avec les Etats-Unis ». Début décembre, pourtant, Vladimir Poutine a admis que les restrictions imposées par les pays occidentaux n'étaient « pas très bonnes pour la science et la technologie russes », mais que ces mesures pourraient, en réaction, inciter celles-ci à se développer encore davantage à l'intérieur du pays.
« La Russie est devenue plus stable, il est possible d'y investir plus d'argent dans la recherche qu'il y a 20 ans. Pour preuve, les équipements des laboratoires de neurosciences psychologiques que vous venez de visiter, comme cette « chambre 3D » servant à l'étude des comportements, dont il n'existe que quelques exemplaires en Europe », résume Roman Matasov.
Parlant plusieurs langues, ce linguiste de la Faculté des sciences de la MSU fait souvent office de traducteur dans l'univers académique russe. « Il y a du positif, les chercheurs russes rentrent au pays, ou partent moins, plus par pragmatisme que par patriotisme. » Et de citer les écueils liés aux langues et aux mentalités étrangères, ou les nouvelles ressources financières en Russie et l'envie de reconstruire une science nationale. « Le retour des cerveaux n'est pas aussi intense que souhaité. Dans l'éducation secondaire, les cursus pré-universitaires ne sont pas assez bien ciselés pour préparer des chercheurs d'excellence en assez grand nombre. » Selon lui, ce n'est là qu'un des effets collatéraux d'un sempiternel problème: « On tente d'embrasser trop de domaines à la fois, on s'éparpille, et on s'essouffle sur la durée. Il faudrait agir plus systématiquement. » S'ajoute à cela, comme l'ont relevé nombre de chercheurs, une inertie récurrente dans le monde académique ainsi qu'une fastidieuse bureaucratie dans l'encadrement des initiatives de recherche.
Evgeny Rogaev, qui a un pied en Russie et l'autre aux Etats-Unis, ne dit pas le contraire. Demandez-lui s'il est heureux de sa vie professionnelle, s'il ne souhaiterait pas rentrer définitivement au pays, il lance une énième pirouette: « Si vous vous demandez si vous êtes heureux, c'est probablement que vous ne l'êtes déjà plus… »
© 2015 LE TEMPS SA.
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