|Российская наука и мир|
(по материалам зарубежной электронной прессы)
The Daily Beast / 03.02.16
Russia Could Have a Deep Space Monopoly
When America's Hubble telescope falls to Earth, Russia could be the only country with a set of ultraviolet space eyes - that's if its Spektr UF ever makes it into orbit.
В 2020 году американский орбитальный телескоп «Хаббл» будет, скорее всего, списан. После этого единственным инструментом наблюдения за дальним космосом в ультрафиолетовом диапазоне станет российская космическая обсерватория «Спектр-УФ», запуск которой запланирован на 2021 год. Монополия России на ультрафиолетовую астрономию может создать проблемы ученым, работающим по всему миру. Однако еще хуже будет, если запуск «Спектра» провалится.
The Russian space agency is scrambling to finish a high-tech orbital telescope designed to peer into the depths of space at distant stars, seeing everything in ultraviolet wavelengths that are invisible to the naked eye.
The 50-foot-long Spektr UF - in development since the late 1980s - could become the world's only large, sophisticated ultraviolet space telescope if and when it finally achieves orbit, an event Moscow's space administrators have tentatively scheduled for 2021.
That's because the current orbital telescope with ultraviolet capability - America's 26-year-old Hubble - could decommission as early as 2020 and fall to Earth in a carefully orchestrated "controlled descent."
A virtual Russian monopoly of humanity's ultraviolet astronomy could pose a problem for scientists working outside Moscow's control. Unlike the United States, Russia does not have a policy of freely sharing astronomical data. If Spektr UF becomes Earth's sole set of ultraviolet space eyes, scientists outside Russia striving to understand the interstellar origins of human life could be partially cut off from the latest findings in their field.
And there's an even worse potential outcome. If the Spektr UF project fails and Hubble plummets to Earth in four or five years, all scientists everywhere might be unable to continue their exploration of humanity's origins.
The UV space telescope is one of the "classic astronomical instruments" alongside infrared, microwave, and visible-light telescopes, according to Anatoly Zak, an historian specializing in the Russian space program and the author of Russia in Space.
Russia, and the Soviet Union before it, has invested heavily in all these kinds of telescopes, as has the United States and, to a lesser extent, European nations. The infrared and visible-light telescopes have military uses - point them toward Earth instead of away from it and you've got yourself a spy satellite.
By contrast, ultraviolet telescopes are strictly scientific. Earth's atmosphere blocks most ultraviolet light, so UV sensors can see anything only when they're looking out into space.
And what they see out there is nothing less than the source of all life as we know it.
Stars emit much of their light in the ultraviolet wavelengths, which lie between x-rays and visible light on the electromagnetic spectrum. Detecting and analyzing that light can tell us a lot about a star's origins, character, and fate - and can offer clues about humanity's own beginning.
"Astronomers have known for 50 or 60 years that all heavy elements in the universe - carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, all the things that make up our bodies - all of them come from stars," astronomer Jason Tumlinson told The Daily Beast. Tumlinson works for the Space Telescope Science Institute, a Baltimore-based organization that partners with NASA to analyze data from Hubble.
Combining their most recent findings, Tumlinson said he and other astronomers now believe that those heavy elements actually journeyed beyond the Milky Way galaxy - our own - before returning to seed Earth and ultimately give rise to the human race and other life.
They came to that conclusion because Hubble showed them patterns in distant starlight - all in ultraviolet. But Hubble isn't primarily a UV sensor. That capability is secondary to its visible-light and infrared functions. And Hubble won't last forever. Its orbit is stable into the 2030s, but its mechanical parts are wearing out. NASA's best guess is that the telescope could function into the 2020s, given adequate funding for maintenance.
The earliest generations of ultraviolet telescopes have all been decommissioned, and many newer UV space sensors are stuck in the planning stage. NASA has devoted most of its own resources to developing new visible-light and infrared telescopes, effectively ceding the ultraviolet spectrum to the Russians once Hubble ceases operations - a move Tumlinson called "a bit of an oversight."
But that assumed Spektr UF actually achieved orbit as planned. In 2014 and 2015, however, the Spektr UF program nearly fell apart. Russia's economy is shrinking, and that means deep budget cuts for most agencies that aren't fighting wars in Ukraine and Syria. In late 2015, Zak and other observers expected the Russian space agency to ax Spektr UF, potentially saving billions of dollars over the next couple decades.
But when the agency announced its new spending plan back in December, Spektr UF survived with a $127 million budget line through 2025 - and got a 2021 launch date.
Zak said he was surprised the telescope program endured not just because of its cost but because Russia's own actions in the world had so badly undermined Spektr UF's development and piled uncertainty on top of risk. As the project evolved through the 1990s and early 2000s, it gained significant support from the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, Germany...and Ukraine.
But Kiev withdrew its support after Russian forces invaded Ukraine in early 2014. Cut off from Ukraine's high-tech industries and unable to buy high-tech components locally, Moscow had contracted with a British firm for the sophisticated detectors that, applied to the telescope's focal plane, register the ultraviolet radiation that passes through the telescope's specially treated lenses.
But the British firm sourced components from American companies. And after the Russian annexation of Crimea, the U.S. State Department barred those companies from selling advanced technology to Russia, even indirectly - and even though the technology has only peaceful applications.
Madrid and Berlin have allowed their scientists to continue collaborating with their Russian counterparts on the research aspects of the Spektr UF program, but that doesn't mean European countries are willing to sell high-tech components to Russia. Zak said Russia might be able to buy detectors from China or even develop them locally.
But it could take years for Chinese or Russian firms to refine the parts, possibly delaying Spektr UF's deployment past 2021. And even then, the make-do detectors probably won't match the sensitivity of American models. "That technology is very, very tricky," Tumlinson pointed out.
In any event, Spektr UF seems likely to survive and eventually reach orbit, potentially taking Hubble's place just as the American telescope begins its fiery, fatal descent back to Earth. Barring the rapid development by China, Europe, or another space power of an alternative UV telescope, the Russian government will control access to most new information on the ultraviolet lives of the stars.
Tumlinson speculated that the German and Spanish investigators using Spektr UF might share their data, but he doesn't expect the Russians to do the same. To safeguard America's ultraviolet astronomy, he said NASA could extend Hubble's operations or firm up what are, at present, vague plans for a new ultraviolet telescope for service in the 2030s.
When it comes to the ultraviolet telescope, the future is unclear. What is clear is the importance of this complex, pricey, politically divisive sensor. "It gives us access to a lot of astrophysical information carried by ultraviolet photons that we can't get any other way," Tumlinson said.
© 2014 The Daily Beast Company LLC.
* * *
Science Codex / February 3, 2016
Russian scientists blow up ice to test their theories
Механики Томского государственного университета создали программу для моделирования поведения льда, известняка и каменного угля при взрывных работах. Испытания проводит мобильная лаборатория «Исследования поведения природных материалов при взрывном нагружении».
What is the right and safe method to blow up ice on rivers, if a week ago the air temperature was about zero? How to plant explosives, in conditions when spring ice will not melt and it is low temperature? The mechanics of Tomsk State University (TSU) have left their warm laboratories to test their methods in practice.
* * *
TSU is located in Siberia where winter comes in November and may continue up to March. This is why there is a lot of ice on rivers. However scientists, who involved in research of dynamic loading of ice, may face with situation when some results were not consistent. The Mobile Laboratory for Research of Behavior of Natural Materials under Explosive Loading was established specially for the express-analysis. The scientists observe behavior of different types of ice after blasting.
- Along with blast on ice I feel adrenaline rush, - says Maksim Orlov, PhD, the member of the research team. - Especially exciting is the moment when you move to a crater from the blast, it is a moment of truth which shows relevance of your theoretical model.
Nowadays scientists have found and described 15 types of ice, but its structure is so complex that you can barely forecast its behavior under dynamic loading. The University's scientists have investigated different types of ice, including river one for 25 years. Physical and mathematical model of ice behavior under dynamic loads as well as a numerical method for calculating its impact and explosive loading, capable of reproducing the main features and mechanisms of deformation and fracture has been developing are currently under development.
- Snow-covered and snow-free ice cover of sandwich structure have already been the objects of our research. We have worked with natural limestone as well, and will soon begin an experimental study of bituminous coal and sparry limestone, - says Maxim Orlov. - Our goal is to study the morphology of destruction and find patterns in this process.
The main difficulty of "ice" studies was identified in the last century by Malmgren, Kann, Maeno, Bogorodskiy and others. It lies in the fact that such an ancient natural material like ice under dynamic loading has been little explored. This is due to its complex internal structure, features of its crystal lattice, anomalous plastic properties, multiple phase transitions in the process of deformation, influence of temperature, etc.
Due to the real "go on ice" researchers receive the unique scientific data, which is then used in construction of mathematical models among them are integral characteristics of the processes (the diameter and depth of explosive lanes, etc.). The results of this research are presented in the article «Mobile laboratory "Explosive destruction of natural materials ": Investigation of the behavior of ice and limestone under explosive loading».
New Historian / February 09, 2016
Court Rules Siberian Ice Princess Will Stay With Researchers
Суд Горно-Алтайска отклонил иск общественников, требовавших захоронения мумии "алтайской принцессы", которая сейчас находится в Национальном музее им. А.В.Анохина и считается одним из самых важных археологических открытий последнего времени.
In the Altai Republic, a lawsuit on behalf of the Teles ethnic group demanding the reburial of "Princess Ukok" has been rejected by the court - allowing the mummified remains to stay under the care of the National Museum, located in Gorno-Altaysk, the capital city of the Altai Republic in Russia.
Also known as the Siberian Ice Princess, the ancient tattooed mummy of a young woman was discovered preserved in the permafrost on the Ukok Plateau and subsequently removed from her tomb by Russian archaeologists in 1993. Until a few years ago the remains were kept primarily in Novosibirsk at a scientific institute (she was sent for a short period to Moscow where her remains were treated to decrease deterioration, by the same scientists responsible for preserving Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin's body).
Approximately 25 years-old at the time of her death, the Ice Princess is believed to belong to the Pazyryk people - a nomadic tribe described by the Greek historian Herodotus in the fifth century BC. Researchers do not believe she was a royal, although her extravagant grave does suggest she was someone of great importance. Her colorful body art has been described as a collection of the most elaborate and well-preserved ancient tattoos in the world.
The leader of the Teles ethnic group, Akai Kine, who is also the president of the Kin Altai Spiritual Centre of the Turks, described Princess Ukok to The Siberian Times as the White Lady, a priestess who guarded "the umbilical cord of the Earth." He went on to say, "She stood as a guard at the gates of the underworld, preventing the penetration of evil from the lower worlds. However, after archaeologists removed the mummy, it has lost its strength and can no longer perform its protective function. So evil started to penetrate, natural disasters and human conflicts began."
In a region where the influence of shamans still exists, many of the local residents in Altai were nervous when these remains and others were removed from the sacred burial mounds (kurgans), despite their scientific value. In Altai, her removal has been blamed for most misfortunes, natural and otherwise; high winds, forest fires, suicides and illnesses, even an increase in the number of earthquakes in the region.
One local was quoted as saying, "There are places here that it is considered a great sin to visit, even for our holy men. The energy and the spirits there are too dangerous. Every kurgan has its own spirit - there is both good and bad in them - and people here have suffered much misfortune since the Ice Princess was disturbed. It is nothing short of sacrilege to pour hot water on the remains of ancients who have survived in the permafrost for thousands of years," he said.
The move to rebury the princess is opposed by both state officials and the academics who have been involved in researching the remains.
Developments in technology continue to divulge new information about the mummy. In 2014 for example, an MRI scan revealed the woman had breast cancer and that she had used marijuana to help ease the suffering. Additionally, the mummified woman has helped researchers make great advances in understanding the Pazyryk culture. Her tattoos show extraordinary artistry and skill and the items found with her in the burial chamber, including beauty products found in a "cosmetic bag", help to recreate the life of a woman dead for two millennia.
Copyright © 2015 FB &c Ltd.
* * *
BBC / 12 February 2016
What if cosmonauts were the first to walk on the Moon?
50 лет назад советская автоматическая межпланетная станция «Луна-9» стала первым аппаратом, совершившим мягкую посадку на Луне. Это событие повышало шансы СССР и на первенство в высадке человека на Луну, но советская лунно-посадочная программа заметно отставала от американской - в основном из-за проблем с носителями.
Think the US won the titanic Cold War struggle to visit the Moon? Think again. Unmanned Soviet landers were there long before Neil Armstrong took his giant step...
A few minutes before 10pm Houston time on 20 July 1969, TV stations across the world interrupt their programming to bring historic news.
The words "live from the Moon" flash across the screen and the picture flickers to reveal a metal ladder against a dusty monochrome landscape. A boot comes into view as an astronaut tentatively finds his footing. Then he jumps out of the frame.
The camera slowly swivels to pan across a magnificently desolate view of rubble, ridges and craters.
The astronaut's voice is indistinct as he bounces a few metres away from the lander and we see him remove a flag from a pocket in the leg of his spacesuit. It is attached to a folded frame, which he clips together and plants in the lunar soil.
Stepping back, the first man on the Moon salutes. The hammer and sickle appears to ruffle in the vacuum.
This alternate reality of a Soviet lunar expedition is not as far fetched as you might imagine. February 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of a landing that, at the time, suggested a communist nation really could be the first to claim the Moon for all mankind.
In February 1966, a Russian space probe, Luna 9, made the first controlled "soft" landing on the Moon. The mission was an engineering marvel that helped answer fundamental questions about the lunar surface and paved the way for the first crewed missions.
"In the mid '60s the Americans and Soviets were both trying to get to the Moon," says Doug Millard, space curator at London's Science Museum, which is currently hosting an exhibition bringing together an unprecedented collection of Russian space artefacts.
"Before you put a human on the Moon you had to land a robotic craft and we tend to forget all the successes from the Soviet side," he says.
Standing some three metres tall, Luna 9 consisted of a square base with four legs - much like the Apollo Moon lander. On top of this was a vertical cylinder topped by an ovoid dome, resembling the closed petals of a flower.
"That part was the lander itself," explains Millard as we view an engineering model on display in the exhibition. "When it was a metre or two above the surface, this was flung off, and it unfurled four petals and righted itself like a child's toy - really very clever indeed."
Rather than simply announce the 3 February 1966 landing in the Ocean of Storms, the mission planners decided on a more subtle approach to global publicity.
"The pictures that were sent back to Earth were on a frequency that could be readily picked up, which I imagine was quite deliberate, says Millard. "The Jodrell Bank radio telescope in England received them and they were transmitted around the world."
To newspaper readers of the time it seemed that Russia was well on its way to beating the Americans in the space race. Director of Jodrell Bank, eminent radio astronomer, Sir Bernard Lovell, described the landing to the BBC as "an historic moment" and added that it was, "the final achievement necessary for a manned landing on the Moon."
As well as sending back nine images, the mission solved a question that was seriously bothering mission planners on both sides of the Iron Curtain. There were fears that the lunar surface was covered in some sort of deep dusty "quicksand" and any lander would sink. Luna 9 proved the ground was solid, a fact that helped the Russians and Americans move ahead with their manned programmes.
The flight profile to land a Soviet cosmonaut on the lunar surface was similar to the American's plan for Apollo. A giant rocket would blast a module and lander into orbit around the Moon. Whereas the three-man Apollo spacecraft, had a tunnel linking the command module and lander, in the Soviet design one of the two-man crew would spacewalk across to the lander and descend to the lunar surface alone.
The obvious candidate for the world's first spacewalker was Alexei Leonov. The bulbous five-metre-tall and heavily engineered LK-3 lunar lander he trained in is also on display in the Science Museum.
"The cosmonaut would be standing at the controls, strapped down so he wouldn't float away, peering through the small windscreen angled down towards the lunar surface as it made the descent," says Millard. "You can picture Leonov controlling his descent and he had even less time than Neil Armstrong to find somewhere to land - so it might have been even more dangerous than Apollo."
The Soviet plan did, however, have several safety features built-in that were lacking in the US Apollo programme. The lander was not only fitted with a back up engine, an unmanned lander would have been sent to the Moon in advance.
"That would be used in the eventually of a failure of Leonov's lander," says Millard. "A robotic rover would also have been launched prior to Leonov's landing to act as a beacon. It could also be used in an emergency for the cosmonaut to drive to the back-up lander and thereby return safely to Earth."
It was an ambitious and well-thought-through plan. The lunar lander was successfully tested - unmanned - in Earth orbit. And the first robotic Moon rover Lunokhod 1 - around the size of a small car - made it to the Moon's surface in 1970.
Unfortunately for the Soviet space programme, the giant N1 rocket they needed to get Leonov to the Moon never completed a successful launch. At 105m (346ft), similar in height to the American Saturn 5, this was a beast of a rocket. Its first stage alone was fitted with 30 engines.
Completed after the untimely death of chief Soviet rocket designer Sergei Korolev, the N1 project was rushed and the engines never fully tested on the ground before the first launch in February 1969.
All four launch attempts ended in failure - the first N1 rocket lasted a minute, the second collapsed back onto the launch pad in a fireball, the third disintegrated and fourth exploded.
By this time, 1972, the race to put a man on the Moon was well and truly lost, although the Soviet lunar programme was not officially cancelled until 1974.
What should not be forgotten, however, is that when it came to robotic probes, the Russians got to the Moon first. And in January 1973, a few weeks after Gene Cernan left the last footprint on the Moon, Russia's second Lunokhod rover began a four-month mission trundling across the lunar surface and returning high-resolution pictures back to Earth.
If the N1 rocket programme had started a few years earlier, Alexei Leonov could realistically have been the first man on the Moon. Although, warns Millard, some people still would not have believed it.
"If Leonov had been the first man on the Moon, the flag would have been different but it would still have wobbled about - because once you touch a flag on the Moon it doesn't stop wobbling," he says. "It would have been the same conspiracy theories all over again."
Copyright © 2016 BBC.
* * *
EurekAlert / 11-Feb-2016
LIGO, including the MSU scientists, announced a record of gravitational waves
LIGO Scientific Collaboration, integrating more than 1000 members (including 8 representatives of the Lomonosov Moscow State University) managed to register space-time oscillations - gravitational waves.
Ученые объявили об обнаружении гравитационных волн, существование которых было предсказано еще Альбертом Эйштейном. В международном проекте LIGO Scientific Collaboration участвует около тысячи ученых из разных стран, в том числе и из России - из МГУ и Института прикладной физики РАН.
The case was the first announced recording of space-time oscillations - gravitational waves, reaching the Earth after a catastrophe that happened far in the Universe. That confirms a significant prediction made in the special theory of relativity made by Albert Einstein 1916 and enables a brand-newunprecedented understanding of space.
Unique suspension test masses were made of fused silica. The measured decay time of pendulum oscillation test mass was amounted to about 5 years. It was demonstrated experimentally, that there are no mechanical noises, previously detected in the steel filaments, in redundant quartz suspensions.
The noise, associated with electric charges located on the quartz mirrors detectors, was studied in detail. A new class of fundamental thermodynamic noise was found in the detector in the mirror. Its analysis led to a significant change in the current optical configuration of the LIGO.
The research pointed out the danger of parametric instability effect of the interferometer, which was later found in the LIGO detector. The methods for its prevention were provided.
Qualitatively new topology of the optical system of gravity-wave detectors, based on the principles of quantum measurement theory, were proposed and analyzed. The developed methods should improve the sensitivity of the next generation detectors and contribute to the development of gravitational-wave astronomy.
"The scientific importance of that fact is immeasurable. Just as it was with electromagnetic waves, we will be able to realize its full meaning later," says Valery Mitrofanov, the director of LIGO's Moscow team. "LIGO Scientific Collaboration started in 1992, the time particularly difficult for our country, but Russia joined the project thanks to Vladimir Braginskiy, one of the pioneers in gravitational waves researching in the world. I would like to stress his merit of creation a school at the MSU Faculty of Physics, able to produce scientists that could participate in LIGO project and contribute significantly to the job of its large team. We hope that it inspires other the students of the MSU Faculty of Physics, since we have a range of new challenges awaiting decisions."
"For the first time in the history of science the waves of spacetime curvature were recorded, this discovery starts a new era in astronomy," - says professor Sergey Vyatchanin, professor of the MSU Faculty of Physics.
"This is an outstanding attainment that lays a way to a new research direction - gravitational wave astronomy. Only a large collaboration of scientists in an international project managed to conduct it," says Igor Bilenko. "It is remarkable that the fundamental discoveries made by a great Russian scientist Vladimir Braginskiy and his colleagues, - quantum limits, methods of quantum measurements and quantum fluctuations, - were a significant contribution to the project."
"A number of Russian researches influenced the decisions of LIGO. The Moscow team put its efforts to overcoming noises that prevent from finding effects that are rarely recorded and hence are difficult to discover. Though, they influence the detectors of LIGO significantly," - says Leonid Prokhorov.
Russian Federation is represented in the LIGO collaboration by the two groups of scientists from the Faculty of Physics of the Lomonosov Moscow State University and from the Institute of Applied Physics of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
The group from Moscow was founded and lead by Professor Vladimir Braginsky, the world-famous scientist, one of the pioneers of gravitational-wave research.
The research group, incorporated in the number of scientific discovery collaborators, includes members of the Chair of Physics of Oscillations Faculty of Physics of the Lomonosov Moscow State University: professors Valery Mitrofanov (the head of the group), Igor Bilenko, Sergey Vyatchanin, Michael Gorodetsky, Farit Khalili, assistant professor Sergey Strigin and assistant Leonid Prokhorov. An invaluable contribution to the research made by students, graduate students and technical staff of the Chair of Physics of Oscillations.
The group from the Lomonosov Moscow State University is involved in the project since 1992. From the very beginning, the main efforts were directed at improving the sensitivity of gravitational wave detectors, determining the fundamental quantum and thermodynamic sensitivity constraints and at developing the new measurement methods. Theoretical and experimental research, conducted by the Russian scientists, was embodied in creating a new generation of detectors, which allowed to directly observe the gravitational waves from the merger of two black holes.
During the work the group as a part of the LIGO collaboration produced the results of fundamental importance, which could be applied not only for the search for the gravitational waves, but also for the whole physics itself:
Copyright © 2016 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
* * *
The Moscow Times / Feb. 22 2016
Standing Up for Reason: Russian Academia Fights Pseudoscience
Проблема лженауки в России.
A young woman named Nikol looks to the camera, wiping away what seem to be tears of happiness. She has reason to be happy, having navigated through to the next round of the Russian television show "Battle of the Psychics." Somehow, she had managed to select the one car out of 30 that contained a teenager inside the trunk.
Nikol, who says she has been a psychic for 15 years, made quite an impression on the teenager. Not only did she find his car in 10 minutes flat, she also told him that she could sense his father died "some time ago." The boy is shocked. "It's true - in 1998," he answers. "You're amazing."
"Battle of the Psychics" has captured the imaginations of millions of the watching Russian public. According to TNS Gallup, it was one of the top five most watched shows in December 2015 - success that can be put down to a more general blossoming of pseudoscience in Russia.
Pseudoscience was largely suppressed during Soviet times. The moment the system fell apart, however, a Pandora's box of iffy theories sprang open. "Slowly, but surely, it was allowed to make its way into the Russian public mainstream," says Alexander Sergeyev, a member of the Russian Academy of Science's commission on pseudoscience.
Pseudoscience has found a comfortable home in Russia's "anything goes" culture, and is routinely aided by propaganda and unscrupulous media outlets. But the scientific community has begun to fight back, and is looking at inventive ways to debunk irrational beliefs, non-scientific myths and interpretations.
In 2015, a young team of Moscow-based scientists led by Alexander Panchin and his friend Stanislav Nikolsky launched the Harry Houdini Award project. Their proposition was that the extrasensory industry was bogus, and they called on magicians and psychics to prove them wrong.
Similar to "Battle of the Psychics," the Houdini Award gives magicians an opportunity to demonstrate otherworldly abilities in a series of experiments. They even offered a reward of 1 million rubles ($12,900) to any person able to demonstrate such skills. Unlike "Battle of the Psychics," the Houdini Award experiments are strictly scientific, and have removed factors of luck and dishonesty from the contest.
The scientists say anyone who thinks they have paranormal abilities can take part in the Houdini Award contest. When applying, Houdini nominees are asked to list their paranormal talents, and after that the organizing committee designs an experiment to test the claims.
"We can only test supernatural abilities that we can model in the course of an experiment. For example, we can't test the ability to cure cancer or predict the future," Nikolsky, co-founder of the project, said.
To win 1 million rubles, a nominee has to successfully complete two experiments - a preliminary one conducted in front of the press, and a final experiment, carried out in front of the experts. In 2015, the Houdini Award team tested five nominees. So far, unsurprisingly enough, no one has passed the preliminary stage.
Who Wants a Million?
In the three experiments The Moscow Times observed in late December, none of the nominees came close to success. Unanimously, however, they blamed everything but themselves for the failure.
In the first experiment, the self-proclaimed psychic Iolanta Voronova had claimed she could say who different objects belong to just by looking at them. An experiment was set up where she was asked to return 12 passports to their owners - male volunteers - without opening the documents. The volunteers were present during the experiment and wore the exact same T-shirts. Voronova, a flamboyant woman in her 40s, was allowed to touch both them and their passports.
She wasn't right about a single passport, but Voronova had an excuse. "The participants were too similar and there were no drastic events in their lives," she said.
Another two experiments dealt with death. The first nominee, a gloomy young woman named Zlata Dmitruk, claimed she was a medium and could see dead people; the second one, an abrupt lady in her 50s, Tatyana Ikayeva, said she could see the past and the future with her Tarot cards.
Both of them were offered pictures of 10 different people and a list of situations in which they died. The mediums were supposed to be right about at least five cases in order to successfully pass the experiment. Again, both of them failed, and were wrong about all 10 cases.
"The test was incorrect," a disappointed Dmitruk said after the experiment. "How am I supposed to know whether a man hanged himself or shot himself? I just see suicide," she said. Ikayeva said she agreed with Dmitriuk.
Panchin has little time for such explanations. "The fact that these 'psychics' couldn't win the million shows exactly why faith in paranormal abilities is groundless," he said.
There are two categories of pseudoscience, says Sergeyev from the RAS's commission. The first one is the one packaged and "sold to the public," and includes psychics, "magical" medications and "supernatural" devices. The second involves the system of science itself. "A significant part of research in Russia is falsified or just delusional," he said.
And here's where the "Rooter" project comes in. Launched in 2008 by Mikhail Gelfand, a prominent biologist, Rooter tests standards at scientific journals. It started when Gelfand decided to send a bogus article, composed entirely by a computer program, to a scientific journal and see if they would publish it.
The benign experiment quickly evolved into a full-blown scandal. The scientific journal published the article with "minor corrections," and failed to notice an all-too revealing dedication Gelfand had inserted in it. "The imaginary author of the article thanked myself, Mikhail Gelfand, for pointing out the problem of scientific magazines publishing random articles," Gelfand said.
The scientific journal that published the article was soon excluded from the Education Ministry-affiliated Supreme Review Board's list of recommended magazines.
Gelfand says pseudoscience continues to be a serious problem in Russia. "It is prevalent in three areas: in sensationalist lies like belief in UFOs; in clerical teaching about evolution and so on; and within government, when the state bases engineering developments on bogus research." All three areas are dangerous for the country, Gelfand says - "dangerous in different ways, but dangerous nonetheless."
On the governmental level, pseudoscience has infiltrated not only engineering developments, but the humanities as well. "Over the past decade the state tried to create its own history," says historian Nikita Sokolov. He is one of the founders of the Free Historic Society, an organization advocating purely scientific approaches to Russian history.
"Politicians are now using history to push their own agenda," Sokolov told The Moscow Times. "They are creating this image of Russia that has its own special path, that has always been a fortress under siege, surrounded by enemies."
A siege mentality is useful to politicians, Sokolov says, since it helps establish political conformity and encourages people to give up their rights. From a historic point of view it is "bogus," however: "Russia has never been a fortress, it has always collaborated with its neighbors, and to that end it is no different from any other country," Sokolov said.
The attempt to rewrite Russia's history by banning old schoolbooks and introducing new, ideological ones ones should have caused an uproar in the historical community, continues Sokolov. There was, however, nothing of the sort. At least part of the reason was that there "is no historical community" as such in Russia.
Sokolov is especially critical or the role played by Vladimir Medinsky, Russia's culture minister and a historian by education.
In 2015 Medinsky declared that Russians should treat "epic Soviet heroes … as canonized saints." And anyone who expressed doubt was essentially in the business of "betraying the memory and deeds of ancestors."
Medinsky's words came in response to renewed questioning of the role of Panfilov's "28 guardsmen" in the World War II defense of Moscow. Archivists have argued, however, that the episode was a fantasy of Soviet journalism, published for propaganda purposes.
Sokolov's Free History Society issued its own statement, condemning Medinsky of being "unprofessional," "full of managerial pride," and "bureaucratic arrogance." "It is a historian's duty to establish the historic truth based on original sources, no matter what the political situation is," the statement read.
The society, which emphasizes its apolitical nature, monitors history teaching and comments made by politicians and government officials. In addition to this, it produces numerous lectures and seminars.
"The demand for our lectures is very promising. Even if there are 30 people present at the lecture, we know that 2,000 people are watching it live on the Internet, and another 100,000 will watch it later on YouTube," Sokolov said. "People long for high quality information these days. The television just doesn't do it anymore."
There is no simple answer to the question of how to tackle pseudoscience most effectively, says Sergeyev from the RAS's commission on pseudoscience. "We can't just ban it," he says. "To do that would be to infringe on freedom of speech and freedom of beliefs."
Attempts to ban certain strands of pseudoscience would, in any case, probably cause them to re-emerge under another brand. "It would become an endless game of whack-a-mole," Sergeyev added.
But scientists admit they face an uphill task in dissuading pseudoscience believers. In particular, the extrasensory believers surveyed by The Moscow Times suggested they were unlikely to be swayed by any argument.
"I knew a girl who could say exactly what someone was doing just by looking at a photo of them." Yekaterina Zemina, a 27-year-old Muscovite, told The Moscow Times. "There are unexplored things in this world, and pretty much nothing can convince me otherwise," she said.
Natalya Malinovskaya, a resident of St. Petersburg, said that it was only a matter of time before the mainstream would accept extrasensory abilities as fact. "People were once skeptical about a lot of things including the fact that the Earth was round and turned around the Sun," she said. "Now this is a scientifically proven fact - and I'm positive extrasensory abilities will be too," she said.
Despite the efforts of activists like Sergeyev, pseudoscience is playing a greater role than ever in the lives of Russians. A recent poll by state-run VTsIOM reported that 55 percent of Russians now believe in the ability to foresee the future - compared to 43 percent in 1990. 48 percent believe in magic in general, a full 11 percentage points more than in 1990.
© Copyright 1992-2016. The Moscow Times. All rights reserved.
* * *
MIT Technology Review / February 23, 2016
When Biology Meets Ideology
A new book reopens a notorious case of bungled science in the Soviet Union.
Новая книга историка науки Лорена Грэхема «Призрак Лысенко: эпигенетика и Россия» - о том, как искажают науку политика, религия, культурные нормы и идеологии всех видов.
Lysenko's Ghost: Epigenetics and Russia. By Loren Graham, Harvard University Press, 2016.
In 2012, the most important monastery in the Russian Orthodox Church published a biology textbook for 10th and 11th graders. It's called General Biology, but it's an explicitly creationist text, describing God's role in the natural world to counteract generations of official atheism in Russian schools. Darwinism, according to this book, has been disastrous for the world and for the Russian people in particular. It has led to an embrace of materialism, in both the philosophical and consumerist senses of the word. It's antithetical to Russian values because it's inherently intertwined with the dog-eat-dog lifestyles of 19th-century British capitalists. As the book denigrates natural selection, it praises the idea that characteristics acquired in one's life can be passed on to future generations. It refers to recent research on epigenetics, the study of how the environment affects genes' function in ways that are sometimes heritable.
Loren Graham, an MIT historian who has studied Russian science for decades, says General Biology is indicative of a recent resurgence of support for ideas once expounded by Trofim Lysenko, a Soviet biologist who rejected conventional genetics and tried to use acquired characteristics to improve agriculture. Lysenko set back farming and genetic research in the Soviet Union for decades, so why would anyone try to rehabilitate his ideas? Politics, essentially. In his new book, Lysenko's Ghost, Graham says General Biology is a reminder of "the continuing strength of the belief in the superiority of collectivism over individualism" in Russia.
That startled me. When I went to a fundamentalist Baptist high school in central Kansas, my ninth-grade biology textbook was, effectively, the American Protestant equivalent of General Biology. It, too, talked about acquired characteristics, but not as an alternative to Darwinism. Instead, we were taught that this theory, linked in the text to the French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, was inherently silly and served as proof against evolution. Of course a giraffe that has to stretch to reach its food wouldn't produce babies with longer necks. Nor would a dog whose tail is docked have tail-less pups. It was just one more example of the ridiculous things evolutionists believed - beliefs that could be deeply dangerous. How dangerous? Well, everybody knows that Darwinism led people to reject God, abandon individual responsibility, and take up the mantle of collectivist communism in Russia.
The ways that politics, religion, cultural norms, and ideologies of all kinds distort science is at the heart of Lysenko's Ghost. Those ideologies can alter our interpretation of facts and reshape our understanding of natural events. They have the power to change the meanings of words, even scientific terms. All those issues are at the forefront as Graham explores whether modern epigenetic research - which indicates that environmental conditions like famine can affect gene expression and influence the health of people generations removed from the actual event - means that Lysenko's approach to agriculture was on the right track after all.
Spoiler: Lysenko has not been vindicated. Although epigenetics is deepening our understanding of how DNA works, it is not overturning the basic principles of genetic heredity that Lysenko challenged. Nonetheless, what to make of Lysenko now is a complicated question. As Graham points out, "the inheritance of acquired characteristics" did not mean the same thing to Lysenko - steeped in the politics and ethics of a collectivist Soviet Union - that it meant to Lamarck in France in the 1800s. It meant a third thing to many of Lysenko's Soviet science contemporaries, and something else entirely to the farmers and folk agronomists who thought they saw evidence of it long before Lamarck came along. Likewise, the name Lysenko means different things to Russians, Americans, and Europeans. "Natural selection" does not mean to modern biologists what it meant to the eugenicists of the 1930s. Even the word "true," Graham writes, is "thick and multidimensional." Graham calls this the contradiction between usage and accuracy.
Trofim Lysenko is a fascinating character. He was born a peasant in 1898. He rose to immense power in the 1940s under Joseph Stalin by promoting a number of erroneous scientific techniques he claimed could increase wheat yields on famine-wracked collective farms. Among other things, he professed that by keeping seeds of winter wheat at low temperatures for longer than usual, he could convert the strain to a variety that would mature in the spring. When other scientists objected to his work, he attacked them in ways Graham calls "lethal and passive-aggressive," pointing them out to the secret police and letting the wheels of Stalinist "justice" do the rest. Not until the 1960s did he finally become a pariah, after the death of Stalin and the ouster of Nikita Khrushchev gave Lysenko's scientific foes an opportunity to denounce him as a fraud. Today, Lysenko is simultaneously a rallying point for a certain authoritarian strain of Russian nationalism and an embarrassment who leads Russian academics to avoid legitimate research on epigenetics.
Why was Lysenko opposed to the idea of inheritance through genes - and how did that mesh with Soviet ideology? Graham gives a partial answer. Even before Lysenko, in the 1920s, the German biologist Paul Kammerer and a slew of less-familiar Russian biologists promoted the idea of acquired characteristics as a sort of Marxist eugenics. In the West at this time, eugenics was all about creating a better society by making sure the "right" people (well-off and white) had lots of children and the "wrong" people (poor, disabled, black, and brown) had few or none. Kammerer, in contrast, promoted a eugenics based on improving environments. Marxism could make a better society by providing a better life, which would change the people who lived it, which would change their offspring. Over time, you would end up with an evolved human - the new "Soviet man", brighter and smarter and healthier than anything produced by simply pairing off generations of bourgeois capitalists.
The problem, of course, is that biology doesn't seem to play along. But Graham's narrative of how far Lysenko took these ideas is confusing. Lysenko did not actually believe that inheritance of acquired characteristics occurred in humans. And in Graham's telling, he seems to have been wishy-washy even on its applicability to agriculture.
That said, Graham is able to tell the story with intimate details. There's one particularly memorable anecdote in which a young Graham spots the aging, out-of-favor Lysenko at a posh Moscow restaurant in 1971 and maneuvers next to him at a shared table. Over a bowl of borscht, Graham introduces himself. He's uncomfortable, but he's certain he'll never get another crack at this.
Turns out Lysenko already knows who Graham is and doesn't like him. He feels Graham has unfairly fingered him as culpable in the deaths of many Russian biologists. In a remarkable back-and-forth, Graham and Lysenko argue over whether or not Lysenko was part of the oppressive Soviet system. They have no quibble about the facts. It's the meanings of the facts that they disagree about.
MIT Technology Review © 2016.
* * *
(e) Science News / Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Quantum processes control accurately to several attoseconds
В итальянской лаборатории по получению и использованию синхротронного излучения «Elettra Sincrotrone» международная группа физиков (в том числе российских, из НИИ ядерной физики им. Д.В.Скобельцына) впервые смогла отследить сверхбыстрые движения электронов с точностью до трех аттосекунд (10-18 секунды).
Статья «Coherent control with a short-wavelength free-electron laser» опубликована в журнале Nature Photonics.
A team of physicists including Russian researchers succeeded in conducting an experiment in which, for the first time in history, control over ultrafast motion of electrons down to three attoseconds (one attosecond refers to a second as one second refers to the lifetime of the Universe) was proved possible. This fact paves a way to new directions of research that seemed improbable before. The experiment was conducted with the help of the free-electron laser FERMI located at the "Elettra Sincrotrone" research center in Trieste, Italy. The speed of chemical, physical and biological processes is extremely high, atomic bonds are broken and restored within femtoseconds (one millionth of one billionth of a second). The Egyptian-American chemist Ahmed Zewail was the first to succeed in observing the dynamics of chemical processes, which made him a winner of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Nevertheless, nature can operate even faster. While atomic motions within a molecule can be measured with femtosecond resolution, the dynamics of electrons, which define the nature of chemical bonds, happens a thousand times faster - within tens and hundreds of attoseconds.
The only tools appropriate for studying such processes are so-called x-ray free-electron lasers. In "conventional" gas, liquid and solid-state lasers, excitation of electrons in the bound atomic state serves as the source of photons. In contrast, free-electron lasers operate with the help of a high-quality electron beam wiggling along a sinusoidal path under the effect of a ray of magnets. During that process electrons lose energy by producing radiation.
X-ray free-electron lasers generate radiation with a unique set of properties: a wavelength in the extreme ultraviolet or soft x-rays, unprecedented luminosity, ultrashort femtosecond pulses, tunable frequency and polarization, and coherence. While the properties of the laser itself did not allow for observations accurate to attoseconds, a way out was found. In their experiment, scientists irradiated neon atoms with free-electron laser pulses of two frequencies instead of one, and traced the direction of photoelectrons leaving the atom. They used radiation with the fundamental frequency and its second harmonic (with twice the frequency and hence half the wavelength), specifically wavelengths of 63,0 and 31,5 nanometers.
Changing the time delay between the harmonics,the scientists observed the dynamics of the process: they measured changes in the photoelectrons' angular distribution. As the result they managed to overcome the natural obstacles and observed a quantum interference between two channels of atomic photoionization with a precision of three attoseconds (simply speaking, indirect indicators allowed to measure the time gap electrons left the atom).
"In this experiment we managed to carry out a scheme that allows to distinguish relative phases of two free-electron laser harmonics," comments one of the authors - Elena Gryzlova, senior researcher, D.V.Skobeltsyn Institute of Nuclear Physics, the Moscow State University. "There are many methods to eliminate, or vice versa, to distinguish extra frequencies in visible radiation. But in high-frequency ranges like extreme ultraviolet or x-ray all of them are inapplicable, as there are no common mirrors or polarizers. However, the main conclusion we can draw based on this experiment is that control over quantum processes with a precision of several attoseconds is possible at all."
The contribution of Russian scientists into this work is significant: "Our colleague, Alexei Grum-Grzhimailo, made first derivations and co-authored the very idea of the experiment," says Elena Gryzlova. "Later, together with Prof. Svetlana Strakhova, we succeeded in calculating the scale of that effect, investigating whether it would be detectable at all. We then provided formulas to extract the necessary parameters from the general set of data collected in the experiment."
The authors of the article state that the "dichromatic" laser measurements open a new horizon for research in physics of ultrafast processes.
According to Elena Gryzlova, an application for beamtime to conduct similar experiments on FERMI using molecules, i.e., more complicated system than the neon atom, was recently submitted. The team considers researching complex phenomena related to catalyst processes and atmospheric chemistry.
"We expect that this scientific direction will develop further," Elena says, "As the problem of quantum control is one of the cornerstones of contemporary fundamental physics."
© 2016 (e) Science News.
* * *
Science Codex / February 29, 2016
Autoimmune diseases gonna be defeated
Ученые из России, Германии и Великобритании создали прототип нового лекарственного средства для лечения аутоиммунных заболеваний, таких как ревматоидный артрит и болезнь Крона.
An international team of scientists led by the Lomonosov Moscow State University group made a significant step in creating a new type of drug for treatment of autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease.
* * *
Scientists from Russia, Germany and Great Britain designed and developed a prototype of a new antibody-based drug for autoimmune diseases. The key role in this research was played by the scientists from MSU and Russian Academy of Sciences. The study was led by Sergei Nedospasov, the head of the Immunology Department of Biological faculty, MSU, and the Molecular Immunology Department, A.N. Belozersky Institute of Physic-Chemical Biology of MSU. He said that the experiments with mice provided a scientific basis for the new approach, allowing to selectively counteract deleterious functions of one of cytokines that may provoke serious diseases, while retaining its beneficial functions (such as control of tuberculosis).
In corpora sano
Each of us has a personal army of immune cells protecting their health: valorous macrophages, brave T-killers, vigilant T-helpers, teachable B-lymphocytes and other invisible (without a microscope) fighters.
The immune system is very complex and depends on a harmonious collaboration of all its parts. That is natural, as this system should defend us not only from the external threats (pathogenic bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites), but also from the inside enemies (malfunctioning cells of our own body, "sabotaging" its regular tasks).
Some of the immune cells may "overwork" and instead of a protecting us they may turn in repressive mechanisms, resulting in autoimmune diseases.
Among such diseases are systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease (a chronic inflammatory bowel disease) and psoriasis. In the new study scientists learned how to selectively block overproduction of TNF - a protein, secreted by the immune cells for fighting diseases, but harmful when overproduced. TNF is blocked only on particular type of cells, and this that does not harm its other functions.
TNF: the good, the bad and the ugly
One of the immune system mediators, TNF (Tumornecrosisfactor), is a protein with a multiple functions. It can be secreted by macrophages, lymphocytes, neutrophils and other immune cells.
TNF and its related molecules belong to the cytokines. That is a group of small proteins, some of which can promote inflammation, some other counterbalance tumor formation, some are used to fight viral and bacterial infections, but all of them regulate the activity of the immune system.
Initially TNF was detected during experiments with blood serum of the mice that undergone a bacterial infection, or received bacterial components. It was found that transfer of such serum (or pure TNF protein) into tumor-bearing promotes tumor destruction, and that seemed to open a promising way for fighting cancer: you only need to launch the synthesis of large TNF quantities - and the malignant cells would start to die out. Apart from that, another "good" function of that protein was uncovered: it helps protecting organism against TB.
But as many other multifunctional proteins, TNF has its dark side: it may turn to "the bad" and promote serious diseases. Such "bad" TNF needs to be neutralized.
So, the hopes for cancer cure by TNF proved baseless: it turned out that this protein influences too may processes to be administered in a human body as a drug. Moreover, its physiologic function is quite different from tumor necrosis. That cytokine could be more properly named interleukin-x, but nobody wanted to rename TNF.
For the same reason the idea of a controlled overproduction of this cytokine in a human body was rejected. Furthermore, in order to treat some autoimmune diseases TNF should be inhibited. Such drugs are making about a half of the market for treatments of rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, Crohn's disease and some other diseases (tens of billions of dollars per year!). However, dramatic side-effects may take place, for example, increased risk of malignancies and activation of a latent TB infection, because apart from "the bad" TNF there is also "the good" one in the body, that should better not be blocked.
Nothing to change but the chains: bispecific antibodies.
Each B-lymphocyte produces against a particular antigen only one antibody type consisting of two pairs of heavy and light chains. Though scientists learned long time ago to produce artificial, "chimeric" antibodies that are able to stick to two proteins simultaneously with various Fab-fragments. Such antibodies are called bispecific. One of its advantages - a possibility to connect different cells using such an antibody - this was already used to produce effective cure for several kinds of tumors. In antibody bioengineering field, a particular type of antibodies from camel, lama or shark, which contain only heavy chains, can be used.
Scientists of the Immunology Department of Biological faculty, MSU, and Engelhardt Institute of Molecular Biology of the Russian Academy of Sciences designed, created and evaluated bispecific antibodies able to selectively inhibit TNF on a certain type of cells (macrophages), that produces mostly "the bad" TNF in autoimmune diseases, without harming the function of "the good" TNF.
"This work lasted nearly ten years. The article describes only the tip of the iceberg," - comments the author of the study, Sergei Nedospasov. In our bi-specific antibodies one antigen was TNF itself, the other was a molecule from macrophage surface, called F4/80.
"In experiments with mice a novel approach to anti-cytokine therapy was scientifically proven. This approach allows to neutralize the bad function of a molecule, retaining the good one. The main conclusion is that selective pharmacologic blockade of the immune mediator - cytokine - is possible on a particular type of producing cells," - says Sergei Nedospasov.
A new type of bispecific antibodies was called MYSTI (Myeloid-Specific TNF Inhibitor). They were designed using antibody "modules" from camels and lamas.
For this study immunologists first created a novel mouse with its TNF gene replaced with a human counterpart (the so-called humanized mice) with a purpose to gain a more realistic model for further research. After treating such mice with bispecific antibodies TNF produced by macrophages was not secreted but remained attached to their surface, this was shown in macrophage culture prepared from humanized mice. Experiment was then extended to live humanized mice to prevent septic shock provoked by "the bad" TNF from microphages. It turned out that at certain dose MYSTI protected mice from a lethal toxicity, while a control antibody did not.
"Basedon these results pharmaceutical industry may design and test some brand-new drugs for treating autoimmune diseases," - Sergei Nedospasov optimistically prognoses.