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Friday, March 23, 2018

Walking on the Sciences

What is common among the political elite… the weather? How to attract cutting-edge scientific personnel in our country? Weak or strong ruble is advantageous for the stable growth of economy and development of science? “MK” talked to the person who can give answers to all these questions, and in addition knows how to take the signals from the galactic center… This academician, Director of the Nizhny Novgorod Institute of applied physics RAS Alexander SERGEEV.

Alexander Sergeyev shows the acting President of Sciences Valery Kozlov, as the IAP grows large crystal for heavy-duty laser. Photo: Alexander Sergeyev

Arriving 40 years ago at the end of the faculty of Radiophysics University of Nizhny Novgorod, IAP Intern researcher, Alexander consistently working in my own Institute, though now as Director. The organization of science — his third after specialization theoretical physics of nonlinear waves and experimental laser physics. Alexander Mikhailovich headed the Nizhny Novgorod group of physicists within a collaboration LIGO Scientific Collaboration, recorded in 2015 gravitational waves, resulting from the merger of two black holes. If not for optical isolators IAP, which filtered out all extraneous noise, no result and would not be. Now before Sergeyev is a new height: to win elections for the presidency of the RAS. Not an easy task, especially in the academics environment. My companion soberly assesses the situation, understands that the President ran in the new political environment is actually a place of a skull, and indeed must still be reached before the election. On the eve of our conversation in the state Duma introduced a bill on the reduction of candidates, academicians three people, which before the election must approve the Government. According to many colleagues Sergeeva, in particular members of “Club July 1,” it is a violation of democratic freedoms, in fact the transition to the appointment of the head of the Russian Academy of Sciences “more than” without special regard to the views of members of the Academy. But with this melancholy subject we begin our conversation.

“To undermine the scientific potential in the country has resulted in unpredictable behavior of the coefficients”

— Alexander, in your opinion, what is the reason of such negligent, whether the relations of government to science in recent years? All these “special operations” with the reform of the RAS with the RAS institutes in the conduct of FANO?

— Before the government’s relationship with the scientists really were different, they present a kind of reverence to men of science. Everyone knew that it is a powerful force to maintain the country’s defense, after scientists created the atomic bomb, rocket and space technology and… Now the respect is gone.

Why? We have that very calm in the world or the country does not need high-tech technologies to break away finally from the category of developing?

— Try to explain the vision of the problem from the point of view of physics. The people of our specialization model thinking, which has developed as a result of the need to study complex phenomena. There is even a special direction — “physics of complex systems”, ie systems with a large number of degrees of freedom. In order to study them, you need to consider many factors. So, I would compare, for example, public policy with the physics of the atmosphere. This is one of the most complex systems studied by physicists. In order to understand the processes that lead to the formation of ozone holes, the processes of formation of the weather and then climate, you should consider a lot of different factors, hundreds of chemical components of the gas, the movement of mass, wind, insolation, etc. to Describe the evolution of this system, especially over long periods of time very difficult. Complex systems are fundamentally unpredictable because even the most negligible change in the initial parameters, for example, a small deviation in gas concentration or the change in wind speed can lead to so-called “exponentially fast divergence of trajectories” or as they say in physics, to dynamical chaos. Therefore, predicting the weather more than two or three days are often wrong.

— What are the Parallels with the economy or politics?

— When the number of interacting factors or degrees of freedom is large, there is a strong unpredictability. Try to predict the rate of the ruble for the week ahead — almost like asking a fortune teller. But in Economics, this objective feature of the development of complex systems imposed even subjective human and political factors. If you want, unlike the nature of the coefficients in the equations can “pull hands”. The Americans suddenly decided to print out another unsecured trillion dollars — and the economic theory of “went”. And in the dynamics of social systems, where I’m sure still are objective laws of evolution, subjective factors play an even greater role and add unpredictability. It can be human relations, and ambition, so who knows what else. Each active person in the system may be so influential a factor as wind, solar activity, or natural gas, the inclusion of which in this system can lead to strong, sometimes not to the expected changes. It seems we have a democratic government chosen by the people, the President, the government, the Duma, which should ensure the collapse of education and science, as their rise. It should work effectively for the benefit of society, as in other democratic developed countries. But, alas, this is not always the case, because the system invade those “unpredictable factors”.

Alexander Sergeyev

— What is the solution? Probably, physicists have found it again 40 years studying the problem?

Physics came to the conclusion that science can not predict the development of complex systems over long times of evolution. They are in principle unpredictable. Worldwide, scientists realized that there was no need to look for ways their predictions — you need to change your attitude to the problem. Namely, to find ways to limit dynamic chaos and compensation actions are unpredictable factors. At least in public-political sphere and in the economy, these mechanisms are intuitive. Political will, tough financial regulation, etc.

— Looks like we prefer the more uncertain the model…

— It seems that in the science — Yes.

“A strong ruble — a strong science. There are forces in the strong ruble is not interested”

— If you continue to try to analyze the impact of economic factors on science, what do you think the ruble is preferred for its development?

— You asked a question, which is projected to all the state of the science. In 2013, our country has undergone the reform of the RAS. The results of this conversion there is some debate in favor of the reformers. And involuntarily the question arises: in General, our economy, our elites, which define not only the economy but also politics in the country, how do we need fundamental science? As we know, we have the elite associated with the innovation economy, which says that a weak ruble is bad, we can’t industrialize the country, to buy modern equipment. A weak ruble is a big brain drain, especially of young, abroad. But there is raw elite. It is good, when the ruble is weak. Here they pump the oil, sell it abroad, and RUB in a result more. From their point of view, not very clear, why bother to develop science. To scout new minerals? Explored on our century will suffice. To create new machines that the oil pump? Here is fundamental science does not need: sanctions will weaken — again, you to buy them. So what is the elite stronger, and a ruble is, and the attitude to science is appropriate. I sometimes think that many influential figures in our country perceive researchers as more a social burden than an economic productive force. If we continue to measure everything on the scale, in Russia for a long time nothing will change. Now, in response to instability in international relations from the power unit of our country concerned about the state of our scientific potential to increase defense. It’s not a swing oil imported machinery. It is a modern weapon that will not sell you one. We have the same research potential, which remained from the Soviet era, in many areas has been exhausted.

A method of receiving a signal from a black hole suggested by the Soviet scientist in the 60’s

— However, not everywhere science is slowing down. What direction would you say today among the most advanced?

— I will say for physics. Some places of attraction for all scientists in the world are now of major international projects such as the Large hadron Collider (the LHC is the world’s largest laboratory of high energy physics established on the border of France and Switzerland), the European x-ray free electron laser, created under the Hamburg (XFEL), a Project of the international thermonuclear experimental reactor ITER (France). They are all built together and now provide such options that are not researchers.

— Russia, as far as I know, represented in all these projects.

— But we must understand that we will always participate in them on the first cast, even if we make a significant contribution to their funding. Yes, we are mentioned in publications, but some will forget. But most importantly — we are investing in major projects abroad, organize the brain drain from their country. It’s not a question of patriotism, it’s curiosity. Any keen researcher-experimenter goes to the place where there are tools. You know how many of our scientists work at the LHC! Now tell me, many of them you’ve heard, in particular in connection with the discovery of the Higgs boson?

But the Nobel prize for this discovery, perhaps, could be in the piggy Bank of our country, because we started to build the equivalent of the Tank in 80-e years in Moscow. Then in the post-Soviet era, the prevailing view is that their is not enough money, but because we will be content with participation in the overseas factories of knowledge. On such principles we work today and in the LIGO project, who detected the gravitational waves from merging black holes. And few know what our Soviet scientist still alive the scientific Director Institute of instruments from Chernogolovka Vladislav Ivanovich Pustovoit in the 60-ies suggested a scheme of the gravitational interferometer, which is now built the LIGO detector. 10 years ago, speaking at a conference in the United States, familiar to American Professor said, “Many of us believe that our work we provide based on the ideas of Soviet scientists invented 70-80 years. It’s not… Today I will talk about the results based on their ideas of 60-ies”. That’s just about right Pustovoit! Alas, it will take another 10 years — and no one on any international conference will not say such nice words to our ear.

Our theorists at least have some dividends for the opening? As far as we know, the Nobel prize they do not spoil.

— We have enough dividends. And for the detection of gravitational waves Nobel peace prize will give, but rather than our scientist was not taken recently to honor the Russian scientists. But — in secret — I heard that some of our great scientists have sent this year’s application for inclusion in the list of nominees Vladislav Pustovoit.

— So what do we do with science?

— Of course, to duplicate the existing large plants is no sense — it is necessary to create other in the areas in which our country is a leader.

photo: Natalia Muslinkina
The residence of the President of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Lenin, 14) waiting for a new chef.

How to deploy brains?

— As we are now could be original?

In 2011 the government Commission on high technologies and innovations headed by Vladimir Putin — he was then Chairman of the government — has selected six magaziens projects of the thirty, where we are a world leader in science. They had become international, and implemented by 2020. One of these projects — the creation of the world’s most powerful laser — was one of them. We were very pleased. But he didn’t start… No money for implementation need hundreds of millions of dollars. And then, the priorities over the years has changed: the conflict with Ukraine, concern about sanctions, has increased the influence of raw elite. But we still continue to hope that someday we will be able to change the brain drain in the opposite direction to us and there are more to go than us.

— How many of the six applications in 2011, the projects actually worked?

— While waiting for its final launch neutron source in Gatchina PEAK, the project is managed by the Kurchatov Institute. The task of this reactor is to create neutrons with a variety of properties for diagnostics of various objects and materials, for example for more detailed information on the structure of solids. If now due to terahertz radiation, we can reconstruct the image of the object hidden, for example, in envelope or behind a wall, with a resolution of a few millimeters or centimeters, with neutrons to obtain information about the internal structure of matter with subnanometre accuracy. In conditions, when worldwide because of pressure from “green” closed reactors, giving neutrons for researchers, our unit can become a world-leading centre in this field. The second project, which received government support last year, — heavy ion Collider in Dubna — NICA. If the Tank just push the protons, the Nike it will be much more complex clumps of matter. We will have the opportunity to observe entirely new nuclear processes.

“We are no longer invited to international conference”

— As a potential future President of the RAS tell me what to do to return to its former authority of scientists, raising the level of science?

— In the theses of my program I have the first item listed is the consensus of the RAS and the government about the state of our science. We must recognize that the state, to put it mildly, bad. It is important that all agreed with this, and some even say: “what are you?! All not bad at all!”

— What is the main indication of the poor state of science?

— Numbers are not needed: the number of invited talks from Russia at a major international conference is almost zero. Very little publications on the results of Russian experiments in top journals. The budget financing of institutions by FANO falls, Park tool equipment in many institutions is already crossed 30 years of age… I could cite figures, for example the difference of our financing of fundamental science and Japanese. This comparison is reasonable because in our countries there are approximately an equal number of people. Take the state research center of RIKEN — analog of our major academic research center. 3 thousands of employees, the financing of 750 million dollars a year, almost all the funding FANO tens of thousands of Russian scientists working in hundreds of institutions. The salary of a researcher such as our doctor of science in the land of the rising sun more than 10 times, and on new equipment for basic laboratories are out there spending 100 (!) once more, and from the state budget. Fundamental science is becoming more and more expensive, we penetrate further and further into the depths of matter, of the phenomenon under study to a new spatial and temporal “slices”. We need new tools and a new installation in order to be competitive in science.

— As in this whole situation, you decided to run for the position of President of the Russian Academy of Sciences?

— I at first had even thought about this. I am the academic Director of the Institute, which passed all steps, and know how to work on each of them. It is very valuable for the Director. This is such harmony! It seemed that it might break? But there was March 17th, the failure of the election under pressure from above, a strong concern about the situation of the cancellation of the election not just a local event, but the first step to ensure that the academies in our country might not be in six months. What, for example, may think the readers of “MK” about this whole situation? “Gathered academics on the election, and all candidates took and withdrew. Yes, they’re all in dementia!” The next step of our demonstration of dementia can be a meeting in September, if the elections are again held. After that your readers will definitely say: “All the guys that must be stopped…” This is a very disturbing situation. And when the Department of physical Sciences, the leading Department in the Academy, asked me to run, I agreed.

If the filter, only double!

— Back to the limitation of the list of candidates. You heard that in the state Duma already and criteria developed for you? Will not work on them — will not even include in the electoral list.

— There was a bill, first initiated by the Russian Academy of Sciences, who wanted to reduce the maximum number of votes cast during the voting for the President of the RAS, but then the bill from the Duma proposed another amendment: the state’s desire to have an opinion in the election. Well, this is understandable, because RAS is not a club that exists for their money, we have the Academy of Sciences — national organization, but because the government has the right to influence elections. It was suggested that the approval of candidates, filter. But I want to remind that the abolition of the presidential elections in March were due to the government lack of democratic procedures for the nomination of candidates and rules of election campaign. In this regard, the draft law on the introduction of additional filter matching candidates, i.e., apparent reduction of democracy, looks today a bit strange. I believe that changing the rules during the game is not justified, no matter how “amenities” for the players it was due. Changes need to be made before the announcement of the election campaign.

If the law is passed, how we behave in this case? After the filter, the negotiation before the election is setting priorities. Academy nominated, say, seven candidates, and the government agrees, for example, only three. But what are the parameters? Recently, one of the four authors of the bill to filter said a funny phrase: “we Need to see if there was in history the candidate quarrelsome”. I’d like to respond: “Enter first scale quarrelsome, so we can understand and compare what the ratio of quarrelsome Mr. Sergeyev, and what the other candidate. Here I, for example, myself believe that I’m very sociable. I’m always all get along! (Laughs.)

And finally, I would like to draw attention to another highly controversial aspect of the new legislative act. As, at the suggestion of its authors, will run the filter? Before the election Academy of Sciences gives the nominated candidates to the government that it could at some criteria to select three “good-natured”. At existing, a very democratic position on the elections when you can run not only from the thematic departments, but simply gathering the signatures of 50 members of the Academy, theoretically it may happen that 50 electors will choose three, which they sincerely believe is worthy of the title of President of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the government will take from seven extended leave these three. It turns out that again all directed at the violation of the principles of democracy: how can the opinion of 50 people to be accepted, if it is, for example, goes against the opinion of most academics? To avoid this, we should have the opportunity to submit names of candidates to the government to choose their priorities. This will mean that the Academy is guaranteed to choose then President, then at the intersection of the priorities of the Academy and government in a consensus. But, in my opinion, this should be relevant only to subsequent elections.

Priority actions from academician Alexander Sergeyev to save science in Russia

1. Consensus-building between the Academy and the authorities regarding the understanding of the causes of the present state of Russian science and ways out of the crisis and role of RAS and fundamental research. If we want our science was competitive and had the results recognized in the world, it must be adequately funded by the state, especially in relation to its material and instrumental base. We are talking about basic funding for fundamental science, now called state assignment, and on grant support, and the organization of large-scale projects in all areas of scientific knowledge. To exit from the crisis must also change the nature of the governance of academic science and set priorities in the relationship between RAS and Fano, on the basis of the principle — science should control scientists.

2. To ensure that the Academy, even within the existing legal framework — 253-FZ and the Charter of wounds received real tools to work on the level of regulation. Now we don’t have a real “technical” opportunities to participate in the formation of the state scientific-technical policy, although the law should do it. No matter where you turn, anywhere we’re not welcome — neither the Finance Ministry nor the Ministry of economic development of Russia, all the priorities are already in place, and in the opinion of academics is not needed.

Yet we’re required by law to carry out the examination of large projects. Where is the criteria that these projects should be given on examination in wounds? Here it turns out that those ministries, which develops high-tech projects themselves, and they move themselves funding, by state, of course. I think this is wrong.

3. Significant restructuring of the activities of the RAS. I believe that the guide should appear large enough number of people for whom work in the Academy’s basic. Now for many it is a secondary work to the main leadership institutions or other entities. I believe that it is necessary to change the attitude of ourselves to the Academy: it must be the work, not the presence on merit. The need to work at the state Academy rightly pointed out in November, and the President of the country. Putin says the state pays the Academy for the work. Well, he’s right! On the other hand, what is work without tools? How to dig, if the shovel there?

Even small changes in initial conditions can, according to experts, quickly lead to a significant change in the evolution of complex systems. Alexander Sergeyev believes that, if you have to get rid of subjective and unpredictable factors, and add the political will, the weather in our science can be quickly improved. “To run a large power plant is required to press the little button. Let together will do in September, the Academy and government.”


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