Russian Science & the World (Monthly Digest) - August 2003
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August
2003
Russian Science and the World
(WWW Monthly Digest)
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    The Taipei Times / Aug 15, 2003,Page 9
    You name it, the Russians invented it

    As far as inventions go, great minds often think alike at the same time, although they may be continents apart. According to the Russians, however, all the great inventions occured in Russia, thought up by Russians

Move over Marconi, radio was a Russian invention. As were television, the aeroplane, anaesthetic and a host of other things that are more commonly attributed to Western scientists.
That's at least what Russian reference books and museums tell us and what millions of people learned under the old Soviet education system, which tended to overlook work by foreigners in a given field.
A Russian emigrant to the US, Vladimir Zvorykin, is still honored as the "father of television" for his construction in 1923 of an iconoscope, or primitive television camera.
Yet there is scant reference to other scientists of the time who were instrumental in creating television as we know it today, like American Philo Farnsworth and Briton John Logie Baird.
And ask the man on the street about radio - if you dare.
"The radio was invented by a Russian, Alexander Popov," Moscow road worker Nikolai replied, his eyes flashing defiantly. Any other claimants to the achievement are "imposters," he says.
The Wright brothers are globally credited with making the first human flight in 1903. But the Moscow Aviation Institute honors Alexander Mozhaisky as having built the first plane in 1882.
Unfortunately there is no firm documentation of a successful flight by the Russian's aircraft. Anecdotal evidence suggests it crashed.
In general, giving credit for many specific inventions is a can of worms. International sources say that Russian Alexander Lodygin made a graphite filament lightbulb in 1872, several years before Briton Joseph Swan and American Thomas Edison wrestled for the rights and international fame for one made with a carbon filament.
Yet patriots elsewhere might brand the Russian the upstart. Some accounts say German watchmaker Heinrich Gobel of New York made a light using a carbonized bamboo filament inside glass in 1854. Two years later, a French engineer reportedly patented his own design for an incandescent lamp with a platinum filament for coal mine workers.
"Very often great minds think alike," said Trevor Baylis, the British inventor of the wind-up radio.
"But to prove how simultaneous they are is extremely difficult, and that's what the patent filing system is supposed to be about," said Baylis, noting also that patents often inspire others to refine and improve ideas. "One invention tends to lead to another."
Now though, Russia's science community is much more open to debate. New editions of encyclopaedia increasingly avoid attributing inventions to one person alone, while museums that until recently enshrined Russian pre-eminence are cautiously revisiting history.
"We are gradually adopting the approach that technology is international and many things were invented in parallel," said Lidia Kozhenova, deputy science director at Moscow's Polytechnical Museum.
"On the other hand, we still try to give priority to our scientists for educational purposes and to maintain national pride."
Igor Lagovsky, editor of the journal Nauka i Zhizn (Science and Life), agrees that many things were developed rather than invented and that to honor one person cheats a number of rightful owners.
"Everyone contributed their share, Lodygin had his own type of lightbulb, Edison had his. It's all a joint effort," he said.
Some cracks are even appearing in the monumental radio issue.
To recap, Popov used his wireless telegraph to relay signals that were deciphered by Morse code as words in March 1896, a few months before Italian Guglielmo Marconi's transmitter sent actual audible words in a public demonstration.
"But [Popov's] still wasn't radio - Marconi transmitted radio as we know it," suggests Lagovsky.
The Polytechnical Museum is unyielding. "You'll find in our textbooks and the museum that Popov invented radio. We have our evidence, Marconi has his," says Kozhenova.
Any revision of history must work both ways, she says, recalling a visit to German science museums where no mention is made of Dmitry Mendeleev, the recognized Russian author of the periodic table of chemical elements as it looks today.
Now consider the Concise Oxford English Dictionary's definition of the word invent: "Create by thought, devise, originate [a new method, an instrument]."
No mention there of having to make it work perfectly, aircraft builder Mozhaisky might have argued.
And if having the basic idea constitutes invention, then we must credit 15th century scientist and artist Leonardo da Vinci for the plane, the submarine, parachute and other technology he foresaw.
"You have to write the truth about inventors and inventions," says Lagovsky. "But since people understand the truth differently, the arguments will go on forever."

© Copyright 1999-2003 The Taipei Times. All rights reserved
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    Agence France Presse / August 20, 2003, 12:19 PM ET
    Russian chemical weapons may be polluting White Sea: scientist

MOSCOW, (AFP) - Russian scientists have uncovered evidence that chemical weapons may be buried in the seabed of the White Sea off Russia's northwestern coast, a scientist with the Russian Geological Institute said.
Scientist Mikhail Spiridonov, who returned this week from a two-week research mission to the area, said investigators found abnormally high amounts of arsenic in the water, along with 12 mysterious man-made objects, up to 10 meters (30 feet) long lying on the seabed, 300 meters down.
Arsenic results from the breaking down of blistering gases such as Lewisite.
Spiridonov said tests are being continued to discover if the rate of arsenic, up to three times the normal, indicates chemicals were dumped in the White Sea.
Experts were expected soon to send the government a report on the issue.
Russia still has a stockpile of 40,000 tons of chemical warheads. It has stated its intention to destroy 20 percent of the stockpile by 2007 and eliminate it by 2012.
But progress is slow. In the first phase of the program, specialists destroyed only 400 tons of chemical arms, or one percent of the total.

© Copyright 2003 Agence France Presse

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    EurekAlert! / 8-Aug-2003
    2003 ICTP Dirac Medal awarded in field of turbulence

TRIESTE, Italy - Robert H. Kraichnan and Vladimir E. Zakharov, two pioneer physicists in the field of turbulence, have been awarded the 2003 Dirac Medal of the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics. ICTP made the announcement on 8 August 2003 on the occasion of the birthday of the late Nobel Prize laureate Paul A.M. Dirac, a strong supporter of and frequent visitor to ICTP.
Robert Kraichnan, who was one of Albert Einstein's last assistants at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, has had a long career as consultant in a variety of governmental organizations and private firms, including the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, National Science Foundation, and US Department of Energy. He currently resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Kraichnan has conducted pioneering research on field-theoretic approaches to turbulence and other non-equilibrium systems. Most noteworthy are his insights into the inverse cascade for two-dimensional turbulence.
V. Zakharov is an expert in mathematical physics of nonlinear phenomena, particularly in the field of weak wave turbulence. His work, which has shed light on plasma physics, hydrodynamics, magnetism and optics, has proven to be instrumental to our basic understanding of these subdisciplines. Zakharov has been active in the education of young scientists, and his numerous students constitute a community that can be called the Zakharov school. Born and educated in the former Soviet Union, Zakharov is director and professor of physics at the Landau Institute for Theoretical Physics in Moscow.
Launched in 1985, the Dirac Medal of the ICTP, given in honour of the one of the world's foremost physicist of the 20th century, is ICTP's highest honour. Previous recipients have included Edward Witten, Tullio Regge and Andrei Linde. The awards ceremony will take place at a later date

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    Informnauka / 22.08.2003
    Cockroach Classification Is to Be Amended

By applying the DNA-diagnostics the researchers from the Vavilov Institiute of General Genetics, Russian Academy of Sciences, have rectified an error in classification of domestic cockroaches. According to the taxonomists' new data, two inhabitants of the kitchens, the German cockroach (Blatta germanica) and oriental cockroach (Blatta orientalis), belong to different familiae. Any detail is important if it dates back to ancient times. Already three hundred and fifty million years back, when there was no trace of human beings and even dinosaurs, cockroaches already inhabited the Earth. The cockroach class counts about 4,000 species now, out of which only few accompany people. Having survived multiple changes of the climate, natural catastrophes and even outright murder, cockroaches have existed up to the present time, thus provoking surprise, admiration and desire for investigation. However, animal research is impossible without classification, but the scientists are not unanimous on this matter. The molecular-genetic methods allows to use the DNA structure peculiarities as diagnostic signs. Foreign researchers have made several attempts to apply these methods to the cockroach taxonomy, but failed to resolve the contradictions in classifications by different authors. Now, the specialists of the Vavilov Institiute of General Genetics, Russian Academy of Sciences, are trying to address the issue.
To educe the cockroach DNA, the researchers had to grind into thin gruel a half or a quarter of the thoracal part of the insect (the German cockroach is the smallest, it was used as a whole). The DNA evolved from this slush and thoroughly purified was decomposed by special enzymes into several fragments and the scientists tried to ascertain which of the fragments contained evolutionary conservative successions of ribosomal genes, i.e. the one that had not practically changed for millions of years. Proceeding from the number and size of the DNA fragments which contain these ancient "conserved" successions, the researches have calculated the coefficients of pair resemblance between the individuals belonging to different species, and based on the obtained coefficients the researchers have produced the dendrogram of genetic similarity.
The researchers started to try a new method on six species which belong to three different familiae, and their taxonomic position arouses no disputes. If in this case the molecular diagnostics results coinside with the traditional taxonomy data, the new method can be applied to solving vexed questions. The species selected by the researchers included among others American cockroach (Periplaneta americana) - traditional laboratory insect; Nauphoeta cinerea, which inhabits woods in the south of the Moscow Region, and in tropical areas - populates the human dwellings; and the well-known German cockroach (Blatta germanica) and oriental cockroach (Blatta orientalis). The Moscow geneticist obtained the German cockroaches by themselves, other species were sent to them from the University of Northern Carolina, USA. Having analyzed the DNA of cockroaches, the researchers easily distinguished all six species and grouped them into familiae. It has turned out that contrary to existing notion, the German cockroach and oriental cockroach belong to different familiae. The German cockroach stand apart in this classification, its "branch" is not connected to the other five "branches".
The researchers hope that the method they proposed (that does not require significant economic expenses) will allow to make the pair comparison of all species and to make the existing multiple cockroach classifications more precise. Several thousand species form a branchy evolutionary tree, which can be watched for hours with gradual plunging in the depths of geological epochs.

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