Russian Science & the World (Monthly Digest) - May 1998

May
1998
Russian Science and the World
(WWW Monthly Digest)

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Last week, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko announced that Vladimir Bulgak, a deputy prime minister in the previous Cabinet, will head the science ministry. Although Bulgak may be primed to push overdue changes to Russia's frayed scientific establishment, some observers worry that basic research could be the ultimate loser in any overhaul.

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MOSCOW. Vladimir Bulgak, formerly a deputy prime minister whose responsibilities included science and technology, was made minister of science and technology in last week's cabinet reshuffle by Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Unlike Vladimir Fortov, who lost his position in the cabinet as minister of science and technology policy, Bulgak is not a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. That should reduce the possibility of a conflict of interests in dividing government funding between different scientific organizations. Bulgak has been an active supporter of reforms to the academy, and has rejected demands from scientific labour unions that such reforms should be postponed (see Nature 388, 315 (1997) & 390, 328 (1997)). He had been considered as a possible candidate to succeed former prime minister Victor Chernomyrdin.

Carl Levitin

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MOSCOW. About 2,000 scientists went on strike in Vladivostok last week because of the government's non-payment of wages. The strike, by members of the Far Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), formed part of a nationwide series of dem The scientists, who blocked several major roads in the region, were also making political demands. They called for a change to the Russian president and cabinet, on the grounds that they had shown themselves to be unable to support Russian science. "Our strike is an act of despair," said Georgyi Elyakov, a vice-president of the RAS and president of its local branch. "We have no other way to draw attention to the problems of science in the region. Previously this was one of the best scientifical The day after the strike, more than 100,000 people - including 12,000 in Moscow alone - took part in protests against education reforms proposed by the government. As well as proposing to reduce the number of lecturers by 20 per cent and the number o new minister of education, Alexander Tikhonov, has drawn up a plan to give state-owned universities greater autonomy. Meeting representatives of the academics' and scientists' trade union, Oleg Sysoev, the vice prime minister, argued that that the reforms "will draw resources from financial and other structures to the education system; at the same time the state wil But the Russian Union of University Rectors says that it does not believe in the state's ability "to control the situation" while it is unable to support the universities financially. In 1997, education received only 2 per cent of the total state bud "The other reason for our protest is the debt of 10 billion new roubles (US$1.6 billion) that the state owes to education workers," said Nina Merkulova, an official of the central committee of the academics' and scientists' trade union. "We have not Russia's prime minister, Sergei Kirienko, has decided to defer a discussion of the reforms that was to have taken place at a cabinet meeting next month.

Carl Levitin

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U.S. organizations and the Russian government are launching an effort to reform Russian research and higher education by establishing centers of scientific excellence linking Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) institutes and universities. A pilot project to test this idea will begin this summer at the University of Nizhny Novgorod. Scientists from the RAS and the university will join forces in a center that will use scanning probe microscopy to explore the physics of nanostructures. If the experiment succeeds, Russian officials and U.S. organizations are hoping to launch a $60 million, 5-year initiative to create elite research centersstaffed with top academy and university scientists-at up to 15 universities throughout the country.

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WASHINGTON President Bill Clinton's plan to stockpile vaccines and drugs in case of a bioterrorism attack will be difficult to carry out, but makes a good start, an expert on biological terrorism said Tuesday. It will also help strengthen public health services in general, Michael Osterholm, Minnesota's state epidemiologist, said. "I think this is going to be a very difficult task ahead of us but one that I think is doable," Osterholm, who served as adviser to the federal government on biological terrorism, told Reuters in a telephone interview. On Friday Clinton ordered the stockpiling of vaccines and antibiotics and called for safeguards to shield the nation's infrastructure and computer systems. "Probably more important is that those of us out in the field are impressed with what President Clinton has done," Osterholm, who has warned repeatedly of what he sees as the nation's lack of preparedness, added. "We feel like this is a very good start." A team of specialists commissioned by the government says the five germs most likely to be used in a biological terror attack are anthrax, smallpox, plague, tularemia-an animal-transmitted infection that causes blisters and pneumonia-and the bacteria that causes botulism. Anthrax is the only one for which a vaccine has been licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and it is being used to immunize U.S. troops. "We don't have the vaccine on hand in amounts," Osterholm said. He said antibiotics needed to treat anthrax, plague, and tularemia were also not on hand in large amounts, but would be easy to make. "It's not technically difficult," he said. Smallpox vaccination stopped decades ago when the virus was eradicated, so it would take some time to produce vaccines again. As for botulism, the most important treatment involves respirators as the toxin freezes muscles that control breathing. Osterholm said the current anthrax vaccine was a good one. "The question is, is it going to be adequate to protect against engineered strains of anthrax?" he asked. Russian researchers say they have genetically engineered anthrax to resist the current vaccine and there is some evidence that scientists in the former Soviet Union created resistant strains by simply mixing different anthrax strains. Osterholm said it was too early to put a price tag on anti-bioterrorism efforts, but says the country cannot afford not to make them. "Just one anthrax exposure in in a moderately large city would cost us billions of dollars in medical care costs, not to even speak of what it would do to the economic and social conditions in that area," he said. "It's like a smoke alarm. You don't buy a smoke alarm to sit there 365 days a year when there's no fire. You buy it so when a fire does start, it does its job."

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LARCHMONT, N.Y., May 13 /PRNewswire/ - Important developments in anti-aging medicine and cancer will be discussed at the Telomeres & Telomerase: Implications for Cell Immortality, Cancer, and Age-Related Disease conference (see http://www.liebertpub.com/telomeres for details and online registration) to be held June 1-3 at the Hotel Sofitel, San Francisco. Organized by BioConferences International, Inc. and sponsored by the Journal of Anti-Aging Medicine published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., the conference will explore the remarkable clinical, therapeutic and ethical consequences of telomeres research. Chaired by Michael Fossel, M.D., Ph.D., Michigan State University and Michael D. West, Ph.D., Origen Therapeutics, the conference will feature the leading experts in the field including Judith Campisi, Ph.D., Berkeley National Laboratory; Calvin B. Harley, Ph.D., Geron Corporation [Nasdaq:GERN - news]; Leonard Hayflick, Ph.D., University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine; Alexy Olovnikov, Ph.D., Institute of Biochemical Physics, Russian Academy of Science; Jerry W. Shay, Ph.D., University of Texas; Robert A. Weinberg, Ph.D., Whitehead Institute, MIT and many others. Sessions will include the history of cell mortality, immortality and aging; aging and cancer; the telomerase connection, telomerase activation in human breast cancer, analysis of telomerase expression as a diagnostic adjunct in cervical cytopathology; cancer, aging and cell senescence; a new method for detection and measurement of telomerase activity by using TMA and HPA; telomerase proteins, activity and maintenance and other topics. BioConferences International, Inc. sponsors major conferences in the biomedical field (for more information, call 800-5-BIOCON). Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishes more than 60 Journals, books, and newsletters. To find out more information, call 914-834-3100 (within NY State) and 800-M-LIEBERT (outside NY State). SOURCE: Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.

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Negotiators from the United States and 28 other countries were nearing agreement on a treaty to restrict the production and use of toxic chemicals when the Russian delegates made a sheepish onssion. Their country would not be able to comply with the pact's requirements, they said, because Russia still produces and uses polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), the poisonous chemicals banned years ago in the United States and most other industrialized countries. "Delegations were quite surprised by the revelation," according to a State Department account, because "the government of Russia had previously given oral assurances to some European governments that new production had ceased." This is a diplomatic arena that attracts few spectators. That Russia still produces plutonium in its nuclear weapons factories has been well publicized; that Russia still produces, uses and may export PCBs - which may in the end be more dangerous to more people than plutonium - has attracted little attention. Aside from the global climate change conference in Kyoto, Japan, last year - which was controversial because of the potential effects on the U.S. economy of any agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions - the State Department's environmental negotiators operate mostly out of the media spotlight. That doesn't mean they haven't been busy. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, like her predecessor Warren Christopher, has stressed the environmesecurity and diplomatic issue, on the theory that environmental degradation leads to political unrest, cross-border tensions, economic setbacks and the flight of refugees. "Some still say that environmental protection is a 'soft' issue, which can safely be dealt with another day, or better yet by another generation," she said recently. "I say the environment is a security issue and that - unless we wish to betray our own children - we must act seriously and on all fronts to deal with it." Last week, Albright presided at a State Department ceremony at which the United States, five Latin American countries and Vanuatu agreed on measures to protect dolphins from being trapped in tuna fishing operations, a pact Albright called "one of the strongest agreements ever negotiated to conserve marine life." In March, the United States and 94 other countries negotiated a "prior informed consent" treaty, requiring exporters of 27 dangerous pesticides and industrial chemicals to demonstrate that the countries they are shipping to know what they are receiving and what the risks are. Bilateral agreements will lead to phaseouts of leaded gasoline in Cairo, Moscow and other polluted foreign capitals. An agreement reached in May with other members of the G-8 group of industrialized nations will provide satellite observation data to countries fighting forest fires. The revelation about Russian PCB production came during negotiations leading up to perhaps the most ambitious environmental objective on this year's agenda, a global pact to ban or limit the production and use of "persistent organic pollutants," or POPS - chemical compounds such as PCBs and DDT that cause health problems, including cancer, birth defects and low sperm counts. It turns out that Russia's electric power grid still depends on transformers manufactured with PCBs, an industrial compound that lingers in soil and water and builds up in animal tissues. Alternatives exist, but U.S. and other negotiators accepted the Russians' argument that their country lacks the money to convert. "It could be extremely difficult to make major changes in the number of PCB transformers in use [in Russia] without a massive infusion of cash or donation of significant numbers of replacement equipment and of equipment manufacturing technology," the State Department concluded. As a result, negotiators granted Russia a special exemption from the treaty allowing PCB production to continue until 2005 and postponing destruction of the last stocks until 2020. With that compromise, the delegates were able to complete work in February on the "Protocol on Persistent Organic Pollutants" that is to be signed next month at an environmental conference in Denmark. It will require most countries in Western and Central Europe, North America and the former Soviet Union to ban production of eight organic compounds, phase out others and limit emissions of still others that are unavoidably discharged as industrial byproducts. Conclusion of the POPS agreement will have little direct effect on the United States, a State Department official said, because "most of what's required, we already do." The same is true for Canada and most Western European countries oficials said. The next item on the POPS agenda is expansion of the agreement from Europe and North America to the rest of the world. Negotiations are scheduled to begin in Montreal on June 29. "The reason to seek a global agreement is that this stuff is just as toxic to the Indians and Ukrainians as it is to Canadians and Americans," a senior State Department official said. "Just spend a few weeks in the industrial cities of the former Soviet Union and you'll see the birth defects and the high incidence of illness." Most countries are willing to participate in negotiations to limit POPs, this official said, because "there's no debate" about their harmful effects. "It's not like global warming," the official said. "People are more familiar with the toxicity of these things, and it's real time, not in the remote future."

© 1998 The Washington Post Company

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Moscow was the site of paleontological intrigue last month after construction workers supposedly unearthed a dinosaur egg in the middle of the city. But it looks to have all been just a joke. On 27 April, a steam shovel excavating at the site of a huge trade and entertainment center picked up a whitish oval object about 35 centimeters long. A supervisor for Ingeocom, the construction company, says the firm contacted the Russian Academy o Ingeocom then invited journalists to come ogle the egg. But when they arrived at the site they found no one to answer questions except an anonymous man calling himself "a St. Petersburg paleontologist." Rudyak then swept up in a limousine and announced that the egg would be put temporarily in a "safe place." As photographers clicked away, the "egg" was taken out of the trench, put in a Xerox carton, placed in an armored van from Russian International Bank, and spirited away. A later inquiry to PIN revealed that no one there had been notified of the discovery. "The possibility of finding a dinosaurus egg in the center of Moscow is practically nil," says director Alexei Rozanov. No explanation has been forthcoming from Ingeocom, but to some observers it looked like a publicity stunt. Indeed, Rudyak told a reporter the egg might inspire a name for the center after Jurassic Park-in Russian, Yurski Kurski.

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In one of the most unusual examples of East-West collaboration since the end of the Cold War, scientists at two nuclear weapons laboratories are working together to build a better prosthetic foot. The idea is the brainchild of Mort Lieberman, a researcher at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico. It all began at a meeting where Lieberman heard a physician discuss the contributions medical technology could make in Africa and Russia. "As soo Lieberman's brainstorm has enabled eight materials scientists at Russia's notorious Chelyabinsk-70 weapons lab to focus their expertise on a prosthetic foot design patented by Tufts University professor Mark Pitkin. The foot will be the first to contain a rolling ball joint, rather than a pin joint, to more closely approximate the action of a real foot. That should make the device more acceptable to amputees, many of whom find existing prostheses uncomfortable. "We're asking the Russians to look at everything that holds the foot together," says Jim Colvin, director of engineering for the Ohio Willow Wood Co. of Mt. Sterling, Ohio, which will license the prosthesis. For example, the Russians will select the op Funding for the collaborative project comes from the Department of Energy and the National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research. A more flexible prosthetic foot is the goal of a peacetime collaboration between Russian and American weapons designers.

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September 2 - 4, 1998, FLNR, Dubna, Russia.
Organizing Committee:

    Michail G. Itkis
    Anatoli N. Mezentsev
    Yuri Ts. Oganessian
    Gurgen M. Ter-Akopian
    Valeri I. Zagrebaev
Contacts: The study of the properties of light radioactive nuclei far from the stability line has currently become one of the basic directions in the Flerov Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions (JINR, Dubna). First rather interesting results (on elastic scattering and processes of the 2n-transfer) have been received with the He6 secondary beam at energy of 25 MeV/nucleon. In the near future (June 1998) measurements with the He8 ion beam will begin. In connection with this we would like to hold an extended International Workshop on Light Exotic Nuclei: the Structure and the Reactions. It is supposed that the basic attention should be paid to physical problems, and each speaker will have no less than 20 minutes for oral presentation of his talk.
The Workshop will cover the following topics:
  • Possibilities and perspectives of RIB experiments in FLNR
  • Structure of 6He (ground state, excited states, 'soft-dipole mode',...)
  • Reactions with 6He (elastic scattering and OMP parameters, break-up in the Coulomb field, dynamics of the 1n and 2n-transfer reactions)
  • Structure of 8He (ground state, di-neutron and tetra-neutron components of the wave function, excited states, ...)
  • Reactions with 8He (elastic scattering and OMP parameters, dynamics of 2n and 4n-transfer reactions, the 1n-transfer and p1/2 resonance in 7He, mechanisms of the break-up reaction, search for multi-neutron, states,...)
  • Beta-decay of light exotic nuclei (peculiarities of halo-nuclei beta-decay, spectra of beta-delayed secondary particles, halo-analog states,...)
  • Reactions with the tritium target (structure of the 5H, 7He, 8Li nuclei,...)
  • Structure of the 8B nucleus and reactions with it
  • Other light nuclei far from the stability line
External speakers already confirmed their participation (May 12, 1998):
  1. Jan S. Vaagen -- University of Bergen, Norway
  2. Michail V. Zhukov -- Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden
  3. Jens M. Bang -- The Niels Bohr Institute, Denmark
  4. Nicolas Alamanos -- CEA/DAPNIA/SPhN Saclay, France
  5. Francoise Auger -- CEA/DAPNIA/SPhN Saclay, France
  6. Andrea Vitturi -- INFN, Padova, Italy
  7. Boris V. Danilin -- Kurchatov Institute, Russia
  8. Sergey A. -- Fayans Kurchatov Institute, Russia
  9. Daniel Baye -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
  10. Alex N. -- Ostrowski The University of Edinburgh, UK
  11. Oleg N. -- Knyazkov St.Petersburg University, Russia
  12. Konstantin A. -- Gridnev St.Petersburg University, Russia

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May 19-25, 1998, Dubna, Russia.
Organized by Frank Laboratory of Neutron Physics, Joint Institute for Nuclear Research, Dubna, Russia.
Programme Profile: elastic neutron scattering; intelastic neutron scattering; nuclear magnetic resonance; production of deuterated materials.
Organizing Committee:

    Chairmans - I.N.Serdyuk (JINR), P.Timmins (ILL)
    Scientific Secretary - M.V.Avdeev (JINR)
International Advisory Committee :
    V.L.Aksenov (Russia)
    A.V.Belushkin (Russia)
    Bildt (Switzerland)
    R.May (France)
    J.Parello (France)
    D.Worcester (USA)

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MOSCOW - Russia and Iran, brushing aside U.S. and Israeli criticism, said on Monday they hoped to step up their cooperation in the field of nuclear technology for nonmilitary purposes. "We have very bright perspectives opening up before us," Iranian Vice-President Gholamreza Aghazadeh told a news conference after a week of talks with Russian officials that focused on the building of a nuclear power plant in Iran. "We are seeking increased cooperation in the field of atomic energy for peaceful purposes," said Aghazadeh, who heads his country's Atomic Energy Organization. Russia's Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov also made clear the two countries were considering further cooperation beyond the Bushehr plant, now being built by Russian companies at the Gulf port at a cost of $850 million. "Completion of the Bushehr reactor will not be our sole big project," Adamov said. Both Adamov and Aghazadeh stressed that their nuclear cooperation did not violate any international agreements on the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The United States, which regards Iran as a rogue state that sponsors terrorism, has criticizes Russia's ties with Iran and accuses Moscow of selling technology that could be used to develop nuclear weapons. Russia denies the charge. Aghazadeh said the United States was using double standards in trying to isolate his country. Washington had no right to warn Iran and other countries against developing nuclear weapons while helping to arm Israel with them, he said. "If the United States really wants to uphold the principle of nonproliferation of nuclear weapons it should not furnish Israel with such arms," he said. He said Iran did not intend to create its own nuclear arsenal, adding: "We have stressed more than once our lack of desire to become a nuclear state." Iran says the Bushehr plant is needed to help to meet its energy needs and Adamov reiterated that the plant could not be used for military purposes. Adamov said his ministry and the Iranians had agreed a new timetable for completing the 1,000-megawatt plant, whose construction has suffered delays. Aghazadeh said future cooperation might include acquiring a Russian research reactor that could help to improve Iran's nuclear know-how and train staff. He said Iran was keen to profit from Russia's general expertise in the nuclear field. Adamov also said Russia would go ahead with plans to build a nuclear reactor in India, a traditional ally, despite last week's nuclear tests there. Moscow has strongly opposed U.S.-led efforts to impose sanctions against Delhi over the tests.

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MOSCOW - A new crew has made an amphibious landing, of sorts, on the Russian space station Mir. A team of 15 newts was brought aboard the spacecraft Monday after arriving on a cargo ship Sunday, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. The 2-year-old Oriental newts will be allowed periodically to roam the station while their human crew mates film their movements as part of a study on how weightlessness changes their anatomy and motor skills. The small salamanders are considered ideal residents for a space station because they eat very little and adjust quickly to the loss of gravity, biologist Georgy Samarin was quoted as saying by ITAR-Tass. A previous team of eight newts died on re-entry in February when bad weather during landing forced rescuers to pay more attention to their human companions, ITAR-Tass quoted Samarin as saying. A ninth had died in orbit. Samarin said about 80 snails also took up residence aboard Mir on Monday. Their anatomy and motor skills will also be studied, he told the news agency. Both the newts and the snails were expected to stay aloft until August.

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MOSCOW, May 8 (Reuters) - A U.S. communications satellite successfully went into orbit on Friday after blasting off aboard a Russian Proton rocket from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, space officials said. "At 10.05 a.m. Moscow time the probe was put into orbit at an altitude of about 36,000 km," Sergey Zhiltsov, a spokesman for the Khrunichev Space Centre, told Reuters. The satellite belongs to Echostar Space Corp., Zhiltsov said, adding that it was the fourth such probe to be launched by the U.S. firm. The previous three satellites were launched by the U.S.-made Atlas booster in the United States. Zhiltsov said the launch cost between $65 and $75 million. The launch had been scheduled for February, but was postponed because of additional checks of its adaptor module, produced by Swedish company Saab-Ericsson. The Echostar satellite was produced by Lockheed Martin Corp. It will join a global satellite system and will provide communications over the Atlantic Ocean and Europe, Itar-Tass news agency said. Friday's launch follows a similar one last month when a Proton put seven U.S. communications satellites owned by the Iridium international consortium into orbit. The Iridium venture brings together several foreign companies, including Lockheed Martin Corp and Motorola Inc. Russia began launching foreign commercial probes from Baikonur in 1996. Tass said a total of 11 commercial launches were planned this year. The Khrunichev centre is a Proton booster producer.

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - Cosmonauts aboard the Russian space station Mir replaced a failed computer with a new one Sunday, but to NASA's dismay could not load the necessary software. The problem threatened to delay space shuttle Discovery's launch to Mir on Tuesday. Discovery cannot dock with Mir unless the station's automatic steering system is working and keeping the space station steady. That system is controlled by computer. Engineers believe the problem is either with the computer or, more likely, a related component considering the sudden shutdown of the original computer the day before, said NASA spokesman Bruce Buckingham. "Right now, the flight controllers don't know what the problem is," Buckingham said Sunday night. "It's left them kind of scratching their heads." Earlier Sunday, Frank Culbertson, director of NASA's shuttle-Mir program, said the American astronaut "You expect somebody to come pick you up and then they call and say, well, they're having second thoughts," Culbertson said. "That's what a person in that situation would probably think. He's just waiting for the next shoe to fall. But we're going to go get him." NASA's final visiting astronaut has been living on the aging space station since January. Mir's motion-control computer failed Saturday after working fine for five months. When the cosmonauts tried to restart it Sunday, they got an equipment alert and Unlike many of last year's computer breakdowns, Mir was left with a sufficient power supply, Culbertson said. The station wasn't jerked out of position when the computer failed, so its electricity-generating solar panels continued to aim at the sun. As a precaution, Thomas and his two Russian crewmates kept the air conditioner and primary oxygen generator shut down to conserve stored power. If Discovery blasts off a little after 6 p.m. Tuesday as planned, it will arrive at Mir on Thursday and remai Thomas, 46, an Australian-born engineer, is the seventh American to live on Mir. Discovery's trip to go get him will be the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's ninth and final ferry flight to the Russian outpost.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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