Российская наука и мир (дайджест) - Январь 2004 г.

2004 г.
Российская наука и мир
(по материалам зарубежной электронной прессы)

январь февраль март апрель май июнь июль август сентябрь октябрь ноябрь декабрь

    The Baltimore Sun / January 19, 2004
    On the verge of a solution
    • By Douglas Birch, Sun Foreign Staff
    Одну из величайших математических гипотез - Проблему Пуанкаре - похоже, успешно решил сотрудник Санкт-Петербургского отделения Математического института имени Стеклова Григорий Перельман

MOSCOW, In his office overlooking the faded pastel mansions along a St. Petersburg canal, a young Russian mathematician spent eight solitary years grappling with the Poincare Conjecture, one of the most famous and frustrating conundrums in math.
Now, colleagues say, Grigori Y. Perelman may not only have solved the century-old riddle. He may have helped advance many areas of math and physics, and made it possible to better understand the shape of the universe. "It seems like a very beautiful idea," one American colleague said.
If "Grisha" Perelman's proof of the Poincare is correct - and many mathematicians suspect it is - it will seal his transformation from an obscure researcher into one of the world's leading scientists.
And he will become the first person eligible to claim a $1 million prize offered by the Clay Mathematics Institute of Cambridge, Mass., for solving what it calls one of the seven central problems in math.
But the 37-year-old native of Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, doesn't seem interested in money or acclaim. While he could probably get a far more lucrative job in the West, he earns only about $200 a month at the Steklov Institute of Mathematics in St. Petersburg.
And he has rejected at least one mathematical prize. In 1996, he refused to accept an award in Budapest, Hungary, from the European Mathematical Society.
Perelman himself won't discuss any of this. "In my opinion, any public discussion of my work at the moment is premature and counterproductive," he wrote in an e-mail to The Sun several months ago. He didn't respond to another request for an interview this week.
Colleagues describe Perelman as jealous of his privacy, and fearful that public attention would distract him from his work. He may also be concerned that the talk of the prize money could make him a target of the Russian underworld.
"I think he wants to be a private person," said John W. Milnor, director of the Institute for Mathematical Science at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. "He doesn't want to be a media hero, where he can't walk out without being recognized, where he has a fear for his life."
Partly, Perelman is probably leery of prematurely claiming victory. Dozens of researchers have tackled the Poincare Conjecture. It goes to the heart of topology, or the mathematical study of surfaces, which holds that the world consists of two basic shapes, the sphere and the doughnut. Poincare speculated, in effect, that certain rules governing these three-dimensional shapes also apply to the same shapes projected into four and more dimensions.
Two years ago, the mathematician Martin Dunwoody of Southampton University in Britain caused a stir when he published a proposed proof. But Dunwoody, like all his predecessors, was later proved wrong.
Milnor cautioned that Perelman's proof could have hidden flaws. "It's been a puzzle and a challenge for 100 years," he said. "There have been many positive first steps and many false proofs. It's the kind of a subject where it's very easy to make a mistake if you're not careful."
Experts say it could take another six months to a year to verify Perelman's work, which is being scrutinized by teams around the world. But the work appears to have avoided the pitfalls of past efforts. Colleagues say even if his proof has hidden flaws, it represents a major advance in math.
"Although at the moment it is still too soon to declare a definitive solution to the problem, Perelman's ideas are highly original and of deep insight," wrote Michael T. Anderson of Stony Brook, in next month's issue of Notices of the American Mathematical Society.
Perelman has so far refused to publish his arguments, a mixture of esoteric math jargon and formulas, in a recognized journal, the traditional method for announcing scientific discoveries. Instead, he has posted his proof as three separate "preprints" - or draft scientific papers - on an obscure Web site (www.arvix.org/abs/math.DG). A fourth preprint, containing the final elements of his proof, is expected to be posted there soon.
Excitement in the tiny international mathematics community has been building since November 2002, when the first preprint appeared.
Last spring, Perelman gave a series of lectures on his proof at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stony Brook, the University of California at Berkeley and Princeton University. At each appearance, those in attendance say, he parried probing questions with rock-solid answers.
These lectures triggered news coverage that rivaled that given the Princeton mathematician Andrew Wiles a decade ago. Wiles' proof of Fermat's Last Theorem, a problem that had tormented number theorists for 350 years, was confirmed in 1995.
Although Perelman made little stir in math circles before his recent discovery, he made a big impression on his professors. "Grigori Perelman is one of the brilliant successors of earlier Petersburg mathematicians," said a former teacher, Gennadi A. Leonov, dean of the faculty of mathematics and mechanics at St. Petersburg State University.
After his appointment, Perelman published a few works in his areas of expertise, geometry and topology. Then for eight years, he toiled doggedly on the Poincare Conjecture, telling his Russian colleagues little about his work and publishing nothing.
Unlike most of their counterparts in the United States, researchers at the numerous institutes run by the Russian Academy of Sciences are not required to teach or publish. But even by Russian standards, Perelman's long academic silence was remarkable.
Over the past two years he has given numerous lectures to fellow mathematicians. But he has resisted becoming a scientific celebrity. He has refused interviews and asked colleagues not to disclose details of his personal life.
"He doesn't want any intrusions," said Eldar Ibradimov, director of the Steklov, the home to about 85 scholars and researchers. He referred to Perelman respectfully, using his first name and patronymic: "Grigori Yakovlevitch."
The mathematician Jean Pierre Serre recently called Poincare's Conjecture "central to our understanding of the mathematical world." It was proposed in 1904 by the Frenchman Henri Poincare, a nearsighted mining engineer and University professor who was described by one of his early teachers as "a monster of mathematics."
Poincare has been called the last of the great "universalists" in his field, meaning he was a master of all areas of math. But he is probably most famous as a founder of modern topology, the study of the geometric properties of elastic surfaces that don't change when they are stretched or bent.
In topology, a sphere is the only way to bend a two-dimensional plane into a shape without holes. In 1904, at the age of 31, Poincare speculated, in effect, that there was likewise only one way to bend three-dimensional space into a shape without holes. But he couldn't prove this was so.
This talk of bending space may sound like it has nothing to do with the real world. But Albert Einstein said that gravity does indeed bend space, meaning that our three-dimensional universe is curved. If you travel long enough in a straight line through the cosmos, physicists say, you will eventually wind up back where you started.
According to the Clay Institute rules, its so-called Millennium prizes can only be awarded two years after the publication of a proof. But the president of the institute has said that, if the proof holds up, Perelman may still be eligible to win.

© 2004, The Baltimore Sun

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    Itar-Tass / 22.01.2004, 14.24
    State to transfer rights to sci-tech activity results to innovator
    Правительство одобрило идею Минпромнауки о перераспределении прав на интеллектуальную собственность. Отныне права собственности на научно-технические изобретения будут безвозмездно передаваться самим разработчикам и организациям-исполнителям.

MOSCOW, January 22 (Itar-Tass) - The State is to transfer the rights to own and use the results of scientific and technical activities, the latest contributions to research-and-development efforts, and discoveries to innovators and actual performers. A decision to this effect was taken here on Thursday at a Russian government meeting, at which the Cabinet members considered incentives to raising the effectiveness of innovation activities in production, Andrei Fursenko, acting Minister of Industry, Science and Technologies, has announced. Even if the results of scientific and technical activities are achieved at the expense of State funds, "they shall still be handed over to the actual performers free of charge for a subsequent introduction to economic turnover," Fursenko explained. This decision by the government is to be substantiated soon by a government resolution and by changes in the legislation. Fursenko said the government would also work out "certain limitations on such an approach". Those limitations will concern, first of all, scientific discoveries connected with the ensurance of national security and the defence industry. Besides, if the said technologies are "transferred abroad", respective royalties must come to the State budget. The government is also planning to establish "a system to take stock of the already created intellectual property", Fursenko said. A decision on the rights to the already created property will be taken on the strength of an analysis of such a system

© ITAR-TASS. All rights reserved

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    informnauka / 16.01.2004
    YUKOS Research and Development Centre Opens
    В Москве состоялось официальное открытие Центра исследований и разработок ЮКОС. В России появился первый корпоративный исследовательский институт, отвечающий самым высоким мировым требованиям. "Открытие Центра большая неожиданность и подарок российской науке, - сказал на церемонии открытия академик РАН В.Н. Пармон, директор Института катализа им. Борескова СО РАН.

"The Centre opening is a great surprise and present for the Russian science. For the first time, a corporative research center of the world's top standard is found in Russia. Its foundation creates possibilities of an active and mutually beneficial co-operation between the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) and the largest corporation in Russia." - said Academician of the RAS V.N. Parmon, Director of the Boreskov Institute of Catalysis (Siberian Division of the RAS).
The Yukos Research and Development Centre was created under the supervision of M.B. Khodorkovsky within an abnormally short term, which required a considerable investment though. The idea was realized in two years: one year was spent on designing, and less than a year - on building. The Centre is located in the renovated laboratory building on Leninskii Prospect 55/1. The project design and implementation were controlled by Davy Process Technology (Great Britain).
"We do not ambitiously aim at making one scientific discovery by another, - said the Director General of the Centre M.B. Rogachev in his interview with our reporter - "The main objective of the Centre is supporting the corporation interests. Our company bought and will buy latest technologies. However, in each particular case, decision should be taken on the basis of a sound expertise. Hence the Centre will play a role of high-qualified expert of the corporation. Besides, the Centre will foster highest-level specialists to work in its departments, i.e., there is also an educational project. It includes not only training courses for the personnel of regional research divisions, but also student education within a framework of the joint program of Yukos and Lomonosov State Academy of Fine Chemical Technology (Moscow). In the Centre laboratories, students will work on their diploma projects. And already the next year, we will greet the first graduates (16 specialists) under this program. Finally, various studies related to the company development will be conducted the Centre. Research into fuel and oil production technologies of the European level, catalyzer development and trial, casing-head gas utilization technologies, membrane technologies, fuel cells, and many other aspects will be performed.
Many institutes provide assistance in the development of prospective research fields and employment and training of the personnel: Topchiev Institute of Petrochemical Synthesis RAS, Boreskov Institute of Catalysis SD RAS, Zelinskii Institute of Organic Chemistry RAS, Karpov Institute of Physical Chemistry, Gubkin State Academy of Oil and Gas, Moscow State University, and some other.
The Centre provides everything needed for the program realization at the highest level. The area of 10 000 square meters includes laboratories designed for the stuff of up to 200 people and also office and class rooms. The personnel safety and best labour conditions are provided. A most elaborate communication system allows for gas (nitrogen, helium, and argon) conveyance to the laboratories through pipelines instead of encumbering them with sizable gas cylinders. Powerful gas hoods are equipped with alarm bells. The filtration system provides for cleaning the waste water and air. Everything in these laboratories - from glassware and digital equipment to special devices for eyes rinsing and a large emergency shower - is of the top quality and can astonish any chemist. The laboratory equipment in the Centre is represented by a splendid set of most modern devices: gas and liquid chromatographs, mass spectrometer, atom absorption spectrometer, X-ray fluorescent spectrometer, spectrophotometers, electron microscope, NMR, and many other instruments.
"I am very glad that students and specialists can now work in these excellently equipped laboratories, - remarked Vice-Chairman of Yukos Administration Yu.A. Beilin, graduate of the Lomonosov State Academy of Fine Chemical Technology, - I even feel envy toward them, since my generation did not have such an opportunity."

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    globeandmail.com / Friday, January 2, 2004 - Page A6
    Find puts humans in Arctic 30,000 years ago
    Находки российского археолога В. В. Питалко означают, что 30 000 лет назад Человек разумный был способен жить за Северным Полярным Кругом

An extraordinary archeological find in Siberia shows that early modern humans lived in the High Arctic in the thick of the most recent Ice Age, not after it had begun to retreat as had previously been thought. The findings by Russian archeologist V. V. Pitulko mean that early examples of Homo sapiens were able to live above the Arctic Circle 30,000 years ago - at the same time that a land link across the Bering Sea connected the Asian continent with North America. While falling short of actual proof, Professor Pitulko's study lays out a plausible scenario describing how and when Homo sapiens could have made the move first to North America and then to South America. The study is being published today in the journal Science. "It's pretty remarkable," said Ted Goebel, a paleoarcheologist at the University of Nevada, Reno, who has read the paper. "We thought early humans just didn't have the technology or the adaptive ability to live in those areas then," Dr. Goebel said. Before Prof. Pitulko found the Paleolithic site on an ancient terrace on the Yana River at a latitude of 71 degrees north, deep inside the Arctic Circle, scientists believed that modern humans had failed to conquer the harsh Siberian tundra until about 13,000 years ago. The Yana site shows that early modern humans, who were beginning to spread out from southwest Asia into other parts of the planet about 40,000 years ago, arrived in France and Siberia. And as Homo sapiens took over and began to thrive, other species of ancient man - such as the Neanderthal, who once lived in France and likely Siberia too - died off. Beyond giving clues about the patterns of early human colonization of the land, the Yana site gives a tantalizing glimpse into how early humans survived on the grassy tundra of the Siberian High Arctic, which was never covered by the sheets of ice that entombed much of the northern hemisphere. The hundreds of artifacts found at the site include small pieces of red ocher - used by primitive societies for colour decoration - and shards of bone from woolly mammoths, bison, wild horses, Pleistocene lions and hares, woolly rhinoceros, brown bears, wolves, wolverines, reindeer, polar foxes and musk-oxen. Only the reindeer and wolf live there today. All these animals, in addition to whatever birds were to be found, formed the diet of early modern humans. The ancients were accomplished hunters who likely moved with the herds of bison, reindeer and horses they sought, Dr. Goebel said. He said they did not build houses or settle villages, but probably lived in small clusters.

© 2004 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc

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    New York Times / January 6, 2004
    At Trading Crossroads, Permafrost Yields Siberian Secrets

EKATERINBURG, Russia - In a medieval Siberian graveyard a few miles south of the Arctic Circle, Russian scientists have unearthed mummies roughly 1,000 years old, clad in copper masks, hoops and plates - burial rites that archaeologists say they have never seen before.
Among 34 shallow graves were five mummies shrouded in copper and blankets of reindeer, beaver, wolverine or bear fur. Unlike the remains of Egyptian pharaohs, the scientists say, the Siberian bodies were mummified by accident. The cold, dry permafrost preserved the remains, and the copper may have helped prevent oxidation.
The discovery adds to the evidence that Siberia was not an isolated wasteland but a crossroads of international trade and cultural diversity, Dr. Natalia Fedorova of the Ural branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences said in an interview in her office in this central Russian city.
Among the artifacts discovered at the site were bronze bowls from Persia, dated by style from the 10th or 11th century.
Dr. William Fitzhugh, chairman of the department of anthropology and director of the Arctic Studies Center at the Smithsonian, who in 1997 took part in the first expedition to the site, said the findings filled "a gap we really need to know a lot about."
The medieval cemetery, named Zeleniy Yar after a nearby village, is at the base of a peninsula called "the end of the earth" by the native Nenets people. Archaeological surveys in 1976 uncovered ceramic remains suggesting an ancient settlement. On the 1997 expedition, Dr. Fedorova, Dr. Fitzhugh and their colleagues dug up a male in a wooden coffin with an iron combat knife, a silver medallion and a bronze bird figurine, from the seventh to ninth century.
Later digs turned up still more graves. Eleven of the 34 remains had shattered or missing skulls and chopped skeletons. This may have been done right after death, "to render protection from mysterious spells believed to emanate from the deceased, "Dr. Fedorova said in a report, or it may have been a result of ancient grave robbing.
Added evidence of what contemporary societies of the area consider "protective magic" include leather straps wrapped tightly around the bodies, as well as beads or chains and humanoid or birdlike bronze figures broken into pieces at time of burial, said another researcher, Dr. Dmitri Razhev.
The legs of the dead all point toward the nearby Gorny Poluy River, a position that Dr. Fedorova said might have had religious significance. Nearly all the graves have traces of coffins made of logs or boat parts. Several were apparently warriors buried with iron knives; others apparently died in battle, as suggested by arrowheads lodged in eye sockets and stab wounds in their backs.
In 2000, the archaeologists found their first copper-shrouded mummy, a child with a face masked by copper plates. Three more copper-masked infant mummies were found in 2001, each bound with four or five copper hoops two inches wide. In the remains of a metalworking shop, the researchers excavated a wooden sarcophagus with the best-preserved mummy of all, a red-haired man covered chest to foot in copper plate and laid out with an iron hatchet, well-preserved furs and a bronze bear's head buckle.
The researchers are continuing digs on another Siberian settlement south and west of Zeleniy Yar. Dr. Niels Lynnerup, director of the Laboratory of Biological Anthropology at the University of Copenhagen, who is not connected with the research, said in a telephone interview that the findings were remarkable. "Archaeology is most important in those places where you don't have good written records," Dr. Lynnerup said. "So here, archaeology is terribly important."
He added: "Often we find skeletons and nothing else. Here we have not only very detailed human remains, but excellent preservation of all their materials."

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    UC Los Angeles (press release), CA / January 15, 2004
    Siberian Peat Proves Key Player for Greenhouse Gas Production in Past, Future, UCLA-Led Team Finds
    • Meg Sullivan

Vast peat bogs in the Russian Arctic appear to play a much more important role in the creation of greenhouse gases worldwide than previously thought, a UCLA-led team of researchers report in the Jan. 16 issue of Science.
Peatlands of Russia's West Siberian Lowland have been a global producer of methane gas much longer than researchers once believed, and the foul-smelling marshes could accelerate global warming if rising arctic temperatures succeed in drying them out, which could boost their emissions of carbon dioxide as the stored plant materials essentially compost.
"This area is more of a player for greenhouse gases than we ever thought, and it's going to be more of a player in future global warming than we thought," said Laurence C. Smith, the study's lead author and a UCLA geographer.
"This study shows the potential role of Siberian peatlands as a major piece of the greenhouse gas puzzle - both in the past and in the future," added co-author Glen MacDonald, chairman of UCLA's geography department.
The bogs also account for anywhere from 7 percent to 26 percent of carbon reserves accumulated worldwide since the last Ice Age, Smith and MacDonald report in "Siberian Peatland: A Net Carbon Sink and Global Methane Source Since the Early Holocene." If released steadily over the next five centuries, this stored carbon could cause a 4 percent annual increase over the current rate of CO2 rise.
"There are many other large northern peatlands worldwide," Smith said. "If they all dried up, together these bogs could boost the present-day rate of CO2 increase worldwide by 15 percent to 39 percent, depending on the size estimates that you use."
Armed with funding from the National Science Foundation, Smith and MacDonald led a 22-member international team that also discovered the Siberian peatlands are 2,000 to 3,000 years older than previously thought and may even be responsible for a mysterious spike 9,000 to 11,500 years ago in methane levels in the earth's atmosphere.
The largest peatlands in the world, Russia's Western Siberian Lowlands cover more than 230,000 square miles and are filled with between 1.5 feet and 33 feet of decaying plant material, including sphagnum moss, lichens and tree trunks.
Because of Siberia's chilly climate, the decaying plant material never fully decomposes, causing accumulation of peat. Over geologic time, such reserves of un-decomposed plant material form coal beds and fossil fuel.
But in the meantime, anaerobic bacteria attempt to break down or digest the peat, producing a gaseous byproduct that smells like rotting eggs. The gas consists predominantly of methane, one of the most powerful greenhouse gases.
"With the close of the Ice Age, a relatively warmer, wetter period emerged," said Smith, an associate professor of geography in UCLA College. "Prior to this point, it was too cold for peatlands to grow. But Siberia never warmed to the point where plant material could fully decompose in any given season - and that's still the case. Peatlands form wherever plant production exceeds decomposition in wet areas, and that happened here."
The researchers, who are allied either with UCLA or the Russian Academy of Sciences, spent three years studying more than 10,000 Siberian bogs, using satellite imaging and GIS analysis as well as core samples from the bogs. The team used 87 such samples and thousands of depth measurements.
Radio-carbon dating showed that most of the bogs dated back between 9,000 and 11,500 years to the early Holocene period, at the close of the earth's last Ice Age. Ice core samples have shown that the earth's atmosphere during that period was characterized by mysterious spikes in methane gases. Based on an analysis of these core samples, the team calculated a range of likely methane production levels during the early Holocene. The average of those values slightly exceeds the magnitude needed to cause the observed spikes, as determined by past researchers.
"Scientists have debated the sources of these methane swings, which caused worldwide methane levels to soar even higher than they are today," Smith said. "Now we suspect these peatlands, which really have not been considered as a major source of methane for that time."
"Since we focus so much today on man-made sources of greenhouse gases, it's easy to forget that global climate changes also occur naturally," he said. "But we're in uncharted territory when it comes to combining man-made sources with natural sources."
Scientists have long discounted the possibility that the Siberian peatlands were responsible because arctic peatlands elsewhere came into existence after an abrupt increase of methane happened in the earth's atmosphere, Smith said. Core samples have shown that arctic and subarctic peatlands in Canada had not yet formed during the methane spike, in part because the area was still covered by glacier ice, and therefore could not have caused the methane increase.
"People just assumed the Siberian situation was similar," Smith said.
In fact, the Siberian wetlands were never covered by glaciers. As a result, the Siberian peatlands formed more quickly in response to the warmer Holocene climate. "The peatlands started sooner and grew explosively in Siberia," Smith said.
"Methane is a major greenhouse gas and what controls the world's atmospheric methane content is a topic of keen scientific debate and a real concern in terms of future greenhouse warming," MacDonald said.
Certainly, the Arctic has been hard hit by present-day warming trends, Smith pointed out.
"Sea ice is melting so quickly that it's at the lowest extent ever seen before, shrubs are sprouting up in what used to be tundra, the growing season has lengthened and the tree line may even be moving north," he said. "There's no question that the Arctic is really heating up."
If the trend continues, Siberia's peat bogs may dry out for the first time, which would unleash a significant store of the greenhouse gas CO2 into the atmosphere, the article in Science warns.
"As a plant grows, it takes carbon from the atmosphere," Smith said. "After the plant dies, if it doesn't fully decompose, some of this carbon becomes stored in the ground in the form of peat. This process has been ongoing in Siberia for 11,500 years. However, in an extreme warming scenario, the peatlands could go from being this wet soggy bog that withdraws CO2 from the atmosphere to a compost heap, which could then begin to release CO2. People don't realize it but CO2 - and all kinds of gasses - are given off when you compost. That's scary because we've been storing it for 11,500 years. That's a lot of carbon to let loose on the environment."

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    University of California Los Angeles / 2004-01-13
    Earthquakes Can Be Predicted Months In Advance

Major earthquakes can be predicted months in advance, argues UCLA seismologist and mathematical geophysicist Vladimir Keilis-Borok.
"Earthquake prediction is called the Holy Grail of earthquake science, and has been considered impossible by many scientists," said Keilis-Borok, a professor in residence in UCLA's Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics and department of earth and space sciences. "It is not impossible."
"We have made a major breakthrough, discovering the possibility of making predictions months ahead of time, instead of years, as in previously known methods," Keilis-Borok said. "This discovery was not generated by an instant inspiration, but culminates 20 years of multinational, interdisciplinary collaboration by a team of scientists from Russia, the United States, Western Europe, Japan and Canada."
The team includes experts in pattern recognition, geodynamics, seismology, chaos theory, statistical physics and public safety. They have developed algorithms to detect precursory earthquake patterns.
In June of 2003, this team predicted an earthquake of magnitude 6.4 or higher would strike within nine months in a 310-mile region of Central California whose southern part includes San Simeon, where a magnitude 6.5 earthquake struck on Dec. 22.
In July of 2003, the team predicted an earthquake in Japan of magnitude 7 or higher by Dec. 28, 2003, in a region that includes Hokkaido. A magnitude 8.1 earthquake struck Hokkaido on Sept. 25, 2003.
Previously, the team made "intermediate-term" predictions, years in advance. The 1994 Northridge earthquake struck 21 days after an 18-month period when the team predicted that an earthquake of magnitude 6.6 or more would strike within 120 miles from the epicenter of the 1992 Landers earthquake — an area that includes Northridge. The magnitude 6.8 Northridge earthquake caused some $30 billion in damage. The 1989 magnitude 7.1 Loma Prieta earthquake fulfilled a five-year forecast the team issued in 1986.
Keilis-Borok's team now predicts an earthquake of at least magnitude 6.4 by Sept. 5, 2004, in a region that includes the southeastern portion of the Mojave Desert, and an area south of it.
The team has submitted a description of its new short-term earthquake prediction research to Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors, a leading international journal in geophysics. Prediction by this method is based on observations of small earthquakes that occur daily.
"We call our new approach, "tail wags the dog," Keilis-Borok said. "For example, I recently had a sharp pain in a small area of my arm. The doctor sent me for an MRI to test whether this pain was preceded by an unfelt deterioration of the muscles in the whole arm during the last few months. If yes, the pain signals that the deterioration has escalated, so I am in trouble, and need urgent medical treatment. If not, I may have just hit something, the pain will subside, and it's of little concern. To detect these symptoms in order of their appearance — first emerged, first detected — could seem more natural but it is much more difficult; we would not know when and where to look for long-term deterioration. "Similarly, we look backwards to make our earthquake predictions. First, we search for quickly formed long chains of small earthquakes. Each chain is our candidate to a newly discovered short-term precursor. In the vicinity of each such chain, we look backwards, and see its history over the preceding years — whether our candidate was preceded by certain seismicity patterns. If yes, we accept the candidate as a short-term precursor and start a nine-month alarm. If not, we disregard this candidate."
In seismically active regions, the Earth's crust generates constant background seismicity, which the team monitors for the symptoms of approaching strong earthquakes. Specifically, they consider the following four symptoms: small earthquakes become more frequent in an area (not necessarily on the same fault line); earthquakes become more clustered in time and space; earthquakes occur almost simultaneously over large distances within a seismic region; and the ratio of medium-magnitude earthquakes to smaller earthquakes increases.
One of the challenges in earthquake prediction has been to achieve a high proportion of successful predictions, while minimizing false alarms and unpredicted events. The team's current predictions have not missed any earthquake, and have had its two most recent ones come to pass.
Still, not all seismologists are convinced. "Application of nonlinear dynamics and chaos theory is often counter-intuitive," Keilis-Borok said, "so acceptance by some research teams will take time. Other teams, however, accepted it easily."
Keilis-Borok, 82, has been working on earthquake prediction for more than 20 years. A mathematical geophysicist, he was the leading seismologist in Russia for decades, said his UCLA colleague John Vidale, who calls Keilis-Borok the world's leading scientist in the art of earthquake prediction. Keilis-Borok is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the European, Austrian and Pontifical academies of science. He founded Moscow's International Institute of Earthquake Prediction Theory and Mathematical Geophysics, and joined UCLA's faculty in 1999.
His research team has started experiments in advance prediction of destructive earthquakes in Southern California, Central California, Japan, Israel and neighboring countries, and plans to expand prediction to other regions.
Vidale, interim director of the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, said, "Most seismologists agree that the ingredients of the 'tail wags the dog' method are sensible, but argue about the performance. However, the proof is in the pudding, and Professor Keilis-Borok's methods have now delivered several correct and impressive forecasts." At the most recent stage of the research, four members of the team worked at UCLA on the "tail wags the dog" method for short-term prediction: Keilis-Borok; Peter Shebalin, geophysicist from the Russian Academy of Sciences and Institute of the Physics of the Earth in Paris; Purdue University mathematician and geophysicist Andrei Gabrielov; and UCLA researcher Ilya Zaliapin, whose field is analysis of complex systems.
Keilis-Borok's team communicates the predictions to disaster management authorities in the countries where a destructive earthquake is predicted. These authorities might use such predictions, although their accuracy is not 100 percent, to prevent considerable damage from the earthquakes — save lives and reduce economic losses — by undertaking such preparedness measures as conducting simulation alarms, checking vulnerable objects and mobilizing post-disaster services, Keilis-Borok said.
During the last few years, the team was supported by the James S. McDonnell Foundation.
How does Keilis-Borok compare this research with other discoveries he has made over his scientific career? "I think this is the strongest result we have obtained so far," he said.

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    Itar-Tass / 13.01.2004
    Russian colleges discuss integration into int'l education system

MOSCOW, January 13 (Itar-Tass) - Russia plans to integrate into the international educational system, participants in the conference of 115 Russian universities said on Tuesday.
The Russian diplomatic academy MGIMO hosted the forum which discussed upcoming science conferences and the development of new textbooks, the MGIMO rector, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences Anatoly Torkunov said on Tuesday.
The conference also considered the training of specialists in such subjects as "foreign relations", "regional geography" and "public relations".
The forum paid special attention to the implementation of agreements reached in the Italian city of Bologna in summer 1999. The main purpose of the agreements is to pool the continent's resources in improving the quality and competitiveness of pan-European higher education.
"It is necessary to carry out a number of reforms in the light of Russia's joining the Bologna process," deputy department head of the Russian Education Ministry Svetlana Demidova said. "We must overhaul training programmes, teaching aids and the quality of tuition".
"The level of national education should fully satisfy the demands of modern times," Chief Adviser at the Russian Foreign Ministry staff department Valery Polyakov said. "It is necessary that graduates be ready to begin work while understanding the realities of international relations".

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