|Российская наука и мир|
(по материалам зарубежной электронной прессы)
Впервые после распада СССР Россия намерена построить новый наукоград, аналог Кремниевой долины в США. Сторонники проекта характеризуют его как попытку объединить советскую традицию строительства наукоградов с западными моделями поощрения развития исследовательских фирм вокруг университетов. Критики же считают, что налицо другая русская традиция - попытки догнать Запад, используя мощь государства.
AROUND the time that Apple Computer was making it big in California, Andrey Shtorkh was getting a first-hand look at the Soviet approach to high tech: he guarded the fence keeping scientists inside Sverdlovsk-45, one of the country's secret scientific cities, deep in the Ural Mountains.
Ostensibly, the cities were closed to guard against spies. Its walls also kept scientists inside, and everybody else in the Soviet Union out. While many people in the country went hungry, the scientific centers were islands of well-being, where store shelves groaned with imported food and other goodies.
Security in these scientific islands was so tight, though, that even children wore badges. Relatives had to apply months in advance for permission to visit. "It was a prison, a closed city in every sense," recalls Mr. Shtorkh, then a young soldier.
Today, he is the publicist for an improbable new venture. The Russian government, hoping to diversify its economy away from oil, is building the first new scientific city since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Even more improbably, it is modeled, officials say, on Silicon Valley.
The site, still nameless and near a village outside Moscow, is conceived not as a secretive, numbered city in Siberia but as an attempt to duplicate the vibrancy and entrepreneurial spirit of America's technology hotbed.
Russia's rich scientific traditions and poor record of converting ideas into marketable products are both undisputed, cited as causes for the Soviet collapse and crippling dependence on mining and petroleum. Not surprisingly, then, its leaders look longingly at Silicon Valley.
"The whole country needs some sort of breakthrough," Viktor F. Vekselberg, the Russian business oligarch appointed co-director of the project, said in an interview. Mr. Vekselberg was chosen in part because of his investments in solar power, an unusual venture for one of the oligarchs who made fortunes in commodities. "The founding of the innovation city, in form and substance," he says, "could be a launching pad for the country as a whole."
He calls the city "a test run of business models" to rebuild Russian science for the capitalist era.
Once developed, the site is intended to incubate scientific ideas using generous tax holidays and government grants until the start-ups can become profitable companies. Its backers in government and the private sector describe it as an effort to blend the Soviet tradition of forming scientific towns with Western models of encouraging technology ventures around universities.
Skeptics see a deeper strain of Russian tradition: trying to catch up with the West by wielding the power of the state. Looking askance at the incongruous blend of the Kremlin's will and the openness prized by Silicon Valley, they refer jokingly to the new city as Cupertino-2.
"We should not expect the same mechanisms that work in Silicon Valley to work in Russia," says Evgeny V. Zaytsev, a co-founder of Helix Ventures, a life sciences venture capital company based in Palo Alto, Calif., and a member of the advisory board of AmBar, the Russian business association in the real Silicon Valley. "The government will be involved, because that is the way it works in Russia."
Indeed, the new city was conceived by what is called the Commission on Modernization, deep within the Kremlin bureaucracy.
The Russian government, though, has a long and conflicted relationship with entrepreneurs and scientists. There is still a thriving tradition of government crackdowns on private business with capricious enforcement of the tax laws, making entrepreneurship difficult.
For now, Russia's hoped-for Silicon Valley is a panorama of muddy fields, birch groves, warehouses and storage sheds belonging to a state agricultural institute. The site was chosen for its proximity to another ambitious project, the Skolkovo business school, housed in a futuristic building financed by millions in donations from the oligarchs, including Mr. Vekselberg.
While similar ideas have been bandied about for years, this one was approved - and blessed with $200 million in government money - within a month of a visit in January to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by senior Kremlin leaders, including Vladislav Surkov, the powerful deputy director of the presidential administration. Mr. Surkov says the new city will isolate new businesses from the bureaucracy that handcuffs the Russian economy today.
A government-financed foundation will build and run the city. Directors of existing state-financed tech companies - including Rusnano, a nanotechnology fund headed by Anatoly Chubais, a leading architect of Russia's controversial post-Soviet privatization - will serve on the board and contribute money. Separately, a scientific council will decide which companies can locate at the site. The infrastructure should be in place within three years, Mr. Vekselberg says.
Mr. Zaytsev grew up in the Siberian city of Barnaul, got an M.B.A. at Stanford and worked for venture capital firms before founding his own. He approves of the experimental spirit of the new city. But he is skeptical that bureaucrats will be able to channel the money in ways that will transform Russia into a competitive force in consumer technology. Rusnano and the other state-financed venture businesses have had few successes thus far.
"The less control, the better," Mr. Zaytsev says. If the government "controls the venture funds, no real venture funds will come."
FOR a time, the Russian elite embraced petroleum as the ticket to restore the country's domestic economy, its standing in the world and its power in regional politics. Vladimir V. Putin, then the president, took to citing the stock price of Gazprom as a national accomplishment.
But Gazprom, a company that inherited title to the world's largest natural gas reserves, is now valued by investors at well below Apple, a company that sprang from a garage.
Indeed, the Kremlin's sensitivity to its trailing position in the wired world was on full display this year at the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland. Mr. Putin, now the prime minister, and Michael S. Dell found themselves on the same discussion panel, and Mr. Dell asked in passing how he might help Russia develop its information technology sector.
Mr. Putin answered icily: "We don't need help. We are not invalids. We don't have limited mental capacity."
For nationalistic Russian officials, it only rubs salt in the wounds that Silicon Valley companies so easily recruit bright Russian scientists. AmBar, the Russian business association, estimates that 30,000 to 60,000 Russian-speaking professionals work in the San Francisco Bay Area.
A marquee name in the high-tech world, the Google co-founder Sergei Brin, immigrated to the United States from Russia with his parents when he was a child. Had Russia been a different place, perhaps Mr. Brin might have started Google there instead of in Silicon Valley.
Russia is hardly the first country to seize on the idea of copying Silicon Valley. In Malaysia, for example, a jungle has been cleared for a computer city called Cyberjaya that is a self-declared effort to imitate the south Bay Area. China has a cluster of high tech in Tianjin, outside Beijing, and France in Sophia Antipolis, near Nice, all created with an infusion of government aid - and all eventually successful in attracting and fostering private business.
In the midst of the oil boom, Russian officials suggested luring back Russian talent by building a gated residential community outside Moscow, designed to look like an American suburb. What is it about life in Palo Alto, they seemed to be asking, that we cannot duplicate in oil-rich Russia?
The new effort, though, goes well beyond good housing. It also embraced the idea of encouraging new companies to commercialize the work done at university laboratories.
Russian officials looked at Asian techno-parks with favorable tax treatment and established four of their own - in Tomsk, Dubna, Zelenograd and St. Petersburg. Three were based in former closed scientific cities.
The visions for Russia's Silicon Valley, though, are grander still. A proposed law would liberalize a host of tax, customs and immigration rules in ways that businesses have wanted for years. For example, the planners say they have studied the role of streamlined immigration rules in drawing talent to Silicon Valley.
President Dmitri A. Medvedev appointed Mr. Vekselberg the co-director of the project, a position that will probably evolve into one of two directors of the foundation to manage the new city. As a first order of business, he is to recruit a foreign businessman to co-direct the city with him; he has so far sent out about 100 letters to foreign business contacts who are potential candidates.
For now, his own money is not tied up in the site. But Mr. Vekselberg's Renova group, whose primary assets are in metals and oil, has a significant investment in solar energy through a 44 percent stake in Oerlikon, a thin-film solar panel maker based in Switzerland.
Mr. Vekselberg said he was surprised by his appointment but is now a true believer in the project and would like to attract a mix of start-ups, established companies and academic institutions. Mr. Medvedev, in a televised meeting about the new city, emphasized commercialization: "The new technologies which we are creating are not toys for eggheads," he said.
The new town is intended to advance five scientific priorities laid out by Mr. Medvedev - communications, biomedicine, space, nuclear power and energy conservation - and to encourage cross-fertilization among disciplines. Property will not be owned, but rented, and the government will offer grants for scientists who struggle to find private financing.
"In California, the climate is beautiful and they don't have the ridiculous problems of Russia," Mr. Shtorkh said. To compete, he said, Russia will form a place apart for scientists. "They should be isolated from our reality," he added.
Officials have painted the Russian Silicon Valley in sweeping ideological terms. Russia, they say, will again be defined by the depth of its scientific talent, rather than by its mines and wells. The government has appointed as scientific director a Nobel laureate in physics, Zhores Alferov - whose discoveries in the 1950s were cited by the Nobel committee as paving the way for cellphones (which the Soviet Union, incidentally, never made).
HIGH-TECH entrepreneurs who stayed in Russia are more skeptical. Yevgeny Kaspersky, founder of the Kaspersky Lab, an antivirus company, says that he is pulling for the site to succeed but that the government should confine its role to offering tax breaks and infrastructure.
He started his own business in Moscow in the 1990s, working nights on his hobby of capturing and studying computer viruses, but he benefited from a special economic zone for start-ups only when he opened an office in Tianjin in 2003. The Chinese government gave him free office space for a year and a tax holiday.
"Russia has a lot of talented software engineers but not a lot of successful businesses," he said. "People still have an iron curtain in their minds."
The old scientific cities were entangled with the military, but they also reflected futuristic and utopian strains in Soviet thinking. Isolating scientists in Siberian enclaves - removed from the struggle for groceries that defined many other citizens' lives - and provisioning them with laboratories yielded results in the Soviet nuclear weapons and space programs. With talented, low-cost work forces, the cities remain attractive, even to foreign investors: I.B.M., Intel and others have opened offices and labs in formerly closed Russian cities.
The problem, critics say, is that the government today intends to corral Russian engineers and scientists without knowing what it wants.
The model, instead, should be maximum exposure to competition and the vagaries of consumer demand.
"They don't understand what they need," said an adviser to the Kremlin, who was not authorized to speak publicly. "They don't need another atomic bomb, and they don't need new televisions."
The planners, meanwhile, are looking for a name. One suggestion was "Innograd," for Innovation City, echoing with a self-deprecating humor the boisterous Soviet nomenclature for new ventures like "Magnitogorsk," or Magnetic Mountain - the name given to a gigantic steel mill in the Ural Mountains.
Another option was "Gorod Solntsa" or Sun City, a reference to the nearby Moscow neighborhood of Solntsovo. This suggestion, though, may undermine the idea of turning a new page, as Solntsovo is also the name of a famous organized-crime group from the 1990s that got its start in the area.
Mr. Shtorkh, the former closed-city guard, prefers an Apple-esque iteration: iGorod.
© Copyright 2010. The New York Times Company.
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Nature / 27 April 2010 | 464, 1257
Russia to boost university science
But can it break the dominance of the Russian Academy of Sciences without breaking the research base?
Россия намерена развивать университетскую науку, что несколько ослабит доминирование Академии наук. Но не приведет ли это к разрушению имеющейся исследовательской базы?
Technological leadership, a matter of national pride during the Soviet glory days, has become a distant memory in modern Russia, where scientific output lags behind that of China, India and South Korea. Despite increased funding in recent years, Russian science has not yet recovered from a near collapse in the 1990s and the consequent exodus of thousands of researchers to the West.
In an attempt to counter the decline and to foster science-driven innovation, the Russian government is betting on its universities, by promising to invest an extra 90 billion roubles (US$3 billion) into higher education and market-oriented university research over the next decade, on top of an annual university research budget of about 20 billion roubles. But doubts remain about whether the initiatives can overcome weaknesses in the universities and the long-standing dominance of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), the largest basic research organization in the country. The RAS, which employs more than 50,000 researchers in 480 institutes across the country (see Table 1), gets about 50 billion roubles per year in funding from the federal government. Yet it suffers from an ageing scientific workforce and poor links with the international scientific community.
Table 1: Size isn't everything
As Russia struggles to overcome its economic dependence on mineral exports, academy researchers are criticized for contributing too little to Russia's transformation into a high-tech economy. "Increasing domestic high-tech production will require a flow of well trained people to industry," says Nikolay Ledentsov, a corresponding member of the RAS formerly with the Ioffe Physico-Technical Institute in St Petersburg, who now runs the optoelectronic company VI-Systems in Berlin, Germany, which he founded in 2006. "Improving universities, where most people are educated, makes sense."
To strengthen neglected university research - mainly in applied sciences such as information technology - the government launched a competition in 2008 to transform a number of existing institutions into "national research universities". On top of their regular funding from regional governments, these institutions will each receive an extra 1.8 billion roubles per year over the next decade from federal budgets for purchasing modern laboratory equipment. Twelve winners were selected last year, and a further dozen or so will be chosen this month out of 128 institutions that applied in the second round of the competition.
Last year, the government also created five "federal universities" to bolster higher-education efforts in under-resourced areas; they will each receive around 380 million roubles annually in extra funding over the next three years.
Separate budget lines were also set aside to support Moscow State University and St Petersburg University, the two largest and scientifically strongest institutes of higher education in the country.
Finally, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced a new grant programme earlier this month worth a total of 12 billion roubles. It is aimed at attracting high-profile scientists from within the country and abroad to work at Russian universities. Winners, chosen for their research and publication record, will receive up to US$1 million per year to set up a team at a Russian university of their choice. A first call for proposals is being prepared, and the first grantees are to be selected later this year.
Hopes of creating a Russian match for Harvard or Oxford, voiced by some institutions bidding to become national research universities, are wildly premature, says Konstantin Severinov, a biochemist based at both Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and at the RAS Institute of Molecular Genetics in Moscow. He and others warn that the new funding is still being funnelled through a system that often fails to reward the best ideas, and lacks the transparent grant-assessment procedures developed and accepted by the international scientific community.
Still, Severinov says, promoting university research is certainly a welcome step towards breaking the unhealthy dominance of the RAS in favour of a more diverse science and higher-education system. "Merging science and higher education is the right approach," he says. "If the new initiatives help get more Russian students involved in meaningful research early on it would be a good thing."
Some researchers worry that boosting the universities could damage the RAS. "It's in everybody's interest to have strong universities, but please not at the expense of damaging the RAS where the best science is done," says Ledentsov. The best way to revitalize Russian science is to let both universities and RAS institutes to compete for public funding through a quality-based granting system, he says. "Russian science needs a fruitful combination of both, and it absolutely needs stronger links with Europe."
Increased funding is only part of the remedy, adds Ledentsov. Russian government initiatives include a 318-billion-rouble nanotechnology programme started in 2007 (see Nature 461, 1036-1037; 2009) and plans for a new science city outside Moscow. But these must be supported by innovation-friendly business and legal reforms such as tax exemptions for company research and development.
"You can't order innovation," says Ledentsov. "But you can force the economy to be innovative if you create the right incentives. Seed it and it will grow."
© 2010 Nature Publishing Group, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited. All Rights Reserved.
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Россия и Норвегия наконец-то урегулировали спор 40-летней давности по разделению Баренцева моря и части Северного Ледовитого океана на четкие экономические зоны.
Новое соглашение продлевает границы стран на север и может способствовать развитию геологоразведочных работ по поиску нефти и газа в обширном регионе.
OSLO - The leaders of Russia and Norway on Tuesday resolved a 40-year-old dispute over dividing the Barents Sea and part of the Arctic Ocean into clear economic zones extending to the edge of Europe's northern continental shelf. The agreement could herald oil and natural gas exploration in a huge and potentially lucrative region.
"I believe this will open the way for many joint projects, especially in the area of energy," President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia said at a news conference. The agreement is subject to ratification by by the legislature of each country.
The Norwegian prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, said it showed good will in the face of rising international anxiety over who controls the Arctic seabed, which by some estimates contains a quarter of the world's undiscovered fossil fuels.
"This is a confirmation that Norway and Russia, two large polar nations, do not have a policy about racing, but a policy about cooperation," he said.
When Russian scientists planted a flag on the seabed at the North Pole in 2007, it seemed that a "race to the Arctic" was on, with northern nations aggressively jostling for the right to exploit resources that were previously out of reach.
The chairman of Norway's Ocean Futures research institute, Willy Ostreng, said the agreement's foundation in international law and bilateral negotiation bodes well for resolving future conflicts between other countries in the far north, where interest in shipping and offshore petroleum production may intensify if the polar ice cap continues to recede in response to warming temperatures.
"It's a model case for what may happen in the future in the Arctic," Mr. Ostreng said.
The Norwegian and Russian frontiers cap Europe's northernmost bulge. The new delimitation extends the two countries' 122-mile land border northward beyond all the islands of the Barents Sea and into the Arctic Ocean, although the two leaders did not provide an exact northward distance.
Conventional practice elsewhere in the world has been to position maritime boundaries at the midpoint between opposing land masses, and for 40 years that has been Norway's goal with respect to its Svalbard archipelago to the west and the Russian island groups of Novaya Zemlya and Franz Josef Land to the east.
Russia argued instead for a "meridian line" boundary running more or less straight north from the mainland, which would have provided it with an additional 67,000 square miles of economic territory - about equal to the entire Norwegian sector of the North Sea, whose oil resources have made Norway a rich country.
Mr. Stoltenberg said the line approved on Tuesday splits that disputed area nearly in half, which means the line will still run considerably closer to the Norwegian islands than the Russian ones. A number of oil or gas fields identified by Russian seismic surveys in the 1980s are thought to straddle the line.
"Both parties believe the disputed area contains rich deposits of mineral resources, in particular oil and gas," said Mr. Ostreng. "But they don't know for sure. And when you don't know for sure, you act as if the area is extremely rich. It is not easy to give up strategic resources."
A spokesman for Greenpeace, the international environmental organization, said he was startled by how the two leaders talked about oil and gas exploration immediately after announcing the new boundary.
"It just shows the greediness of Russia and Norway that the first thing they talked about is not global warming, which is what's making this area suddenly accessible, but resource extraction," said Truls Gulowsen, head of the group's Norway branch. "This part of the planet is extremely sensitive. It is often covered with ice and there is no technology to clean spilled oil and chemicals out of ice."
Geologists say the eastern Barents, under Russian economic stewardship, probably contains far more oil and gas than the Norwegian sector, though the Norwegians have beaten their neighbors to the punch by starting production in a western Barents field called Snow White.
Based on expertise gained there, a Norwegian company, Statoil, has signed up to help Russia's state gas giant, Gazprom, develop a large offshore field called Shtokman far out at sea on the Russian side of the Barents. That technologically demanding project has been delayed, however, by low gas prices.
At a meeting in Canada of the Arctic nations last month, Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store of Norway seemed to express frustration over Russia's longstanding opposition to placing the maritime boundary at an equal distance between islands of the two nations. He was widely quoted as saying Russia was "not yet a stable, predictable state."
The two states have clashed in the past over fishing rights and practices in the Barents Sea, which contains vast stocks of cod. But in recent years Russia and Norway have worked closely on a shared fisheries management system. So while the new dividing line will add clarity it will not alter fishing practices on a large scale, Mr. Ostreng said.
The area in question qualifies as the high seas, he said, so no matter where the line was drawn it would not affect passage by naval vessels or commercial ships.
© Copyright 2010. The New York Times Company.
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IT-специалисты, сотрудники правоохранительных органов и дипломаты из 8 стран встретились в Гармиш-Партенкирхен (Германия) на ежегодной конференции по интернет-безопасности. Конференция проходит в четвертый раз, спонсируется Россией (МГУ и рядом компаний), а также международной Интернет-корпорацией по присвоению имен и номеров (Icann).
GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany - For the 140 computer network specialists, law enforcement agents and diplomats from eight countries who met in this German ski resort this week for a Russian-sponsored conference on Internet security, the biggest challenge was finding a common ground to discuss their differences.
The barrier was not the variety of native languages but deep differences in how governments view cyberspace, according to many of the specialists there.
That challenge was underscored by a sharp rift between the United States and Russia. Americans speak about computer security and cyberwarfare; the Russians have a different emphasis, describing cyberspace in a broader framework they refer to as information security.
"The Russians have a dramatically different definition of information security than we do; it's a broader notion, and they really mean state security," said George Sadowsky, a United States representative to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or Icann, the closest thing to a governing body for the global network.
What has changed, however, is the Obama administration's decision this year to begin actively discussing these differences with the Russians. While last year only a single American academic computer security specialist attended the conference, this year more than a dozen Americans attended, including Christopher Painter, the second-ranking White House official on cybersecurity, and Judith Strotz, the director of the State Department's Office of Cyber Affairs.
The two nations, according to Russian officials, have agreed to renew bilateral discussions that began last November in Washington.
"An international dialogue on cybergovernance, crime and security is really long overdue," said Charles L. Barry, a research fellow at the National Defense University. "There's really only one network out there. We're all on it, and we need to make it safe."
Mr. Painter, speaking on Tuesday, said there had been significant improvement in international law enforcement cooperation in recent years. To respond to challenges in cyberspace, he said, strong laws, trained crime investigators and efficient international cooperation are needed.
The United States has succeeded in creating a global 24-hour, seven-day network of law enforcement agencies in 50 nations, which have agreed to collect and share data in response to computer attacks and intrusions. While officials from both nations said that law enforcement cooperation had improved, the Russians have refused to sign the European cybercrime treaty, which the United States strongly backs.
At the same time, for the past 13 years, the Russians have been trying to interest the United States in a treaty in which nations would agree not to develop offensive cyberweapons or to conduct attacks on computer networks. The United States has repeatedly declined to enter into negotiations, arguing instead that improved law enforcement cooperation among countries is all that is necessary to combat cybercrime and cyberterrorism.
On Monday, Gen. Vladislav P. Sherstyuk, under secretary of the Russian Security Council, criticized the treaty, saying that a provision effectively violated Russia's sovereignty by permitting foreign law enforcement direct access to the Russian Internet.
The general also restated Russian concerns about the absence of an international treaty limiting military uses of the Internet. "Cyberattacks are left out of international military law," he said. "Information technology can be used as a tool to undermine national peace and security."
The Americans have accused the Russians of turning a blind eye to cybercriminals who have operated with relative impunity from Russia. In turn, the Russians have criticized what they see as American "hegemony" over the Internet and privately express concerns that the United States has retained a "red button" - the power to shut off the Internet for specific countries.
Yet despite these differences, in Garmisch this year there were also signs of agreement between Russians and Americans.
The conference, sponsored by Lomonosov Moscow State University, Icann and several Russian companies, is the brainchild of General Sherstyuk. Several of the conference attendees said the gathering, which is in its fourth year, was an effort by General Sherstyuk to build international support for his work. He has been the principal force behind Russian efforts to create a treaty limiting cyberwarfare development.
Academic and government officials from other countries, including India and China, attended this year. However, recent episodes like Google's claims in January that it had suffered the theft of its software and intrusions on human rights advocates from China, and a recent Canadian report about a Chinese computer spying system focused on India, were not discussed.
During a panel discussion on computer crime, Col. Gen. Boris N. Miroshnikov, an official with the Russian Interior Ministry, and Stewart A. Baker, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, and the former chief counsel for the National Security Agency, agreed that the most important step in combating Internet crime would be to do away with the anonymity that has long been a central tenet of Internet culture.
"Anonymity is an invitation to criminals," General Miroshnikov said.
Mr. Baker agreed, saying, "Anonymity is the fundamental problem we face in cyberspace."
This week, the Russians were optimistic that progress was being made in bridging more of the cultural divide that has hindered international cooperation.
According to one Russian business executive who has attended all four Garmisch events, the tenor of this meeting was markedly different from that of earlier meetings dominated by the Russians. "In the past, the largest group was from the F.S.B.," he said, referring to the Russian intelligence agency, "who were here for an annual vacation."
© Copyright 2010. The New York Times Company.
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В Лаборатории ядерных реакций им. Г.Н.Флерова Объединенного института ядерных исследований (Дубна) закончена работа по синтезу 117-го элемента таблицы Менделеева. Этот элемент формально "закрывает" таблицу и одновременно дает возможность дальнейшего развития знаний о строении атомного ядра. Эксперимент подтвердил существование так называемых "островов стабильности" (областей, в которых время существования сверхтяжёлых ядер резко увеличивается), гипотеза о существовании которых была выдвинута еще в 1960-х гг.
WASHINGTON - Five years of preparation, eight months collecting a few drops of precious radioactive material from a nuclear reactor in Tennessee, five trans-Atlantic flights, millions in research dollars and rubles, and six months of nearly 24-hour-a-day bombardment in a Russian particle accelerator had come to this: Element 117.
Six times in the last few months, it had flashed in a detector for a few fractions of a second and then disintegrated away, earning a permanent spot on the periodic table.
This new atom was discovered during a six-month long experiment that ended in late February, according to the team of scientists from Tennessee, California, Nevada, and Russia, who are reporting their discovery this week. Before August of last year, element 117 had never before existed on Earth - and probably never before in the history of the universe, they say.
Though it has yet to be named, element 117 is the latest in a series of super-heavy atoms to be synthesized in the last few years at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia. For technical reasons, it was by far the most difficult to make, but its discovery promises to be an important stepping-stone to synthesizing even heavier elements. And it may open the door to better understanding of the mysteries of the atomic structure at the extreme end of the material world.
"[Element 117] is the exploration of new territory - like the exploration of Africa by Livingston," said nuclear physicist Karl-Heinz Schmidt of the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research in Darmstadt, Germany, who was not involved in the research.
Reached by telephone yesterday at his home near the institute where Element 117 was discovered, one of its discoverers spoke glowingly of the new element.
"This significantly expands the boundaries of the existence of the nuclei, atoms, elements," said nuclear physicist Yuri Oganessian. "In a word, the boundaries of the material world."
WORK BEGAN IN TENNESSEE
Oganessian is the head of the Russian side of the collaboration and ran the experiments in Dubna where element 117 was ultimately discovered, but the work began in Tennessee about five years ago after discussions between Oganessian and his longstanding collaborator Joseph Hamilton, a physicist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.
At the time, Oganessian and his colleagues had been using a new technique they developed called "hot fusion" to synthesize a number of the super-heavy elements. This technique used a steady and energetic beam of a rare form of calcium to bombard a radioactive target like uranium. Though hard to pull off, the experiments proved successful because occasionally a calcium atom would come just close enough to one of the heavier target atoms to stick, fusing together to form a new, super-heavy atom. From 2000-05, Oganessian and his collaborators from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, CA, managed to make elements 113, 114, 115, and 116 in this way.
In 2005, Oganessian was hotly pursuing the heaviest atom ever created - element 118 - which he would soon succeed in making by bombarding a target of californium atoms, a highly radioactive element named after the U.S. state in which it was discovered.
Even with that goal still on the table, Oganessian and Hamilton were discussing what would be next. It would have to be element 117 - lighter than 118, but much harder to make. They knew it was going to prove even more difficult, Hamilton said, because what they needed as starting material was another highly radioactive element called Berkelium, which is also named after the place where it was discovered.
Berkelium is a by-product of producing californium, however. Californium was hard enough to obtain. Getting enough californium to get enough berkelium by-product to do their experiments was going to be prohibitively expensive because it would have to be made in a nuclear reactor that had a high concentration of subatomic particles known as neutrons.
The very best nuclear reactor in the world for this purpose is at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. It was built in the 1960s specifically to produce radioactive elements like berkelium. In late 2004, Oganessian wrote a letter to Alex Zucker, the former director of ORNL, proposing the experiment and asking about the feasibility of producing enough berkelium.
"We saw immediately that this was an interesting experiment to both sides and that working together we could accomplish something that was pretty exciting," recalled James Roberto, who was then the deputy director for science and technology at Oak Ridge.
Officials at Oak Ridge suggested that that they might piggyback on other work going on at the laboratory. Oak Ridge occasionally produces californium for a variety of commercial and research applications.
So they waited until 2008, when the next californium campaign was scheduled. That same year, a symposium was held at Vanderbilt to celebrate Hamilton's career, and he invited both Oganessian and Roberto to attend. Over lunch, they made their plans.
THE THIRD TIME'S THE CHARM
They began in the spring of 2008 of by loading 40 grams of the radioactive element curium into target rods and lowering them into the reactor. These were then bombarded with neutrons for 23 days until the nuclear fuel in the reactor was spent. The reactor was shut down, the fuel was replaced, and then it was bombarded for another 23 days. After that fuel was spent, they replaced it again. And again.
The process lasted a total of 250 days, and it took 11 refueling cycles of the Oak Ridge reactor to produce about 22 milligrams of nearly pure berkelium in the end - just a few drops in the bottom of a test tube, but more than enough to do the experiment. It still had to be cooled for three months and then carefully chemically purified, which took another three months.
In the summer of 2009, they packed the material into five separate lead safety canisters and put them on a commercial flight to Moscow. At that point, they were working against the clock. The half-life of berkelium is 330 days, and in six months, there might not have been enough left to make element 117.
In something of a comedy of errors, the material was flown back-and-forth across the Atlantic Ocean five times because of incomplete or missing paperwork. It was refused entry into Russia twice, and twice it went back on the return flight to New York, before finally clearing customs only on its third trip to Moscow.
Nobody expected the berkelium to rack up so many frequent flier miles, Roberto quipped, but he added that the overall process was really only delayed for a few days.
From Moscow, the berkelium was transported to the Russian Research Institute of Atomic Reactors in Dimitrovgrad, where it was made into a "target" disk and sent on to Oganessian at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research.
Finally, on July 27 last year, Oganessian and his colleagues placed the disk in the particle accelerator where it was blasted by a highly energetic beam smashing billions of calcium atoms per second against it. Because the beams were so energetic, the berkelium would have quickly vaporized if left still. So the disk was sent spinning at 2,000 revolutions per minute, and the beam was wobbled and wiggled to keep it from falling on one spot for too long.
What the scientists were hoping for was the rarest of rare events - a precise collision between a calcium atom flying out of the accelerator and a berkelium atom spinning about on the target
THE PURSUIT OF MAGIC NUMBERS
Collisions like these are well known to science. Physicists have shown for decades that you can synthesize heavier atoms in the laboratory by smashing together two lighter elements. And atoms smash into each other and create heavier atoms throughout the universe in the wake of massive star explosions known as supernovae. Most of the matter on Earth is the result of atoms smashing into other atoms.
The key to these collisions lies in the nucleus, the heavy and compact heart of an atom. Imagine squeezing nearly the entire mass of Yankee Stadium into a speck the size of a flea sitting on home plate. An atom is like this by analogy - empty space the size of Yankee Stadium surrounding a tiny flea of great mass.
This is true regardless of how heavy an atom is - heavier atoms are just like fat fleas sitting in the same huge, empty ballpark.
What makes up the mass of the nucleus are two basic particles packed together: positively charged protons and uncharged neutrons.
Protons naturally repel each other, but neutrons act like glue holding them together - sort of like putting tape on two magnets to hold them together head-to-head or tail-to-tail. The more powerful the magnets are, the more they repel each other and the more tape is needed to hold them together. Likewise, the heavier an atom is, the more neutrons it needs to hold its nucleus together.
"The extra neutrons supply that extra glue to hold these protons and neutrons together," said Hamilton.
But at a certain point, even extra neutrons are not enough. Heavier atoms tend to break apart, throwing off a small fragment of their nuclei over time - a process known as radioactive decay. Every element known to science that is heavier than bismuth is radioactive and throws off mass like this. And in general, the heavier the element, the more quickly it decays.
Decades ago, physicists predicted the existence of a hypothetical island of stability, in which certain super-heavy atoms that had a particular "magic" number of protons and neutrons, would be more stable. Long sought, this island of stability around neutron "magic" number 184 has proven elusive because of the difficulty involved in synthesizing super-heavy elements.
While scientists generally agree that they do exist, there has been some disagreement over exactly what these magic numbers are, said Schmidt. Different theories have predicted different values for them, which is why the experiments in Dubna were so crucial.
"Since the available theories have already exploited all information available from the accessible nuclei, we need [new] experimental information to settle these questions," Schmidt said.
LESS THAN A BILLIONTH
Back in the United States, Roger Henderson at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory was downloading three or four data files every day from the Dubna experiment, analyzing them on a computer nicknamed Yana and looking for signs of element 117. When all was said and done, there were billions and billions of events or possible collisions to sort through.
What Henderson (who was duplicating the effort of the team in Russia) was looking for was one particular signature - a radioactive fingerprint of sorts - that would be the telltale sign they found the elusive atom. If they truly made element 117, it would exist for a brief time - a few hundredths of a second - and then decay into a series of lighter atoms as it threw off chunks of mass from its nucleus.
Several weeks after the experiment began they found the first one on Aug. 20. And by the time the experiment ended six weeks ago, they had detected a total of six events indicating the creation and subsequent decay of element 117.
One of these events occurred when Henderson's colleague Mark Stoyer of Lawrence Livermore was visiting the Russian laboratory for a few weeks and on a side trip to Tobolsk, Russia, at a conference honoring the 175th birthday of Dmitri Mendeleev, who made the first periodic table in the 19th century. "How appropriate that we could add a chemical element to the known elements during this time!" reflected Stoyer.
There is always a chance that what they observed was really due to random events or background noise, but according to Stoyer, this was not likely. He calculated that there would be less than a billionth of one percent chance that the signatures they detected were random events.
So what does finding element 117 mean?
For one thing, it fills the only remaining gap in the periodic table, which is now complete from the first element (hydrogen) all the way through element 118. Element 117 will eventually be given a name by the researchers, though the discovery first has to be officially recognized by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry.
Even before it has an official name, what the discovery provides is evidence for the island of stability, helps physicists better understand nuclear structure in general, and should help theorists narrow the range of predictions on those magic numbers.
"These experiments are a real tour de force," said Yale University physicist Richard Casten, who was not involved with the research, which is described this week in the journal Physical Review Letters (http://physics.aps.org). "It's an important experimental step that helps pin down interactions that constrain the theories."
One of the most important findings involved isotopes that were formed as the element 117 they made decayed. As 117 decayed, it turned into first 115, then 113 and finally 111. All these lighter elements had already been created previously in the laboratory, but what was new this time was that they were made with more neutrons than even before - making them far more stable and giving them longer lifetimes.
The newly created element 113, in particular, lasted for about 30 seconds before decaying - about 100 times longer than previous isotopes of the same element created in the same laboratory in Dubna.
"This does verify that as you get closer to this island of stability you have much longer half lives," said Hamilton.
The added time may also be long enough to be able to do see how these super-heavy elements react with other elements, which would allow scientists to garner information about their chemistry - - something that has never been done with super heavy atoms above element 112 before. Those experiments are ongoing now.
"The ultimate goal is a really comprehensive theory of nuclei - starting from the lightest and going to the heaviest," said Casten.
The work also points the way forward for synthesizing even heavier elements, like element 120, but Oganessian said they will have to shut down and modify their facilities first. In order to achieve an even higher atomic number, they cannot rely on the calcium beams any longer and that they will have upgrade to more intense beams of titanium, which is slightly heavier than calcium.
Work towards that goal is set to begin this year, said Oganessian when a reporter asked him yesterday what is next for the laboratory, though he demurred in his response.
"Do not ask after a substantial dinner what we would like to have for supper," he said.
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На совместном заседании президиума Госсовета, президентского совета по культуре и искусству и совета по науке, технологиям и образованию было предложено задать российской культуре новый, инновационный, вектор развития. Наилучший способ для этого - содействовать взаимопроникновению культуры и науки.
The meeting's theme was the role of culture and education in the development of children's creative skills. The President noted that this topic is particularly relevant in light of the ongoing modernisation of Russia's economy.
Meeting participants also discussed the possibilities of education beyond school, ensuring access to cultural values and their use throughout Russia, the development of a network of libraries and other cultural institutions, support for various forms of reading, and the establishment of a Russian science and education TV channel.
In his speech Dmitry Medvedev devoted a great deal of attention to the need for searching out and supporting gifted children, noting that it is precisely such gifted, creative people who can promote progress and participate in the modernisation of the government, society and the economy. It is necessary to encourage individual skills, to create an environment for their development, and to support teachers who do this, Mr Medvedev said.
Russia has accumulated very interesting experience and concrete results in this regard, but this is still not enough, the President said. We must create a national system for searching out and promoting the development of gifted children, Mr Medvedev emphasised, but it is impossible to do so via bureaucratic methods or merely relying on enthusiasm alone. Instead, such committed work should take place throughout Russia and make use of public resources as well as citizens' initiatives and desires. Searching out and supporting gifted young people will be successful only if the process is conducted systematically and at all levels, including regional and municipal ones.
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