|Российская наука и мир|
(по материалам зарубежной электронной прессы)
В этом году ни один российский вуз не попал в первые две сотни ведущих университетов мира по версии Times Higher Education, считающейся самой авторитетной и цитируемой рейтинговой системой.
Интервью с координатором по Восточной Европе проектов в сфере высшего образования Всемирного банка Джамилем Салми и директором Центра международного высшего образования при Бостонском колледже Филипом Альтбахом о качестве российского высшего образования и о том, стоит ли доверять рейтингам.
No Russian universities appear this year on the list of the world's top 100 universities, as compiled by The Times Higher Education. Maria Agranovich of Rossiyskaya Gazeta spoke to Jamil Salmi, World Bank Tertiary Education Coordinator for Eastern Europe, and Philip Altbach, director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College about the quality of Russian universities and whether the rankings really matter.
Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Russia has many universities whose degrees are valued abroad. Why are Russian universities ranked so poorly?
Philip Altbach: You shouldn't pay much attention to rankings. Many of them have internal problems, one being that they take into account only English-language research publications. It is partly because of this that there are so many Anglo-Saxon countries among the ranking leaders. There is a more important problem, though, that pushes Russia away from the top positions - the salaries paid to university professors.
We compared university salaries in 28 countries of the world in a joint study with the Higher School of Economics, and Russia turned out to be in next to last place - only Armenia pays less. The calculations were based on salaries in relation to GDP and the average wages in the country. The top-five includes Canada, Italy, South Africa, India and the United States, where university professors make an average of $4,000-$6,000 a month, which compares to less than $1,000 at a Russian university.
Jamil Salmi: If you have to earn money on the side, what serious research can there be? Many Russian scientists work outside Russia because of a more favorable environment. Professors must be paid more, and the pay increase must come from the government budget. Russia needs a more flexible and incentive pay system.
RG: How much should a university professor get paid?
Philip Altbach: You can't have a specific amount - it differs depending on the country. But in any country researchers must get paid enough to work using their best efforts while holding a single job at one university. That's what you should start with.
RG: Does the Russian university and research system differ much from the West?
Philip Altbach: Russia has a tremendous legacy, a world-class academic system, but it is too isolated.
Jamil Salmi: A simple example is the very small number of Russian students speaking good English. There are few courses available in English, while they make up a crucial component of academic exchange and attracting foreign students and teachers. The same holds for publications. You can publish excellent articles in Russian journals, but as long as they remain only in Russian, they will be lost on international rankings, and often on the entire world.
RG: Russian universities have been merging lately to create major research and education centers. Is that a new trend?
Jamil Salmi: Each country should have leading universities that act as research centers; however, it is important not to overdo it, not to focus on science alone. When you emphasize research, there is a danger that it can harm the teaching process. Large countries, including Russia, need not place the main emphasis on research, but focus on the educational process and its results instead.
RG: Is there a difference between academy and university science?
Philip Altbach: This is a very important question. I believe that the system of the Academy of Sciences, which exists not only in Russia, but also in China, would not be a very good idea for France or Germany, at least during modern times. We need a complete integration of science and education now, as well as the involvement of research in the teaching process.
RG: Which will find it easier to approach the global education arena: a specialized university or a large traditional one?
Philip Altbach: It is better to focus on something specific instead of trying to encompass everything. Most of the highest-ranking universities deal with the natural sciences, but the main thing is to ensure a high quality educational process and pay professors decent salaries.
RG: Should higher education be free?
Jamil Salmi: If the training is to be lawyers or doctors - the upwardly mobile professions that guarantee high incomes - then it would be logical to pay. Students will have their investments repaid a hundredfold.
RG: Unfortunately, medical professions are not quite prestigious in Russia and doctors don't get paid much; neither do teachers.
Jamil Salmi: Higher education should fundamentally be free of charge as a benefit that has colossal importance for society and the economy as a whole. But it gets more complicated in practice. We would all like to be born in, say, Switzerland, where the government is rich enough to provide everyone with higher education for free. However, most countries, including the United States, can't afford this, which is why public universities need to combine budget and non-budget funding. This seems to be the best option now.
But we should not forget about social equality. Talented young people who can make excellent specialists must be entitled to higher education for free. The government should be responsible for offering them this opportunity.
© 2007-2012 Russia Beyond The Headlines.
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Le Monde / 17 juillet 2012
La Russie, puissance informatique globale
Перспективы российской информатики на мировом рынке.
Moscou est une ville énorme (plus de 16 millions d'habitants) et développée dans laquelle les entrepreneurs décidés à conquérir la planète ne manquent pas. Dans le domaine des technologies de l'information, leur appétit rappelle la formule de Marc Andreessen selon laquelle "le software est en train de manger le monde". Le software russe, en l'occurence, puisque la Russie fait bien partie du petit groupe de pays dans lesquels la qualité exceptionnelle des ingénieurs et les énormes ressources financières disponibles permettent de penser et d'agir global.
J'en ai pris conscience quand Andrey Gershfeld, du fond ABRT, m'a signalé à propos de la création de nombreux fonds d'investissements au cours des derniers mois que "beaucoup d'argent vient d'entrepreneurs qui ont fait fortune offline. Ils ont peu d'expertise en matière de TIC mais ils ont l'ambition qu'il faut et assez de capital." Cette phrase contraste avec ce que j'entends trop souvent partout où je vais : il y a de l'argent mais ceux qui le détiennent n'osent pas encore s'aventurer dans le virtuel et dans le capital risque. La Russie vit donc incontestablement un point d'inflexion qui permet d'envisager bientôt des flux relativement stables.
Quant aux ingénieurs, tout indique que leur réputation est fondée. Il suffit de retenir comme exemple le fait qu'une équipe de l'Université d'État de technologies de l'information, d'optique et de mécanique de Saint-Pétersbourg vient de remporter en mai, à Varsovie, le titre de championne du monde de programmation. Et ça n'est pas la première fois. Il y avait trois universités russes dans les 10 premières, à laquelle on peut ajouter une biélorusse (Harvard est septième et Stanford 14ème).
Mais, pour conquérir le monde, il faut des conquérants.
J'en ai rencontré un en la personne de Serguei Beloussov. Patron et fondateur du fond d'investissement Runa Capital, il m'a expliqué dans son bureau de Moscou que "nous ne faisons pas d'affaires en Russie mais nous utilisons de la technologie et des équipes russes pour faire des affaires au niveau global." C'est à dire, essentiellement aux États-Unis et en Europe de l'ouest. "L'Inde et l'Afrique ne sont pas importantes," précise-t-il en réponse à une question sur la taille de ces marchés. "Il y a plus d'utilisateurs mais il y a moins d'argent et il en sera ainsi pendant encore un long moment."
Runa Capital se spécialise, selon sa propre formule, "dans tout ce qui est programmable : cloud, mobile, logiciels. C'est tous la même chose ou presque pareil." Beloussov est connu comme fondateur et président de Parallels, le système de virtualisation qui permet (entre autres) d'utiliser des programmes conçus pour Windows sur un Mac dont le "moto" est "Utilisez le software dont vous avez besoin sur le hardware de votre choix" (Run the software you need on the hardware you want).
Ses succès passés lui permettent de réunir l'argent nécessaire à un fond et l'atout russe sur lequel il mise - le "différentiateur", comme il dit - est "la capacité de mettre au point des logiciels complexes extrêmement technologiques", sophistiqués à l'extrême.
A l'appui de sa thèse, outre Parallels, il donne l'exemple de Nginx, une compagnie qui produit le logiciel "qui fait tourner Facebook, LinkedIn et Spotify" et dont Wikipedia nous apprend qu'il est utilisé par 25% des 1000 sites web les plus visités.
Dans un autre domaine, il cite le jeu online World of Tanks qui repose sur des représentations graphiques fidèles et "des restitutions mathématiques extrêmement complexes". La compagnie qui a lancé le jeu est biélorusse mais appartient clairement à la même école. Du temps de l'Union Soviétique, toutes ces universités appartenaient au même système reconnu pour sa qualité notamment dans le domaine des maths et de la physique.
D'une façon plus générale il pense que l'informatique russe est particulièrement performante dans le domaine des logiciels scientifiques comme la bio-informatique, mais aussi la sécurité (avec Kapersky, par exemple), les moteurs de recherche (comme Yandex qui tient tête à Google en Russie), le data mining, "tout ce qui vient des mathématiques et qui implique des systèmes ou des algorithmes complexes".
Paradoxalement, Beloussov illustre sa volonté globale par un mépris mal caché pour les très nombreuses entreprises russes qui se lancent depuis deux ans à la conquête du marché national. "Les Russes constituent 2% de la population mondiale," m'a-t-il expliqué, "tout ce qui se concentre sur le marché russe est condamné à être insignifiant".
Ce à quoi les autres rappellent en souriant que le dit marché est maintenant avec 70 millions de consommateurs le premier marché européen. Et que tout, ou presque, y est à faire. Mais c'est une autre histoire. J'y reviendrai.
© Le Monde.fr.
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UPI.com / July 17, 2012
Russian ship makes Gulf Stream discovery
Экспедиция в рамках научно-образовательного проекта «Арктический плавучий университет» обнаружила в Баренцевом море неизвестные теплые потоки. Предположительно, это новая ветвь течения Гольфстрим. Именно Гольфстрим повышает температуру в Арктике, что ведет к похолоданию в остальном мире.
MOSCOW, July 17 (UPI) - Russia says its Arctic Floating University may have discovered a new branch of the Gulf Stream in the Barents Sea on the ship's maiden voyage.
The Gulf Stream branch, either newly emerged or previously undiscovered, may be active around Russia's Novaya Zemlya archipelago, Federal Meteorological Service head Alexander Frolov announced in Moscow.
"This may be no Higgs boson, but this is important, too," he said. "But let's wait until we've analyzed the data better."
The discovery is significant because the arctic region governs Russian winter temperatures that in turn have a serious impact on the economy, Frolov said.
The Arctic Floating University, a program that may open its doors to foreign student next year, saw 25 Russian master's and postgraduate students take a 40-day tour of the Barents Sea, RIA Novosti reported.
The university ship, the Professor Molchanov, crisscrossed ice fields in the Barents Sea and gathered some 8,500 samples of water and seabed along the way between June 1 and July 10, expedition officials said.
© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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Space Daily / Jul 24, 2012
Russian space agency considers Jupiter mission
Рассматривается возможность участия российских ученых в изучении Юпитера. Старт миссии JUICE (Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer) Европейского космического агентства запланирован на 2022 год, предполагается исследование самой планеты-гиганта и ее спутников.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is starting preparations for a mission to Jupiter. The Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE) project, approved for implementation in 2022, is to explore the giant planet and its icy satellites: Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Russian scientists are considering the possibility of participating in the mission, but the implementation of these plans depends on the previous planetary program.
Lee Fletcher from JUICE's Oxford University scientific group presented the objectives of the Jupiter exploration, utilizing the European JUICE spacecraft, at the Scientific Assembly of the International Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) in Mysore, India. The ESA's JUICE mission - a reduced version of the more ambitious EJSM project - was chosen as the L-class mission (L meaning "large") within the framework of the Cosmic Vision program.
The Europeans are not facing an easy task. Initially, the EJSM project included two satellites: the ESA's JGO was meant for exploring Jupiter and Ganymede, while NASA's JEO is intended for exploring Jupiter and Europa. The Japanese were also going to participate in the mission with their equipment for studying Jupiter's magnetosphere. At the same time, there was a possibility of a detailed study of both the planet's satellites and Jupiter itself.
Since 2005, spacecraft only occasionally visited the largest planet of the Solar system on their way to other destinations: Cassini was headed for Saturn, while New Horizons for Pluto. It was just recently that the American Juno spacecraft aimed at studying the atmosphere of the planet was sent to Jupiter. Thus, JUICE is designed to close the gap in exploration of the major planets.
The difficulty lies in the fact that one spacecraft is to examine Jupiter and its three satellites: Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. According to the present ballistic scheme of the expedition, the exploration of Jupiter, including its high latitudes, should take 26 months, and after that the spacecraft should change orbit and explore the satellites.
The task of searching for traces of potential life or substances supporting it on the satellites was widely discussed. Yet Jupiter itself is nonetheless interesting, as it represents a natural space laboratory for studying fluid dynamics.
In this case, while Juno will study the deeper layers of the atmosphere, JUICE will focus on the upper layers, both vertical (energy transmission, convection, and cloud formation study) and horizontal (processes on different latitudes, polar regions, and their connection with the magnetosphere and the polar lights).
Another question for studying is variations of the atmosphere. Devices working in the wide range of electro-magnetic radiation (from ultra-violet to radio range) and possessing a wide spatial and temporal resolution are needed for the implementation of these tasks.
Russia is interested in the JUICE project to some extent, and two years ago, when the EJSM project was under development, Russian scientists suggested joining the program with their spacecraft aimed at landing on Europa. At the same time, the Russian mission was mainly interested in the NASA spacecraft aimed at Europa's preliminary exploration.
In its present condition, JUICE does not include the spacecraft's long stay near Europa. That is why Russia has to review the plan of the mission: it should either send a spacecraft to conduct research on the spot, or to send a mission to Ganymede, which is considered to be less promising from the point of view of finding traces of life or conditions for its existence there.
However, it should be understood that sending a lander to the Jupiter system is an extremely difficult project, and not much time remains for its implementation. The next launch as part of the Russian planetary program is scheduled for 2014.
It is the joint Russian-Indian Luna-Resource project, which also includes the Russian lander. Then, as it has recently been voiced by the Russian Space Agency, there are plans for some ten scientific missions up to 2018. Among them is a further study of the Moon.
The question is whether or not it is compatible with a flight to Jupiter. On the one hand, the international agencies' practice shows that along with the smaller-scale missions, larger "flagship" projects are constantly being developed. The Jupiter mission could become such a large-scale project for Russia.
On the other hand, perhaps, it would be more prudent for Russia to choose a gradual recovery of the space industry accompanied by more frequent, but less complex launches, and consistent development of various systems.
© Copyright 1995-2012 - Space Media Network.
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Futura Sciences / Le 25 juillet 2012
Le lancement de Nauka, le laboratoire multifonction russe, est reporté
Отправка на Международную космическую станцию российского многофункционального лабораторного модуля запланирована на конец 2013 года, но может быть отложена в очередной раз - конструкторское бюро Центра имени Хруничева не укладывается в сроки.
Le nouveau laboratoire multifonction russe (MLM) et le bras robotique européen de la Station spatiale devront attendre avant d'être lancés et intégrés au complexe orbital. Des retards dans la construction de ce module contraignent l'agence spatiale russe à reporter son lancement pour la fin 2013.
Le Centre spatial Khrounitchev, un des deux constructeurs du module MLM, baptisé Nauka (« science », en russe), avec RKK Energia, vient de confirmer d'importants retards dans sa réalisation. Ce module doit être intégré au secteur russe de la Station spatiale internationale (ISS). C'est également un coup dur pour l'Agence spatiale européenne car le bras robotique qu'elle a spécifiquement conçu pour l'ISS doit être installé sur Nauka.
Pour expliquer ce contretemps, le Centre spatial Khrounitchev invoque « des problèmes technologiques et organisationnels », une formulation vide de sens. Nous ne sommes peut-être pas au bout de nos surprises car dès que Khrounitchev aura terminé son travail sur Nauka, il sera livré chez RKK Energia où seront installés différents systèmes avant de conclure à son agencement.
Si la Russie a donné son feu vert à la construction de ce module en 2006, il faut savoir qu'à l'époque elle ne partait pas de zéro. L'idée était de recycler un module déjà existant qui avait été réalisé à la demande de Roscosmos en back-up de Zarya. Autrement dit, il aurait dû être construit rapidement, d'autant plus que son lancement était prévu en 2009 avant d'être reporté une première fois en 2011 puis, on vient de l'apprendre, à la fin 2013.
Era, le bras robotique de l'Europe, cloué au sol
Nauka sera lancé par un Proton et installé dans le secteur russe de l'ISS, intégré au module Zvezda en remplacement du port d'amarrage Pirs qui sera désorbité. Une des particularités de Nauka est qu'il pourra être utilisé à des fins commerciales. Il sera également employé pour rehausser l'orbite de la Station, voire corriger sa trajectoire si nécessaire, pour éviter des débris, par exemple.
Quant au bras robotique Era (European Robotic Arm), il s'agit d'un des trois éléments majeurs de la participation européenne à la construction de la Station spatiale internationale. Les deux autres sont le Véhicule de transfert automatique (ATV) et le laboratoire scientifique Columbus.
Bien que très différent du Canadarm2 (le bras robotique du système d'entretien mobile actuellement en service sur la grande poutre de la Station), l'Era sera complémentaire. Installé sur Nauka, il couvrira la partie russe de la Station, ce que ne peut pas réaliser complètement Canadarm2.
© 2001-2012 Futura-Sciences, tous droits réservés.
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VietNamNet Bridge / 31/07/2012
Vietnam-Russia strategic partnership deepened
The comprehensive strategic partnership between Vietnam and Russia has been deepened and developed in a sustainable manner
Россия и Вьетнам намерены укреплять стратегическое партнерство, в том числе в области науки и образования.
Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh made the affirmation while answering reporters' queries regarding the results of President Truong Tan Sang's recent visit to Russia.
He said the visit concluded with the release of a joint statement representing the common perception and desire of the leaders and people of the two countries, announcing the level of comprehensive cooperation between Vietnam and Russia as a comprehensive strategic partnership.
The two sides agreed to increase effective dialogues and maintain meetings between high-ranking leaders, with the determination to foster their comprehensive strategic partnership and making it practical and sustainable.
They also agreed upon important plans for the development of relations in major pillars including trade, oil and gas, energy and military technique, while expanding cooperation in science and technology, education and training, as well as culture and tourism.
Regarding economics and trade, both sides shared the view that they should seek new opportunities to increase two-way trade and speed up the negotiation and signing of a free trade agreement between Vietnam and the Customs Union (comprising of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan).
They agreed to soon implement strategic cooperation projects specifically in oil and gas and atomic energy sectors.
Together with building a Centre of Nuclear Science and Technology, Russia pledged to put the first nuclear power plant in Vietnam into operation safely and at the highest quality.
As for the military technical cooperation, Vietnam and Russia affirmed to continue strengthening effective cooperation on the basis of mutual and long-lasting trust.
Both sides agreed to expand cooperation in science and technology, education and training, and consolidate cooperation in humanitarian activities in order to increase mutual understanding between the two peoples and create the social foundation for the Vietnam-Russia strategic partnership.
They also reaffirmed to collaborate closely and support each other at international and regional forums.
They held that territorial disputes and other disputes in the Asian-Pacific region should be only solved by peaceful means without the use of force or the threat to use force, in accordance with international law, particularly the UN Charter and the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). They supported the full implementation of the 2002 Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC) and the approach to the building of the Code of Conduct in the East Sea (COC).
During the visit, the two sides signed a series of documents, agreements and cooperation programs, helping complete the legal foundation for the development of bilateral ties in the future.
FM Minh said energy cooperation, which is the spotlight in the Vietnam-Russia relations, has achieved important goals.
Apart from extending the operation period of the Vietsovpetro joint venture to 2030, the two sides agreed to continue increasing their cooperation in oil and gas exploration and exploitation in Vietnam and Russia, and in third countries.
Cooperation in nuclear power is a breakthrough, Minh stressed, adding that the two countries signed an inter-governmental agreement in October 2010 on the construction of Vietnam's first nuclear power plant.
Military technical cooperation between the two countries continues to be improved, contributing to strengthening Vietnam's security and defence in particular, to peace and stability in the region in general, as well as raising Russia's position and influence in Asia and the Pacific.
On the other hand, economic-trade cooperation and investment between the two countries have seen development, but considerable potential remains untapped.
Two-way trade between Vietnam and Russia accounts for only a modest proportion in each country's trade value. Bilateral trade reached US$1.98 billion in 2011, an increase of 8.1 percent over the previous year. In the first five months of this year, it reached US$918.8 million.
Investment between the two countries is still modest, the minister said. Russia has a total registered capital of nearly US$1 billion in Vietnam, ranking 23rd among foreign investors in the country.
Education-training are the two countries' traditional fields of cooperation, which, he said, plays an important role in enhancing their strategic partnership.
More than 100,000 university degree holders, staff and experts have to date been trained in Russia.
In that context, Sang's visit from July 26-30 is of considerable significance, affirming that the two countries continue to attach importance to and wish to unceasingly strengthen the Vietnam-Russia strategic partnership, Minh affirmed.
This is the first visit to Russia by Sang as the President of Vietnam, and takes place in the context that the Vietnam-Russia strategic partnership is developing in a deep, effective and substantial manner, the minister said.
President commits to favourable conditions for Russian investors
State President Truong Tan Sang has been committed to creating favourable conditions for Russian companies to do business in Vietnam.
Speaking at a joint business forum in Moscow on July 30, President Sang said Vietnam welcomes Russian businesses, especially in trade, oil and gas, energy, mining, science-technology, education-training, tourism and labour.
Economic cooperation is one of the most important aspects of Vietnam-Russia relations, President Sang said, adding that the increase in two-way trade, which is estimated to reach US$3 billion in 2012, indicates the effectiveness of bilateral economic cooperation.
However, it is not on a par with the two countries' potential so both nations need to speed up the negotiation and signing of the free trade agreement (FTA) between Vietnam and the Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan customs alliance, said Mr Sang.
The Vietnamese State leader said he believes that with joint efforts from both sides, bilateral economic cooperation will see significant development, which will contribute to strengthening the Vietnam-Russia strategic partnership.
On the same day, President Sang met with Gennady Zyuganov, Chairman of the Russian Communist Party, who assured his guest that his party will continue to promote ties with Vietnam.
Both host and guest spoke highly of the traditional relations, mutual understanding and trust between the two communist parties. They agreed to promote exchanges of delegations to share experiences in communications and education, mass mobilization, and youth affairs, and deepen bilateral relations in the interests of both peoples and for the development of their traditional relationship and strategic partnership.
At a separate meeting with the Acting Chairman of the Federation Council, both sides discussed ways to enhance ties in lawmaking as well as supervising the implementation of signed agreements.
State President visits Nenetskiy autonomous region
State President Truong Tan Sang has praised the results of cooperation between the Nenetskiy autonomous region and Vietnamese agencies.
President Sang and his delegation left Moscow on July 29 for Naryan-Mar, the capital city of the Nenetskiy Autonomous Region in Russia where he attended a ceremony in celebration of the first flow of oil from Khosedayu field operated by the Rusvietpetro joint venture.
With a population of nearly 20,000, Naryan-Mar is strong in energy production, forestry and seafood processing.
The Nenetskiy Autonomous Region has recently signed a cooperation agreement with the southern coastal province of Ba Ria Vung Tau.
During the visit to the Rusvietpetro joint venture, President Sang presented the Labour Order, third class to three collectives and Rusvietpetro Director General.
Within less than two years, the joint venture has raised the oil production output of Khosedayu and Visovoi fields to more than 1.5 million tones/year.
Mr Sang hailed the efforts and achievements made by engineers and workers of the joint venture as a positive contribution to strengthening Vietnam-Russia comprehensive cooperation.
At the meeting with Nenetskiy governor I.G. Fedorov, President Sang said he was pleased to visit the fast-changing the Nenetskiy Autonomous Region and learn about the historical tradition and long-standing cultural values of local people.
He wished that the Rusvietpetro joint venture would bring a facelift to the region, deserving to be the most successful one between the two countries.
President Sang called for further exchange of delegations at all levels to give a boost to the development of comprehensive strategic partnership as agreed by senior leaders of the two countries.
© Copyright of VIETNAMNET Bridge.
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The Guardian / Tuesday 31 July 2012
Biggest science prize takes web tycoon from social networks to string theory
Yuri Milner awards make nine fundamental physics pioneers rich. But founder denies new prizes are Nobels 2.0
Российский предприниматель и крупный инвестор интернет-проектов учредил ежегодную серию премий за достижения в сфере фундаментальной физики в размере 3 млн долларов каждая.
Первыми лауреатами стали девять человек, они составят комитет, который выберет победителей на следующий год.
Несмотря на неизбежные аналогии с Нобелевской премией, по словам учредителя, новая премия принципиально отличается от нее, в частности, не требуется опытное подтверждение теоретических достижений, поэтому лауреатами могут стать и молодые ученые. Нобелевская премия может быть разделена не более чем между тремя учеными, в данном случае ограничение отсутствует.
A Russian internet investor who quit his PhD in physics and made a billion dollars from social networking and other investments has established the most lucrative annual prize in the history of science.
Yuri Milner, who made his fortune from investments in Facebook, Twitter, Zynga and Groupon, has launched a clutch of awards to recognise advances in the obscure field of fundamental physics, which aims to understand the basic laws of nature.
With each award worth $3m (£1.9m), the monetary value dwarfs that of the prestigious Nobel prize, which last year stood at $1.1m.
Milner, who has homes in Silicon Valley and Moscow, announced nine immediate winners of the prize, which is worth a combined total of $27m. The nine will now form a committee to select a winner, or winners, for next year. The prize will be given in the first quarter of each year, unlike the Nobels, which are awarded in October.
In an interview with the Guardian, Milner said the prize was for the "greatest minds working in the field of fundamental physics", and specifically for recent advances. In emphasising fresh achievements, Milner hopes the prize will help physicists who are still highly active in research and capable of major contributions in the future.
When the Nobel prize is awarded for fundamental physics, the recipients are often at the end of their careers - or worse - because it can take decades for theoretical advances to be proved right by experiments. The discovery at the Cern physics lab in Geneva this year of what looks like the Higgs boson came 48 years after the particle was first proposed by Peter Higgs, who is only now in line for a Nobel prize, at the age of 83. His name is absent among the prizewinners announced by Milner because his work was done so long ago.
According to Milner, the new prizes are not intended to compete with the Nobels, and differ in crucial ways. They can go to younger researchers because experimental verification of theoretical breakthroughs is not required. And, unlike a Nobel prize, which can be shared by three scientists at most, the Milner prize imposes no limit.
The prize differs in other ways, too: anyone can nominate a winner online, and the selection panel is public, in contrast to the secretive gathering and closed voting process that decides the Nobel prizes each year.
Alongside the main prize, Milner's foundation will give two further awards, the first being an annual New Horizons in Physics prize for promising junior researchers, and a special ad-hoc fundamental physics prize that can be awarded at any time, forgoing the usual nomination process. Milner said the latter prize might, for example, recognise experimental results that are clearly and immediately groundbreaking.
Milner, 50, left Moscow State University in 1985 with an advanced degree in theoretical physics. He later abandoned a PhD at the Russian Academy of Sciences for an MBA at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. Asked if the prizes intentionally trumped the Nobels, at least in monetary terms, he said: "The best minds in fundamental physics deserve that level of recognition.
"There's no mathematical formula of how I came up with that number, but I wanted to send a message that fundamental science is important, so the sum had to be significant."
On whether the awards made amends for his departure from physics, he added: "There's definitely an element of that. It's hard to deny."
The prizewinners are encouraged to give annual public lectures as part of a concerted effort to raise the profile of fundamental physics and communicate the real meaning of the advances to as wide an audience as possible.
The nine prizes recognise work that is often as difficult to pronounce as it is to explain. Maxim Kontsevich, at the Institute of Advanced Scientific Studies, near Paris, was honoured for the development of "homological mirror symmetry and the study of wall-crossing phenomena". Alexei Kitaev, at California Institute of Technology, won for work on using "topological quantum phases with anyons and unpaired Majorana modes".
Four physicists at the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton - the former home of Albert Einstein - earned individual prizes, with three going to string theorists, who work on a model of reality that casts particles as vibrating strings of energy. The fourth, Nima Arkani-Hamed, was recognised for "original approaches to outstanding problems in particle phsyics".
Speaking of the prize, Arkani-Hamed said: "Obviously, I'm biased, but I think it's a fantastic thing for the field. It puts a spotlight on the subject of fundamental physics, which we all have a sense is important.
"Prizes don't motivate people to do physics. The rush of discovery is typically the greatest pleasure we have in this game, but this will be an opportunity to really showcase the subject."
When asked what he planned to do with the $3m, Arkani-Hamed said: "I need to think about it some more."
Two winners, Alan Guth at MIT and Andrei Linde at Stanford University, won separate awards for their work on the inflationary model of the universe, which proposes that the newborn cosmos expanded at a spectacular rate before slowing to a more sedentary pace. Though widely accepted among cosmologists, the work has not earned either scientist a Nobel prize.
Reached at his home in the US, Guth said he hoped the new prize would raise the profile of fundamental physics research, as societal attitudes had an impact on young people's career choices. He pointed out that, had the prize been around a century ago, Albert Einstein might have won it for relativity, his greatest contribution to physics. He won the Nobel prize instead,for the photoelectric effect, in 1921, after it was confirmed by experiment.
Guth, whose own work describes why the universe is the way we see it today, said he was unsure what to do with the $3m prize money. "It's awfully hard to think about," he said. "It took me a while to get accustomed to thinking about the inflation of the universe, and it will take me a while to become accustomed to thinking about this."
Nima Arkani-Hamed, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. For original approaches to outstanding problems in particle physics, including the proposal of large extra dimensions, new theories for the Higgs boson, novel realisations of supersymmetry, theories for dark matter, and the exploration of new mathematical structures in gauge theory scattering amplitudes.
Alan Guth, MIT. For the invention of inflationary cosmology, and for his contributions to the theory for the generation of cosmological density fluctuations arising from quantum fluctuations in the early universe, and for his ongoing work on the problem of defining probabilities in eternally inflating spacetimes.
Alexei Kitaev, California Institute of Technology. For the theoretical idea of implementing robust quantum memories and fault-tolerant quantum computation using topological quantum phases with anyons and unpaired Majorana modes.
Maxim Kontsevich, Institute of Advanced Scientific Studies near Paris. For numerous contributions that have taken the fruitful interaction between modern theoretical physics and mathematics to new heights, including the development of homological mirror symmetry, and the study of wall-crossing phenomena.
Andrei Linde, Stanford University. For the development of inflationary cosmology, including the theory of new inflation, eternal chaotic inflation and the theory of inflationary multiverse, and for contributing to the development of vacuum stabilisation mechanisms in string theory.
Juan Maldacena, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. For the gauge/gravity duality, relating gravitational physics in a spacetime and quantum field theory on the boundary of the spacetime. This correspondence demonstrates that black holes and quantum mechanics are compatible, resolving the black hole information paradox. It also provides a useful tool for the study of strongly coupled quantum systems, giving insights into a range of problems from high-temperature nuclear matter to high-temperature superconductors.
Nathan Seiberg, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. For major contributions to our understanding of quantum field theory and string theory. His exact analysis of supersymmetric quantum field theories led to deep new insights about their dynamics, with fundamental applications in physics and mathematics.
Ashoke Sen, Harish-Chandra Research Institute, Allahabad. For uncovering striking evidence of strong-weak duality in certain supersymmetric string theories and gauge theories, opening the path to the realisation that all string theories are different limits of the same underlying theory.
Edward Witten, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. For contributions to physics spanning topics such as new applications of topology to physics, non-perturbative duality symmetries, models of particle physics derived from string theory, dark matter detection, and the twistor-string approach to particle scattering amplitudes, as well as numerous applications of quantum field theory to mathematics.
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