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январь февраль март апрель май июнь июль август сентябрь октябрь ноябрь декабрь
    The Conversation / 31 July 2013
    Russia's crumbling environmental safeguards
    • Jonathan Oldfield
    Для российского государства экологические проблемы - непростая тема, которую к тому же осложняет наследие советских времен.

The Russian state's engagement with environmental concerns is complicated, carrying as it does a heavy legacy from Soviet times. From the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster (in what is Ukraine today), the drying up of the Aral Sea, to Russia's dependence on mining, oil and gas - there is plenty to draw the attention of national and international environmental organisations. Given Russia's size (the world's largest by area, spanning nine time zones), its extensive natural resources and large economy, the nation has an indubitable impact on the state of the world environment.
Environmental safeguards in Russia have undergone significant change since the fall of the Soviet Union. Some is broadly positive. For example, a range of environmental legislation has been passed since 1991, and individual rights to a safe environment are enshrined in the constitution. Nevertheless, concerns are regularly raised over how these laws are implemented and enforced, and over the effectiveness of the judicial system.
Environmental monitoring and regulatory activities have also been reshaped during the course of the last 20 years. The 1990s witnessed the steady weakening or "de-ecologisation" of the few state agencies for environmental protection that had gained influence during the turbulent late 1980s and early 1990s. This trend was marked most clearly when, in 2000, the responsible State Committee for ecological matters (Goskomekologiya) was abolished and its functions transferred to the Ministry of Natural Resources, whose primary focus was on developing natural resources.
The move confirmed the suspicion held by many environmentalists that the government was intent on prioritising the exploitation of natural resources over any meaningful environmental protection. Further changes under President Putin in 2004 and 2008 came as part of broader changes in the structure of the state institutions, but no environmental agency regained their former independent position.
Currently, the Ministry for Natural Resources and Environment incorporates two federal services, concerned with monitoring the environment (Rosgidromet) and nature-use (Rosprirodnadzor). Additionally there are ministerial agencies regulating forest, water and mineral resources. These rub shoulders with departments that generate policy and regulations as well as enforce environmental protection. But the more or less constant restructuring of environmental protection ministries, agencies and departments over the last 20-25 years and a sharp fall in staff numbers has inevitably undermined their effectiveness.
Changes at federal level have also complicated the regional picture, where Russia's considerable size and regional diversity ensures general trends are hard to determine. Russia's federal subjects' response to the withdrawal of federal funding has varied. Some have set up replacement institutions, others have been far less proactive.
The alternative to state institutions with the potential to address their failings is environmental NGOs and private businesses. Environmental organisations have developed along a number of trajectories since 1991.
Professional organisations such as Greenpeace Russia and WWF Russia possess the resources and know-how to hold the state to account for its actions and policies. But these groups have been systematically undermined by the government in recent years, as detailed by for example Greenpeace Russia and the Norway-based Bellona Foundation.
Other movements have a closer relationship with the state, which inevitably means they take a less critical stance (branches of the All-Russian Society for Nature Protection, such as this St Petersburg branch, for example). Smaller, regional groups tend to coalesce around local issues and concerns.
The result is a fragmented environmental movement which struggles to find traction or a unified voice, working in an unsympathetic and sometimes hostile political environment. A similar picture emerges in the private sector - although some larger businesses, particularly those linked strongly to international markets with arguably more ecologically-savvy and ethically-minded consumers, have demonstrated a willingness to engage with environmental issues.
Russia's environmental protection infrastructure remains relatively weak. Some of the more pessimistic predictions prompted by the abolition of Goskomekologiya and linked to the more or less complete breakdown of protection measures have not come to pass. However, there is a clear need for greater federal investment, coherent regional strategy, and reinforcement of independent environmental organisations and the nascent environmental sensibilities of Russian corporations.

Copyright © 2010–2013, The Conversation Trust (UK).
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    ScienceInsider / 2013-08-05
    Move to Merge Russian Physics Institutes Draws Fire
    • Vladimir Pokrovsky
    В этом году 15 ведущих российских научных организаций в области физики заключили соглашение о партнерстве и создании установки mega-science (научные установки национального и мирового масштаба для решения принципиально новых фундаментальных и прикладных задач, создаются на базе одного крупного института и являются, как правило, центрами коллективного пользования). В тексте соглашения упоминалось также «создание новой организационно-правовой структуры», что вызвало опасения ученых, предположивших, что речь идет о слиянии и поглощении институтов Курчатовским институтом в Москве.

MOSCOW - Physics research in Russia is on the cusp of a major transition. The government plans to consolidate several large scientific institutes into a single entity that proponents say will make it easier to fund major new facilities. However, some physicists decry what they believe to be the latest government maneuver to undermine the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS).
Earlier this year, 15 institutes signed an agreement forging a partnership on megaclass research facilities. Major signatories include the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy, the Alikhanov Institute for Theoretical and Experimental Physics, the Shubnikov Institute of Crystallography, the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research, the RAS Institute for Nuclear Research, and the RAS Special Astrophysical Observatory. Then, just before elections to choose a new RAS president in May, outgoing academy president Yuri Osipov and Kurchatov director Mikhail Kovalchuk wrote to Russian President Vladimir Putin asking him to transform the partnership into a separate body. Putin ordered the government to work out the legal framework for the new body by 1 September.
Some welcome the move to deepen the partnership. "I may be an optimist and my colleagues may criticize me, but it is a good agreement," says Leonid Kravchuk, deputy head for science at the RAS Institute for Nuclear Research in Troitsk, which, too, will join the association. He predicts that the collective will be more effective at landing research funding than each of the institutes could manage on their own.
Others are less enamored by the deal. They see it as another threat to the embattled RAS, which is fighting for its identity as the government moves to strip it of control of its lucrative real estate assets. Some observers worry that the physics institutes may pull out of the academy altogether. No so, says newly elected RAS President Vladimir Fortov. In an interview with the online newspaper Gazeta.ru, he played down the significance of the institutes banding together. "There is nothing in the agreement that would move the institutions to another jurisdiction, outside the academy," Fortov stated. "In any case, it cannot be done without the institutes' consent."
Critics also worry that the most powerful of the 15 institutes, the Kurchatov, will end up ruling the other 14. Boris Stern of the RAS Institute for Nuclear Research, who on 26 July revealed the terms of the deal in the scientific opposition newspaper Troitsky Variant, believes that the agreement will erode the institutions' independence and that the funding windfall Kravchuk envisions is a pipe dream. Some institute directors "don't understand that it is a question of issuing one single decree - and all their dreams will be ruined," Shtern says. "The only option for them now is to withdraw from the agreement as soon as possible."

© 2012 American Association for the Advancement of Science. All Rights Reserved.

* * *

    Nature / 14 August 2013
    Russia pins hopes on science city
    But sceptics question prospects for Skolkovo commercial park
    • Declan Butler
    Не превратился ли многообещающий поначалу инновационный проект «Сколково» в «белого слона» - не особо полезное, но чрезвычайно затратное приобретение?

A Russian revolution in scientific innovation - or a white elephant? Bulldozers are rumbling near Moscow, at work on the Skolkovo Innovation Centre, an ambitious, multibillion-dollar scheme to boost Russia's moribund innovation system.
Scientists have high hopes for the project's first goal: to build a world-class technology university from scratch in a few years. However, they are more sceptical about the prospects of a planned commercial science park at the site, and some have baulked at the high price -a reported US$300 million-paid to a US institution to jump-start the university. Meanwhile, allegations of corruption at the innovation centre's umbrella body, the Skolkovo Foundation, risk throwing a cloud over the entire enterprise.
Launched by the Russian government in 2010 with 85 billion roubles (US$2.6 billion) in state funding until the end of 2014, the Skolkovo supercampus will rise on a 400-hectare site just west of the Moscow ring road. On 1 August, the government announced that it intends to put a further 135.6 billion roubles into the venture by 2020. Focusing on five areas - information technology, nuclear technology, energy efficiency, biomedical innovation, and space and telecommunications - Skolkovo is the boldest of Russia's efforts to spur high-tech innovation and reduce the country's economic dependence on exports of oil, gas and minerals.
The intellectual lynchpin of the enterprise is the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech), an elite, English-language, graduate and research university being created in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. It aims to foster a new generation - and breed - of top-notch Russian researchers and engineers trained in translational research and entrepreneurship as well as basic science, to fuel an ecosystem of innovation that the country sorely lacks. It plans to recruit 200 full-time faculty, 300 postdocs and 1,200 students by 2020.
Coaxing leading scientists to Russia is a challenge, so Skoltech is offering compensation packages that exceed those available in the West "by a wide margin", says Konstantin Severinov, a molecular biologist and Skoltech associate dean of faculty. Skoltech hopes to have 30-35 faculty members by the end of this year, and then to add 30 or so annually until it reaches its goal.
The most immediate difficulty is practical: Skoltech's first buildings will become available only next year. For now, MIT and other partners are teaching the first students, who started studies last September, and faculty members are working elsewhere. The challenge, says Raj Rajagopalan, a chemical engineer and Skoltech's dean of faculty, is "how to create an academic community when most people are not here".
It was a deliberate choice to start Skoltech's activities in parallel with construction, says Duane Boning, an electrical engineer and MIT's faculty lead on Skoltech. The plan will shave years off the time needed to get the university up and running, he says. It has allowed Skoltech to put its administrative, curriculum and research strategies in place quickly, adds Severinov, who has recruited three postdocs, a programmer and one PhD student for his lab, with more to come soon. But "we really need those buildings here ASAP", he adds.
The terms of MIT's four-year contact with Skoltech, which ends in 2015, are confidential, but those familiar with the project say that Russia is paying MIT at least $300 million for its services. Several members of the Skolkovo Foundation's scientific advisory board originally objected to that price tag, say sources. Some argued that more services could be had for less, or from another partner - and others felt that Russian institutions should have been given a greater role in the project.
Alexei Sitnikov, vice-president of institutional and resource development at Skoltech, confirms that some board members expressed reservations, but he defends the deal. "The benefits which we get exceed, by far, the costs that we pay," he says. Several scientists involved say that, although the price can be debated, MIT has been effective in developing the elements needed for the institute to get going: curricula, research programmes, administrative and recruitment structures, and mechanisms for entrepreneurship and innovation. MIT has also run Skoltech's international calls for proposals for research centres of excellence (15 are planned). "Sometimes you can pay a lot for a brand name," adds Rajagopalan. After its contract ends, MIT will shift to a collaborator role and Russian institutions will be more involved in Skoltech, adds Sitnikov.
Building Skoltech "is exactly the right thing to do", says Leonid Levitov, a Russian physicist at MIT who is not directly involved in Skoltech's creation. At first, he doubted that MIT should take a role, given the political complexity, bureaucracy and corruption that exist in Russia. But he is impressed at how Skoltech, and MIT's contributions to it, are shaping up.
Historically, much of the country's most innovative research was linked to government labs, including those run by the military, but most have collapsed since the fall of Soviet communism. These days, there are few graduate opportunities. Many of the best students leave Russia, and even more switch to non-research careers, he says. Skoltech could be a place for them to train in research at home.
The institute's ultimate impact will depend heavily on reforms elsewhere in Russian science, as well as on the success of the Skolkovo science park. Without it, there will be few meaningful career opportunities for the elite researchers that Skoltech will produce, and the institute could end up as "a completely crazy brain-draining scheme", says Severinov, with Russia training first-rate people who then leave.
The park offers companies incentives including tax breaks and visa help. Twenty-eight major partners, including Siemens, IBM, Intel and Microsoft, have pledged to invest a total of $500 million, which will be used, in part, to establish corporate research and development centres at Skolkovo. More than 960 start-up companies have signed on to set up shop there, and around 60 venture-capital firms, more than one-third of them from other countries, have pledged a total of $600 million, says Leonid Gankin, a spokesman for Skolkovo.
But with construction still under way, start-ups will not be able to begin moving to Skolkovo until 2014. Only one corporate centre has been built: that of Cisco Systems, a networking-equipment firm based in San Jose, California, which opened its Skolkovo facility in June. A report from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in London last December warned that although Skolkovo offers benefits, initiatives in which states try to pick winning industries have a chequered history.
Skolkovo's reputation took a hit this year, with allegations of corruption at the Skolkovo Foundation. In February, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, the country's main criminal-investigation authority, launched enquiries into the alleged embezzlement of 24 million roubles by Skolkovo officials. Investigators raided the foundation's Moscow offices on 18 April.
Levitov and other Russian scientists warn against jumping to conclusions before the charges are substantiated, arguing that in Russia, criminal allegations can often mask political intrigues and power struggles. Still, Rajagopalan worries that some prospective faculty members might ask themselves whether they really want to take the risk of decamping there. "Perceptions count," he says.

© 2013 Nature Publishing Group, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited. All Rights Reserved.

* * *

    United Press International / 15 August 2013
    Fate of rare owls in Russia's Far East tied to health of forests
    Один из самых крупных и редких представителей семейства совиных, рыбный филин, может служить ключевым показателем здоровья некоторых из последних реликтовых лесов Дальнего Востока, поскольку предпочитает селиться в прибрежных старовозрастных лесах.

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia, Aug. 15 (UPI) - A study of one of the world's rarest owls found it to be a key indicator of the health of some of the last great forests of Russia's Far East, scientists say.
Blakiston's fish owl, the world's largest owl with a 6-foot wingspan, relies on old-growth forests along streams for both breeding and to support healthy populations of their favorite prey, salmon, they said.
Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Minnesota said large trees provide breeding cavities for the enormous bird, and when these dead, massive trees fall into adjacent streams they create water flow patterns providing important microhabitats critical to salmon in different developmental stages.
Large old trees and old-growth forest were the primary distinguishing characteristics of both nesting and foraging sites of the endangered owls, they said, and management and conservation of old-growth forests is essential for sustaining the species.
"Blakiston's fish owl is a clear indicator of the health of the forests, rivers, and salmon populations," lead author Jonathan Slaght of the Wildlife Conservation Society said. "Retention of habitat for fish owls will also maintain habitat for many other species associated with riparian old-growth forests in the Russian Far East."
The owl, listed as Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, is restricted to forest areas in Russia, China, Japan and possibly North Korea, the researchers said.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

* * *

    Nature / 21 August 2013
    What is to be done about Russian science?
    Government reforms to the Russian Academy of Sciences have met with controversy, but some form of change is needed, argues Mikhail Gelfand
    Профессор Михаил Гельфанд, член Общественного совета при Министерстве образования и науки РФ, - о том, какая реформа нужна Академии наук и какие условия необходимы для ее успешного осуществления.

The reforms to the Russian Academy of Sciences that were announced by the Russian government in June were met with almost unanimous opposition in the scientific community. Critics have complained that the severity of the proposed changes - which include transferring properties owned by the academy into the hands of the government - is combined with a vagueness about how they will be implemented. Furthermore, the abrupt announcement came with political pressure and a smear campaign in state-owned media, but without public debate. The government response is that all opinions have been stated already many times (which is partially true), that the reform has only just started and the detail will be clarified later, and that the only way to move forward is, well, to move forward.
The reform bill is currently in the state Duma, where it will receive its final reading next month. The signals from the Duma are inconclusive: although some members, including the speaker, Sergei Naryshkin, mentioned the possibility of returning the bill to the second-reading stage, where substantial amendments are possible, there have been no official statements along these lines.
The government has managed to achieve the seemingly impossible: it has brought Russian science together. Academic stalwarts who oppose any change (aside from an increase in the academy's budget) have united with proponents of (reasonable) reform, long-time critics of the academy and scientists who normally run shy of politics. Despite summer vacations, some members of the scientific community are discussing the post-reform system, and others are planning meetings and strikes that aim to overturn the proposals. A meeting of all groups working on projects that relate to the reforms is scheduled for the end of August.
Some of the ideas being discussed seem more realistic than others. With its head firmly in the sand, the presidium of the academy has prepared a list of amendments to the bill that mainly aim at returning to the pre-reform status quo. Another working group, formed by the Scientific Council of the Ministry of Science (independent researchers who are largely critical of the reforms) and the Society of Scientific Researchers (an independent, informal society with free membership that is restricted only by a publications-based qualification) has offered other suggestions. These tackle fundamental issues such as whether Russian science should be arranged around institutes or laboratories, what the balance should be between guaranteed and grant-based funding, and whether academy research should be subject to international review. At their heart, these discussions debate whether the future of the academy is as a learned society, similar to the UK Royal Society, or as a Soviet-style "ministry of basic sciences" that manages and funds its institutes.
One burning problem acknowledged by most of those working on possible alternatives to the government reform is the future working relationships among the academy, its institutes and a new agency set up by the proposed law to handle academy property. The bill provides no details and is unclear about whether this property includes the land, buildings and equipment that are directly used for research purposes. In particular, scientists worry that all purchases will need to be approved by bureaucrats with no understanding of science.
In the words of a famous Russian novel, what is to be done? A prerequisite for successful reform is the creation of a transparent funding system that also features regular international assessment of laboratories, institutes and large projects. A more strategic goal should be to mend the split between research and higher education. This should not be done by simply increasing the financing of universities at the cost of research institutes, but rather by encouraging the educational activity of institute researchers and the research activity of university professors. Specific grant-based support of joint projects between institutes and universities is also needed. The teaching load of university professors, which is currently much higher than that of professors in the West, must be decreased, and regular audits should cover not only the academy but also other research centres. Finally, Russia's leaders need to understand that science cannot be expected to produce immediate results in the form of "innovations", but instead needs to be judged on its own merits.
Ultimately, deep reform can be implemented only if the government has a popular mandate for change. This is not the case in Russia. Hence all reforms are met with distrust and a search for a hidden agenda. This distrust has been fuelled by a project to incorporate several physics institutes into the Kurchatov Institute, the head of which, Mikhail Kovalchuk, is widely believed to be a trusted adviser of President Vladimir Putin. The centre enjoys a steady, rich flow of finance, despite a scientific output that is much weaker than academic institutes. The Institute of Theoretical and Experimental Physics, formerly one of the top scientific institutions, all but ceased to function when it was incorporated into the Kurchatov Institute.
There is general agreement in Russia that change is overdue; even the new academy leadership acknowledges this. Forms of change separate from the unpopular government proposals could work. But it is unclear whether research in Russia can make the shift, given the current political climate and the academy's systemic, deeply rooted problems.

© 2013 Nature Publishing Group, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited. All Rights Reserved.

* * *

    Sci-News.com / Aug 27, 2013
    Chelyabinsk Meteorite May Have Collided with Another Body in Solar System
    Взорвавшийся над Челябинском метеорит подвергался сильному нагреву задолго до столкновения с Землей, т.е. сталкивался с другими небесными телами или пролетал очень близко от Солнца. К такому выводу пришли специалисты Института геологии и минералогии СО РАН, обнаружив в метеоритном материале следы плавления и кристаллизации. Результаты анализа ученые представили в своем докладе на конференции Европейской геохимической ассоциации, прошедшей 25-30 августа во Флоренции.

According to a team of Russian scientists reporting today at the Goldschmidt conference in Italy, the Chelyabinsk meteorite either collided with another body or came too close to the Sun before it fell to our planet.
The researchers from the Institute of Geology and Mineralogy in Novosibirsk have analyzed fragments of the meteorite, the main body of which fell to the bottom of the Chebarkul Lake near Chelyabinsk on February 15, 2013. Although all of the fragments are composed of the same minerals, the structure and texture of some fragments show that the meteorite had undergone an intensive melting process before it was subjected to extremely high temperatures on entering the Earth's atmosphere.
"The meteorite which landed near Chelyabinsk is a type known as an LL5 chondrite and it's fairly common for these to have undergone a melting process before they fall to Earth," said Dr Victor Sharygin, who is a first author of the study (an abstract has been published in the Mineralogical Magazine).
"This almost certainly means that there was a collision between the Chelyabinsk meteorite and another body in the solar system or a near miss with the Sun."
Based on their color and structure, the researchers have divided the meteorite fragments into three types: light, dark and intermediate.
The lighter fragments are the most commonly found, but the dark fragments are found in increasing numbers along the meteorite's trajectory, with the greatest number found close to where it hit the Earth. The dark fragments include a large proportion of fine-grained material, and their structure, texture and mineral composition shows they were formed by a very intensive melting process, likely to have been either a collision with another body or proximity to the Sun. This material is distinct from the "fusion crust" - the thin layer of material on the surface of the meteorite that melts, then solidifies, as it travels through the Earth's atmosphere.
The fine-grained material of the dark fragments also differs from the other samples as it commonly contains spherical "bubbles" which are either encrusted with perfect crystals of oxides, silicates and metal or filled with metal and sulfide.
Surprisingly, the scientists also found small quantities of platinum group elements in the meteorite's fusion crust. They identify these elements as an alloy of osmium, iridium and platinum, but its presence is unusual as the fusion crust is formed over too short a time period for these elements to easily accumulate.
"Platinum group elements usually occur as trace elements dispersed in meteorite minerals, but we found them as a nanometer-sized mineral (100-200 nm) in a metal-sulfide globule in the fusion crust of the Chelyabinsk meteorite," Dr Sharygin said.
"We think the appearance of this platinum group mineral in the fusion crust may be linked to compositional changes in metal-sulfide liquid during remelting and oxidation processes as the meteorite came into contact with atmospheric oxygen."

© 2011-2013. Sci-News.com. All Rights Reserved.
* * *
    Laser Focus world / 08/28/2013
    e2v to create imager for Russian Academy of Sciences UV space telescope
    • By John Wallace
    Физический институт имени Лебедева (ФИАН) подписал на авиасалоне МАКС-2013 контракт с британской компанией e2v на поставку ПЗС-матриц для фотоприемной аппаратуры будущего российского космического телескопа «Спектр-УФ», предназначенного для наблюдений в недоступном для наземных телескопов участке ультрафиолетового спектра.

Chelmsford, England - Keith Attwood, CEO of e2v and Vladimir Nevolin, deputy director of the Lebedev Physical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences (LPI RAS; Moscow, Russia) signed a contract for the first phase of a multimillion pound project at the MAKS International Aviation and Space Show (Aug. 27 to Sept. 1, 2013; Zhukovsky, Russia). The contract is for the supply of a high-performance imaging subsystem for three UV spectrographs onboard the World Space Observatory-Ultraviolet (WSO-UV) space telescope, to be launched in 2016.
The WSO-UV is an international collaboration led by Russia to build and operate a space telescope with a 1.7 m primary mirror. It will work in the UV range of the spectrum and will study the Universe at wavelengths shorter than the reach of ground-based instruments. The optics of the observatory - the telescope, equipped with high and low resolution spectrographs - will be made in Russia, while e2v will supply UV cameras for spectrographs. The Institute of Astronomy, Russian Academy of Sciences (INASAN) is the science contractor for the mission and will work with LPI RAS.
e2v's back-thinned CCD image sensors will be configured and tested for optimum quantum efficiency (QE) in the 120 to 310 nm wavelength range - a range considerably lower than the typical 270 nm test limit. e2v will also design a vacuum cryostat enclosure to ensure stable operation at short wavelengths. e2v is working with Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) Space's Imaging Systems (Didcot, England) for the supply of the space-qualified CCD drive electronics.
Another feature of the subsystem is the ability to integrate for up to an hour and read out low signal levels with very low noise. This is achieved using an e2v image sensor, video-processing electronics from RAL, and the low-temperature operation (-100 °C) provided by the cryostat.

© 2013. PennWell Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
* * *

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