|Российская наука и мир|
(по материалам зарубежной электронной прессы)
Space Daily / Jan 04, 2016
Russian scientists to develop dark matter detection model
В Институте ядерной физики СО РАН планируют в ближайшие два года разработать прототип детектора для поиска темной материи.
Russian scientists plan to develop a dark matter detection prototype within one to two years, the Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Science's senior nuclear physics research official said Sunday.
"We know that [dark matter] leaves almost no traces and our main task is to dramatically lower the detection threshold to a minimum, which is physically possible in principle. There is quite substantial progress and we hope that a prototype of this detector can be created in the next year or two," said Yuri Tikhonov, Budker Institute of Nuclear Physics deputy director in charge of research.
Tikhonov noted that the detector would search for the elusive space material with the help of condensed inert gases, including argon. He said scientists have identified argon as the gas most suitable for ensuring the detection threshold to register dark matter's nuclei recoils.
"These results will serve as the basis for creating a dark matter detector. You need low-background underground laboratories, such as the Gran Sasso in Italy. We have been invited to cooperate there with a big experiment," he said.
The work is being carried out with funding from the Russian Science Foundation, Tikhonov added.
"The scale of preparation for such an experiment is five to seven years. It is an enormous installation of tens of tonnes of liquid argon. I think that the construction will be close to completion this decade. But the worldwide goal is to find dark matter by 2023-25," he said.
Dark matter does not emit electromagnetic radiation, and remains immune to direct observation. Astrophysicists have so far only observed gravitational effects of dark matter on cosmic objects, such as galaxies and galaxy clusters.
Indirect observations include searching for excess gamma ray emissions, which may be the product of weakly interacting massive particle (WIMP) decay. The theoretical WIMPs are thought to be the main component of dark matter.
Copyright 1995-2016 - Space Media Network.
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The Guardian / Tuesday 5 January 2016
Step into Silicon Forest, Putin's secret weapon in the global tech race
Akademgorodok was a science city in Siberia built to hothouse the finest minds in Soviet Russia. Now, it's making a comeback - as a billion-dollar cradle of tech innovation.
Репортаж из новосибирского Академпарка.
A quadcopter drone hovers high above an endless sea of birch and pine, swooping over the treetops before coming to rest in the hands of Kirill Yakovchenko. He's standing on the roof of a gleaming orange ziggurat that rises out of this forest in the middle of Siberia like a monument from some techno-Mayan civilisation. It's a startling thing to see erupting through the tree canopy, which otherwise extends for miles, punctuated only by the occasional industrial shed and shining metal chimney.
Inside this conjoined pair of tilting 14-storey towers sit teams of engineers, huddled over laptops and sprawled on beanbags, working on everything from smartphone apps and portable MRI scanners to new methods of producing compost with earthworms. This is the Academpark, a fluorescent pyramid of innovation at the heart of Russia's "Silicon Forest", President Putin's unlikely weapon in the global tech race.
"It's very special to be among this group of cutting-edge specialists, right in the middle of nature," says Yakovchenko, who first came here for a summer school last year and has since founded Optiplane, a startup company focused on developing drones for cargo deliveries. "We're working on long distance," he says. "We hope to be able to carry goods over 100km in under an hour, in any weather."
He's in the right place to be working on long distance and extreme weather. Located in the middle of the Eurasian landmass 3,000km east of Moscow, with a climate that ranges from 30C mosquito-ridden summers to -40C snow-drenched winters, this isn't the most obvious place for a tech startup hub. "It can be hard to convince people to come here," says Yakovchenko. "But when they do, they often end up staying."
The Academpark is not some random outpost in the middle of nowhere, but the latest part of a plan to revive Akademgorodok, the Soviet science town that was established here in 1957, and long since left to languish. The brainchild of mathematician Mikhail Lavrentyev and then premier Nikita Khrushchev, the "Academy Town" was conceived as a way of huddling the country's sharpest scientific minds together in one place, away from the distractions of Moscow, to work on fundamental research. Sited deep in the forest 30km south of Novosibirsk city, it was built as a woodland campus for Novosibirsk State University along with 15 institutes for the Soviet Academy of Sciences, ranging from nuclear physics and geology to cytology and genetics. At its peak, it had accommodation for up to 65,000 scientists.
Its far-flung location in the Siberian woods meant that life here was blissfully distanced from the ideological meddling of the central party apparatus. Scientists were drawn by the promise of spacious apartments, lively intellectual debates in the bars and social clubs - and the lure of an artificial beach. Created by dumping hundreds of tonnes of sand along the edge of the Ob reservoir, the beach became a popular place for picnics and nude-bathing "seminars".
A sense of intellectual and social freedom reigned. The House of Scientists, the campus's modernist cultural centre, put on exhibitions of banned Soviet artists, held risque poetry evenings, and hosted provocative travelling bards, activities unheard of elsewhere in the Soviet empire. Scientific investigations blossomed in areas previously forbidden: Lavrentyev was instrumental in saving both cybernetics and genetics, which had been dismissed as dangerous pseudoscience in Moscow. As Gersh Budker, a physicist who developed one of the world's first subatomic colliders here in the 1960s, put it: "It's great to have a place that the bigwigs don't visit - and we don't permit the little ones to join us."
The sylvan dream wasn't to last. Freedoms were severely curtailed in the 1970s during the Brezhnev era of stagnation, which saw science reduced to being a servant of the economy and the military. Then, in the 1990s, the collapse of the Soviet Union led to a massive brain drain, when many of the best minds fled to the west. Having been a vibrant centre of experimental thought for 30 years, Akademgorodok became a sleepy backwater, where a handful of scientists struggled on in the wilderness in their crumbling concrete labs.
Walking the town's wide, tree-lined streets today, it feels as if there's a new energy in the air. Students lounge on the wooden deck of Travelers' Coffee, a Siberian Starbucks recently set up by an American entrepreneur, while others flock to the beach, boomboxes and remote-controlled drones in hand. The place has the feeling of a scientific Center Parcs, with low-rise institute buildings set back from broad avenues, along with decrepit sheds containing lasers and colliders, now mostly put to use on projects for foreign companies. Bearded professors scurry through the forest between their labs along meandering pathways, switching to a network of underground tunnels in winter.
Nothing much happened here until 10 years ago when, on his return from visiting tech-savvy India, Putin declared that Akademgorodok would be the country's new cradle of innovation. IBM, Intel and Schlumberger had already opened outposts here, taking advantage of the pool of cheap programming expertise spawned by the university, but the official diktat has led to a mix of federal and private money pouring in, with total investment reaching around $1bn (£680m).
The most visible beacon of this influx is the mad monument of Academpark, its twisted archway looming like some slightly sinister portal to another dimension. Looking, from some angles, like a doppelganger of Rem Koolhaas's CCTV building in Beijing, it is the work of Novosibirsk architects Space Structure, built to the requirements of the former governor of the region. "He wanted a memorable landmark," says Dmitry Verkhovod, director of the facility, sitting in his office at the top of the building, looking out at the precipitous glass-floored bridge that joins the two towers. A Silicon Valley calendar hangs on the wall, above a shelf of 3D-printed trinkets and a photo of him showing Putin around the building. "It was originally going to be all-glass," he adds, "but we needed a warmer touch to brighten up the deep Siberian winters."
As we tour the building, dropping in on some of the 300 companies working on everything from nano-ceramics to motion graphics for the American entertainment industry, Verkhovod explains how things work. "We provide the physical infrastructure, so companies don't need to buy all their own equipment. It makes it more attractive for investors, too. When you invest in a company here, you're investing in the people."
Up and running since 2011, the companies now employ almost 9,000 people between them, generating an annual income of 17bn roubles (£175m). It's impressive, but it pales in comparison to what's happening in Skolkovo, a gigantic tech hub on the outskirts of Moscow. Skolkovo, a $4bn state project that has lured the likes of Microsoft, Cisco and Google, and which boasts annual revenues of $1bn, is clearly a sore point.
"Skolkovo gets a huge amount of publicity because everything in this country is Moscow-centric," says Verkhovod. "But when a group of students from Skolkovo's university came to visit us here, half of them stayed."
© 2016 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.
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Science News / January 14, 2016
Humans visited Arctic earlier than thought
Weapon marks found on mammoth bones dating to 45,000 years ago.
Российские палеонтологи пришли к выводу, что люди поселились в Заполярье не 30-35 тысяч лет назад, как считалось до сих пор, а гораздо раньше - на останках молодого мамонта, жившего на Таймыре 45 тысяч лет назад, присутствуют повреждения, оставленные охотниками.
A frozen mammoth carcass in Siberia hints that humans roamed the Arctic earlier than researchers had thought.
Cuts and scrapes on the mammoth's bones came from human hunting weapons. And dating of the bones puts humans well north of the Arctic Circle 45,000 years ago, scientists report in the Jan. 15 Science. Researchers had assumed that humans didn't reach the Arctic until between 30,000 and 35,000 years ago.
The find shows that humans worked out how to cope with the Arctic's extreme cold and sunless winters much earlier than experts thought, says Robin Dennell, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Sheffield in England who wasn't involved in the work.
Except for one site in eastern Siberia, also reported by the team in the new paper, other far-north archaeological sites 40,000 years or older sit around 55° N, just south of the Arctic Circle.
"The mammoth is almost 72° North," says paper coauthor Vladimir Pitulko, an archaeologist at the Institute for the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg. That's a huge latitudinal difference between the old human habitation sites south of the Arctic Circle and the new mammoth find well north of it - about 1,700 kilometers, he says.
The team pulled the mammoth, a 15-year-old male, from a frozen coastal bluff in the central Siberian Arctic. Carbon dating of the surrounding sediment and of a leg bone pinned the mammoth's age at 45,000 years old.
Marks on one of the animal's tusks and slices on many of its bones were similar to patterns on mammoth bones from a younger Siberian archaeological site where humans hunted mammoths, the researchers found. Human weapons such as spears probably caused the damage that killed the mammoth.
Humans entering the Arctic by 45,000 years ago is "a mighty, impressive achievement," Dennell says. "What we don't know is whether this was a successful long-term adaptation or a short-lived heroic failure."
© Society for Science & the Public 2000-2016. All rights reserved.
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ScienceBlog.com / Jan 19, 2016
Physicists develop a cooling system for the processors of the future
В МФТИ разработали способ предотвращения перегрева плазмонных компонентов в высокопроизводительных оптоэлектронных микропроцессорах.
Researchers from MIPT have found a solution to the problem of overheating of active plasmonic components. These components will be essential for high-speed data transfer within the optoelectronic microprocessors of the future, which will be able to function tens of thousands of times faster than the microprocessors currently in use today. In the paper published in ACS Photonics the researchers have demonstrated how to efficiently cool optoelectronic chips using industry-standard heatsinks in spite of high heat generation in active plasmonic components.
The speed of multicore and manycore microprocessors, which are already used in high-performance computer systems, depends not so much on the speed of an individual core, but rather on the time it takes for data to be transferred between the cores. The electrical copper interconnects used in microprocessors today are fundamentally limited in bandwidth, and they cannot be used to maintain the continuing growth of the processor performance. In other words, doubling the number of cores will not double the processing power.
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Leading companies in the semiconductor industry, such as IBM, Oracle, Intel, and HP, see the only solution to this problem in switching from electronics to photonics, and they are currently investing billions of dollars into this. Replacing electrons with photons will mean that large amounts of data will be able to be transferred between processor cores almost instantly, which in turn will mean that the processor performance will be nearly proportional to the number of cores. However, due to diffraction, photonic components are not as easy to scale down as electronic components. Their dimensions cannot be smaller than the size approximately equal to the light wavelength (~ 1 micrometer or 1000 nanometers), but transistors will soon be as small as 10 nanometers. This fundamental problem can be solved by switching from bulk waves to surface waves, which are known as surface plasmon polaritons (SPPs). This will enable to confine light on the nanoscale. Along with the leading research centers of industrial companies and the laboratories of leading universities, Russian scientists from the Laboratory of Nanooptics and Plasmonics of MIPT's Center of Nanoscale Optoelectronics are also making good progress in this field.
The main difficulty that scientists face is the fact that SPPs are absorbed by metal, which is a key material in plasmonics. This effect is similar to resistance in electronics, where the energy of electrons is lost and converted into heat when current passes through a resistor. The SPP loss can be compensated by pumping additional energy into the SPPs. However, this pumping will produce additional heat, which in turn will cause an increase in temperature not only in the plasmonic components, but also in the processor as a whole. The higher absorption in the metal, the greater the loss, and the stronger pumping will be required. This raises the temperature, which again causes a loss increase and makes it more difficult to create optical gain, which is required to compensate for the loss, and this means that more powerful pumping is required. A cycle is formed in which the temperature can rise to such an extent that a processor chip simply burns out. This is no surprise, since the heating power per surface unit of the active plasmonic waveguide with loss compensation exceeds 10 kW/cm2, which is twice as high as the intensity of solar radiation at the surface of the Sun!
Dmitry Fedyanin and Andrey Vyshnevyy, researchers at MIPT's Laboratory of Nanooptics and Plasmonics, have found a solution to this problem. They have demonstrated that using high-performance thermal interfaces, i.e. layers of thermally conductive materials placed between the chip and the cooling system to ensure efficient heat removal from the chip, (thermal grease is a popular type of thermal interface, although it is not very efficient) high-performance optoelectronic chips can be cooled using conventional cooling systems.
Based on the results of numerical simulations, Fedyanin and Vyshnevyy concluded that if an optoelectronic chip with active plasmonic waveguides is placed in air, its temperature will increase by several hundred degrees Celsius, which will cause the device to malfunction. Multi-layered thermal interfaces of nano- and micrometer thickness combined with simple cooling systems can reduce the temperature of the chip from several hundred degrees to approximately ten degrees with respect to the ambient temperature. This opens the prospects for the implementation of high-performance optoelectronic microprocessors in a wide range of applications, ranging from supercomputers to compact electronic devices.
Motherboard / January 20, 2016
The Man Who Turned Night Into Day
О программе космических экспериментов «Знамя» и ее руководителе, выдающемся конструкторе и основоположнике космической стыковочной техники, Владимире Сергеевиче Сыромятникове (1933-2006).
Employers have always aimed to maximize worker productivity. Today they might exploit the connectivity of email, smartphones, and Slack to extend the reach of the modern workday, big reasons we're working more and sleeping less. In the 1990s, though, Russian scientists tried it the other way around. They took a different, more dramatic approach to lengthening the day - they launched massive machines into orbit to reflect sunlight down onto the dark side of the Earth.
It's true: Throughout the early 90s, a team of Russian astronomers and engineers were hellbent on literally turning night into day. By shining a giant mirror onto the earth from space, they figured they could bring sunlight to the depths of night, extending the workday, cutting back on lighting costs and allowing laborers to toil longer. If this sounds a bit like the plot of a Bond film, well, it's that too.
The difference is that for a second there, the scientists, led by Vladimir Sergeevich Syromyatnikov, one of the most important astronautical engineers in history, actually pulled it off.
The Big Cheese
A bright young engineer in the USSR, Vladimir Syromyatnikov graduated from a technical university in Moscow in the 1956. At the age of 23, he earned a position in Russia's elite space and rocket design program, then called the Special Design Bureau Number 1 of Research and Development Institute Number 88 (this was Soviet Russia, recall), and later known as Energia.
Syromyatnikov went to work under Sergey Korolev, the head designer of the ballistic missile that launched Sputnik - the world's first artificial satellite - into orbit in 1957. There, he helped design the world's first manned spaceship, the Vostok, that hurtled Yuri Gagarin into orbit in 1961.
The hardworking engineer quickly rose through the ranks of the Russian space program, due largely to his brilliance with docking systems. Today, he's probably best known for inventing the mechanism that allows two spacecraft to link up. He built the Androgynous Peripheral Attach System, which allowed the American and Soyuz spacecraft to connect in 1970. His designs are still used in the shuttles that dock at the International Space Station.
"We used to call him 'big cheese,' and he liked that term," Bruce Brandt, an American engineer on the Soyuz-Apollo program, told the Washington Post. "He was always thinking. If there was a problem, he always had a sketch pad. We had our shares of failures and problems in the test [phase]... but it wouldn't be long, sometimes overnight, before there would be solutions."
His system, to date, has never failed in space a single time in over 200 docking operations.
But by the late 1980s, what Syromyatnikov really wanted to do was to design a solar sail that could harness the power of the sun to propel a spacecraft through the galaxy - one that could also, say, reflect sunlight back to Earth during the dead of night.
His statesmen, however, saw a unique way to maximize labor efficiency. Throughout the Soviet era, Russian scientists were obsessed with finding ways to increase the productivity of farmlands and workers in Russia's northern regions, where days would grow very long in the summer and extremely short in the winter. In 1988, Syromyatnikov seized on the idea of daylight extension, apparently as a pitch to get backers to support his solar sails. He retooled the focus of his design to function as a space mirror, and founded the Space Regatta Consortium.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the general objective remained in Russian scientific circles, driven on, perhaps, by institutional inertia.
"The initial impetus for the project was to provide illumination for industrial and natural resource exploitation in remote geographical areas with long polar nights in Siberia and western Russia, allowing outdoor work to proceed round the clock," Jonathan Crary, a professor of art and theory at Columbia University, writes in his book about the rise of the round-the-clock labor paradigm, 24/7. "But the company subsequently expanded its plans to include the possibility of supplying nighttime lighting for entire metropolitan areas. Reasoning that it could reduce energy costs for electric lighting, the company's slogan pitched its services as "daylight all night long."
"Think what it will mean for the future of mankind," Syromyatnikov would later tell the Moscow Times. "No more electricity bills, no more long, dark winters. This is a serious breakthrough for technology."
He assembled a team that would build the satellite that would come to be known as the Znamya ("Banner"). It was, essentially, a 65-foot wide space mirror.
"In much the way a schoolchild playing with a hand mirror learns to reflect a spot of light from a bright window into the crannies of his room, some scientists believe they can put large, orbiting mirrors above Earth that could illuminate darkened areas below with spots of reflected sunlight that measure tens of miles across," The New York Times explained in a 1993 article on Znamya.
The satellite would be launched from Earth to the Mir space station, then from Mir into orbit. Once there, it would unfurl in eight sections, spanning 20 meters, that would deflect sunlight back to earth, illuminating a nightbound hemisphere. This would, theoretically, reduce the costs of lighting existing cities, as well as allowing longer workdays in darker regions.
The project's engineers tallied its other potential boons in a document later drafted to promote Znamya:
"- a system of artificial illumination may prove invaluable for the support of rescue operations during industrial and natural disasters
- the illumination might be helpful during law-enforcement and anti-terrorist campaigns;
- the light from space can also help during special construction projects and other industrial activities"
The plan was to first test a 65-foot mirror (Znamya 2), then a 82-foot version (Znamya 2.5), finalize the test phase with a 230-foot mirror (Znamya 3), and, eventually launch a permanent 656-foot space mirror installation that would be capable of fully turning early night in Russian cities into something close to full-blown day.
"Russians to Test Space Mirror As Giant Night Light for Earth," the aptly titled Times story announced. It continues: "If it can be done, proponents say, providing sunshine at night could save billions of dollars each year in electrical lighting costs, extend twilight hours during planting and harvesting seasons to aid farmers, allow more working hours on large construction projects and help in rescue and recovery operations after natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes." The only thing to be lost was some sleep.
"The scheme called for a chain of many satellites to be placed in sun-synchronized orbits at an altitude of 1700 kilometers, each one equipped with fold-out parabolic reflectors of paper-thin material," Crary writes. "Once fully extended to 200 meters in diameter, each mirror satellite would have the capacity to illuminate a ten-square-mile area on earth with a brightness nearly 100 times greater than moonlight."
Building Znamya was a slapdash affair; the collapse of the Soviet Union had left the nation's science institutions under-funded, and many engineers and technicians found themselves volunteering their time to support the cause. The satellite itself was patched together from donated equipment. The financial support that did arrive came from a patchwork consortium of remaining state-owned space companies and research groups, NPO Energia among them.
After years of development, in 1992, Syromyatnikov and his team launched the 88-pound Znamya-2 into space aboard a vessel called Progress M15, bound for the Mir space station as a secondary payload.
"This should be a marvelous technical demonstration," James E. Oberg an ex-NASA expert on Russian space programs said at the time. "It's an idea they've talked about for a long time, and now they will have a chance to see if it works."
Znamya sat idle for months. "The reflector was to have been deployed in December, but Russian space authorities delayed it," the Times reported in a follow-up story. "Plans now call for the Mir astronauts to fit the drum containing Banner into the docking port of the Progress before the unmanned supply ship leaves the station on Feb. 4 or 5. When the Progress is 500 feet from Mir, Banner is to be deployed by an electric motor that spins its drum and unfolds the eight-segment reflector disk like a Japanese fan. The mirror will orbit at an altitude of about 225 miles, and from Earth will look like a bright star."
And that bright star would shine down on Earth with the light of a full moon - or more. "The experiment will test the feasibility of illuminating points on Earth with light equivalent to that of several full moons." Think about that for a second: Several full moons. The night sky can, of course, be bright indeed, like a grey twilight, with a single full moon. Several full moons would surely kill the need for a flashlight.
As planned, on February 4, Znamya left Mir. When it found its orbit a safe distance away, the mirror successfully deployed. And, sure enough, it sent a five kilometer-wide beam of light back down to Earth. The beam swept through Europe, moving from the south of France to western Russia at a reported speed of eight kilometers per second. "Several" turned out to be an overstatement - its luminosity was equivalent to a single full moon's. Unfortunately, excessive cloud cover prevented the effect from being seen much on land; as the BBC reported, some Europeans reported noticing a flash of light as it glanced by, but that was about it.
Still, the theory had proved correct, and the design was sound. Znamya was de-orbited after a few hours and burned up in the atmosphere above Canada upon reentry.
"The reflector was a big success because it proved the concept was right," Nikolai N. Sevastyanov, a ranking project engineer on Znamya told the Times. "Now we must seek support to build one of bigger size."
Znamya 2 earned the team accolades and enough resources to pursue another go. It also net them some glowing press attention. "Russian Space Scientists Seek Eternal Light," was the headline of a July 1998 Moscow Times story, which opened as follows: "Deep in the bowels of the Russian space industry, visionary scientists have a plan to put an end to the long dark of winter… It is all so simple. Using a chain of huge mirrors suspended above Earth and angled to catch the sun's rays, they would save billions in heating and lighting bills."
After refining the designs and widening the scope - Znamya 2.5 would be 82 feet wide, and able to control and focus its light beam - Syromyatnikov and his team were eying another launch date. A cargo run to Mir was coming up in November, and, as the Moscow Times asked, "Why not just attach a giant reflective membrane to the rocket, set it loose and then bring hours of extra daylight to Russia's northern cities?"
Anticipation was growing; the boldness of the project had made it closely watched in scientific circles, and in the science-interested worldwide. And the plans were getting bolder. Znamya 3 was already beginning construction.
"We are pioneers in the field," Vladimir Syromyatnikov, now director of the Russian Space Regatta Consortium, told the Times. "If the experiment goes according to plan, we propose to send dozens more craft into space in the future on a permanent basis."
The project was assuming a grand scale, and not to everyone's liking.
"Opposition to the project arose immediately and from many directions," according to Jonathan Crary. "Astronomers expressed dismay because of the consequences for most earth-based space observation. Scientists and environmentalists declared it would have detrimental physiological consequences for both animals and humans, in that the absence of regular alternations between night and day would disrupt various metabolic patterns, including sleep. There were also protests from cultural and humanitarian groups, who argued that the night sky is a commons to which all of humanity is entitled to have access, and that the ability to experience the darkness of night and observe observe the stars is a basic human right that no corporation can nullify."
The opposition was well known to the scientists. "Russian space officials have been receiving complaints from astronomers and environmentalists that Znamya will pollute the night sky with unwanted light," the BBC reported in 1999.
The complaints weren't really about Znamya 2.5, specifically; they were about the forthcoming set of permanent space mirrors that Syromynadnikov was aiming to build. The permanent transformation of small parts of night into day.
"If it works, they'll be able to light up five or six Russian cities," the space expert Leo Enright said.
Suddenly, lighting up entire cities - even entire regions - usually darkened by night had become a palpably valid prospect. News outlets like the BBC even published guides of where the satellite's reflection would be visible, so the lucky few in position could watch a flash of light puncture the day.
So the world was watching on February 5, 1999, when the second, larger Znamya was finally thrust out of Mir.
As it was deployed, however, one of the mirrors caught on Mir's antennae, and ripped. Mission control tried to free the snagged space mirror, but it was too late. The thrashed sequel to Znamya was reluctantly de-orbited and burned up a failure.
Syromyatnikov tried to salvage the misfire, and pressed on with plans to build Znamya 3. He is listed as the sole contact person on a website built for the project at the end of 1999, and which still persists today - with his personal email and phone number attached.
"Looking forward to the space reflector experiment a lot of people all over the world and the participants interested in technical progress and investigation of the universe for peaceful goals were greatly sorry about failure to carry out the experiment completely," he writes, noting that his team received letters of support from nations around the globe. "After completing the experiment we were requested to continue the project, not to be disappointed, not lose our hearts. The way into unexploredness is a challenge."
That challenge requires substantial funding, however. Near the end of the document is an impassioned call for investors: "Actually we are considering the possibilities to repeat the Znamya-2.5 experiment, and as well as prepare and carry out the Znamya-3 experiment with the 70-meter reflector within the framework of the scheduled experimental program," he says.
"But only enthusiasm is not enough. The funding of the Znamya-2.5 experiment was extremely tight... For lack of government finances to support scientific researches we hope to find home and foreign sponsors. This is one of the way the development process of solar sail spacecraft, space illumination system and as well as other high technologies could be speeded up." (Even here, at the end he can't help but plug the solar sails that birthed the ill-fated enterprise.)
It's impossible to say how much the Znamya actually ended up costing in total - the Times reported that the Znamya 2 likely cost $10 million for the hardware alone, discounting launch costs - but Syromyatnikov was asking for over $100 million for the larger Znamya 3. He projected that ultimately, the permanent series of daylight-regulating reflectors that the Znamya experiments were leading up to would cost over $340 million to build, launch and operate. He claimed nonetheless that the perma-Znamya would be profitable in just two to three years, due to reduced lighting costs in big cities and the disaster response services it would provide.
The investors never came. After the failure of Znamy 2.5, they lost interest in the project, Znamya 3 was aborted, and Syromyatnikov was relegated to designing space mirrors only conceptually. He was forced to give up his dream of launching solar sailing ships. The quest to turn day into night from space was over, and night had won.
Hard Day's Night
Syromyatnikov went back to work on docking systems, which he would carry out until his death in 2006.
Just before he died, in 2006, he gave an interview to IEEE Spectrum, in which he recounted working nonstop, well into his 70s, often on docking mechanisms for the Soyuz rockets.
"I start my work early in the morning, usually at 5 o'clock, sometimes 4 o'clock," he said. "It's very early to bed and very early to rise. Every morning I do my physical exercises for 20 minutes to a half hour - and I work all weekends." The man who was diligently seeking to physically extend the workday with a giant space mirror wished that he himself never had to sleep.
One of Syromyatnikov's favorite slogans is, he tells IEEE, "The best rest is to work until lunchtime. So then you feel the day was not lost - and in the hours that are left you can do different activities, less critical tasks."
We are again thinking of orbital, sun-reflecting satellites. This time, the aim is primarily to beam a huge amount of solar power down to earth. The likes of US Naval Research Lab have been studying the prospect intently, and Japan's Aerospace Agency plans on launching an orbital solar power plant within the decade. The US has one that could be ready around then, too. John Mankins, the ex-NASA brain behind the US's SPS-ALPHA, argues that a "single solar power satellite would deliver power to on the order of a third of humanity." And as Syromyatnikov and his crew proved, giant space reflectors are far from the charter of science fiction alone.
The fascinating thing, in retrospect, is that Syromyatnikov himself never seemed to stop working. He seemed to actively disparage sleeping - and the night. He was always working. Even into his 70s, he adhered to a strict work regimen, toiling on docking systems for the Soyuz rockets.
"I understand how to design," he told IEEE. "You should feel, maybe by intuition, what lies ahead in the process, what should be done, not just design alone, not just the original sketches, but the whole thing."
It may be impossible for most of us to imagine the whole vision of Znamya - a world orbited by machines that regulate daylight - but we can understand the concept. It's one that's pressing up, sometimes uncomfortably in an increasingly sleepless world.
"[T]his ultimately unworkable enterprise is one particular instance of a contemporary imaginary in which a state of permanent illumination is inseparable from the non-stop operation of global exchange and circulation," Crary writes. "In its entrepreneurial excess, the project is a hyperbolic expression of an institutional intolerance of whatever obscures or prevents an instrumentalized and unending condition of visibility."
It's a world where, like today, we sleep less, cede our days to distant technologies, with more lunae crowding our vision. Imagine instead of blinking screens on the bedside, they're moonbright satellites.
Syromyatnikov's Znamya can be read both as a pathbreaking and unduly forgotten experiment, as well as a cautionary tale of human hubris, of the perils of pushing the workday too far. We may try to use technology to bend night into day, but the laws of nature have a way of bending it back.
© 2016 Vice Media LLC.
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BloombergView / Jan 21, 2016
Russia's Math Geniuses Work Mainly in the West
Статья об исследовании утечки математических мозгов из России в постсоветскую эпоху, проведенном в Высшей школе экономики.
Само исследование "A Metric View on Russian Mathematics and Russian Mathematical Diaspora" опубликовано в журнале HERB: Higher Education in Russia and Beyond.
In Michael Lewis's book "Flash Boys," one of the characters, telecom expert Ronan Ryan, suddenly noticed around 2005 that more and more trading software "seemed to be written by guys with thick Russian accents." That was because most of these guys were no longer doing academic work in Russia and other former Soviet countries.
A recent paper published in Moscow by Vladlen Timorin and Ivan Sterligov from the Higher School of Economics attempts to quantify the outflow of Russian mathematicians since the Soviet Union's collapse - a momentous migration that has changed the academic and business landscape in the U.S. - and orphaned Russia of its best and brightest, but hasn't completely wiped it out as a math superpower.
Mathematics was long a refuge for the Soviet Union's smartest "internal emigres" - escapists who wanted nothing to do with the Communist ideological machine. To be sure, the state used them to do things like sensitive defense research, but at least they enjoyed more creative freedom than authors, painters or even composers. A formidable training and selection system for mathematicians and physicists evolved, with meritocratic elite schools and a system of competitions, known as Olympiads, that helped the best minds to get noticed. There wasn't much international recognition, though: The Communist Party preferred to play its cards close to its chest. Mathematicians couldn't even publish their work overseas without permission and, since the 1936 case of Nikolai Luzin, who was accused of saving his best results for publication abroad and nearly lost his life for it, many preferred not to ask for that permission.
Then the Soviet Union collapsed, and they were suddenly in demand. In a 2012 paper, George Borjas and Kirk Doran showed how the arrival of these academics in the U.S. changed the entire field. "Our empirical analysis demonstrates that the American mathematicians whose research programs most overlapped with that of the Soviets experienced a reduction in productivity after the entry of Soviet émigrés into the U.S. mathematics market," they wrote.
Between 1992 and 2008, the average Soviet émigré published 20 more papers than the average American, and those papers received 143 more citations. In short, the Soviet émigrés originated in the upper tail of the skill distribution of mathematicians in the Soviet Union and quickly moved into the upper tail of the skill distribution in the American mathematics community.
In certain areas, such as integral and differential equations, Russians were more advanced than Americans. On arrival to the West, they pushed local researchers aside in these fields.
Eventually, they found a way to banks and trading firms just as the demand for "quants" increased and the financial industry's tech revolution began.
This made several markets more competitive, but in the end it resulted in a significant transfer of knowledge to the West. The ex-Soviets would, for example, cite previously little-known work that had been published in the Soviet Union, and thus enrich the available research base. In business, too, they used techniques and approaches that hadn't been common in the West before their arrival.
It's clear that the West benefited from the influx: This is a textbook case proving the usefulness of skilled immigration. The effect on Russia itself, the donor country, is less well-researched.
Timorin and Sterligov used the Web of Science academic database to locate publications by mathematicians with common Russian last names. In 1994, about 70 percent of such scientists were affiliated with Russian institutions. That proportion dropped sharply in the 1990s, to about 50 percent. The Timorin-Sterligov paper sheds some light on where most of the mathematicians went; unsurprisingly, more than a third of those who moved West in 1993-2015 went to the U.S., with France a distant second.
An optimist might note that after the initial drop, the number of researchers with Russian affiliations stabilized at about 50 percent, and the share of double affiliations - both with Russian and
Western institutions - started growing, reaching about a quarter. That's not necessarily good for Russia, though. Those researchers who left the country have more citations to their name and more publications in top-25 journals. Those Russia managed to retain prefer to publish within the country; these are either deeply conservative individuals or less gifted ones. Timorin and Sterligov wrote:
Russian mathematics has lost its best representatives; nevertheless, it still stands very high at the international level. The decline has come to an end but no significant progress is currently visible.
This lack of progress is potentially more damaging to Russia than the drop in oil prices or even the external aggression of President Vladimir Putin. The Soviet Union, both because of and despite its repressive nature, produced a cohort of bright scientists who might hold the key to weaning Russia off its oil dependence and, arguably, making aggression unnecessary: A technological advantage is a more efficient way to gain power in today's world. Modern Russia, however, has little to offer that cohort to entice it back, and it is losing the next generation of mathematicians because the best of the emigres are busy training U.S. and European students.
© 2016 Bloomberg L.P. All Rights Reserved.
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Science Codex / January 22, 2016
A defense protein that causes cancer
Российские и швейцарские генетики выяснили, как появляется большинство приводящих к раку мутаций в геноме. Один из основных процессов, приводящих к мутациям сразу для множества типов рака - активность белка противовирусной защиты APOBEC, начинающего «нападать на своих» и изменяющего ДНК хозяина. Ученые обнаружили, что мутации происходят в те короткие промежутки времени, когда двойная спираль ДНК раскручивается при удвоении.
Статья «APOBEC-induced mutations in human cancers are strongly enriched on the lagging DNA strand during replication» опубликована в журнале Genome Research.
Cancer is caused by the growth of an abnormal cell which harbours DNA mutations, "copy errors" occurring during the DNA replication process. If these errors do take place quite regularly without having any damaging effect on the organism, some of them affect a specific part of the genome and cause the proliferation of the mutant cell, which then invades the organism. A few years ago, scientists have identified an important mutagen which lies in our own cells: APOBEC, a protein that usually functions as protecting agent against viral infection. Today, a team of Swiss and Russian scientists led by Sergey Nikolaev, geneticist at the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, has deciphered how APOBEC takes advantage of a weakness in our DNA replication process to induce mutations in our genome.
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APOBEC is a useful, yet dangerous, intrinsic cellular protein. Primarily meant to fight viruses, it has only the power of modifying single-stranded DNA - viral DNA being frequently single-stranded. Our double-stranded human DNA should therefore not be altered. But researchers have observed that mutations induced by APOBEC can be found in many tumorous cells, throughout the genome. How can APOBEC - which can affect only single-stranded DNA - be the cause of so many cancers in human beings? Scientists have already brought the evidence that about 20% of APOBEC mutations originate from an abnormality in the DNA, called "double-stranded breaks" which leaves, for a period of time, a part of DNA in a single-stranded state. It is this particular moment that APOBEC targets to cause multiple mutations. But if this mechanism accounts for 20% of APOBEC-related mutations, it is the mechanism governing the remaining 80% that the scientists at UNIGE and their colleagues in Moscow were able to understand.
The machinery of DNA replication
During the cell division process, the DNA must be replicated according a precise process and timing to produce two identical copies from the original DNA. The replication begins at a specific location. The separation of the two original strands and the synthesis of the new ones then result in a replication fork: the new strands are rebuilt as the fork moves along the chromosome. During DNA replication, the two strands are replicated by different mechanisms which depend on the direction of the replication fork. If one of the two strands is constructed right away, the second one cannot be reconstructed as quickly. As a result, one strand, the "leading strand", never exists as single-stranded DNA, whereas the other one, the "lagging strand", remains single-stranded for some time.
"Since we knew that APOBEC can only mutate single stranded DNA, we needed to identify in what direction the replication fork was going in order to identify the DNA regions that stay single-stranded for longer period of time, explains Sergey Nikolaev. For the first time ever, we managed to do so in human cells. We were able to identify the direction of the replication fork for about 20% of the genome, and found twice as many mutations on the lagging strand, compared with the leading strand." With this discovery, the scientists brought the evidence that APOBEC, opportunistically, takes advantage of the moment when the lagging strand remains single, therefore weaker.
Mutations that affect our most important genes
DNA replication programme is very conservative: it starts at a well-defined a point of origin. Our most important and well-protected genes replicate early, while some less important genes are replicated later on. Usually, the mutation rate is three times higher in the genome regions that replicate at a later stage.
"We were very surprised to observe that, in APOBEC cancers, the mutation rate is equally distributed in all regions. When APOBEC is involved, mutations occur early during replication, and affect important genes. These mutations tend, therefore, to be more deleterious than other kind of mutations, explains Vladimir Seplyarskiy from the Russian Academy of Sciences and first author of this study. We do not know why yet, but APOBEC seems to act as a marker of a default in the replication mechanism in the affected cells, opening the door to an opportunistic mutagen. Indeed, the genome regions replicating early should not stay in a single-stranded state long enough for APOBEC to act. It means that something is going wrong even before APOBEC comes on the scene." The scientists will continue their research to better understand how tumorous cells replicate their DNA differently from healthy cells.
Le Vif / 25/01/16
"Les déchets dans l'espace peuvent provoquer une guerre"
Il n'est pas impossible que le nombre de plus en plus croissant de déchets dans l'espace soit à l'origine d'une guerre, prévient un rapport russe.
По мнению российских ученых из Института динамики геосфер РАН, постоянный рост количества мусора на космической орбите может стать причиной конфликта между странами, поскольку даже мелкий обломок может повредить, к примеру, военные спутники. Тем более что прецеденты уже были - например, несколько лет назад один из российских спутников столкнулся с обломком китайского, а французский спутник пострадал после встречи с обломками французской же ракеты, взорвавшейся десятью годами ранее.
Статья «Orbital missions safety - A survey of kinetic hazards» опубликована в журнале Acta Astronautica.
Les millions de débris qui tournent en spirale autour de la terre à une vitesse de plus de 28.000 kms/heures pourraient non seulement provoquer un horrible accident spatial, mais aussi avoir de terrible conséquence sur l'ordre du monde. C'est tout cas ce que pense Vitaly Adushkin, de l'académie russe des sciences à Moscou. Dans le magazine Acta Astronautica il prédit qu'une collision entre un engin spatial et ce flux de débris pourrait même avoir des conséquences militaires. "Les collisions entre des déchets et des engins spatiaux, surtout avec des satellites militaires, représentent un réel danger politico-stratégique. Un tel événement ravivera des tensions politiques, voire militaires, entre les pays présents dans l'espace" selon ce même rapport. "Le propriétaire d'un engin spatial qui aurait été détruit ne pourra en effet que difficilement en trouver les causes effectives et va naturellement accuser un autre pays de l'avoir sciemment détruit."
Poubelle et effet Kessler
Pour éviter qu'un tel drame ne se produise, le professeur Adushkin souhaite que l'on nettoie au plus vite l'espace, parce que chaque nouvelle collision augmente le nombre de débris susceptibles de provoquer de nouvelles collisions. C'est ce qu'on appelle l'effet Kessler ou plus prosaïquement l'effet boule de neige.
Il y a urgence, car si rien n'est fait, on ne pourra plus envoyer de satellite dans l'espace d'ici 30 ans. De satellites qui sont indispensables si l'on veut maintenir les communications mobiles par exemple. Selon la NASA, même un tout petit déchet peut déjà provoquer de gros dégâts.
Autour de notre planète, il y a plus de 20.000 pièces qui ont plus de 10 cm. En 2014, sur la Station spatiale internationale pas moins de 5 avaries ont été provoquées par ce genre de déchets. On pensait que les débris en orbite disparaîtraient suite au frottement avec l'atmosphère. Mais cela ne semble pas être le cas. Sur les 616 objets envoyés par l'homme dans l'espace en 1963, il en restait, 38 en orbite 30 ans plus tard, précise Le Nouvel Observateur. Il faut donc impérativement nettoyer ou du moins les sortir des orbites les plus utilisées par l'homme. Mais les techniques ne sont pas encore au point et surtout très coûteuses.
Un satellite pulvérisé, c'est 3000 débris supplémentaires
L'avertissement du scientifique russe intervient après qu'un satellite russe ait été endommagé par un nuage de déchets issus de la destruction, en 2007, d'un ancien satellite météorologique par les Chinois. En le pulvérisant, ils ont laissé près de 3000 débris supplémentaires qui se baladent désormais autour de la terre. Ce n'est pas le seul incident: en 1996 un satellite français a été endommagé par les débris d'une fusée, français elle aussi, qui avait explosé dix ans auparavant. En 2009 un satellite désaffecté est entré en collision avec un satellite américain. Pas moins de 2000 nouveaux débris sont venus grossir la décharge mobile dans l'espace. En mai 2013, moins d'un mois après son lancement, un satellite fabriqué par l'agence spatiale civile équatorienne a été heurté par un morceau de fusée russe lancée en 1985, précise encore Le Nouvel Observateur.
© 2016 Roularta Media Group. Tous droits réservés.
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EE Times / 1/29/2016
Russians' Report Memristors
Российские и итальянские ученые создали элемент нейронной сети - персептрон - из полимера полианилина на базе мемристора, элемента в микроэлектронике, способного изменять своё сопротивление в зависимости от прошедшего через него заряда. Идея персептрона была предложена еще в 1957 году, но образец органического запоминающего энергонезависимого элемента с возможностью самообучения удалось создать только сейчас.
Статья «Hardware elementary perceptron based on polyaniline memristive devices» опубликована в журнале Organic Electronics.
LAKE WALES, Fla. - The perceptron invented by Frank Rosenblatt in 1957 and popularized in Marvin Minsky and Seymour Papert's 1969 book Perceptrons: An Introduction to Computational Geometry may no longer be just theory.
Russian and Italian scientists, led by Vyacheslav Demin at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and the National Research Center Kurchatov Institute (Moscow) have described a perceptron in detail in a paper by Demin and his collaborators titled Hardware elementary perceptron based on polyaniline memristive devices.
Marvin Minsky passed away on Sunday (January 24).
The most exciting element of their perceptron was the polymer-memristor they constructed from organic polyaniline (PANI) - a highly conductive polymer that has been used as the active electronic component in experimental non-volatile memories. It was created by Demin's team which also included scientists from the Kurchatov Institute (Moscow), the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT), the University of Parma (Italy), Moscow State University, and Saint Petersburg State University. The experiments were performed at the Complex for Nano-, Bio-, Information, Cognitive and Socio-Humanitarian Sciences and Technologies (NBICS) at the Kurchatov Institute.
"The physical realization of an elementary perceptron demonstrates the ability to form the hardware-based neuromorphic networks with the use of organic memristive devices," said Demin's team in their abstract. "The results provide a great promise toward new approaches for very compact, low-volatile and high-performance neurochips that could be made for a huge number of intellectual products and applications."
The scientists aim to use their polymeric memristors in multi-layer perceptron - called deep-learning neural networks or just neuromorphic networks - in applications ranging from machine vision, hearing, and other sensory modes, for intelligent control systems and autonomous robots.
Hows it works
Polyaniline memristors have been demonstrated before, individually and for non-volatile memories, but the Russian and Italian scientists claim their implementation is the first that formed into a genuine analog neural network - a single layer perceptron. Their memristors were fabricated at the millimeter scale for convenience, using a polyaniline solution, a glass substrate, and chromium electrodes, but the researchers claim that within five years they could be manufacturable at 10-nanometers - rivaling silicon chips.
When characterizing the polyaniline memristors, they found that they had a natural hysteresis built-in, a very desirable quality for digital non-volatile memories. For analog applications, the hysteresis was found by the researchers to be mild enough to enable memristors to operate in the middle analog range of the total hysteresis curve. As a result, the polyaniline memristors were able to emulate the function of the brain's synapses between its neurons - that is become more conductive the more they are used, and atrophying down to zero when current flows in the opposite direction.
To prove their point, the researchers trained the perceptron to learn both the digital NAND and NOR functions, as well as other linear separable operations, invariant pattern recognition and linear approximations. A standard back-propagating error-correction algorithm - which sends error signals backwards to reduce the conductivity of the memristive synapse, allowed the neural network to learn, giving the researchers hope that multi-layer versions in the future will be able to emulate deep-learning tasks at a much higher speed than they are simulated on digital computers today.
Next, beside downsizing to the nanoscale, the researchers also intend to implement multi-layer deep learning neural networks using the third dimension - stacking network layers vertically into 3-D structures.
Copyright © 2016 UBM All Rights Reserved.
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