Российская наука и мир (дайджест) - Февраль 2019 г.
Дайджест за другие годы
2019 г.
Российская наука и мир
(по материалам зарубежной электронной прессы)

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

    EurekAlert / 1-Feb-2019
    Ancient fortress reveals how prehistoric civilizations of Central Asia lived
    Археологи из России и Узбекистана полностью раскопали крепость Узундара в Бактрии (историческая область на территории современных Таджикистана, Узбекистана и Афганистана), разрушенную в результате штурма во II в. до н.э. Оказалось, что крепость являлась частью единой фортификационной системы, защищавшей границы Бактрии - своеобразной «Великой Бактрийской стены».

Scientists from Russia and Uzbekistan found a unified fortification system that on the northern border of ancient Bactria. This country existed in the III century BC. The fortress found blocked the border and protected the oases of Bactria from the nomads raids. During the excavations, scientists revealed the fortress citadel, drew up a detailed architectural plan and collected rich archaeological material indicating the construction, life and death of the fortress as a result of the assault.
In the IV century BC, significant part of Central Asia territory belonged to Bactria, which, as a separate satrapy, was part of the Achaemenid Empire. In 329 BC Bactria became part of the Alexander empire and after his death joined the kingdom of Seleucid: the largest Hellenistic state in the East, created by the commander Alexander Seleucius I Nicator and his son Antiochus I Soter. Gradually, the state became weakened by numerous military campaigns and the struggle for power. As a result, once flourishing Bactria ceased to exist in the II century BC when Iranian-speaking nomads from the northern territories, the Saki and Yuadzhi, broke into the country.
Recently, Russian scientists completed excavations in this area and determined the fortress construction time: about 95-90 years of the III century BC, the time of Antiochus I reign and the very beginning of the formation of the Seleucid state. The fortress was inhabited for about 150 years.
It consisted of a diamond-shaped main quadrangle, a triangular citadel (phylacterion), surrounded by powerful double walls with an internal gallery about nine meters wide, and extension walls, which were fortified with 13 rectangular bastions-towers, three of which were also outboards. Outside the fortress there was a marketplace where local residents brought goods needed by the garrison soldiers.
The archaeologists recorded the location of each item using a total station or GPS, and then made it into a single plan tied to the terrain. As a result, the scientists managed to establish where the marketplace was, ran the road to the entrance to the fortress, and determined the place of the assault: there were more than 200 shooting arrowheads, combat darts and troops. It is curious that the proposed battlefield is located to the east of the fortress, which suggests a possible environment or the breakthrough of the enemy through a system of border fortifications.
The warriors who defended Uzundar wore armor: in the inside-wall room of the south-western fortified wall, archaeologists discovered armor-clad plates and two right-handed iron heads from helmets. So far, scientists can not exactly determine what type of helmets these patches were - a pseudoattical or Melos group, so it is still possible that these are the same helmets that Alexander wore during Antiochus I Soter period.
"This findings are sensational: direct analogies are known from the Takhti-Sanga temple, but there they were bronze, and we found iron fragments in Uzundar. To date, there are only a few specimens and sculptures with which to compare these cheeks and determine their type. We also found fastening details, which gives important information on manufacturing technology, according to tradition, but to answer these questions requires lengthy research," says Nigora Dvurechenskaya, researcher at the Department of Classical Archeology, Head of the Bactrian detachment of the Central Asian Archaeological Expedition.
In addition to weapons, archaeologists have collected a large number of ceramics, as well as a rich numismatic collection: today around the fortress found about 200 coins of very good preservation from the coins of Antiochus I and all the rulers of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom from Diodot to Heliocles of very different denominations: from silver drachmas to copper mites. Such a variety proves that Bactria at the very beginning of Seleucid kingdom formation of the was part of developed monetary circulation system. Thus, the materials of Uzundara allow to study and reconstruct all spheres of life of the Seleucidian and Greco-Bactrian fortresses.

Copyright © 2019 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
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    Physics World / 01 Feb 2019
    The International Year of the Periodic Table has begun
    • Belle Dumé
    29 января в штаб-квартире ЮНЕСКО в Париже прошла церемония открытия Международного года Периодической таблицы химических элементов, созданной Дмитрием Менделеевым 150 лет назад. В рамках Года также состоится ряд международных научно-популярных и образовательных мероприятий.

"The periodic table tells us a story - its aim to understand the essence of all things," said UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay in her introductory speech at the opening ceremony of the International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements (IYPT) that took place at UNESCO's headquarters in Paris this week.
In proclaiming 2019 as the IYPT, the United Nations says that it has recognized the importance of raising global awareness of how chemistry can help in reaching sustainable development goals and provide solutions to worldwide challenges in energy, education, agriculture and health.
"The periodic table (PT) is one the greatest achievements in science ever," added Pierre Corvol, who is president of the Académie des Sciences at the Institut de France. When Russian scientist Dmitry Mendeleev pioneered the table 150 years ago in 1869, the existence of the atom was unknown and only 60 elements had been discovered (there are now 118) and some of the information about these 60 was even wrong. Mendeleev was visionary in that he left boxes for elements that had not yet been discovered. He also importantly predicted the properties of five of these elements and their compounds. Indeed, three of these were subsequently discovered within his lifetime.
"The PT's longevity comes thanks to its simplicity. All schoolchildren learn about this table."
Mikhail Kotyukov, minister of science and higher education of the Russian Federation, added that Mendeleev's heritage "applies to all humanity".
Celebrations all year
The IYPT opening ceremony was a joyous, almost party-like, event - with musical interludes from renowned pianist Mira Yevtich - and was a true celebration of the significance of the PT and its applications to society. It was also real kick-off to all the events planned for the year ahead around the world. These include, for example: The Periodic Table Challenge and the Periodic Table of Younger Chemists, both organized by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), which celebrates its centenary this year; the Postgraduate Summer School on Green Chemistry in Africa organized by the The Interdivisional Committee on Green Chemistry for Sustainable Development (ICGCSD); the International Nuclear Physics Conference 2019, organized by the Institute of Physics (IOP) and co-sponsored by the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP); and the International Symposium on Setting their Table, organized by the IYPT.
This event, which will take place at the University of Murcia in Spain from 11-12 February, will highlight the women who contributed to the discovery of the PT elements. These female role models include Marie Curie, who discovered radium (Ra) and polonium (Po), Bertha Karlik, for her discovery of astatine (At) and Lise Meitner, for an isotope of protactinium (Pa), to name but three oft-overlooked heroines.
During the day, there was also a chance to visit the extensive Periodic Table Exhibition, which included: The Molecular Bar, where participants could try ice cream made using liquid nitrogen; 1001 Inventions: Journeys from Alchemy to Chemistry, which is a new educational initiative; and the Zone of Novel Elements, a stand of the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, where elements 105 (dubnium), 114 (Flerovium), 115 (moscovium) and 118 (oganesson) have been named. Visitors could even take a selfie with Mendeleev in a specially reconstructed 19th century chemist's study.
Outreach is of course highly important, especially to engage young people, as Sir Martyn Poliakoff of the University of Nottingham, who has lots of different types of PTs (of snacks, fruit, and even ties) in his office, stressed in his talk. Poliakoff has been making videos of the PT since 2008. "Quite little children have persuaded their parents to come and meet me and my colleagues in Nottingham. I tell them that the PT is like a big family photo - you sometimes can't remember all the names of the family members but perhaps only some facts about them."
2016 Chemistry Nobel Laureate Ben Feringa said in his lecture that the PT is a real "hero of chemistry" and that Mendeleev taught us how we can use this table to build molecules and materials in the lab by combining different elements. "We scientists greatly value the PT because it is our common language. Thanks to Mendeleev, it is also a powerful guide to making the compounds of the future."
Hand-made elements
The periodic table of the elements has been slowly getting bigger over the years. For a long time, it contained only naturally occurring elements, starting with hydrogen and finishing with uranium (atomic number 92). These elements, which were made in nuclear reactions that occurred at different times and different places in the universe, have half-lives comparable to the age of the Earth (about 4.5 billion years). The nuclei of elements beyond uranium have lifetimes that are less than this so need to be created in artificial nuclear reactors.
This aspect of nuclear physics forms an important part of the physics-related celebrations of the IYPT - remembering how the more recently discovered elements have been made and looking forward to how elements with atomic numbers greater than 118 will be created in the future. Oganesson is element number 118 and is currently the last element in the PT, found at the end of the 7th row. It is named for Yuri Oganessian, who himself gave a talk at the opening ceremony, entitled "Hand-made elements". Oganessian is working on synthesizing and studying elements 104 to 118. He has developed methods to make these heaviest of nuclides, which led to the discovery of the island of stability of super heavy elements.
Leaving a legacy
Looking to the future, the IYPT also needs to leave a legacy that will go beyond this year's celebrations, say Jan Reedijk and Natalia Tarasova, co-chairs of the IYPT Inter-Union Management Committee. The PT is not only about chemistry but also other science areas, like physics and biology. "It is a unique tool, enabling scientists to predict the appearance and properties of matter on Earth and in the rest of the Universe.
"The IYPT will enhance international cooperation by coordinating activities between learned societies, educational establishments and industry, focusing specifically on new partnerships and initiatives in the developing world, and establish durable partnerships to ensure that these activities continue in the future," they say.
And as computational physicist Sandro Scandolo of the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) very aptly put it, perhaps we should consider adding two new elements to an imaginary periodic table: Ed and Rs - for educatium and researchium. "Ed would be element number 0, because zero is where everything starts, and Rs number 119."

Copyright © 2019 by IOP Publishing Ltd.
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    World Nuclear News / 11 February 2019
    Cooperation agreement for Rosatom and Russian Academy
    Российская академия наук и Росатом подписали соглашение о совместной научно-технической и инновационной деятельности в таких областях, как разработка лазерных технологий и ускорителей заряженных частиц, создание современной диагностической аппаратуры, ядерная медицина, безопасность атомной энергетики, современные суперкомпьютеры и др.

Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom and the Russian State Academy of Sciences are to cooperate on joint scientific, technical and innovative activities in areas including nuclear energy, nuclear medicine and other areas under an agreement signed in Moscow on 7 February.
The cooperation agreement was signed by Rosatom Director General Alexei Likhachov and President of the Russian Academy of Sciences Alexander Sergeev during a joint meeting to mark Russian Science Day. Under its terms, the partners will cooperate in organising research and development activities aimed at providing technological advantages in various sectors of the domestic industry, as well as creating and developing interdisciplinary scientific and technological centres and organisations. They will also jointly develop strategic planning documents, improve the technical and scientific regulatory and legal framework, and carry out expert evaluations of scientific and technical projects and scientific consultations.
Rosatom said the main areas of cooperation in the agreement are: the development of laser technologies and particle accelerators; the creation of modern diagnostic equipment, nuclear medicine and radiation therapy; controlled thermonuclear fusion; nuclear energy of the future; new materials; the nuclear fuel cycle and its closure; safety of nuclear energy; environmental aspects of radioactive waste management; modern supercomputers, databases, application packages, and import-substituting codes; and also X-ray astronomy and nuclear planetology.
Likhachov said joint activities between Rosatom and the Academy would strengthen the Russian nuclear industry's "leadership" in the world and allow the creation of new technologies that would shape the future image of the nuclear industry in Russia. "Within the framework of the Agreement, we intend to expand work on the entire spectrum of advanced scientific research. The most important direction of our cooperation will be the integration of fundamental, exploratory and applied scientific research, including in the interests of the development of the nuclear industry. We will work together to form the nuclear energy industry of the future, to create new materials, new radiation technologies," he said.
Sergeyev noted the "rich history" of cooperation between the Academy of Sciences and the nuclear industry. "All major projects in the field of military and peaceful nuclear energy were carried out jointly by scientists and specialists of our organisations, which largely ensured their timeliness and success," he said.

© 2019 World Nuclear Association.
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    Smithsonian / February 12, 2019
    Climate Changes Bears Down on This Remote Russian Settlement
    The surge of hungry four-legged visitors to Belushya Guba is part of a larger trend.
    • By Lila Thulin
    Нашествие белых медведей на поселок Белушья Губа (архипелаг Новая Земля) является частью более широкой проблемы - изменения климата. Таяние льдов в Арктике меняет пути миграции медведей, их жизненное пространство сокращается, заставляя перемещаться ближе к человеку.

The local government of Belushya Guba in the remote Novaya Zemlya archipelago has been forced to declare a state of emergency. According to the BBC, the military settlement in northern Russia, population 2,000, is being besieged - by polar bears.
It's no joke: 52 bears have been documented in the area between December 2018 and February 2019, putting the polar-bear-to-human ratio at, roughly, 1:38. The polar bears don't seem deterred by car horns, dogs or fences or "cases of aggression," either.
This surge of polar bears in the area is unprecedented, according to local administrative head Zhigansha Musin, who tells state news agency TASS that he'd never witnessed this scale of ursid activity in the 35 years he's lived in the area. Over the past few months, anywhere from six to ten polar bears can reliably be found living alongside the residents, TASS reports. Videos and photos from a Siberian Times report show the predators making themselves at home, snacking at garbage dumps, even roaming through a hallway.
Their presence has caused legitimate concern among the community. "Parents are afraid to let the children go to school or kindergarten," the region's governor and local government writes in a statement.
With a worldwide population numbering around 22,000 to 25,000 bears, polar bears are considered vulnerable by the World Wildlife Fund and threatened by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Russian authorities, for their part, recognize polar bears as an endangered species, meaning that shooting at the bears to drive them away would be illegal, the BBC explains. Instead, a team of specialists is being dispatched to the archipelago to get the polar bears to scram. If that measure fails, however, the TASS statement suggests that "a cull will remain the only and forced answer."
Experts say the culprit behind the sudden influx of these unwelcome ursid is melting sea ice brought on by climate change.
In the Novaya Zemlya archipelago, the polar bears traditionally migrate south to north "where the ice is solid," polar bear researcher Ilya Mordvintsev tells TASS. But this fall, sea ice on the island was unusually scarce, which made hunting seals difficult. "It's sort of like, you go to a restaurant and the restaurant is closed," University of Alberta professor Andrew Derocher tells Motherboard. "So where do you go? You keep wandering until you find one that's open."
The open restaurant, in this case, was Belushya Guba, with its availability of edible trash proving an irresistible - if less-nutritious - alternative source of food, Mordvintsev explains. Belushya Guba isn't the first town to be beset by polar bears and it most certainly won't be the last. "As Arctic ice thins, an occurrence linked to the acceleration of climate change, the animals move ashore, ravenous. They scavenge, sometimes coming into contact with human populations," the Washington Post explains.
One early, alarming instance of polar bear and human clashes occurred in 2007. As The New York Times reported at the time, Russia was forced to temporarily lift the polar bear hunting ban it had introduced in 1956 to address another Arctic island onslaught - "as many polar bears as dogs," in the words of one resident - and the incident led to the creation of a neighborhood watch program for polar bears. Biologist Anatoly A. Kochnev proved precient in his observations at that time. "The normal life space for the polar bears is shrinking," he said.

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    UK Tech News / Thu 14 Feb 2019
    NTU, MIT and Russian scientists develop AI to predict material properties
    • Nia Williams
    Сотрудники Наньянского технологического университета (Сингапур), Массачусетского технологического института и Сколково разработали новую методику с использованием искусственного интеллекта, позволяющую предсказывать изменения свойств материалов при их деформации.

A new machine learning approach that can predict changes to the properties of materials from straining the material has been developed.
Scientists from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, in collaboration with researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US and the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology in Russia, came up with the new technique using Artificial Intelligence. Their work could lead to the possibility of engineering new materials with tailored properties for potential use in communications, information processing, and energy fields. In a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the authors demonstrated their use of AI to identify the most energy-efficient strain pathways that could transform diamond into more effective semiconductors.
When a semiconductor material is bent or strained, the atoms in its structure are perturbed and change its properties such as how it conducts electricity, heat or the transmission of light. This process is known as 'strain engineering'. Conventional methods of studying and mapping the effects of strain engineering on a material currently rely on trial and error lab experiments and computer modelling on a limited scale.
As a prelude to this work, last year the NTU Singapore and MIT authors reported that diamond nanoneedles could be bent and stretched as much as 9 per cent, which was surprising given that diamond is the hardest natural material known. And in earlier research with industrial applications, "strain engineering" was used on silicon processor chips, where a 1 per cent strain allowed electrons to move faster, resulting in up to 50 per cent higher processing speeds.
Professor Subra Suresh, president of NTU Singapore and a senior author of the study, said their new method used machine learning to predict the effects of strain on the properties of a material. This makes it possible to calculate the almost infinite possible combinations of material strain in a six-dimensional strain space.
"Now we have this reasonably accurate method that drastically reduces the complexity of the calculations needed," said Prof Suresh, who is a former dean of engineering at MIT.
"Our research is an illustration of how recent advances in seemingly distant fields such as material physics, artificial intelligence, computing, and machine learning can be brought together to advance scientific knowledge that has strong implications for industry application."
In the study, the team examined the effects of strain on the bandgap, a key electronic property of semiconductors, in both silicon and diamond. Using their neural network algorithm, they predicted with high accuracy how different amounts and orientations of strain would affect the bandgap. Being able to tune the bandgap could improve the efficiency of semiconductor materials such as a silicon solar cell, increasing the energy harnessed from light while making it a thousand times thinner, thus reducing the cost needed for materials, transportation and infrastructure. Diamond has shown great potential as a semiconductor material with superior intrinsic properties, which are ideal for high-frequency devices like radios in satellite communications, and power electronics used for mobile networks and electrical power grids. In addition to the bandgap, their method can also be used to study and predict other properties of materials, such as electronic, photonic and magnetic behaviours.
The work points to potential new opportunities to create materials for electronic, optoelectronic, and photonic devices that could find uses for communications, information processing, and energy applications.

© 2019 Media Ventures International Limited T/A UKTN.
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    Vancouver Sun / February 16, 2019
    The secret lives of salmon: Scientists to probe ailing Pacific stocks
    An international coalition of scientists is about to investigate the mysteries of a troubled resource.
    • Randy Shore
    Из Ванкувера на российском исследовательском судне отправляется международная (Россия, Канада, США, Япония, Южная Корея) экспедиция по изучению лосося. Задачей ученых является исследование зимнего периода жизни лососевых в заливе Аляска (северная часть Тихого океана), их состояния, поведения и численности, особенно на фоне потепления воды. До сих пор подобных исследований в этой части океана не проводилось.

Twenty-one scientists from Russia, Canada, the United States, Japan and South Korea have taken residence on the Russian research ship MV Professor Kaganovsky for an unprecedented international expedition. The five-week voyage will probe the secret lives of five Pacific salmon species with a massive grid search and test fishery across the Gulf of Alaska.
Before setting out Saturday, researchers scrambled to get their equipment stowed in the cramped laboratory space and backups to everything stored and below decks just in case. What they hope to gain is an understanding of salmon health, behaviour and abundance that could revolutionize fisheries forecasting.
"We know virtually nothing about what happens to salmon once they leave nearshore waters in the Salish Sea," said expedition organizer Dick Beamish. The North Pacific is a proverbial black box that salmon swim into as juveniles and return from as adults, often ready to return to their home rivers and streams to spawn, he said.
The project was developed as a research element of the 2019 International Year of the Salmon celebration, organized by the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission and its partners. "This won't be the most luxurious voyage; it's a standard Russian research ship, so we are having to resolve some issues before we go," said Beamish, who raised more than $1 million to charter and outfit the vessel.
Plenty of electrical converters were on hand to cope with the Russian electrical systems. A satellite communications system the Canadian contingent had hoped to install before setting to sea had to be abandoned as unsuitable. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) researcher Chrys Neville was working hard to find last-minute replacements for the comms gear.
Once at sea, the Kaganovsky will use a trawl net with a 40-metre-wide opening to scoop up salmon for an hour at a time at about 50 locations between Haida Gwaii and the Aleutian Islands. Scientists will record the size, condition and fat content of each fish and use DNA testing to identify - down to the stream bed - which stock they come from.
"We will, for the first time ever, have stock-specific abundances of all the species and all the stocks that rear in the Gulf of Alaska after their first ocean winter," said Beamish. The project will also provide stock-specific comparisons with juvenile salmon during their early rearing period in B.C.'s "salmon nursery" in the Salish Sea, said Neville. Researchers will be taking careful water temperature readings to get a better handle on the warming trends observed in the area.
"How are fish going to respond to (warming waters) and what will it mean for their condition?" asked Neville. "It's important for us to get this information, because we are going to continue to see (temperatures) outside the norm, I would expect."
Beamish sought $250,000 from the DFO, which gave the project considerable legitimacy right out of the gate. Other major donors include the provincial government, the Pacific Salmon Foundation, the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association, Harmac and the Pacific Salmon Commission.
The expedition will help close a long-standing knowledge gap in the study of salmon, said Brian Riddell, CEO of the Pacific Salmon Foundation. "We've been studying salmon in fresh water, nearshore waters and estuaries for 100 years, but we've done very little in the ocean," he said. "The Russians have done abundance studies for years in their waters, but we've never done it here."
The so-called "blob" and its effect on sockeye populations changed the way scientists think about the ocean-going lives of salmon.
"We had fish returning so small they swam right through the nets," said Riddell. "They were that small. If ocean conditions have that kind of impact on the size, health and abundance of these fish, it certainly means we have a lot more work to do on climate change."
Knowing more about how stocks mix and the productivity of those waters could also inform changes to hatchery production and ocean ranching.

© 2019 Postmedia Network Inc. All rights reserved.
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    Advocator / February 18, 2019
    Russia Plans To Send A Mining Rover And Modules For Lunar Base To The Moon Around 2030
    • Jasmine Petters
    Роскосмос намерен завершить разработку российской лунной программы в период между 2030 и 2035 годами. За этот срок планируется доставить на Луну многоразовый грузовой корабль, тяжелый луноход для добычи полезных ископаемых и модули для строительства лунной базы.

Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, has big plans with the Moon. As we might be on the verge of a new space race, Russia is not going to let NASA and Chinese space agency alone on the Earth's natural satellite. Accordingly, Russia plans to send a mining rover and modules for the future lunar base to the Moon around 2030.
More specifically, Roscosmos wants to finalize Russia's lunar program somewhen between 2030 and 2035. And this time, the Russians have exciting plans with the Moon. They want to send there a heavy mining lunar rover, along with a reusable cargo spaceship and several space station-like modules that would mark the beginning of the construction of the Russian lunar base.
But the Russian space program would begin as soon as in 2021 when Roscosmos plans to launch Luna-25 which would search for ice on the Moon. In 2023, Russia wants to send Luna-26 to the Moon, which would map and remote sense the satellite, while the Luna-27 lander would arrive on the Earth's natural satellite in 2024 with the mission to collect lunar soil samples from the southern pole of the Moon.
Russia Plans To Send A Mining Rover And Modules For Lunar Base To The Moon Around 2030
Next, in 2027, Luna-28 would take cryogenic soil samples from the lunar south pole and bring them back to Earth, while Luna-29 will deploy a lunar rover in 2028.
"Lavochkin NPO offers Roscosmos and the Russian Academy of Sciences to launch four automatic spacecraft to the Moon from 2031 to 2035. Thus, the Luna-30 lander will deliver a reusable lunar spacecraft with supplies for manned missions. The Luna-31 lander will bring to the Moon a heavy lunar rover weighing up to 5 tonnes, equipped with the necessary means to develop lunar resources," reported Sputnik News, citing one of their sources.
Then, Luna-32 would follow, and it would bring the first modules for the Russian lunar base to the Moon. The constructions of the Moonbase would commence in 2034, according to Roscosmos.

© 2018 Advocator.
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    University World News / 20 February 2019
    Government supports mass upgrade of science facilities
    • Brendan O'Malley
    О национальном проекте «Наука», который должен решить множество проблем, с которыми сталкиваются российские ученые, и продвинуть Россию в пятерку ведущих стран в ключевых областях науки и техники.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has announced that upgrading research facilities and equipment and providing support to young scientists are the priorities for the National Project for Science.
The National Project for Science also calls for the creation of at least 15 world-class science and education centres as well as advanced research infrastructure over the next six years, the Russian news agency TASS reported.
Medvedev underlined that all of Russia's leading scientific institutions were to get state-of-the-art equipment and instrumentation, with 50% of their instruments to be upgraded or replaced. Russian President Vladimir Putin has stressed the importance of focusing on equipment that can ensure technological breakthroughs, as well as having a very clear understanding of the results to be achieved with this equipment.
"It is very important that Russian research infrastructure becomes one of the world's best," he said.
Medvedev said the National Project for Science would help address many of the challenges faced by Russian researchers while achieving "the difficult but attainable" goal of propelling Russia into the top five countries in key fields of science and technology, TASS reported. Speaking on 6 February at the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, Medvedev said young researchers need particular support, not only financial but also in terms of facilitating their participation in academic conferences, publications in international scientific journals and patent applications.
Social conditions for scientists
Special stress must also be placed on improving their social conditions, he said, conceding that so far insufficient effort had been made to provide them with housing. The prime minister said the National Project for Science had been designed to tackle these and other issues. Supporting scientific talent and promoting cutting-edge research are government priorities and should not remain a mere slogan but translate into reality, he added.
Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said: "We understand that in order to increase the number of young scientists and researchers, we need to create the necessary social infrastructure for them."
Medvedev said funding for the national project had been approved, with as much as RUB135 billion (US$2 billion) to be spent over the next three years. In fact, research and development expenditure from all sources, as envisaged by the project, should grow ahead of gross domestic product (GDP).
Putin announced in November that up to RUB635 billion (around US$9.6 billion) would be allocated to the National Project for Science for the period up to 2025, with RUB405 billion coming from the state budget and RUB231 billion from extra-budgetary resources.
"We need to help strong research teams, scientists and engineers who are working in the most promising areas," said Putin at a meeting of the Council for Science and Education for the Russian Federation on 27 November. "We have to focus on critical development areas that are in line with national goals and the country's strategy on scientific and technological development."
Russia needs breakthrough discoveries and innovation to ensure the competitiveness of national industries, to form a strong manufacturing base, to renew the country's transportation infrastructure, to introduce new technologies to the construction industry, and also to improve the environment and the quality of healthcare, according to a briefing note disseminated by Project 5-100, whose members are leading research universities.
Cutting down on red tape
At the same time, the Ministry of Science and Higher Education is reforming Russia's bureaucratic system to create better conditions for scientists including cutting down on red tape, Minister of Science and Higher Education Mikhail Kotyukov announced on 28 November 2018, during a general meeting of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Bureaucratic procedures in universities on issues, ranging from buying office supplies and experimental materials to the financial reports that researchers must make for grants, will be streamlined.
Kotyukov said while approximately half of the procedures for general economic activities had already been simplified, the procedures related to research and organisational activities still have to follow.
"Starting new research means defending your topic, filling out endless forms, walking around with different documents, and writing reports," Kotyukov said. "I believe that the ministry and the Academy have to work together to reduce bureaucracy for the benefit of research."
The Russian government is planning to introduce amendments to existing legislation to make defending a thesis obligatory for postgraduate students. The Ministry of Science and Higher Education will present its proposals and recommendations to the government in the first trimester of 2019.
Aleksandr Sergeev, president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, has also pointed out the need for postgraduate education reform.
"We have to reform our postgraduate education system to ensure its role as a first step in the development of a research career," said Sergeev. "Thesis defence should be mandatory for postgraduate students. At the same time, the amount of mandatory teaching activities should be significantly reduced. Postgraduate students are future researchers, not teachers."
Extra funding for Project 5-100
Medvedev has also signed an order allocating RUB9.9 billion (US$150 million) in federal government subsidies for the year 2019 among the country's leading universities. The funding is designed to bolster their competitiveness globally. It will go to the 21 universities that participate in Project 5-100.
The subsidies will be financed from the federal budget under the Young Professionals federal project, which seeks to make Russia's professional education institutions more competitive. It forms part of the wider National Project for Education that aims, among other things, to turn the country into a more formidable player in the international academic marketplace.
The Russian government has been providing extra financial support to top universities every year since 2013 in a bid to enhance their international standing. Subsidies are approved by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, which acts on recommendations from a council set up to strengthen the competitive position of Russian universities among the world's leading research and higher education institutions.
The allocations for the current year are:
- RUB860.96 million (US$13 million) each for the National Research University Higher School of Economics, ITMO University, National Research Nuclear University MEPHI, National University of Science and Technology MISIS, Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, Novosibirsk State University and National Research Tomsk State University.
- RUB430.48 million (US$6.5 million) each for Kazan Federal University, RUDN University, Sechenov University, Peter the Great St Petersburg Polytechnic University, Tomsk Polytechnic University, University of Tyumen and Ural Federal University.
- RUB122.99 million (US$1.9 million) each for Far Eastern Federal University, Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University, Samara University, Saint Petersburg Electrotechnical University, Siberian Federal University, South Ural State University and Lobachevsky University.

Copyright 2018 University World News.
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    Gadgets Now / Feb 20, 2019
    Scientists develop blockchain-based method to help verify and trace natural diamonds
    Современные синтетические алмазы настолько хороши по качеству и химическому составу, что отличить их от природных не всегда могут даже геммологи. Российские криптографы разработали метод, позволяющий проверять алмазы на подлинность. Система основана на технологии блокчейн и позволяет отслеживать всю историю передачи прав на природные алмазы, начиная с момента их добычи.

Scientists have developed a new method based on blockchain technology to help verify and trace natural diamonds, and fully guarantee their authenticity. In a situation where natural, synthetic and fake stones exist in the diamond market, the system could protect the financial assets of market participants, said researchers from the National University of Science and Technology in Russia.
The modern diamond industry is undergoing a period of global restructuring, they said. This expansion is explained by scientific achievements that are pushing for an increase in diamond volumes for potential applications, both for jewelery and industry.
Modern synthetic diamonds are almost as good as natural diamonds in terms of quality and chemical composition. With these trends, gemologists often cannot distinguish a good synthetic diamond from a natural one. Taking into account the growth of the market and the multiple possible diamond origins, the guarantee of authenticity is becoming crucial.
A blockchain is a growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked using cryptography. Each block contains a cryptographic hash of the previous block, a time-stamp, and transaction data.
The solution proposed by Russian cryptographs and members of the Russian startup Bitcarat.com is a unique system of traceability of natural diamonds. The system traces the entire history of the transfer of rights of individual stones, starting from the moment it is mined. Moreover, it is absolutely impossible to falsify this history.
"We offered a digital blockchain-based certificate for each natural stone," said Alexey Dimitrienko, one of the startup founders, leading expert of the National University of Science and Technology. "The technology will ensure the reliability of the history and authenticity of the stone through the use of the blockchain as a special mechanism for storing information.
"Also, it will increase the added value of the diamond as a financial asset, as well," Dimitrienko said.
According to the concept, while being mined, each natural diamond will be provided with a special digital code. This code will be entered into a distributed database, that is, a database that is stored by all market participants. Next, the entire history of the transfer of rights to the stone will be blockchain-recorded, becoming 100 per cent traceable. This guarantee will be provided by the very principle of blockchain - it is impossible to falsify this code because of its full transparency. As a chain of information blocks, it records absolutely all transactions that occur within it.
Each attempt to edit the code - or to add an allegedly natural diamond into the blockchain - is permanent and changes the entire chain, which automatically shows any attempt to falsify.
The technology of the digital certificate alongside the idea of a digital diamond exchange and a diamond token has already raised interest among a number of the world's largest diamond manufacturers.
The development team plans to launch a security token offering within one year.

Copyright © 2019 Bennett Coleman & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved.
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    Centre National d'Études Spatiales / 21 février 2019
    L'atmosphère terrestre s'étend au-delà de la Lune
    Франко-российская группа астрономов выяснила, что атмосфера Земли простирается в космос на 400 тысяч километров дальше, чем считалось ранее. Измеритель анизотропии солнечного света SWAN, установленный на космическом аппарате Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), помог установить, что присутствие протяженной экзосферы (геокороны) наблюдается на расстоянии 630 тысяч километров от планеты, далеко за орбитой Луны.

À partir des données recueillies par la mission SOHO, une équipe franco-russe repousse les limites de l'atmosphère à plus de 630 000 km de la Terre. Notre satellite naturel serait donc plongé dans un bain d'hydrogène provenant de notre atmosphère. Jean-Loup Bertaux, chercheur émérite du Laboratoire atmosphère, milieux, observations spatiales (Latmos) et co-auteur de l'étude, fait le point sur cette découverte.
Le ciel est bordé par l'horizon mais quelles sont ses limites en profondeur ? La question taraude les hommes depuis toujours. On a longtemps pensé que les objets célestes tels que la Lune étaient plus lointains que les frontières de l'atmosphère qui nous protège et nous enveloppe de sa couche gazeuse. Avec les moyens à sa disposition en 1911, le climatologue Alfred Wegener avait déjà subdivisé l'atmosphère en sous-couches (troposphère, stratosphère, ...) et subodoré l'existence d'un élément encore inconnu qui occupait la couche la plus externe de l'atmosphère, il l'appela le « geocoronium ». À partir d'observations américaines acquises par fusée-sonde de nuit, l'astrophysicien soviétique Shklovsky détecta en 1959 une émission intense caractéristique de l'hydrogène atomique dans cette couche de haute altitude qu'il baptisa « geocorona ».
Cette géocouronne fut l'objet de l'une des premières missions spatiales du CNES, le satellite D2-A Tournesol (1971), proposé par Jacques Blamont, premier directeur scientifique de l'agence. Il faudra attendre la performance des instruments embarqués à bord de la mission SOHO pour déceler la limite supérieure de cette géocouronne qui se fond dans l'espace au point de s'y confondre. Les données enregistrées par le photomètre SWAN ont permis à l'équipe franco-russe dirigée par Jean-Loup Bertaux de calculer que la géocouronne s'étendait jusqu'à deux fois la distance Terre-Lune. L'étude vient d'être publiée dans la revue Journal of Geophysical Research.
Pour obtenir ce résultat, il fallait s'extraire de l'atmosphère et regarder la Terre de loin. En prenant des clichés de notre planète depuis la Lune, la mission Apollo a rendu la géocouronne partiellement visible en 1972, elle apparaissait sous la forme d'un halo lumineux entourant le globe. Cette luminescence provient essentiellement de l'excitation par le rayonnement solaire des atomes d'hydrogène (par fluorescence). En orbitant autour du point de Lagrange (L1), c'est-à-dire à environ 1,5 million de kilomètres de la Terre, le satellite SOHO (Observatoire Solaire et héliosphérique) a permis de voir la planète et son atmosphère dans son entièreté.
Une affaire de densité
En s'éloignant de la surface terrestre, la densité atmosphérique décroît. Seuls les particules les plus légères, essentiellement des atomes d'hydrogène, parviennent jusque dans la géocouronne où ils se déplacent librement et sans collision, comme des fusées ballistiques. Certains atomes, les plus rapides, échappent définitivement à la gravité de la Terre et forment la partie la plus externe de l'atmosphère. Les atomes qui continuent leur trajectoire se dispersent dans le système solaire. Celui-ci n'est pas "vide", il est constamment alimenté par un flot d'atomes d'hydrogène interstellaire et contient environ 0,01 atome d'hydrogène par centimètre cube. Quant à la géocouronne, elle est constamment alimentée par l'arrivée de nouveaux atomes d'hydrogène provenant de la Terre. Pour identifier la limite de l'atmosphère, il fallait distinguer l'hydrogène originaire de l'atmosphère de celui provenant du milieu interstellaire. Pour cela, l'équipe de Jean-Loup Bertaux s'est appuyée sur une cellule à absorption d'hydrogène capable de différencier les émissions des deux sources. Installée sur l'instrument SWAN, cette cellule a fourni ces mesures il y a plus de vingt ans, aux débuts de la mission SOHO.
Deux débouchés possibles
Ayant fait partie des astrophysiciens qui ont connu la conquête de l'espace, Jean-Loup Bertaux s'émerveille à l'idée qu'en 1972 : "les astronautes à la surface de la Lune ne savaient pas qu'ils baignaient dans l'atmosphère de la Terre !". Cette découverte est aussi un pas de plus vers un affinage des mesures. Elle pourrait servir à corriger les erreurs d'observation du ciel dans l'ultraviolet. En effet, les atomes d'hydrogène émettent un rayonnement ultraviolet qui pourrait parasiter les futures observations astronomiques conduites dans la géocouronne. "Sur la Lune ou dans son voisinage, les télescopes spatiaux étudiant la composition chimique des étoiles et des galaxies devraient tenir compte de ces interférences", estime le chercheur.
Il espère également que sa découverte engendrera d'autres travaux sur les radiations de l'hydrogène comme moyen d'étudier les exoplanètes. La présence d'hydrogène dans la couche extérieure de l'atmosphère indique que la planète considérée contient de la vapeur d'eau. C'est le cas de la Terre, de Mars et de Vénus. Or, la présence de vapeur d'eau est l'indice d'une éventuelle présence d'eau liquide, condition nécessaire pour rendre la planète habitable. Ainsi, les émissions de l'hydrogène atmosphérique que SWAN est capable d'isoler, pourraient servir d'indicateurs pour l'étude de l'atmosphère des exoplanètes. SWAN a encore de beaux jours devant lui.

Copyright © 2018 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
* * *
    New Atlas / February 23rd, 2019
    Single-laser tech prints color graphics on metal
    • Ben Coxworth
    Технология создания цветных изображений на металле с помощью лазера существует не первый год, но до сих пор для разных оптических эффектов было необходимо использовать разные типы лазеров. Ученые из ИТМО разработали метод получения нескольких эффектов с помощью одного лазера.

Although it's already possible to create colored images on metal surfaces using lasers, different types of lasers have to be used for different effects. Now, however, Russian scientists have developed a method of producing multiple effects using one commercially-available laser.
Led by Galina Odintsova, researchers at Saint Petersburg's ITMO University were able to change the "processing parameters" of the laser, allowing them to control how much it heats a metal surface over a wide temperature range. This, in turn, makes it possible to produce color images in three ways. None of the techniques are particularly time-consuming, and all can be used to create large or small images.
First of all, in a process known as laser oxidation, the laser is used to produce a thin oxide film over a wide area of the metal surface. That film subsequently appears as a given color, due to light interference occurring within it.
In the second process, the laser produces subwavelength nanoparticles on the metal. When these particles are hit by ambient light, an optical phenomenon called surface plasmon resonance causes the treated area to take on a certain color - that color is determined by selecting nanoparticles of different shapes or sizes. It is suggested that this process would be particularly well-suited to precious metals such as those used in jewellery, as it requires no pretreatment of the material.
Finally, the third process utilizes the laser to partially melt a surface layer of the metal, creating an array of fine parallel grooves. Known as a periodic grating, this pattern scatters light in such a way that the surface takes on different colors depending on the angle from which it's being viewed. A possible application for this process is anti-counterfeiting tags, that could be printed directly onto metal products.
According to the scientists, the laser oxidation and periodic grating processes are already practical and reliable enough to be used both in large-scale production, and for individual projects. They are continuing to develop the nanoparticle process, in order to make it more stable for everyday use.
A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Optical Materials Express.

Copyright © Gizmag Pty Ltd 2019.
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    Phys.Org / February 25, 2019
    Ancient people in the high-latitude Arctic had well-developed trade
    • Randy Shore
    Стоянка на острове Жохова (Новосибирские острова) возрастом около 9 тыс. лет считается самым ранним свидетельством обитания человека в высоких широтах. Российские геоархеологи (Институт истории материальной культуры РАН, Институт геологии и минералогии СО РАН, Томский госуниверситет, Дальневосточный геологический институт ДВО РАН и др.) обнаружили, что жители стоянки, несмотря на кажущуюся изолированность, имели обширные торговые связи.

Russian scientists have studied the Zhokhov site of an ancient population, which is located in the high-latitude Arctic. They have described in detail the way of life of the ancient people who lived there. Despite the area's sparse population, the ancient people communicated with representatives of other territories and even exchanged goods with them through trade fairs.
The Arctic is the coldest and least hospitable region on Earth. The Arctic is mostly unpopulated by humans, although in some countries, including Russia, the United States and Norway, there are now industrial zones. These zones increase the average population density to 0.35 people / km2 but basically it does not exceed 0.03-0.04 people/km2.
Zhokhov Island, located at 76° N in the New Siberian Islands, 440 kilometers north of the modern coast of the East Siberian Sea, belongs to the High Arctic. Researchers discovered the remains of an ancient people here, the Zhokhov site, considered the earliest evidence for human habitation in the High Arctic. Researchers believe 25 to 50 people permanently resided in the area around 9300 to 8600 years ago. In the remote past, Zhokhov Island was a part of the vast plain formed due to drastic sea level drop during the last glacial maximum. Because of the post-glacial sea-level rise, this plain was flooded and eroded. At present, the Zhokhov site is located in the southwestern part of the modern Zhokhov Island, near the foot of a 120 meter hill, which shields it from the severe northwest wind. This place was very convenient for the ancient people. The hill served as an observation point, and because of the proximity to the coast, they always had a supply of driftwood carried in by the tide.
The scientists conducted excavations in permafrost and have already investigated a significant part of the monument - about 571 square meters. Many tools were found made of stone, bones, horns, tusks and wood. These are hunting weapons, parts of sleds and home utensils. Among the lithic artifacts, there are many microprismatic blades, which were used as side-blades for composite tools that served as spears, darts, arrow points and knives. Most of them were produced of silicious rocks of local origin, while some of them were made of exotic raw materials unusual for this part of the world, including obsidian and volcanic glass. The researchers found 79 such items. The ancient people appreciated this material for its splitting ability and valued its extremely thin and sharp cutting edges. This material has high research value because each deposit of obsidian carries its own unique geochemical signature, which can identify the source of the material. Thus, researchers can learn more about contacts with people from other regions.
There is no obsidian source nearby Zhokhov Island. The closest area with such a source is located near Krasnoye lake in the lower reaches of the Anadyr River in Chukotka, which is some 1,500 km in a straight line, a travel distance of more than 2,000 km. It would seem that the ancient people could not travel such a distance physically. The authors studied the unearthed obsidian objects via X-ray fluorescence, a nondestructive method that reveals the geochemical properties of samples and thus provides a method to locate the source of the material.
"We found that this particular obsidian type was coming to Zhokhov Island from the area of the Krasnoye Lake. This is a super-long distance to travel, and it is hard to imagine that the ancient people could possibly make such trips some 9000 years ago. Most likely, they met other people at intermediate points and exchanged products made of obsidian, or enjoyed primitive trade," said one of the authors of the article, Vladimir Pitulko, RSF project's principal investigator, Ph.D. in history, senior researcher at the Paleolithic Department of the Institute for the History of Material Culture, Russian Science Foundation.
The researchers also analyzed more than 54,000 faunal remains from hunting and reconstructed the yearly economic cycle of the inhabitants of the Zhokhov site. The occupants of the site were classic terrestrial hunters who practiced reindeer hunting. However, in the winter, they hunted polar bears sleeping in lairs. This provided a reliable and stable food supply, because there were quite a lot of the bear dens in this area.
Previously, scientists investigated the bones of medium-sized canids; they indicate the presence of a well-formed dog that lived together with the people of Zhokhov site. In addition, these animals are similar in size and body weight to modern sled dogs. Findings of parts of sleds including runners prove that the inhabitants of these territories had a well-developed transport system. Thanks to that system, the inhabitants of Zhokhov site likely traveled to the nearby territories, which were still part of the mainland at that time, and maintained relations with distant people.
Vladimir Pitulko also noted that sites in the mouths of Kolyma and Indigirka rivers could serve as the intermediate points in that trade. In this case, the distance between the exchange points was about 700 km, which is quite possible to travel in early spring using sled dogs.
Such meetings turned into fairs later on as the inhabitants of the north of Eastern Siberia organized them in the 18th and 19th centuries, but not only for the exchange of goods. The exchange of information was considered to be of much more importance. In any case, the material evidence on Zhokhov Island is presented with a minimum of findings. Probably an important result of such meetings was marriage contacts necessary to secure biological stability of small groups of people who lead an isolated life.
"The results of our research indicate a high level of sociocultural relations that existed among the ancient population of the Arctic in Eastern Siberia 9000 years ago, and about the engagement of people from the Zhokhov site. These people who lived on the edge of the Earth were not isolated. On the contrary, contacts within these societies were much more developed than it used to be thought," concluded Vladimir Pitulko.

© Phys.org 2003-2019, Science X network.
* * *
    Phys.Org / February 26th, 2019
    Scientists: knowledge of Chinese language influences spatial abilities
    • Randy Shore
    На примере российских и китайских студентов ученые из России, Китая и Великобритании выяснили, как происходит формирование пространственных способностей у человека в зависимости от происхождения. Оказалось, что у китайских студентов пространственные способности распадаются на две части - пространственную и вербальную, а у российских являются, скорее, одним процессом. Предположительно, это связано с особенностями китайского языка, в котором написание иероглифов - пространственная задача.

A team at the International Center for Human Development Studies at TSU is studying how spatial abilities are formed. The scientists have found that there are differences between Chinese and Russian students. The results of the study are published in the article "The Factorial Structure of Spatial Abilities in Russian and Chinese Students".
Along with TSU representatives, the authors included the staff of the laboratory Cognitive and Interdisciplinary Research of the educational center Sirius (Sochi) and other scientists from Russia, China, and the UK.
Spatial abilities, in a broad sense, are understood by scientists as some cognitive process that allows a person to operate with visual information or navigate in space. Despite the huge amount of research on this topic, it remains unclear whether this cognitive process is ability or capabilities. Previous studies based on the project The Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) (United Kingdom) have shown that, most likely, spatial abilities are a manifestation of a single cognitive process. However, the structure of spatial abilities in different populations has not yet been studied.
- In research, cultural differences are always interesting - they help to understand why such differences exist and to explore the mechanisms of various cognitive processes. There are still many unexplored populations in this context. This project explored the differences between Chinese and Russian students, especially since we have very good partners in China, - explains Maxim Likhanov, a researcher at the Cognitive and Interdisciplinary Research Laboratory at the Sirius and TSU.
921 students from Russia and 229 students from China participated in the study. Tasks on 2-D and 3-D visualization, mental rotation of objects, spatial modeling, spatial connections of objects, orientation in space, and speed and flexibility in solving spatial problems were used.
The study showed that the structure of spatial abilities varied among participants from Russia and China. For Russian students, the results repeated previous studies: spatial abilities were most likely one process. However, data from the Chinese sample showed that spatial abilities divided into two parts: spatial and verbal.
- We think it is connected with verbal abilities, due to the special aspects of the Chinese language, - says Maxim Likhanov. - After all, writing a hieroglyph is a spatial task. You can collect it from dashes, you can make it from several hieroglyphs. The verbal factor here manifested itself in the task of determining the shape of a section and on mechanical thinking.
So, in the cross sectional task, students were given a drawing of a 3-D object, which was cut in one place. They needed to determine the shape of this section, transferred to a plane, and to some extent assemble complex details from simple ones. When performing another task on mechanical thinking, the participant had to present a system of gears, one of which is spinning in a given direction, and understand in which direction the second and third will rotate.
- This task about the gear system required reading the instructions, and the success of its implementation, in our opinion, was very much connected with verbal abilities, - adds Maxim Likhanov. - It is necessary to note that Chinese students showed better results in these two tasks and in the task of properly assembling a figure from parts according to the instructions. And Russian students showed the best results in spatial planning and tasks to determine prospects.
These differences are discussed in the context of cross-cultural features in educational programs in China and Russia, however, they require further large-scale studies using data on the level of intelligence, verbal abilities, and academic success of participants from different countries.

© Phys.org 2003-2019, Science X network.
* * *
    The Atlantic / Feb 28, 2019
    The NASA Decision Russia Didn't Like
    The International Space Station partners had differing opinions about a pivotal U.S. launch.
    • Marina Koren
    Россия и США, партнеры по МКС, разошлись во мнениях по поводу пробного запуска нового американского многоразового грузового корабля Crew Dragon компании SpaceX, который должен состояться в субботу 2 марта. Разногласия возникли из-за того, что Crew Dragon не имеет резервного программного обеспечения, которое может взять на себя управление в случае отказа главного компьютера. Если при стыковке что-то пойдет не так, под угрозой окажется как сам корабль, так и МКС. Однако если все пройдет хорошо, Crew Dragon станет первым коммерческим космическим кораблем, способным доставлять космонавтов на МКС.

Up on the International Space Station, the United States controls one half, and Russia controls the other half. Like the U.S., Russia has one of its astronauts on board right now, and as a rule, 250 miles above Earth, collaboration is synonymous with consensus. But recently, as the U.S. prepared to launch a new and somewhat risky mission, Russia hesitated before deciding whether it would endorse the project.
The cargo mission is expected to leave Earth this weekend. A rocket will lift off from historic Cape Canaveral, in Florida, and propel a capsule loaded with supplies toward the ISS. After the capsule arrives, astronauts on board the station will unpack the shipment, replace it with items to return home, and seal the capsule back up. Once the capsule detaches, it will fall into the planet's atmosphere and splash into the Atlantic Ocean.
The mission, scheduled to launch in the very early hours of Saturday morning, is a decisive moment for the American space program. If the voyage goes well, the next time the capsule launches to space, it will carry more precious cargo: people.
In 2014, the agency awarded two companies, SpaceX and Boeing, multibillion-dollar contracts to build the next generation of astronaut transportation. The United States has relied on Russia to launch its astronauts to space since its space shuttles stopped flying in 2011, after three decades of operations. As the shuttles began new lives as museum displays, NASA turned to the private sector for help. Now the first test run of this new era has arrived.
"We're ready to fly," Kathy Lueders, the NASA manager of the program, said at a press conference last week.
Russia, on the other hand, wasn't so sure.
The United States and Russia work together on the ISS, along with 13 other countries. They share information on station operations, including the particulars of the SpaceX mission. Last week, NASA officials said that, while they had cleared SpaceX for launch, their counterparts at Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, had a "dissenting opinion."
The disagreement centered on the SpaceX capsule's approach to the ISS. Spacecraft that connect with the station are equipped with flight software that can prevent dangerous accidents. uropean, Japanese, and other spacecraft that previously have rendezvoused with the ISS carry independent systems designed to kick in if their primary computers fail. The backups would take over and maneuver the spacecraft away from the ISS to avoid a collision.
The SpaceX capsule, known as Crew Dragon, doesn't have this configuration. Instead, it relies on redundant systems in its main computer system.
NASA officials said this configuration is sufficient, while Russian officials weren't sold. The apprehension is understandable. A bungled approach could put the capsule, the ISS, or both at risk. "The ISS still has three people on board, and so this vehicle coming up to the ISS for the first time has to work," Kirk Shireman, the manager of the International Space Station program, said last week. "It has to work. This time up here and the people who worked around the country to make this successful are very much aware of that."
Russia took a few days to consider NASA's reasoning. On Wednesday, just days before blastoff, Roscosmos formally agreed to proceed with the launch and docking, Shireman tells The Atlantic.
The docking maneuver is new for SpaceX. The company regularly delivers cargo to the ISS on another spacecraft, Dragon 1. As the capsule approaches, a powerful robotic arm on the station reaches out and grabs it. Success is not guaranteed. In 2017, an approaching Dragon detected an error and automatically aborted the attempt just three-quarters of a mile away from the ISS. The capsule docked successfully in a second attempt the following day.
Unlike its counterpart, Crew Dragon will greet the station by locking up to a brand-new adapter - a metallic ring more than five feet across - that SpaceX itself actually delivered in 2016. (Boeing's uncrewed capsule, Starliner, is expected to complete the same mission in April.) If Crew Dragon sticks the docking, it will become the first commercially built spacecraft designed to carry humans to join with the ISS.
Bill Gerstenmaier, the associate administrator for NASA's human-exploration division, said Roscosmos broached the subject in December, but admitted he "wasn't diligent enough to stay in touch with them" over the 35-day government shutdown that kept 95 percent of NASA's workforce from their jobs. As the historic launch approached, Gerstenmaier renewed discussions.
"One of the actions that I assigned the team was to go look a little more rigorously at some of the fault detection, identification, and responses to various failures … to make sure the computers do all the right things, that we don't get in a situation where the vehicle goes dead or dormant and then just continues its approach and just collides with station," he said.
Even before they received Russia's blessing, NASA officials seemed confident the opposition wouldn't hold up the launch. But whether the U.S. agency would have moved ahead if Roscosmos decided to push back is unclear. The nations have shared their high-flying home for nearly 20 years. American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts share meals and tedious housekeeping duties like vacuuming. When the SpaceX capsule arrives at the station this weekend, they will work together to greet it.
But the partnership has not been free of tension, thanks to political matters back on Earth. Even now, the relationship between the leaders of the space agencies isn't perfect. Last fall, Jim Bridenstine, the NASA administrator, visited Russia at the invitation of Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos. Bridenstine tried to reciprocate in January, but he withdrew his offer after some members of Congress argued that Rogozin, a Putin ally who is under sanctions by the U.S. government, shouldn't set foot on U.S soil. Rogozin was reportedly displeased with the reversal.
There's even been some awkwardness between Rogozin and Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX. Last week, Rogozin told Russian media that he doesn't believe SpaceX can build better rocket engines than Russia can. "Musk is not a technical expert in this matter," Rogozin said. "He just doesn't understand what this is about." Musk responded on Twitter: "I have been chief engineer/designer at SpaceX from day 1."
Despite some stormy exchanges, the weather forecast in Cape Canaveral looks good for a launch on Saturday so far.

TheAtlantic.com Copyright (c) 2019 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All Rights Reserved.
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