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Russian science hopes for better times to come

File Photo of Artist's Conception of Formation of Superheavy Element
file photo
Shabby exteriors don't mean there's nothing happening inside Russian scientific research institutes, and some believe that good times for the Russian researchers are on the way.

Despite stray pieces of plaster falling on scientists' heads, changes for the better have become noticeable already.

"There is a sort of renaissance that started in 2002-2003, and it appears in both ­ the funding and the quality of our research," Valery Shvetsov, deputy director of the Frank Laboratory of Neutron Physics in Dubna, told the Moscow News.

Soviet-era struggles

The widely held idea that Russia's scientific decline was directly due to the collapse of the Soviet Union doesn't quite reflect the reality.

Instead the rot set in earlier as the excitement of the Space Race dwindled into the monotony of the Brezhnev era.

"Earlier it wasn't great either ­ [the decline] started in the Stagnation period," Shvetsov said. "We managed to keep up with the number of published papers then, and the 90s were a huge failure as many scientists just left the country."

Russia's collider

Shvetsov's laboratory is a part of the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, a "naukograd" (town of science) in the north of the Moscow region and one of Russia's largest centers for nuclear research.

And further plans are to make it home for NICA, Russia's collider, a smaller brother of the famous Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. That was enough to attract Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to Dubna earlier this week (pictured above).

NICA, however, is in no way going to be a rival to that collider ­ it should complement it and will be used in the different research area.

"Strategically, projects of this kind are badly needed in Russia, but of course it's a matter of choice what projects get support," Shvetsov said adding that other international research facilities are taken into account to ensure resources are not duplicated.

Construction of NICA began in 2004, and the 234-meter long collider is to become functional in 2017, according to official plans.

Although based in Russia, it is an international effort with 32 countries represented by the 700-strong team of scientists developing the project.

Fundamental values

Providing scientists with the opportunity to study super-dense nuclear material is going to be quite pricey ­ the estimated costs of NICA taken by Russia vary from $300 million to $1 billion.

But sponsoring research of "the early Universe and the processes inside stars", as Vladimir Kekelidze, head of the project laboratory, explained to journalists, is not a waste.

"Fundamental science is the basis for progress in science and technology," Shvetsov said. "New technologies would be impossible without it."

And Shvetsov agreed that even the most academic of processes ultimately show real-life applications.

Detectors originally developed to track down neutrons have since been adapted to check for drugs and explosives, he explained.

"It's not possible now to avoid doing things that have to do with applied sciences," Shvetsov said whose laboratory produces various components for scientists.

"It's not a mass-production, but we've got five or 10 successful projects on the market," he said.

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