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Samir Shakhbaz interviews Anatoly Alexandrov, Rector of the Bauman Moscow State Technical University.
Samir Shakhbaz: Good afternoon, Mr. Alexandrov. Much has been said and written about the Skolkovo hi-tech hub lately. Everything looks fine in theory. What real steps are currently being taken?
Anatoly Alexandrov: It’s most important that, in addition to the signing of the required documents, the Skolkovo Innograd, the Center for the Research and Commercializing of New Technologies, has itself been established. A managing company and consultative council have also been established and have already got down to business. They have launched on-site design and engineering works. However, the hub’s most important function is the scientists’ development of new technologies, the appearance of new concepts and approaches. First of all, we are trying to fulfill our orders together with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In effect, we are moving to establish a new technical university built on entirely new principles: it will train first-rate engineers; they will all have Masters degrees or be postgraduate students. We have already launched this activity. Representatives of the University of Massachusetts have already visited Russia, and we have familiarized them with our vision of establishing a university like this. It will utilize entirely new training concepts. For instance, students will be able to attend mathematics and thermodynamics lectures in St. Petersburg and Novosibirsk, respectively. All this is being created in order to help young scientists accumulate the required knowledge and focus their experience on research. Right from the start, each student will be involved in highly specialized lab work in the particular field he or she chooses. As of this year, our university is teaching 30 M.A. degree holders in line with the Skolkovo Center training concept. We will continue to try to improve our training methods and opportunities. Such initial experience will show what is being done right and what isn’t.
S.S.: Aren’t you afraid that these young specialists will run off to Silicon Valley?
A.A.: I don’t think we need to be concerned about that. If the West were not interested in Russia, then our foreign ties wouldn’t be expanding like this. The West is interested in our markets and our available technology. As for our research process, we have developed an excellent way of working, and we have accumulated positive scientific results. We are unable to commercialize the results of such intellectual activity and that is indeed something we still have to learn to do. The creation of a special scientific-educational business environment to nurture a new generation of young people is one of the Skolkovo project’s main goals. I don’t think our brightest and best will relocate to Silicon Valley. There are a lot of smart young people in this country. It is worth recalling the “brain drain” of the mid-1990s, when many Russian scientists emigrated to the West. Now, when they have become famous and popular professors at scientific centers, they are willing to come here on long-term joint research projects, to take part in the academic process and publish scientific papers and textbooks here. So it’s a win-win situation.
S.S.: Looking at Skolkovo in general and your university in particular, what are the main difficulties, and how do you plan to deal with them?
A.A.: The main difficulty is that Skolkovo attracts the gaze and interests of such a variety of people and organizations. Young people who are extremely interested in the whole project and numerous Western companies keen on taking part in it are all offering their services. Russian companies would also like to acquire resident status in this megaproject. However, it is not always possible and feasible to reconcile the desires of all these parties to what is clearly in the interests of Skolkovo and all who are involved in it. Skolkovo is like an incubator; it is a development center for young people and a research center. Instead of merely conducting research, the center should send every single R&D project and industrial prototype on a trajectory to find widespread application.
S.S.: Whether speaking of Silicon Valley or Skolkovo, everyone expects their research to deliver miraculous results. What ambitious projects has your university developed, and which of them do you plan to implement?
A.A.: We are proud of numerous projects. Our university specializes in rocket science and space travel, has achieved some major successes, and is continuing its work in this area. Not long ago our university participated in competitive bidding on a par with industrial enterprises. We are implementing 15 extremely serious projects together with such enterprises as the Rocket and Space Corporation Energia and the Almaz-Antey Air Defense Concern. We offer risk-management options for oil and gas transport routes, where multi-billion ruble losses may be incurred due to incorrect approaches being taken. These projects have been approved and will receive an impressive 600 million rubles ($19.6 million) in the next three years. This will make it possible to introduce a system for monitoring risk management on national oil and gas transport routes and to save tremendous sums in federal allocations. We also won a contract to develop new-generation pumping equipment for transport networks, and we plan to develop this equipment over the next three years. As far as Skolkovo is concerned, our first project focuses on pure-gas production, and we are ready to implement it.
S.S.: What is pure gas?
A.A.: Extremely rare inert gases. Silicon is obtained from what is virtually pure gas that lacks any admixtures. Only part of it can be extracted for use in nanotechnology and various microcircuits. It is impossible to develop state-of-the-art technology and nanotechnology without pure gases. From 2011, we will launch pure-gas production and will deliver pure and rare gases to the Russian market (for Skolkovo) and to the international market.
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