Russian researchers and scientists are capable of creating breakthrough technologies. The question is whether businesses are ready to embrace them
This September, a new academic year has begun and, with the start of the new school year, traditional discussions on the role of education and universities in Russia have once again resumed.
It has been talked a lot whether higher education institutions should be involved in training and educating students or they should instead take it to a higher level and turn into the center of gravity, the one which shapes scientific and cultural environment. The vast majority of developed countries has decided on the matter a long time ago. For example, in Germany, where a little less than 100 billion euros per year are allocated to scientific research activities and two thirds of this amount are provided by the industry and enterprises, scientific researchers mainly work at the universities. At the same time, several independent research organisations exist and dozens of institutes are members of those organisations.
This system has deep historical roots. For example, the world's oldest mining institution - Freiberg University of Mining and Technology - was founded in 1765 in Saxony. The initial purpose was to improve the efficiency of silver (as well as some other metals) extraction from the deposits located at the Ore Mountains. Nonetheless, even now, when the only functioning mine serves a purpose of educating students, the University still remains a major scientific center. For instance, research in the field of high alloys is carried out here, in the Freiberg Mining Academy. The results of university-based research are introduced into production and, thanks to them, auto groups as BMW or Land Rover replace some of the components of vehicle bodies with the lightweight versions, which are however more robust, rigid and resistant to corrosion.
At the Technical University of Munich (TUM), which turned 150 last year, scientists are taking part in a wide range of studies. For example, the Institute for Cognitive Systems, created on the base of TUM, deals with research at the intersection of neuroscience and robotics. One of their goals is to provide paraplegic people with an opportunity to walk with the help of an exoskeleton.
As a matter of fact, TUM has introduced a number of breakthrough technologies and made numerous discoveries throughout its history. In 1958, post-graduate student Rudolf Mössbauer, while writing his PhD dissertation, discovered a physical phenomenon - later called nuclear gamma resonance or Mössbauer effect. It involves the resonant and recoil-free emission and absorption of gamma radiation by atomic nuclei bound in a solid. Three years later, Mössbauer was awarded with the Nobel prize for this discovery, and innovative solutions developed with the use of gamma resonance are still in use today.
What about Russia though? Russian scientists are also working on creating innovations. However, unlike their foreign colleagues, they are facing a lot more difficulties in attempts to introduce their findings into production.
As Vladimir Bazhin, Vice Rector for Science and Innovation, St. Petersburg Mining University, explains, ”In Germany, the US, the UK, as well as in other developed countries, large-scale companies are strongly tied to the universities. The State governs these relations and provides financing, together with manufacturers. In Russia, this connection is broken or does not exist at all. For this reason, commercial development of innovative solutions in our country is seriously harmed.”
Scientists of the Mining University are conducting applied research in various fields. They are working at increasing oil recovery rate and improving the efficiency of transportation of hydrocarbons at the harsh conditions of the Arctic region. They are developing new technologies that simplify processing and exploration works, including those ones done at the Arctic shelf areas. Mining University specialists are also designing various solutions that affect key performance indicators of mining and mineral companies.
According to Vladimir Litvinenko, Rector of the Mining University, ”Universities are the centres that shape scientific environment, regardless of the country. Let us take America as an example - the highest Nobel prize winning country. Most of the Nobel laureates living there are working at the universities. It does not, however, mean that they are reading lectures there or participating in the educational process by any other means. Not in any way. They are working in the laboratories. They are creating new knowledge there, which is a basis for the development of economies of the world’s leading States.”
The United Nations holds a similar opinion, which is hardly a surprise, as the International Center of Competence in Mining Education under the auspices of UNESCO was established at the premises of the Mining University. The newly opened center aims to bring together world’s leading universities and corporations in order to make mineral resources sector more efficient on a global scale.
Ratification of the Center and first meeting of the Board of Governors took place a short while ago. Despite that, Belarusian National Technical University and Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology have already signed an agreement on cooperation with the Competence Center, as the governments of respective countries approved this decision. In his speech, Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, also noted the importance of scientific cooperation with Finland.
As noted by the President of Russian Federation,”Cooperation between Russia and Finland is advancing to a new level, both in the areas of science and education. In accordance with the agreement between St. Petersburg Mining University and LUT Univeristy, Russian and Finnish scientists and researchers will work together on developing innovations in the field of extraction, processing and transportation of natural resources.”
Nikolai Tskhadaya, President of Ukhta State Technical University (USTU), shares Vladimir Litvinenko’s opinion. He also believes that higher educational institutions should focus on developing scientific and cultural environment.
According to the words of the President of USTU, ”As long as we are talking about mining education, Russia is obviously a leader. The fact that International Center of Competence in Mining Education was established here, at the Mining University, only confirms my words. Russia is becoming a global innovative hub and our country will be the one of those who influences decisions and develops competency standards in mining in the XXI century.”