“Nature”: war will set back Russian science 10 or 20 years
Photo: Maxim Shemetov / / forum

International scientific institutions cut off cooperation with Russian scientists. Nature writes that this will set Russian science back 10 or 20 years. But important European research projects will also suffer.

The reaction of international scientific institutions to the invasion of Ukraine is to isolate Russia from international research. Many people have already left this country in search of better prospects. European and American organizations cut ties with Russian science, including canceling joint projects.

“People were so disgusted with Russia’s actions that the usual slogans of international science and researchers working together under all circumstances stopped working,” said Lauren Graham, an American historian of science in Russia and a retired professor at MIT. Technology in Cambridge, which has been in contact with Russian scientists. “The morale of Russian intellectuals is very low,” he adds.

Many Russian scholars signed letters condemning the war, although official bodies such as the Union of Russian Rectors (representing hundreds of Russian university advisors) supported the invasion.

“A scientist who left Europe six years ago to build a laboratory in Saint Petersburg said that vital supplies of reagents and equipment have been cut off, cooperation with his Western colleagues is close, and most of his young scientists are looking forward to leaving.” I try to help them with that. It’s disastrous. “Everyone is shocked,” said the scientist Nature, who asked not to be named due to concerns about political repression.

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A Russian scientific foundation suggested in April that scientists look for “new financial partnerships” with countries – including China, India and South Africa – that have not publicly cut their research ties with the country. Lauren Graham believes such a shift is possible, but Russian researchers still hope to restore ties with colleagues in the United States and Europe.

Since 2011, the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom have been at the forefront of international cooperation with Russian scientific institutions. It is worth noting that Russia’s cooperation with China in the field of science has intensified over the past ten years. Italy was also more willing to cooperate with Russia.

Some scientists expect the isolation of Russian scientists to continue for some time, setting back science in their country by 10 or 20 years and causing a massive brain drain for young Russian scientists.

“I don’t see an option to resume working with this country – especially with the institutions that supported the war,” says Robert Wiedenhansel, a physicist at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen.

Russia is on the fringes of most international science networks, which has made it easier for Western countries to sever cooperation, but at the same time Russia still plays an important role in some global research. Cutting off cooperation in Europe in connection with large-scale research projects in the field of physics will have a detrimental effect for many years.

Physics has always been at the center of science diplomacy, and Russia has made history as a physical power. Even the Cold War did not cut the scientific relations between East and West. It happened only now – after the invasion of Ukraine.

For example, CERN – a European particle physics research laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland – has suspended all new contracts with affiliated Russian scientists. Projects in which Russia and Belarus had a role, which were supposed to officially end only in 2024, were also suspended.

These movements may disrupt planned upgrades – for example in connection with the ATLAS Experience.

“The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) is looking for new suppliers and financing to cover 3 per cent. Atlas spokesman Andreas Höcker revealed the cost of the materials to be provided by the Russian enterprises.” The exception is ITER, an international merger project based in the south of France – its management structure means there is no way to overthrow Russia, even if the international members wanted to.

The collapse of scientific cooperation with Russia has financially damaged some organizations, such as XFEL (the $1.4 billion European Free Electron X-ray Laser). Russia usually pays 26 percent. Operating costs, but did not pay the last installment. Closing this gap will be a major challenge, said Wiedenhansel, CEO of XFEL.

The Proton and Ion Research Department (FAIR), which is building a €3.1 billion collider in Darmstadt, is also likely to face delays and additional costs as a result of cutting cooperation with Russia. There is a perception among scientists that European laboratories will lose Russian expertise, particularly in accelerator technology and related fields.

In the case of space projects, the €1.3 billion ExoMars project was hit hard. Later this year, a Russian rocket and landing gear were to be used to deliver the first European rover to the surface of Mars. Despite this, the European Space Agency (ESA) ended its cooperation with Russia. The ExoMars project will likely be delayed until at least 2026 (and more realistically until 2028).

The European Space Agency is considering designing its own landing gear, possibly with help from NASA, but the future of the mission (which has been delayed twice) depends on ESA member states paying enough to cover the costs of redesigning the rover and keeping it ready for launch.

The International Space Station (ISS), which relies heavily on international cooperation, has found itself in a difficult situation. According to the project, created in the 90s as a result of cooperation between the United States and Russia – the part of the ISS built by NASA provides electricity to the part of the station built by the Russians, and the part built by the Russians provides the main ability to periodically increase the orbit to the ISS and does not burn out in the atmosphere.

Dmitry Rogozin, who some time ago threatened to withdraw Russia from the ISS agreement, lost the post of head of the Russian Space Agency. During his tenure, the agency published a photo of astronauts on the International Space Station holding the flags of Luhansk and Donetsk, two regions occupied by Russia in Ukraine. Nevertheless, cosmonauts and cosmonauts continue to travel to and from the International Space Station – including in Russian transport vehicles, and research is conducted aboard stations the size of a football field.

One of the most famous areas of cooperation between scientists in Russia and abroad is research in the Arctic, especially in the field of climate change. The Arctic is warming at least three times faster than the global average, and nearly half of the Arctic around the polar region belongs to Russia.

The Arctic Council, the main forum for geopolitical cooperation in the Arctic and currently chaired by Russia, suspended its work in early March. Seven of the eight members agreed to resume work in June without Russia.

Many researchers in the Arctic (especially in Europe) have had to suspend cooperation with scientists from Russia due to restrictions imposed by their agencies or funding institutions. A number of field trials—including attempts to monitor permafrost thawing—turned off in North America or the European Arctic, and discontinued in the Russian Arctic.

Some work can be done remotely, but not all. Scientists outside Russia can use Earth observation satellites to monitor many aspects of global change – such as the wildfires in Siberia. But ground-based measurements are often needed to confirm the accuracy of what satellites are seeing — and that data, usually collected by scientists in Russia, may not be available to scientists outside Russia anytime soon.

“To study the Arctic climate, we need data from all over the Arctic,” says Kim Holmen, a climate scientist at the Norwegian Polar Institute in Tromsø. “If we cannot freely share data and measurements, the quality of our research will deteriorate.”

The authors of the article in Nature point to the scientific areas that “helped” the war in Ukraine to focus attention around the world.

The crisis could refocus on scientific fields that have been overlooked. Research into the effective use of fertilizers and alternatives to inorganic fertilizers is becoming popular. In June, US President Joe Biden announced a “Global Fertilizer Challenge” to raise funds for the field. The invasion of Ukraine may get food security research the attention it has long deserved.

John Agar, a science historian at University College London, points out that wars often change priorities in science. For example, World War I led to long-running divisions that reorganized European science around two camps—with British and French researchers in one and German and Austrian researchers in the other.

According to the historian, international cooperation in science tends to follow geopolitical settings. Thus, the long-standing diplomatic split between the West and Russia may be reflected in scientific research – as Russia moves toward greater cooperation with China and India.

The authors argue that this view is speculative, in part because it is unclear whether China could benefit much from such a situation. In a July strategic document on the geopolitics of global science, researchers from the Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, concluded that China’s leaders would benefit more from maximizing global research cooperation than the risk of destroying Western partnerships by switching to bilateral research cooperation with Russia, a country With a “weak international scientific” position.

Kieron Flanagan, a science policy researcher at the University of Manchester in the UK, says a boycott of all things Russian is causing tensions in the world’s sciences. Many countries – including the United Kingdom and the United States – have tightened export controls on key technologies and provided stricter guidelines for international cooperation with certain countries such as China.

According to the expert, a “more geographical and punitive world” is likely to slow cross-border cooperation, and science itself will regroup to adapt to new realities.

More information in the source article: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-01960-0

Author: Urszula Kaczorowska


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