Chemical & Engineering News
December 22, 1997
Copyright © 1997 by the American Chemical Society


Thwarted by low salaries, lack of materials and modern equipment, scientific research struggles to survive

C&EN London

"We can only use our equipment 50% of the time," says Vera V. Miassoedova, chemistry professor at the Institute of Chemical Physics in Moscow. The rest of the time the equipment is switched off. The institute can only afford to meet half of the electricity costs, she explains.

"The institute does not have money for new equipment," she continues. "It is a very difficult situation at the moment."

Miassoedova's institute is one of more than 400 institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences that carry out-or attempt to carry out-fundamental research in science in the Russian Federation.

Russian Academy of

Statue of Mendeleyev

Russian Academy of Sciences of Moscow (above); Statue of Mendeleyev (right) in front of chemistry department at M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University.

Miassoedova is chief research fellow at the institute. She has Ph.D. and D.Sc. degrees. At one time, she had seven Ph.D. students working with her, but now she has none. Her salary, as professor of chemistry, is about $100 per month, she tells C&EN.

Her plight is typical. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the end of the centralized, state-dominated Soviet economic system, the scientific community in Russia has been left scrapping for morsels from a free-market economy riddled with corruption.

The struggle to find adequate funds to carry out research, scarcity of materials, aging equipment, lack of foreign scientific journals, low popular esteem, and pitiful salary levels have combined to have a debilitating effect on Russian science. There is little or no incentive for even the most gifted and enthusiastic scientists to pursue a career in basic scientific research in Russia.

Yet there is abundant evidence of wealth in the country. In Moscow, for example, the Western visitor cannot fail to notice a fair percentage of top-of-the-line Mercedes, BMWs, Porsches, and other expensive European cars among the ubiquitous Ladas, Volgas, and other Russian cars that clog the streets and terrify pedestrians in the city center.

Shop windows display gold jewelry, French perfumes, and the latest fashions. Advertisements tempt Muscovites to spend what little money they have on Pepsis and Marlboro cigarettes. And business is booming in Moscow for McDonald's, Burger King, and other Western fast-food chains.

Many scientists in the federation, however, cannot afford to run cars or buy Western goods. They think twice before eating out, even in a Russian restaurant. A science graduate employed at the Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, for example, does not earn enough to buy a modest lunch each day in the cafeteria at the academy's headquarters in Moscow.

A leading researcher in one of the academy's institutes would need to sacrifice around two day's basic salary to buy a glass of wine at the Hotel National, overlooking Red Square and the Kremlin, where many Western businesspeople stay when in Moscow. Breakfast at the hotel would cost the researcher one week's salary. The 18-mile taxi ride from the hotel to Sheremetevo-2, Moscow's main international airport, which on a good day takes 40 minutes, would require three weeks' basic salary.

St. Basil's Church

St. Basil's church in Red Square.

In May 1995, Vladimir Zakharov, director of the Landau Institute for Theoretical Physics, Moscow, and Vladimir Fortov, now Russia's science minister, wrote: "Only 17% of scientists and scholars are receiving a salary greater than the one officially designated as minimally adequate for survival, whereas the average salary of scientists ranks a solid 10th out of the 11 major categories of employment in Russia" [Science, 268, 693 (1995)].

More than two years later, the situation appears no better. "Moscow is one of the most expensive cities in the world," Oleg M. Nefedov, vice president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, tells C&EN. "But the average salary of a senior scientist at the academy is between $100 and $150 a month. It is impossible to survive on this."

Nikolai A. Platé, secretary general for science of the academy, agrees. "A senior research fellow working in a laboratory leads a very poor life," he says." Yet Russia is a country with enormous natural resources and human potential."

According to Esfir G. Baskir, research scientist at the academy's N. D. Zelinsky Institute of Organic Chemistry in Moscow, the basic cost of living in Moscow, including rent of a two-room apartment, food, and heating, is around $200 a month. Like many other scientists, she is able to boost her salary with income from grants awarded by national and international research funding organizations such as the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (RFBR) and the International Association for the Promotion of Cooperation with Scientists from the New Independent States of the Former Soviet Union (INTAS), based in Brussels, Belgium.

Her total monthly income, made up from her basic academy salary and income from RFBR and INTAS grants, is around $400, she explains. Baskir also has another job, helping to correct manuscripts for the Russian Chemical Bulletin. "I would prefer to devote all my time to just doing research," she says." But I take on another job because I need more money."

Taking on second jobs-such as proofreading, part-time teaching, private tutoring, and translating-is commonplace in the Russian scientific community. For example, Natalia P. Tarasova, chemistry professor at the D. I. Mendeleyev University of Chemical Technology of Russia, in Moscow, has another teaching job. "I also teach at an independent private university where I earn much more than I do at the Mendeleyev University," she says.

Some scientists take on work that is totally unrelated to their professional activities. One example is Boris Kerbikov, research scientist at the Institute of Theoretical & Experimental Physics, Moscow, who supplements his income by driving his car as a taxi whenever he can.

D.I. Mendeleyev University of
Chemical Technology of Russia

D.I. Mendeleyev University of Chemical Technology of Russia in Moscow.

Government support falters
Earning enough to make ends meet and hopefully achieve a decent standard of living is just one of the problems confronting scientists in Russia. They also struggle to secure funding to maintain and upgrade equipment and to buy the basic necessities such as materials and journals required for scientific research.

"The support we receive for fundamental research is eight to 10 times less than it was in the Soviet era," says Platé, who is also director of the academy's Institute of Petrochemical Synthesis in Moscow. "The funding the institute receives from the academy is only enough to pay salaries at a miserable level. It is not enough for maintenance, instrumentation, chemicals, travel, and so on."

The institute employs around 650 staff members, about 60% of whom are researchers. It more than doubles the income it receives from the academy by successfully competing for grants from national scientific and technical programs, RFBR, and international organizations such as INTAS. More than half of the institute's annual budget of about $1.7 million is obtained on a competitive basis. Platé also has signed contracts with Western oil and chemical companies that enable the institute to buy new equipment, pay researchers up to four times what they earn from the academy, and send them abroad for training on new instruments.

The picture at M. V. Lomonosov Moscow State University, one of the largest and most prestigious universities in the Russian Federation, is much the same. State funding is only enough to pay staff salaries and graduate student stipends." That's all we've had in recent years," explains Yuri A. Ustynyuk, chemistry professor at the university and president of the country's Association for the Advancement of Chemical Education. "We have no official government money to maintain the buildings, pay for electricity and water, buy new equipment, and support the libraries."

The university, like other organizations in the country, has to be resourceful to continue functioning. Its chemistry department, for example, has managed to obtain chemical reagents and second-hand equipment, including computers, through direct contacts in the West.

"Following reunification of Germany in 1990, one of our former students in the new Germany helped us to obtain 11 rail-wagons each containing about 40 tons of East German chemical reagents," says Valery V. Lunin, dean of the chemistry faculty. The reagents could no longer be used in Germany because the regulations were different in the reunified Germany, he explains. "They could not be thrown into the sea, so they were sent to us," he says. "We are still using this stock of reagents in the chemistry department and in other departments such as the department of biology to support chemistry training."

Similar stories can be told elsewhere. For instance, in 1994 and 1995, the Zelinsky Institute received four shipments of chemicals donated by the U.S. chemical company Fisher Scientific. The shipments were made following collaboration of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the American Chemical Society. Funds to cover three of the four shipments were provided by the International Science Foundation in Washington, D.C. Costs of the fourth and final shipment were covered by Fisher.

And throughout the Russian Federation, from St. Petersburg in the northwest, to Moscow, to the 30 or so institutes in Akademgorodok located near Novosibirsk in Siberia, to Vladivostok in the Far East region, there is inadequate government funding to support basic scientific research.

"I have just come back from a symposium at the University of Vladivostok," says Lunin. "In two years' time they will not be doing any chemistry there. They will only have chalk but nothing else: no equipment, no reagents, and no books."

The situation is even bleak in Russia's 63 state research centers. In 1993, the Ministry of Science & Technology selected these centers from several thousand R&D organizations to carry out research in priority fields such as electronics, aviation, and chemistry and new materials, according to Boris G. Saltykov, who was minister of science and technology policy until August 1996 [Science, 388, 16 (1997)].

From 1993 to 1995, between 34 and 54% of the ministry's science budget was used to finance state research center projects, notes Saltykov. During the same period, more than 1,000 R&D organizations that had previously been government funded were privatized.

One of the state research centers is NIOPIK (the Scientific Research Institute of Organic Intermediates & Dyes) in Moscow. Founded in 1915, it is among the oldest scientific institutions in the country. The center carries out work ranging from fundamental research on fine chemicals, dyes and pigments, pharmaceuticals, and liquid crystals to pilot production and the design and introduction of industrial-scale production in chemical plants.

"Government funding of our center is only 10% of our needs," says the center's director general, Gueorgui N. Vorojtsov." This is just enough to pay for salaries." He explains that since 1991, the number of staff at the center has been cut from around 2,000 to 1,200.

Senior scientist
Nina Teplyakova

Senior scientist Nina Teplyakova in a physical chemistry laboratory at the Scientific Research Institute of Organic Intermediates & Dyes in Moscow.

Vorojtsov points out that in the Soviet era, research and development at the center was carried out at the request of industry not only in the Russian Federation, but also in other republics of the Soviet Union. During the Soviet period, NIOPIK, like other R&D institutes, formed part of the command-and-control economic system. Each institute belonged to a ministry, agency, or academy, and much of the research work was military-oriented. During the Soviet era, about 75% of scientific research, including basic research, was funded by the defense ministry.

"Most of the applied industry institutes are dead now," laments Michael V. Gorelik, chemistry professor and laboratory head at NIOPIK. "In the Soviet period, we worked as an industry institute for applied aims, but we have lost our links with industry."

The institute now has to raise 90% of its budget from other sources. About 80% of the budget comes from national and international grants, and only 10% from contracts with industry.

The institute is also now in the business of selling the materials it produces in its small-scale plants. But it is not easy.

"I worked on special applications of dyes, including military applications," says Eugene A. Lukyanets, chief chemist and head of a laboratory at NIOPIK." Now there is no demand; the customers for these programs have disappeared."

Russia's struggling economy
Since 1991, industry in Russia has declined and stagnated. "Compared with countries in the West, such as the U.K., industry in Russia provides relatively little money for both fundamental and applied research and development," says Boris Rudny, counselor for science and technology at the London Embassy of the Russian Federation.

The Economist magazine pointed out recently that Russia's economic problems include a near-total lack of capital investment and a high level of capital flight caused by a punitive and unwieldy tax system that collects revenue equivalent to no more than 10% of gross domestic product (GDP). This is less than one-third of the average Western European level.

"The economy in Russia is not working properly," says Nefedov. "Unlike countries in the West, the legislation and taxation system does not motivate industry to support science. The country's industries have no money for innovation."

In recent years, the Russian government has invested little in its chemical industry, which currently consists of around 800 enterprises. Under Russia's privatization program, these have become joint-stock companies, according to a 1996 report on the Russian chemical industry by the Chemical Industries Association (CIA) in London.

The companies are not attractive to foreign investors, either. "Low levels of domestic investment, inconsistency in legislation, and the nature of the privatization program have contributed to political instability and infrastructure problems to make Russia a high-risk country for foreign investors," notes the report. It adds that "23% of equipment is completely obsolescent; technological processes are only renewed on a 20- to 30-year cycle compared with seven to eight years in the leading industrial countries, and less than 20% of domestically produced equipment corresponds to world standards."

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development, GDP in Russia fell about 50% between 1990 and 1995. The CIA report points out that the current chemicals and petrochemical sector share of GDP declined from about 8.0% to 6.5% between 1990 and 1996.

Statistics produced by the Moscow-based Center for Science Research & Statistics reveal that Russia ranks among the lowest of industrialized countries in terms of percentage of GDP spent on R&D. In 1991, that percentage was 1.85%. By 1995, the percentage had dropped to a mere 0.73% compared with 2.45% in the U.S. for the same year. The R&D expenditure per capita of population in 1995 was $31 in Russia and $649.10 in the U.S.

The economic gloom in Russia can partly be attributed to the country's underground economy, which the Economist suggests is equivalent to 40 to 50% of GDP. Russians receiving only low state salaries tend not to declare income from second jobs to the tax authorities. Numerous reports and media stories suggest that there has been an eruption of corruption in the country since 1991. For example, an article on the Russian mafia in London's Evening Standardstates that "Russia is estimated to have 5,000 mafia gangs that control 40% of the economy."

The corruption, or at least shady dealings, extends to the top echelons of government where a power struggle has recently been played out between reformers who favor free-market capitalism and billionaire tycoons pushing a system of monopoly capitalism. One of the reformers, First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, characterized the struggle as" bandit capitalism" versus "people's capitalism," according to USA Today.

Nemtsov and fellow First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais persuaded Russian President Boris Yeltsin to fire Boris Berezovsky, deputy secretary of the Kremlin's Security Council, last month. Berezovsky is a billionaire banker and one of Russia's new "oligarchs." He survived an assassination attempt in 1994. Three criminals thought to be responsible for the car bomb that killed his driver were later killed, reportedly on Berezovky's orders.

"Berezovsky is a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences," notes Tarasova of Mendeleyev University. "He was elected several years ago and will remain there for the rest of his life unless the academy excludes him, but this has never happened before."

Chubais, architect of the Russian privatization program, has since been caught up in the so-called book scandal. Chubais and coauthors accepted a $450,000 advance payment for a book on the history of Russian privatization. The fee was paid by a publishing company owned by the banking group that had benefited from several controversial privatization bids. As a result, Yeltsin relieved Chubais of his job as finance minister. Exposure of the scandal, a small-scale affair by Russian standards, and the associated widespread publicity, are thought to have been prompted by Berezovsky as a way of getting back at Chubais.

Yet science in Russia appears unblemished, not least because it has insufficient money to attract crime or corruption. The corrupt economy stems mainly from the banking system, commercial organizations, and certain elements in the Russian legislature, Platé tells C&EN.

Nevertheless, it is within this crime-infested economy that science is struggling for survival. Image is also part of the problem.

A 1996 public opinion survey on science and technology by the Moscow-based Center for Science Research & Statistics revealed that scientists are less respected than politicians, journalists, and peasants [Science, 275, 485 (1997)]. Entrepreneurs are most highly esteemed. Only engineers and the military rank lower than scientists.

"Before 1991, in Soviet times, science was very prestigious," says Michael V. Alfimov, RFBR chairman. "The state always publicized our scientific successes such as Sputnik. [The Soviet Union's satellite Sputnik 1, launched in October 1957, was the first artificial object placed in Earth orbit.] Nowadays, if you look through a newspaper or watch a television program, you see nothing about science in Russia. Its popularity is low because it receives no attention."

NIOPIK's Gorelik suggests that "science is not recognized as important at the highest political levels." The government's notorious "sequester" of the science budget underscores the point.

In 1996, the government sequestered approximately two-thirds of science's promised share of the federal budget during the financial year. A state law mandating that science should receive 4% of the federal budget has been "enthusiastically ignored," notes the Economist. Alfimov points out that the science budget for 1998 will only be 2.8% of the federal budget.

RFBR, which is a peer-reviewed grant- awarding body, has been badly hit by the cuts in the past two years. "According to the state law from Parliament, our budget for 1997 was around 900 billion rubles," Alfimov tells C&EN-about $152 million." This is about 6% of the science budget. But in a new budget in April this year, the government made a sequester on all organizations. Our budget for the year was cut by 55% to 406 billion rubles"- about $69 million.

Such cuts, and the job losses that inevitably will follow, have led to scientists taking to the streets in protest, striking, and picketing. In October, for example, about 250 scientists in Moscow picketed Russia's House of Government to demand that science funding be raised to 4% of total government expenditure, as required by law.

Because of the drastic sequester last year, scientists in many research institutes did not receive a salary for two months during the summer, says Marianna V. Voevodskaya, assistant to Nefedov at the Russian Academy of Sciences. "So they took a vacation for two months."

Even now, the salaries of some scientists remain in arrears, although this is not the case for staff at the Russian Academy of Sciences institutes. "We repaid the debt for last summer in June this year, and now you cannot find anyone in the academy's institutes who is not receiving salary every month," says Platé.

Part of the problem can be traced back to the breakup of the Soviet Union into independent states in 1991. The Russian Federation inherited a bloated scientific system with vast numbers of scientists. Many were working, to a greater or lesser extent, on military applications.

In the mid-1980s, the Soviet Union employed about 500,000 people with Ph.D. degrees or higher qualifications. A significant portion of all scientists in the world were working in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, says Rudny.

According to the Center for Science Research & Statistics, the total number of R&D personnel in Russia decreased from about 2 million in 1990 to just over 1 million in 1995. About half of the personnel in both years were researchers, the other half being technicians and support staff.

During the same period, the number of R&D institutions, including research institutes, higher education institutions, and industrial R&D enterprises, dropped from 4,646 to 4,059. The 1995 total is made up of 1,193 in the government sector, 2,345 in the business enterprise sector, 511 in the higher education sector, and 10 in the private nonprofit sector.

Earlier this year, Vladimir Bulgak, vice prime minister for science and high technology in the Russian Cabinet, instigated a plan to evaluate all government-funded institutes. His goal is to reduce the number of institutes and provide more effective support for the most important areas of research.

Part of this plan involves reforming the Russian Academy of Sciences, which currently receives about 25% of the government's science budget. Bulgak suggests that about 30% of its 450 institutes should be closed.

"We are now in the process of restructuring the academy," says Platé." The aim is to get rid of weak institutes and the small inefficient laboratories so that we can concentrate the small amount of financial support we receive from government on the best and most active institutes and priority research areas. We are evaluating every institute, and I estimate that maybe 80 institutes will be closed."

TO SIDEBAR: 250 Years of Chemistry Research in Russia

Closing institutes poses problems, however. "Different solutions are possible," says Platé. "In some cases, we could close a particular institute and set up a new one or combine it with an existing neighboring institute. Another possibility is to lease the buildings and use the money for buying instrumentation and paying some maintenance expenses for other institutes belonging to the academy.

"The legal situation is that the academy is not the owner of federal property," explains Platé. "The property was given to the academy by federal government for eternal usage. This means we cannot sell it, but at the same time, we do not pay tax for real estate."

According to Nefedov, the situation is confusing. "The law about the status of the academy and its institutes is not clear," he says. "The academy controls all the land, buildings, and equipment of its institutes. If the buildings have federal status, then the government should take responsibility for the expense of maintaining them. But they don't do this.

"The right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing," he complains. "The Ministry for Finance is seeking money from the academy for the federal budget. The Ministry for Science tells us it there is no money for maintaining buildings and equipment and asks us to use our initiative to get additional money."

Over recent years, much of the research that has been carried out in the institutes has become increasingly reliant on the enterprise and ability of individual scientists, heads of departments, and institute directors to compete successfully for scarce funding provided by national and international bodies.

RFBR is one of the principal national sources of funding. The foundation, established by presidential decree on April 27, 1992, is an independent state-funded organization whose primary aim is to support promising research initiatives in all fields of basic research in Russia.

"We distribute government money directly to scientists in the Russian Federation," explains RFBR Chairman Alfimov. "In the old system, scientists could only receive state funding for research indirectly through an academy or ministry. RFBR grants mean that money is under the control of scientists and not directors."

From 1993 to 1995, RFBR received 42,234 research proposals. These were evaluated by some 2,000 independent experts. In those first three years of operation, 8,760 grants were awarded for scientific and publishing projects involving about 54,000 researchers in some 1,200 institutions.

"Each year we award around 3,000 grants for three-year projects," says Alfimov. "This means that every year we support about 9,000 grants. About 10% of all researchers in the country benefit from these grants."

The average size of a RFBR grant for three years is approximately $7,000. The scientist or group that is awarded the grant has responsibility for using the funds. "We now have some independence," says Mendeleyev University's Tarasova. "I have to give 20% of the grant to the university for overhead. I can use the remaining 80% to repair or buy equipment, obtain materials, or pay salaries for researchers in my group."

International support
One of the first international organizations to give aid to Russian science was Hungarian-born U.S. financier George Soros' private International Science Foundation. The ISF program, which started in 1992, disbursed more than $100 million in grants to some 25,000 researchers in the former Soviet Union. But in December 1996 the funds ran dry.

Soros also helped fund the Civilian Research & Development Foundation (CRDF) located in Arlington, Va. (C&EN, April 7, page 45). Since 1995, CRDF has supported joint research projects between former Soviet Union defense scientists and engineers and their American counterparts, with grants ranging from $10,000 to $80,000 per research team. Soros provided a $5 million grant to the National Science Foundation to release a matching amount for CRDF that Congress set aside in the Department of Defense budget.

"Soros still provides grants for university professors, students of all levels, and school teachers of math, physics, chemistry, and biology," notes Tarasova.

In another international aid package, the U.S. cooperated with Russia, the European Union, and Japan to establish an International Science & Technology Center (ISTC) in Moscow. The center, which officially began operations in March 1994, provides opportunities for former Soviet weapons scientists to conduct research on civilian projects. The center's 1995 report revealed that about 11,000 scientists were working on more than 200 ISTC projects. U.S. funding has been provided by DOD's Cooperative Threat Reduction (Nunn-Lugar) program and the State Department's Freedom Support Act. Government participation is coordinated through the Nonproliferation & Science Cooperation Programs at the State Department (C&EN, Dec. 23, 1996, page 28).

In Europe, INTAS provides one of the principal strands of European support for basic scientific research in Russia. This nonprofit organization, formed under Belgian law in 1993, has 20 members including all European Union member states and 12 New Independent States of the former Soviet Union (NIS) partner countries, one of which is the Russian Federation.

Each INTAS project involves at least three scientific research teams, two from INTAS member states, and at least one of the NIS. All administrative and budgetary aspects of a project are managed by a scientist from Western Europe. Western scientific partners receive 20% of the project funding and the NIS scientific partners receive 80%.

INTAS supports projects in seven scientific areas, including chemistry. The success rate among the thousands of proposals INTAS receives for project funding is about 12%. Through 1996, INTAS had allocated a total of $60 million to 1,250 projects involving more than 5,000 research teams including in excess of 15,000 NIS scientists.

But even with international support, the picture is gloomy for most scientists." The grants I receive from different foundations mean that I have to resolve a problem that is unresolvable," says Tarasova. "If I want to keep a good researcher in my group, I have to provide a salary from the grant. I then have little or no money for equipment or materials. Over the past five years, we have been using up a stock of old reagents. Replacing them is very expensive. If I spend money on equipment or materials, then I cannot afford to pay the researcher."

Brain drain
Given the bleak situation, Russia is finding it hard to hold on to its scientists. "Capable and talented people are going to the West," says Platé. "It is a strong trend, especially among physicists, theoreticians, mathematicians, molecular biologists, and good experimental chemists."

An estimated 70,000 to 90,000 scientists emigrate from Russia every year. They are typically aged between 30 and 45 years.

"We have almost lost an entire and important generation of scientists," says Emmanuil Troyansky, chemistry professor at the Zelinksy Institute in Moscow." Many of those aged 30 or so are overseas now, particularly in the U.S. We are trying our best to bring a new generation of young and active Russian people into chemistry and science, but the outcome of work is close to zero. A lot of them leave the country after graduating."

Others are attracted away from state-funded basic research into small business enterprises. The Russian government estimates that 70,000 science-based companies, employing about 360,000 people, have sprung up in the past decade. Most occupy space in moribund institutes. The government is encouraging the trend with programs that provide short-term loans and seed grants for small innovative enterprises.

The biggest problem is that gifted young scientists are moving out of science altogether." The internal brain drain is much more severe and widespread than the external brain drain," says Platé. "For example, good software specialists are going to Russian banks or private commercial organizations where they can earn five to 10 times more than they can as a scientist."

Research chemist
Victor Korolev

Research chemist Victor Korolev in his laboratory at the N. D. Zelinsky Institute of Organic Chemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

One British businessman, who has worked in Moscow since 1991 setting up and running a branch of a U.K. insurance company, tells C&EN that secretaries in the company's Moscow office are paid around $650 a month-more than five times the basic salary of a senior researcher.

"Between 25 and 30% of the most young and active scientists at the academy's institutes have left already for jobs in marketing and business areas or for the U.S.," says Nefedov. "I used to have 30 people in my research group. Ten of these have left and have been working in different universities and companies in the U.S. for over five or six years now."

The brain drain from scientific research in Russia also has other implications. One is the increasing age of the remaining scientific community.

"The average age of researchers in Russia is going up. It is now about 50 to 55 years." says Pavel Sarkisov, president of Moscow's Mendeleyev University. In some institutes it is even higher. At the Institute of Chemical Physics in Moscow, for example, the average age of researchers is 60, according to RFBR Chairman Alfimov.

Lack of job opportunities in scientific research adds to the problem. "We need new young blood," says Sofia Torgova, head of the liquid crystal laboratory at NIOPIK. "But we have no possibility of recruiting them because we are trying to reduce our own staff numbers. A lot of people in our institutes have lost their jobs as projects close down. They are looking for vacancies in the teams at the institute working on the surviving projects."

The procedure for removing staff employed by the government is complex, however. "We still have the old Soviet laws, which makes it very difficult for government organizations to fire people," says Nefedov. "The academy needs to decrease the number of its employees because it doesn't have enough money to pay them, but it is rather difficult to solve this problem."

Perhaps most debilitating of all for Russian science is that the scientists who might otherwise be engaged in scientific research spend a lot of time just trying to make ends meet and obtaining even modest grants for their work.

"We have too many problems every day, every week, every month, to be able to concentrate on our real work," says Nefedov. "Our efficiency is very low. We need to write many papers even for a grant of $1,000."

In May 1995, Landau Institute for Theoretical Physics Director Zakharov and Science Minister Fortov wrote in Science:"The common understanding is that science in Russia is now in a state of crisis. This, however, is an excessively rosy view of its condition. In recent years our science has been subjected to such a series of therapeutic shocks that it would be more accurate to describe its current condition as comatose."

Two and a half years later, however, fundamental scientific research in Russia, although in a sickly state, is still alive. For example, Mendeleev Communications,which publishes preliminary accounts in English of new work in chemistry, principally from Russia, receives on average 12 manuscripts a month. The journal is published six times a year jointly by the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society of Chemistry in the U.K.

"The rejection rate is currently about 40%," notes U.K. Staff Editor Andrew Wilkinson. "About 70% of the papers are from Moscow and the academic city of Chernogolovka, about 30 miles from Moscow. Some of the accepted work is excellent, some routine, and the rest perfectly sound."

According to Wilkinson, areas of expertise are those traditionally associated with Russian science, and in recent years those areas that require little investment in equipment and fine chemicals. These include physical chemistry, theoretical chemistry, and organic synthesis, particularly of heterocycles. Some of the papers in the journal are highly applied, focusing, for example, on some of the analytical methods for purifying water of mercury wastes or eliminating radioactive elements from soils and waters.

A ray of hope
Mikhail P. Egorov, research scientist at the Zelinksy Institute, detects some hopeful signs for the future of Russian science. He cites the increasing number of young people applying for the 215 places in the B.S. degree course in chemistry at Moscow State University. In 1992, there were 1.4 applicants per opening. This year it was 3.2.

"This means that young people are starting to think that higher education is going to help them," says Egorov. "And people are now beginning to believe in the future of science of Russia."

He also points to a number of beneficial changes that have taken place in Russia over recent years. "It is now much easier to communicate with colleagues abroad and, if you have financial support, there are no problems about traveling to international meetings," he says.

According to Nefedov, these positive changes started to take place not in 1991, when the Soviet Union disintegrated, but in the mid-1980s with the radical program of social and economic reforms known as glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) introduced by Mikhail S. Gorbachev, general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party and president of the Soviet Union.

Market-style competition, which did not exist in the old centrally planned Soviet economic system, also is welcomed by many scientists. "Everybody now has to learn how to live in a competitive world at every level, from junior research fellow up to every academician," says Platé.

According to Egorov, the mentality of people is changing. "People are now seeing improvements on the streets," he says. "They love this kind of life. Such people can ensure a good future for our science."

Egorov is perhaps one of the more successful researchers in Russia. His research group includes four undergraduate students, four graduate students, and three postdoctoral coworkers. His total monthly income is about $600. "My basic salary plus different grants provide me with around $400 per month," he tells C&EN. "In addition, I receive about $200 a month from reviewing and editing papers submitted to the Russian Chemical Bulletin."


Students study beneath poster of the periodic table at D. I. Mendeleyev University.

Many scientists also welcome the freedom and independence that was not possible in the old centrally planned, command-and-control system.

"The academy's institutes are now financially independent," says Platé. "As director of my institute, I have responsibility for raising money for our research activities and responsibility for spending it. There are, for example, no limitations on how many people I can recruit, so long as I have the money."

Mendeleyev University President Sarkisov agrees. "Universities now have autonomy," he says. "This is a positive benefit. University administrators are now free as far as the number of teachers employed is concerned, and we can admit unlimited numbers of students from foreign countries. There are also no limitations on international activities. We no longer have to go to the Ministry of Education to account for every ruble we spend."

NIOPIK General Director Vorotjsov points to other positive benefits. "Our research has changed direction over the past few years," he says. "We now carry out a large amount of the work on medical topics instead of military topics. With the help of the Moscow government and the Ministry of Science, this means that we are able to maintain our scientific potential and increase our research and development activity during this current period of complexity in Russian science."

Egorov believes the worst is now over and is optimistic about the future. "There is now some kind of stabilization," he concludes. "Although the general situation in science may still be bad, there are opportunities to carry out research in this country for good scientists who are prepared to compete for funding and work hard. But science needs more support from government, because without science, Russia will become a Third World country."

ACS Pubs Chem Center