How to encourage neutrinos to talk

Interview, 21 July 2020

On 14 July 2020, the interview with Doctor of Physics and Mathematics, Deputy Director for Science of the Dzhelepov Laboratory of Nuclear Problems JINR Dmitry Naumov was published on the website “Troitsky Variant – Nauka”. The interview was performed by the journalist Jan Machonin (Czech Republic). “Troitsky Variant – Nauka” on 14.07.2020.

Why do neutrinos scarcely interact with ordinary matter, but do pierce through billions of stars? Can neutrinos be representatives of mysterious dark matter? What information about the evolution of galaxies and the Universe do they provide us with? What kind of benefits from the neutrino research are there for the “national economy”? Will detectors help to control nuclear weapon production? When will the largest neutrino observatory in the Northern Hemisphere, located at Lake Baikal, be completed? And how to catch neutrinos produced in the Earth’s interior?

The journalist Jan Machonin talked about these topics and many more with Doctor of Physics and Mathematics Dmitry Naumov, a Deputy Director for Science of the Dzhelepov Laboratory of Nuclear Problems at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR) in Dubna.

In his interview he spoke not only about neutrino physics but also about his career, how the Institute managed to survive in the 1990s and how it is functioning now.

The role of neutrinos in the evolution of the Universe and galaxies

— Today, the research of neutrino properties is one of the crucial directions in particle physics. Why?

— The hypothesis of the existence of neutrinos was introduced by Wolfgang Pauli in the 1930s in order to save the energy conservation law. Neutrinos rescued this most important concept in science. Later, when neutrinos were discovered and some of their properties described, it was found out that neutrino physics in our world and in the “Carroll’s Through-the-Looking-Glass” world differs a lot. So, the creators of the Standard Model were prompted the idea of its accurate arrangement. Since then almost fifty years passed, and physicists know that although the Standard Model is really successful there are still two mysteries: dark energy and dark matter. We need a new theory. And we hope that if we can carefully measure all neutrino properties, it would show us a new way, this time beyond the Standard Model.

Baikal Neutrino Telescope construction. Photo by B. Shaybonov (JINR)

— What do we know about the role of neutrinos in the evolution of the Universe at the moment?

— Neutrinos play a rather serious role in the evolution of our Universe. For instance, after the Big Bang thought as a birth of the Universe, within the first fractions of a second, neutrinos together with photons, electrons, protons, neutrons etc. made up “a hot soup” from particles. If the number of neutrino types in gas had been different, this gas would have had a bit different properties, and this would have caused a bit different evolution of the Universe. It is known that the neutrino mass is not more than one electronvolt (eV). If the neutrino mass had been 50 eV, our Universe would already long ago have collapsed into a point, a so-called singularity.

— Which role do neutrinos play in the formation of galaxies? Could they be regarded as dark matter candidate particles?

— According to modern understanding, galaxies could not form themselves. Stars are dispersed too far away from each other to join into galaxies. A possible solution of the problem could be dark matter filling the interstellar space and intensifying the gravitational field. Neutrinos continue playing the role of possible dark matter candidates. And again, everything depends on the neutrino properties and the mass. If the neutrino mass were too small, it could rather result, on the contrary, in the fundamental impossibility of galaxy formation. If this mass were a bit heavier, they could play the role of dark matter.

— Could you give us an example of importance of neutrinos that concerns us all?

— Let us have a look at our Sun. If there were no neutrinos, the Sun would not burn at all. The very first reaction causing the burning of the Sun is when two protons fuse and turn into a deuteron, positron and neutrino. Without neutrinos this reaction would be impossible, the Sun could not burn then, and there would be no life on the Earth respectively.

— Studying ultrahigh-energy neutrinos, can we get to know the origins of our planet and our galaxy?

— The Baikal-GVD experiment, for instance, strives for answering this question and studies ultrahigh-energy neutrinos. The fact is that when galaxies are forming, a black hole almost always occurs at their centre. At first, it is small, but it slowly starts devouring the matter around, grows and reaches million masses of the Sun, sometimes even billions. That means that a considerable part of the mass of the entire galaxy can be concentrated in a black hole.

This black hole devours the matter of the stars around, constantly growing. This stellar matter rotates around the black hole forming an accretion disk, heats up and glows brightly. That is a beautiful and dramatic phenomenon. A black hole itself cannot emit light, of course, but thanks to this luminous gas it becomes one of the brightest objects in the Universe. Gas twists in a certain plane, and in the direction perpendicular to this plane the black hole sometimes ejects an intense outflow of the gas it did not manage to “digest”. This outflow is the most powerful accelerator in our Universe. It accelerates particles to extremely wild energies. Some particles, prosaic for terrestrial accelerators, such as pions, kaons etc., are produced and accelerated there. And decaying, they often emit neutrinos. We cannot construct accelerators of this scale on the Earth.

The weak interaction of neutrinos is important for us as well. If we align one billiard suns, one by one, a neutrino with an energy of one million eV going through this line will interact with matter only once. For that reason, it can leave the black hole area without any troubles, go through half of the Universe, come to us and bring the information about how and where it was born. Neither electromagnetic nor gravitational interactions can move it from its way.

— Does it mean we do not need ordinary telescopes anymore? Can we get the information about galaxies merely using neutrinos?

— There are some regions in the Universe which we cannot surely describe without detecting neutrino signals from there. Neutrino astronomy is possible only under the condition that we on the Earth can accurately find out where neutrinos came from. We can do this because of the very high neutrino energy. All the particles produced by neutrinos while interacting in a detector will move strongly in the same direction which the neutrinos came in from. For example, our Baikal-GVD telescope at Lake Baikal detects Cherenkov light generated by these charged particles and can rather well, with a precision better than one degree, determine the direction of incoming neutrinos. However, the birth of a new science, neutrino astronomy, does not mean that we should banish ordinary astronomy with its classic telescopes, still, the best instruments to explore less hard-to-reach regions in the Universe.

Abell 2744, a galactic cluster (Pandora’s Cluster). Mass distribution: galaxies —about 5%, gas —about 20% (coloured red, but in fact, emitting X rays), invisible dark matter —about 75% (coloured blue, but in fact, discovered using gravitational lensing). “Wikipedia”

Theoretical and experimental physicists

— The neutrino research is an interplay of particle physics, cosmology and astrophysics. Do you practice an interdisciplinary approach at JINR?

— There are only a few astronomers or cosmologists at JINR who are studying neutrinos. However, we work in a large international team, and there are, of course, some astrophysicists who use our findings. For this reason, it does not matter where scientists are employed. All these results immediately become known, and the cooperation in the interdisciplinary area is of great significance for us indeed. This means that the results obtained by studying neutrinos are always reviewed at a larger scale. It allows us to understand what happened in the Universe on the whole, the way galaxies were formed, what mechanisms made active galactic nuclei occur, and how neutrinos go through dense matter. In other words, these ultrahigh-energy neutrinos actually help us to reconstruct the past, look back at the time 4 or 5 billion years ago and outline the overall situation at that moment.

— Do you and your colleagues stick to any certain theory of New Physics in studying neutrinos?

— No, we don’t. In that respect, an advantage of experimental physics is that we merely get an experimental result, and afterwards, theoreticians try to check and interpret this result within various theories or models, define whether or not it is consistent with one or another theory. The international JUNO project (Jiangmen Underground Neutrino Observatory), for instance, aims at the precision measurement of subtle neutrino properties. Actually, it is the path which leads to New Physics. JUNO will routinely use the neutrino oscillation phenomenon for investigating neutrino properties. The Daya Bay experiment played a major role in the discovery of the neutrino oscillation phenomenon. By the way, many Daya Bay collaborators received the most remarkable scientific award “Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics” in 2016. Both of these experiments are performed using nuclear reactors in China, and JINR scientists are involved in both of them.

One of eight antineutrino detectors at the Daya Bay NPP in China. “Wikipedia”

— How do you interact with theoretical physicists? František Lehar, a Czech-French physicist, who worked in the 1960s at JINR, distinguished among them more and less “helpful” for experimental physicists. Would you agree with him?

— For me personally, this division into theoreticians and experimentalists is quite arbitrary. It is more appropriate to speak about a good or a bad physicist. If someone says: “I am an experimentalist, I can’t write formulae,” and even doesn’t know how to interpret the processes he deals with, his deductions do not have any weight for me. And the same goes for a theoretician saying: “I can’t imagine how to measure the thing I’ve calculated,” it means that he didn’t catch the nature of the phenomenon. In my opinion, if a person understands physics, he or she can explain it on their fingers to anyone, including a child, and they can propose a measurement method, may it be the easiest one, and know how to interpret measurement results. Someone develops formulae better, another one uses measuring devices better, but good physicists always find a common language.

Ancient philosophers believed that they could cognize the configuration of the Universe purely speculatively, without any experiment. Later, as far back as Galileo’s time, people recognized that the only right way was to conduct experiments. A good theory should explain not only the old, already gained knowledge but also a new one. Our ultimate goal is to get an accurate picture of any physical phenomenon. Current experiments are as a rule so complicated that everything we observe needs to be described theoretically. It would be wrong, for example, to say that we “saw” the Higgs boson in an experiment. In fact, we reconstruct very indirect characteristics of a definite phenomenon. We analyze the traces left behind.

A similar pattern is used in astrophysics, but a more complex one. The Baikal-GVD project allows us to analyze signals from optical modules. Then, within a theoretical model based on the fact that Cherenkov light exists, we try to reconstruct the direction of an incoming particle. Afterwards, we, along with theoreticians, have to understand where its source is, what mechanisms could produce these high-energy neutrinos and so on. Without theoreticians and their theoretical conceptions, it would be impossible to get a worthy outcome.

Benefits from neutrinos for “national economy”

— What can you tell us about applied research in neutrino physics?

— I am continuously asked about the benefits of this research. There are several points of view. The first one is an obvious practical benefit. Can we use, so to say, neutrinos in “national economy”? Yes, we can. For instance, there are nuclear reactors that produce antineutrinos. It happens because ordinary nuclei, falling apart and releasing energy, transform into the nuclei rich in neutrons. These nuclei are unstable, they decay by themselves and generate neutrinos. In some way, people working at nuclear reactors do not care about neutrinos. They are interested only in nuclear energy. However, at the same time, a nuclear reactor is a very intense source of antineutrinos and a cost-free one. You can just place your detector for neutrino measuring nearby — we have already one, for example, at the Kalinin Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) in the Tver region.

— How do you perform these experiments?

— There are four reactors at the Kalinin NPP, and according to the project, there is an empty room underneath each of them. JINR and the Institute for Theoretical and Experimental Physics (ITEP) due to the agreement with Rosatom received the permission to put their scientific equipment into one of these rooms. So, we managed to establish a laboratory with the shortest distance (about eight meters) to the nuclear reactor centre.

— Is it not dangerous?

— There is reliable radiation protection. You cannot be shielded from neutrinos, but they will not do any harm to your health. The detector with a mass of about one tonne can register huge neutrino flows by taking large data statistics, about five thousand events a day. One of the experiments is the search for sterile neutrinos, another one is the search for a possible neutrino magnetic moment, a third one is the research and measurement of the possibility of neutrino coherent scattering on a nucleus.

— Could you clarify this point, please?

— Coherent scattering is quite interesting since neutrinos interact at the fundamental level with protons and neutrons in a nucleus. To be more precise, with quarks which constitute protons and neutrons. So, it turns out that at the neutrino energies of several millions of electronvolts the probability of the neutrino interaction with a nucleus that contains N neutrons is N2 times larger than the corresponding probability of the interaction with one neutron! This effect results from the coherent addition of probability amplitudes and perfectly illustrates laws of quantum mechanics. Recently, this process was discovered by the COHERENT collaboration.

— Is there any practical value of such experiments?

— Here is an example. While operating, the industrial nuclear reactor produces not only useful energy but also nuclei of plutonium-239. Theoretically, plutonium-239 can be used for nuclear weapon manufacturing. For this reason, it is really necessary to control its production, and our community spends a lot of money and makes great efforts to do this. Furthermore, the detection of antineutrinos from the nuclear reactor is a reliable method to measure the number of plutonium-239 nuclei in the reactor.

The benefits from advancement of technologies related to neutrino research are not less, but maybe even more important and indispensable to make the next step in science.

— Does it mean that neutrinos can control nuclear safety?

— Yes, it does. Moreover, you cannot deceive neutrinos. What method is being used currently? Nuclear companies must report which power the reactor produces at every moment. Afterwards, within some theoretical models, this power can be converted to the amount of plutonium produced there. However, if a company for some reason reports a false power value, a wrong conclusion of the plutonium amount could be done, for instance, the one that there is less plutonium produced than in reality. The surplus could be used for nuclear weapon manufacturing.

The methodology which uses neutrinos to estimate the plutonium-239 amount produced is being developed now. Within the international Daya Bay experiment at an NPP in China, we, along with our colleagues, reliably proved that it works. We observed the effect, and different scientific centres are investigating the potential of its application.

— What is another way to apply neutrinos in practice?

— Since neutrinos rather weakly interact with matter, they can go through the Earth without any problems. The more matter there is, the more often neutrinos would interact with it. Furthermore, the number of interactions in the interior of our planet will depend on the type of nuclei of different substances, on the number of protons and neutrons in the nuclei of these atoms. There are still no other trustworthy methods to get inside and to explore what chemical elements the Earth is composed of. We can use atmospheric neutrinos to make a tomography of the Earth.

— Where do they originate from?

— Cosmic protons steadily fall onto the Earth. They interact with nuclei of nitrogen, oxygen and other elements of the atmosphere and produce pions, kaons and other particles, which sometimes decay yielding neutrinos. For this reason, the entire atmosphere shines with neutrinos. From all directions they approach the Earth, go through it, and if we manage to put a sufficient number of detectors and measure how many neutrinos come from this or that direction, we will be able to scan the Earth.

— Advancement in neutrino physics is accompanied by the elaboration of novel facilities and equipment. Can they be applied to other fields of science or in our everyday life?

— Any physical experiment, the one using neutrinos as well, is on the cutting edge of science. Accordingly, each next step always requires innovative technologies. And afterwards, these technologies are used by all humanity already without any relation to neutrinos.

— Can you give an example?

— Well, high-sensitivity photomultiplier tubes. They can be used in medicine, in tomography.

The neutrino telescope at Lake Baikal

— At what stage of construction is the Baikal Neutrino Telescope now?

— At Lake Baikal, we together with the Institute for Nuclear Research of the Russian Academy of Sciences within an international collaboration install an underwater neutrino telescope, which will have the volume of half a cubic kilometre next year, and later, one and a half cubic kilometres. So far, 0.35 km3 has been built. This facility is the largest neutrino telescope in the Northern Hemisphere. Today, it comprises seven independent clusters. At present, great efforts and a lot of money are involved in the telescope deployment. We hope it will start providing us with really impressive physical results in the near future.

— What exactly has been achieved?

— Generally, all collaboration efforts are now focused on the installation of the experimental facility. At the same time, important processes related to the experimental data analysis are underway. At present, we already have some intriguing candidates for the neutrino interaction with very high energies.

Dmitry Naumov takes an active part in the Baikal Neutrino Telescope installation. Photo by B. Shaybonov (JINR)

— Was the discovery of ultrahigh-energy neutrinos within the IceCube experiment in Antarctica in 2013 of any value to you?

— This significant discovery has got a great value. Now we know that our telescope surely will detect cosmic neutrinos, and it means that the investments are made not in vain. Extraordinary characteristics of the Baikal water will allow us to identify high-energy neutrino sources.

— Do you plan to establish a full-fledged neutrino observatory at Baikal comparable with IceCube?

— Of course, we do. At the 106th kilometre of the Circum-Baikal Railway, there is a station where our Neutrino Shore Centre is located. The Centre is thoroughly being renovated, new dwelling houses appear, as well as a new Shore Station for accumulating all the data from the neutrino telescope. The local scenery is spectacular, and it will be a pleasure to come, live and work there. It will be a very important neutrino physics centre in the world.

Neutrinos from the inside of the Earth

— Tell us, please, what geoneutrinos are?

— If we dig deeper into the Earth, it would be hotter and hotter. At the very centre of the Earth, there is a very hot iron core. It is widely known. On the contrary, nobody knows for sure why it becomes hotter when approaching the Earth’s core.

There are two models explaining this phenomenon.

The first one: When the planet was still cold, the heavier elements began to go down while the lighter ones came up to the surface. As a result of such gravitational differentiation, the heat started to be released, which warmed the interior of the Earth up.

The second model assumes that there are radioactive elements, such as uranium or thorium, inside of our planet. Due to the decay of these radioactive nuclei, as in a nuclear reactor, heat is released, and it warms the planet up. To verify the second hypothesis, we can use the fact that antineutrinos are necessarily produced in the nuclear decays of this kind. And if we can see antineutrinos coming straightaway from the Earth’s interior with the energies typical of decay of nuclei, we will be able to find the contribution of this mechanism to the planet heating.

Several years ago, two experiments discovered antineutrinos coming from the inside of the Earth. These were the KamLAND experiment in Japan and the Borexino experiment in Italy. JINR scientists took part in the latter experiment. Though the existence of geoneutrinos was reliably confirmed by the data from both experiments, the precision of the flux measurement is still not very high. The overall number of observable events is about two hundred. Nevertheless, it allows us to assert that there is such a signal there. The interpretation of the experimental results indicates that about half of the Earth’s heat comes from radioactive decays of nuclei. Eventually, we have come to a fundamentally new understanding of what happened to our planet and what is inside of it.

Personal story

— And now tell us about yourself, please. Where are you from?

— I was born in Kemerovo, but lived only for half a year there. My family moved to Irkutsk, and I spent the first twenty years of my life there. I completed my education at Irkutsk State University.

— So, Baikal is home to you?

— Yes, I am at home there.

— How did you happen to work at JINR?

— After I had finished my fourth year, professor Vladimir Borisovich Belyaev arrived in Irkutsk from the Laboratory of Theoretical Physics (LTP) of JINR. He visited Lake Baikal, held a seminar, and my academic advisor, Aleksandr Nikolaevich Vall, introduced me and my fellow student Nina Shevchenko to him. Vladimir Borisovich talked to us and invited us to come to Dubna for our graduation thesis practicum.

That is the way we found ourselves in Dubna. Afterwards, I stayed here. Nina worked in Dubna for some time as well. Now, she works in the Czech Republic, at the Nuclear Physics Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences, in Řež. She is a successful physicist, regularly comes to Dubna with lectures.

Since then I had changed my scientific direction several times. At the LTP of JINR, I worked on many-particle quantum systems, this was pure nuclear physics. Then, I was caught by neutrinos and came to the Dzhelepov Laboratory of Nuclear Problems (DLNP). From that time on, starting with my postgraduate course, I have been working at DLNP.

— You studied in the 1990s. What prospects could have had early-career scientists in Yeltsin’s Russia? Did you have in mind to leave the country?

— The 1990s are for me, first of all, the years of my youth. For this reason, I recall them with warmth, whatever might have happened at that time. Although the financial situation in the country was extremely hard, my parents did everything they could to give everything we needed to my younger brother and me. Thanks to our parents, we were always well cared for and felt comfortable.

However, people ten or twenty years older than me had to earn their living themselves. It was really hard to do this at that time, and scarcely possible while doing science. A lot of people left science for entrepreneurial ventures or other fields, and those who wanted to stay in science tried to go abroad. Every now and then, we come across each other there. After the financial situation had flattened, some of the scientists returned. There were not many of them, though. For example, my father belongs to the generation that had to go through the reality of the 1990s. He worked abroad for many years earning money for our happy childhood. Afterwards, he returned to Russia and now, he is the head of a section at LTP, JINR.

— What did JINR do in the 1990s to survive?

— At that time, the JINR Director was initially Academician Vladimir Georgievich Kadyshevsky, and since 2006—Academician Alexei Norairovich Sissakian. In the 1990s, they made every effort required to save our Institute. They knew that a lot of people from JINR and the whole country went abroad, and nevertheless, they tried to do their best to keep the Institute functioning and young physicists engaged.

They succeeded and even more, they laid solid foundations for the current JINR development. Motivated young scientists were supported. The main sources of our income in those days were travel allowances, which were paid at CERN. If we worked at CERN for two months, we had enough money for our living during the whole year. Alexei Norairovich and his colleagues laid a strong foundation for the JINR growth.

— Why did you not go away from JINR in those years and did not stay abroad for work?

— Actually, I found it interesting at JINR. I had a compelling physical task, I enjoyed doing my job. And again, my parents supported me financially, and I was never short of money to buy food or basics.

— What inspired you during your studies? Do you feel attached to any school, tradition or personality?

— There were people in my life, of course, who helped me to become who I am. My first academic advisor, professor Aleksandr Nikolaevich Vall, played an important role in my life. I admired his habit to so profoundly get into the problem that it started to seem a trivial one. He could always explain any problem in a very easy way. He always had his own interpretation of any topic.

The crucial role in my self-formation was played by my father, a theoretical physicist, a gifted person with a deep understanding of science and encyclopedic knowledge.

I also learned a lot from books. When at university, I was greatly impressed by the American physicist Richard Feynman. I read and studied his books. I enjoyed—and still do—his scientific style, so clear, easy and entertaining.

Today, communication with my students and young scientists helps me develop my personal abilities.

— You spent several years abroad, in France, Italy…

— After I had been granted an academic degree of Candidate of Physics and Mathematics in Dubna, I decided to do the next step and change the field of activity. While doing my postgraduate course, I was involved in accelerator neutrino experiments at CERN and familiarized myself with this physics rather well. But later, I resolved to study something new, and it was physics of cosmic rays, astrophysics. I applied for the postdoc position in France, in Annecy-le-Vieux, won it and worked there a year and a half. I learned French during this time.

Then, I got a postdoc position for foreign specialists in Italy. I was at the top of the list of selected scientists, that is why I could choose a town and an institute to work. It happened that at the same time I won the position in Germany, in Munich. And although the salary was one and a half times larger in Germany, I chose Italy, Florence. I had long-lasting connections to the town. My father worked in Florence, and our family lived there for several years. And I wanted to work together with my friend, a Florentine Sergio Bottai. For that reason, I decided that even though I would get a moderate salary, I would do the job I like more.

— Do you feel yourself as “an enthusiast of the Western world” after your European experience? Why did not you leave Russia?

— I am democratic by nature, and the Western values are familiar to me. They are familiar not just because I worked abroad and became “infected” with Western values, but most likely because of the type of my character. I am in favour of peace and against corruption, against all the bad and in favour of all the good. Moreover, I love my country, and that is why I returned here. When I was rather young, 25 or 28 years old, I received some enticing offers, for example, to become a physics professor in the USA. I even felt honoured and pleased, but at that time I supervised a group of young scientists in Dubna, and by no means did I want to leave them, so I decided not to go away and tried to create my own world here, in Dubna.

Building of the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna

How to combine administrative and scientific work

— You started as a junior researcher at DLNP. Today, you are Deputy Director for Science of this laboratory. What do you consider as the main driver of your scientific career?

— I never liked senior positions and never strove for them. Science was always the only thing that inspired me in a science career. Later, at some point, it turned out that my colleagues regarded me as a candidate for the head of the Section. I was rather young, and it surprised me that somebody thought I can be in charge of the people older than me. So, I held this position for about ten years. It was a modest one from the administrative point of view, but nevertheless, I immediately introduced some rules which I followed at that time and which I still follow after taking up a higher position.

— How did you manage to became a Deputy Director for Science at the laboratory with about 650 employees?

— Professor Vadim Aleksandrovich Bednyakov after becoming Director of DLNP came once and offered me to be in charge of neutrino physics at the laboratory in the position of his deputy. I deliberated for a while and accepted the new job. Though, it was not an easy decision for me. This job was absolutely different from anything I did before. You have to do plenty of things not directly related to neutrino physics. To ascend the roofs when they are leaking, climb into attics, and descend into cellars. And even more—to renovate machine tools, renew production and project processes, re-establish old connections and create new ones. The successful functioning of a large scientific institution requires well-coordinated actions of many experts and services. I really did not see it earlier from my previous position. After realizing it, I took up a wide range of tasks full of enthusiasm and still continue to tackle them. It is delightful to see our laboratory rejuvenating and the scientific and technological level of our employees growing. It would be impossible without the unstinting support of the JINR Directorate, as well as coordinated efforts of the whole team.

— You mentioned the rules you are guided by in your work. Could you name them, please?

— I cannot stand corruption, resigned submission, lack of freedom and negligence.

— Do not you fear that your administrative position will force you to partially or fully sacrifice science?

— On the whole, I agree with the statement that the higher administrative position is, the less time there is for doing science. But this sharp changeover in one or another position depends on various factors: the scientific institution itself, the situation in the country, in the world, and the individual himself or herself after all. I am fortunate that I hold a high position and stay engaged in science, my favourite thing. And at the same time, I can guide people, inspire them and involve in science as well. If this position had implied only administrative obligations, I would not have accepted it. The combination like this costs a lot of emotions and time. Indeed, the work must be well organized and structured. And if I had to handle all the questions as if in case of emergency, I could not even think about doing science then.

— Is there a rigid “vertical structure” at JINR or is the communication between scientists of different ranks and positions possible in ”horizontal” directions as well?

— JINR is a quite democratic institute. At our laboratory, there is democracy even above the average. Any person can come to me or the director, and they do not have to arrange an appointment at the secretary. I communicate a lot of time with people without any position, with young colleagues, technicians from service workshops, engineers, physicists—I do not care about their status. The point is to do everything we can for the common good. The Institute is democratic indeed. Communication smoothly runs in vertical and horizontal directions, including the central Directorate. They are busier, and to knock at their door is not so easy. The schedule of JINR Director, Academician Victor Anatolevich Matveev, is already made up a year ahead. Anyway, even he is accessible to everyone in case of an emergency. There is no strict army hierarchy here.

— You were in charge of the Baikal International School on Physics of Elementary Particles and Astrophysics for a long time. What is this school like?

— The Baikal School is my brainchild. I established this School together with Aleksandr Nikolaevich Vall. It is located in the village of Bolshiye Koty, at Lake Baikal. The motivation behind it was simple. When I began to firmly stand on my feet at JINR, I realized that I can and must help people from Irkutsk State University and from Russia’s periphery, on the whole, to make contacts in the scientific world, move around the country and maybe even across the world.

At that time, the system in Irkutsk and many other places in our country was really stagnant. And even if a university graduate was very talented and knowledgeable, he or she could hardly get a job at their Alma Mater. There were scarcely few vacant scientific positions, and to employ someone, you had to dismiss someone, and the latter was most likely even a better specialist than a younger graduate. It was unfair, of course. I saw that there was a sort of a hurdle when a person reached the ceiling one day, and there was no way out. For that reason, many gifted people either left science or set off to seek their fortune somewhere else.

I could have had the same fate if professor Vladimir Borisovich Belyaev would not have arrived in Irkutsk by a happy coincidence, and I would not have started my career in Dubna. The situation is opposite in Dubna. There are so many scientific projects that the demand for new staff members remains consistent. We always and with great pleasure employ young people, and there are a lot of them at the moment. I decided to organize a school attractive for outstanding scientists from abroad and Russia where they could present modern physics of quality at a very high level. So, students from Irkutsk and other Russian universities can study there, establish contacts and take a chance to find their dream work in this way.

— When and how did you establish the school?

— We founded the school in the early 2000s. We had no money, the first schools were literally held by means of our daily allowances received from the Institute. Almost everything was organized voluntarily. At that time, our Institute did not invest any substantial money in the school as it was not clear how the school would develop. But quite soon, the Baikal school became known not only in Russia but also abroad and even, so to say, became the standard of quality. People sought to attend this school, considered the opportunity to come here and teach students really prestigious. Eventually, our Institute started to finance this event. Together with Aleksandr Nikolaevich Vall, I was a co-chair of this school for 15 years.

After Aleksandr Nikolaevich’s death, I thought it would be right to give a chance to other colleagues. By then, I already had a good friend of mine, Igor Ivanov, who first attended our school as a lecturer and listener, and after a while, began to play an important role organizing it. He is a very motivated and talented physicist, a splendid lecturer and enjoys teaching. Later, I offered him to become a member of the School Organizing Committee and learned that he was not only an excellent scientist and lecturer but also a very good leader, and I handed over the school administration to him without any doubt. Aleksandr Evgenevich Kaloshin was elected a co-chair on behalf of Irkutsk State University. Today, both of them are in charge of the school.

We have managed to keep the school at a very high level for we strive to follow the rule—one person cannot be invited more than twice. In other words, we do not invite people to have a rest there.

— Is JINR really an institution with international legal personality as stated in its Charter? If yes, what are the advantages and disadvantages of such a status?

— JINR is a full-fledged international organization although it is located in Russia, and the contribution of the Russian government makes up the major part of its budget. As far as I know, the Russian Federation treats our institution with admiration and respect, tries to keep up its status and trusts the Institute, as the other member states also do. We do our best to motivate all the people from different countries to do science and make every effort to create a positive atmosphere for work, life and pastime.

The JINR Directorate does a lot to make our Institute attractive for new specialists, to create state-of-the-art work conditions, to upgrade the entire Institute from infrastructure to scientific work fundamentals. Over the last five years, the situation has greatly changed. Many foreign specialists come here, and it proves that JINR becomes a more and more popular institution to work at.

— What can you say from your own experience about the lifestyle and ambience in Dubna and at JINR?

— I stayed here, among other reasons, because I like this town and this Institute very much. The atmosphere is unique and creative, people love their beautiful town, and there is a lot of water all around. You work at one of the most significant scientific centres in our country while living nearly in a holiday resort. What could be better?

— What kind of relations do you have with the neutrino? It is omnipresent, peaceful, cannot do any harm, does not conflict… Are you friends?

— We do not have close relations with each other, you should not better start a romance at your workplace. Though, this unapproachable particle allowed us to understand that our world and the “Through-the-Looking-Glass world” are governed by slightly different physical laws. If we manage to encourage the neutrino to talk, it will tell us plenty of intriguing and valuable things about laws of nature and the remotest places of the Universe. And this is more than enough to treat neutrinos with respect.

— Thank you for this interesting conversation! Good luck in all you do!

The interview was published in the journal Troitsky Variant. The Czech version of the interview was published on the Czech JINR web page and on the Czech scientific portal