Our Institute at the development stage

Organization, 04 October 2019

JINR Vice-Director Prof. M. G. Itkis comments on the milestones of the 126th session of the JINR Scientific Council.

On the one hand, the session was successful. There is something to report on. The traditional summarizing report by the Institute’s Director got favourable feedback. Scientific cooperation is developing. There are problems though, but everything gradually advances…

Photo by Elena Puzynina

The Scientific Council claims: there is development, particular successes; everything is developing. So, summing up the results of the past year, we should truly say that we have concluded one large-scale project, the Superheavy Element Factory, and the Baikal project is being developed. As for the NICA project, there is retardation, and we will need extra time to launch real experiments in the frames of the project.

Now, to the point. The major issue discussed at the session in detail was the strategy of the Institute’s development. Unfortunately, we face some challenges in this regard as well. Nowadays, members of the international working group responsible for particle physics, astrophysics and other fields are not satisfied with the fact that the laboratories working on these directions do not cooperate. For example, the Dzhelepov Laboratory and the Veksler and Baldin Laboratory. The strategy should be joint!

We are talking about 2035 and further. We are talking about the neutron source. We are talking about the development of the NICA mega-project. We are talking about Baikal and at the same time external experiments to which JINR greatly contributes. However, if it was so, we would get numerous prizes and awards. Where are they? Nowhere! So, all these issues should be reflected in the strategy. All members of these groups hold discussions and say that the Institute should have a consolidation but not disunity. Everything was different when Dzhelepov, Veksler, Meshcheryakov, Flerov, Frank established laboratories. They moved forward with their teams, and it was in the times when these fields were being just established. However, 60 years passed since then…

We cannot deal with several mega-science projects at a time but they are launched in the Frank laboratory on the one hand, and on the other hand, FLNR puts forward an initiative to develop the DERICA project that goes far beyond the laboratory’s activities. And we are supposed to combine all this, to decide what the Institute can implement and what cannot. We should be realists. However, we now base only on what seems important to us, i.e. to a particular laboratory. We should unite and take joint steps forward instead of rushing into new projects not finishing the previous ones.

All in all, there were constructive discussions. Members of the Scientific Council took an active part in them and we should follow their advice. It was only the first discussion and not the last one. We should not be in a rush while considering these issues that is why the Council recommended to discuss them at the CP sessions in November and March.

The 126th session of the JINR Scientific Council: discussion of the JINR Strategic plan. Video by the JINR Scientific Information Department

I like the involvement of members of our Scientific Council: even considering some procedure issues of the elections they call for the strict following of the established rules instead of adjusting them according to current circumstances. If the rules become out of date, we should establish new ones and, most interestingly, for the most neutral environment. Let’s exemplify it with the past elections of the Institute’s director. How was it conducted? We elect a director in March but the previously elected director holds the office until the end of the year thus providing a gradual handover of responsibilities. It is not practised in the laboratories. So, we should develop a sophisticated system for it.

I would not say that I am pessimistic about the development of the Institute. Nevertheless, something should be changed, including the management system. Nowadays, we have too much paperwork. We overload the laboratories and ourselves with various documents and this obstructs from major activities… I understand that there should be order, reports but it seems like we go too far with it. Now, we are trying to unite offices of the chief engineer to achieve some kind of joint management. We should decide on the infrastructure: in what order to conduct repairs. On the one hand, we have Alushta, on the other hand, we have Ratmino and Moscovskaya str.,2 and other infrastructure buildings. The laboratories have numerous objects. And considering all this one can find out that we supported something in one place and did not support in the other. We find numerous problems that we do not resolve quickly. We have discussed what to do with the hotel at Moscovskaya,2 for two years. In reality, we could do it just in a year. We can observe the same in many situations. Now, we consider the Ratmino resort hotel again, and we have already discussed it many years ago. It is high time we took a serious decision assessing our opportunities objectively. If we decide to do it, then we should start working on it and do not prolong discussions for a couple of years.

Back to the agenda of the session of the JINR Scientific Council. I cannot but mention the results of the elections of the laboratories’ directors. It is a serious staff problem. At this session, we solved them but at the same time, the Institute still faces them. That is why the recently affirmed programme for attracting the talented youth to the Institute is a topical issue and should be implemented. We do not pay enough attention to Russia, other JINR Member States. There are many people, including the youth, in the RAS Physical Department. The same is true for the Member States: if they do not offer someone, we do not look for specialists there although we should. The Institute is now in an advantageous position, at the development stage, and it always attracts specialists… Recently, the number of the Institute’s staff has increased by 800 people. In 2005, we had 3,270 staff members in the laboratories and administration. Nowadays, there are 4,100 of them, not including self-supporting units. So, we have significantly grown! It seems that since we are growing like this we have a lot of good staff members. However, I do not feel like that. Selection of the talented youth is a very serious task as far as every time we face the problem that there is nobody to nominate for higher positions. We should train leaders. If we start the post-graduation programme, organize a competition, then we should find them, nominate for managing positions, and we should make sure that they move forward. There is no other way. We can just consider the situation with VBLHEP. The peak of activities will take place there in 10 years but people advancing all this are more than 70 years old… If the engineering school operates successfully, it will be crucial. The region allocates 300 million rubles for repairs of the building of the physical and mathematical school. So, there is hope that it will be opened next September. It also contributes to the training of specialists.

I realize that our problems are different in comparison with Russian institutes. We are in a more advantageous situation but we must be responsible as far as we get far stronger support than ordinary institutes. This means that we should arrange work so that it is conducted in time, according to the plan.

As for the Scientific Council at large, it was a successful meeting. Discussions of the strategy were honest. Elections were discussed openly, in a non-trivial manner, I would say. Everyone expressed opinions, and everything was well in this regard. However, it does not mean that the development of the strategy goes well. It is far from it. The strategy comprises numerous aspects. We live and talk about what we need today while the long-term strategy is developed until 2035. The present seven-year period continues; the next one will start in about three years. We need to prioritize everything. Everything should be strictly organized in the long-term plan. It should be clear for what purposes and what resources to spend. What should be of primary importance, the secondary, etc. We have not done it yet. I understand the Laboratory of Neutron Physics. They have the reactor the operational life of which will expire and until then it should be replaced. Otherwise, there will be nothing to work at. I can understand them, and cannot understand the others. You cannot say what you would like to study in 15 years. Okay, you cannot. However, the tasks for the next 10 years are more or less obvious. Still, we have one more year, and we will bring this long-term programme to the desired level.

Evgeny Molchanov, JINR Weekly Newspaper