Victor Matveev: “Brightest minds of world and European science work on this project”

Interview, 26 August 2022

Victor Matveev, Scientific Leader of the Joint Institute, spoke about the new Seven-Year Plan of the Institute, commenting on the scientific directions, personnel policy and international cooperation for the new seven-year period 2024 – 2030.

– What to expect in the next seven years? What is your role in the work on the Seven-Year Plan?

– We are waiting for a new seven-year period, starting in 2024, it is under development on the basis of the JINR Long-Term Development Strategy in the period from 2024 to 2030 and beyond. Work on this programme has been going on for several years. In 2018, the JINR Scientific Council and the JINR Committee of Plenipotentiaries supported the initiative of the Directorate of the Institute to develop a strategy for the further development of our international organization in order to see today: where we wish to go over the years, what place we should take in the world within the framework of, as they say, international division work in the field of fundamental and applied, innovative physical research, what role we would like and should play in the field of current education and training in the interests of all Member States of our Institute. In order to achieve all these goals, today we should think about what kind of scientific and personnel policy to have, a system for organizing scientific research and preparing a scientific succession of higher qualifications.

At the same time, we should always take into account that our Institute, setting itself the task of achieving the highest scientific results in the field of our main areas of research, is and should remain one of the largest and most significant international research organizations in the world, where both the most talented youth, as well as leading scientists and specialists from all over the world should seek to work. Therefore, it is very important for us that all development plans reflect the mission of JINR – it is a high organization of international scientific cooperation, so that, opening the way for the Institute to achieve major scientific discoveries, it would benefit each of its Member States and the entire world scientific community. So that everyone sees the necessity and expediency of supporting the envisaged development programmes of our Institute. It is remarkable that not only members of our International Scientific Council, but also prominent scientists from outside JINR Member States, who gladly accepted our invitation to join this work, are working on the development of the JINR Long-Term Development Strategy programme. I think it would be right to say that this community that has taken an active part in the development of a Long-Term Strategy for the development of JINR is the brightest minds of European and world science. And therefore, the strategy on the basis of which we develop our Seven-Year Plan takes into account not only our interests and the logic of development as we see it here in Dubna, but precisely on the basis that all our scientific strategic plans should be an integral part of development international plans. The projects and research programmes included in our plans should be in demand by the international scientific community, just as the international community has the right to expect that we will take an active part in the implementation of global international scientific projects. It is very important.

If we talk about priorities, then, of course, the previous two seven-year periods proceeded from certain formulations of the Institute’s development and to a large extent we are approaching a new programme that today we prepare based on the results of implementing the previous tasks. Our main basic projects that are of strategic significance are, first of all, the further research of the physics of superheavy elements. A fundamental development of this area is outlined, that refers to meeting the goal of searching for the boundaries of the Periodic table, searching for the occurrence of perhaps even more superheavy elements than the already discovered heaviest element oganesson with number 118 and advancing in the study of the physics of superheavy elements, their internal structure, the chemical properties of the atoms formed by these superheavy elements. Big surprises for physicists and chemists, as well as unexpected discoveries are possible here. The ultrarelativistic nature of the motion of electrons bound in the atoms of superheavy elements can lead to a shift in the chemical properties of such atoms in comparison with those expected in terms of their places in the Periodic table, as it has already been discovered in the experiments of FLNR. If this really takes place, beyond the currently known framework of the Periodic table, the periodic laws themselves formulated by Mendeleev may also change to a certain extent. Who knows, perhaps today, when planning further progress in the study of SHE, we are at some new frontier, just as at one time it was necessary to develop a new mechanics based on the principles of the theory of relativity to describe ultrarelativistic velocities of motion. Maybe we are really on the threshold of new discoveries of qualitative patterns that go beyond the already familiar formulations of classical chemistry and physics.

Now let’s talk about the implementation of the flagship project of the previous JINR Seven-Year Plan – the NICA megascience project. This very serious and, I would say, ambitious, in the best sense of the word, scientific project required for its implementation reliance on completely new approaches both in technology and in the formulation of research scientific programmes. The task is extremely unique, as despite all the successes of the Standard Model, we see that understanding the physics of nuclear interactions at high energies at large distances and, in particular, the properties of nuclear matter at high densities, pressures and temperatures, that is, where the interactions are really very strong, this is not a fully explored topic yet. We are not able yet to describe in detail the processes that occur in the first moments of the birth of our Universe as a result of what physicists have agreed to call the Big Bang. The theory is not able yet to fully describe and explain the physical properties of the nuclear matter that physicists have agreed to call quark-gluon plasma and quark-gluon quantum liquid under extreme conditions, formed as a result of the Big Bang of the Universe.

That is, the development of the heavy ion collider NICA and the programme of physical research intended for it is the task that if the research is properly formulated and implemented, it should lead to discoveries of a gigantic scientific scale. Therefore, the beginning of research at the NICA collider and the further development of this unique scientific complex will be one of the main pillars on which the new Seven-Year Plan is built.

At the same time, it is very important to maintain and develop the multi-purpose orientation of the scientific programme of our Institute that is traditionally a developed platform for multidisciplinary research in the interests of frontier areas of knowledge. This is especially relevant in general in our time because, as world experience shows, fundamental science, as a result of its development, naturally leads to innovations that are highly demanded by modern society, modern life and the need for new industrial technologies. The Member States of our Institute are very interested in this and we cannot but pay attention to this.

– Yes, Victor Anatolievich, representatives of these countries often raised and initiated these issues at meetings of various levels both in Dubna and at international forums held with the participation of JINR.

– Absolutely right. Therefore, further development of our research complex based on the IBR-2 research reactor is really important, including plans to create a new generation neutron source designed to replace it. And although the final decision on this has not yet been made, the new Seven-Year Plan provides for the development of a project and preparations for the creation of a new generation neutron source, called “Neptune”, based on new elements and technologies that would support research on a wide class of issues, including issues of the sciences about life, nuclear ecology and medicine, deep space flights and much more.

And of course, the new Seven-Year Plan provides for the further powerful development of the JINR Information and Computing Complex that has become one of the most important elements of our development, as today, when implementing fundamental and applied research at the forefront of contemporary science, it is necessary to pay great attention to the processing and analysis of a huge volume of data, without which it is impossible to advance in solving many scientific problems and obtaining new knowledge.

Speaking of this, I want to note that the programme of our Institute, and this cannot but become one of the most important pillars of the new Seven-Year Plan, includes the opportunities provided by the continued development of our unique deep-water Baikal neutrino telescope for research in the field of neutrino astrophysics and astronomy. More and more, the serious potential of discoveries in this area of research is revealed. It is especially pleasing that this project has recently been officially registered as one of the most important basic elements of the Institute’s research infrastructure and its development attracts attention and interest of many research centres, institutes both in Member States and around the world. It already gives very interesting results for astrophysicists. So, we are waiting for the processing of new data – they already exist, but are still kept in secret. Of course, you understand that this is a joke, but there is some truth in it. And this area of research will be one of the pillars of the new Seven-Year Plan, in the implementation of which the Dzhelepov Laboratory for Nuclear Problems and our partners in institutes and organizations both in Russia and other Member States play an important role.

And finally, one cannot but say that all the research areas I have mentioned that make up the scientific programme of the new Seven-Year Plan, are united by the Laboratory of Theoretical Physics. Here, the highest level of the scientific schools of this laboratory and the theoreticians of our entire Institute play a huge role.

It is important that this programme of multidisciplinary research also includes work in radiobiology and life sciences, in the development of which the nuclear physics methods and research tools developed at the Institute play an important role. And all this must be balanced: not just as a set of projects, but work that should complement, mutually reinforce and, of course, rely on the fact that today more than ever we have the opportunity to provide training of the right level, of the right scale for young specialists. When the Institute is given such an opportunity to develop, the interest of young people is very clearly manifested. And we are very happy to see many talented young people around who are inspired by this new research. Therefore, I want to say again that the basis for the new Seven-Year Plan that today we specifically work out with all the material and intellectual resources, is a strategy that possesses not only our purely Dubna range, but is part of a global strategy for the development of fundamental research in the field of particle physics, neutrino astrophysics and astronomy. And this is very essential.

– Victor Anatolievich, noting the new opportunities that have opened up for the participation of youth in advanced research at JINR, would you like to say a few words about the staff of the Institute in general? In this unique scientific centre, perhaps the most unique are considered to be people. And learning about the main provisions of the draft of the new Seven-Year Plan, I noticed that considerable funds are to be allocated for the development of work with personnel.

– Indeed, this is an important element of development and it cannot but be reflected in the new Seven-Year Plan. Although, it would seem, its main elements are related to the formulation of specific tasks for specific priority scientific programmes, yet we understand and life teaches us that today the issues of material and resource support, no matter how important they may be, will not provide solutions to all issues without adequate support from talented people, without the development of human potential. Therefore, work to ensure the training and growth of the intellectual and professional level of personnel will be of great importance, including for the solution of specific tasks of the Seven-Year Plan. Currently, these tasks will play a specific important role, being included in the Seven-Year Plan. We see that in general there is a struggle for talents in the world as one of the most important elements of development. And by attracting the talented youth to work in our current programmes, new topics, we have to provide all the necessary conditions for comprehensive development, including spiritual growth. In this sense, we see that really big scientific institutes, research centres, if their scientific development is vigorous, then the cultural one does not lag behind. In a sense, waves of cultural development simply radiate from such rapidly developing scientific centres, for talented people perceive life and express themselves in all the richness of their nature. And we, striving to achieve the greatest scientific results, to obtain world-class discoveries, must keep all this in mind, take into account, as our need, think about many things, besides only the development of facilities and their operation. It is necessary to create and take care of normal working and living conditions for our scientists and specialists, all our employees, no matter what place they have in the structure of the Institute. It is necessary to think about the state of our territories, office and industrial premises, hostels, canteens, places of leisure… Everything must meet the highest standards at all levels.

Today, it is obvious what extensive work, despite all difficulties, is carried out by a well-coordinated team of the Chief Scientific Secretary, the departments that provide work with personnel, the University Centre, the services of the Chief Engineer and the Department of Management Services, Capital Construction Department that ensure infrastructure development. It is necessary to give them a serious place in our plans. All of them should think deeply and put in the appropriate data to be reflected in the Seven-Year Plan. The next Seven-Year Plan is a truly comprehensive Plan that includes both a part concerning the development of specific priority basic facilities, new experimental projects and a part related to the development of our Institute in a complex as an international scientific organization that is still based on talent, abilities and professional qualities of our staff.

And of course, we are proud of our honoured employees, who gave and are still giving a significant part of their lives and their best efforts to the Institute and its further development. Many of our veterans deserve the glory of the Institute. You know, it is so pleasant that the celebrations held at the Institute on its 65th anniversary and events dedicated to it, such as the creation of the colourful, largest periodic table in the world on the side facade of the Arkhimedes pool, demonstrated not only those discoveries that were made within the walls of the Institute, but also the level, the grandeur of the personality of those people, thanks to whom these scientific discoveries and advanced scientific ideas became a reality.

We are proud of the veteran of our Institute, the world-famous successor of one of the founders of the Flerov Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions Academician Yuri Tsolakovich Oganessian, currently Scientific Leader of this famous laboratory and we see how important it is that the Institute retains this continuity, the transfer of talent from teacher to students, what significance it has even for the atmosphere that exists in our Institute, in all its scientific departments.

One of the veterans of the Veksler and Baldin Laboratory of High Energy Physics, V. A. Nikitin, a world-famous organizer and an active participant in the joint Soviet-American programme of experimental research on the most powerful proton accelerator at that time, developed at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory outside Batavia, near Chicago (Illinois, USA) is highly respected. Despite the very difficult political situation in the world, Dubna physicists were able to make a decisive contribution to the implementation and success of this major programme of international scientific cooperation, the 50th anniversary of which we should properly celebrate.

It is very difficult, illustrating this idea, to talk about individual laboratories, for which there is simply not enough time allotted to me in this interview. Perhaps the main thing I want to say here is that we look ahead the future with optimism. Of course, the current conditions for further development are very difficult. Considerable resources are needed, material, financial and, of course, no less intellectual. But such resources are always limited and therefore all this requires us to consolidate on the most important priority tasks and programmes, requires us not to miss the development that is necessary to provide working conditions for scientists and all employees of the Institute, for our partners coming to Dubna from Member States and other countries and especially for the youth choosing their own path in life and science. But, nevertheless, we see that we have certain opportunities for this.

I would like to note that despite the current difficult situation in the world, we see how much respect our international Institute enjoys. Therefore, we are sure that the interest in the world in the research we implement and intend to carry out will always be at a fairly high level.

Both international scientific collaboration and cooperation, the exchange of ideas and specialists will still play a huge role in the development of science, current education, in the dissemination of knowledge and the development of an advanced worldview in the interests of the whole society, all its members, regardless of specific civil and national affiliation.

At the beginning of our conversation, you asked me how today, being JINR Scientific Leader, I feel in this new role for me, how I see my place in the work of the Directorate of our Institute and specifically in the development of plans for the new Seven-Year Plan. It’s an interesting and difficult question.

I must tell you that I really did not move to another position, but rather entered a different phase of my work at the Institute that became my family many years ago, when after graduating from St. Petersburg State (at that time, Leningrad) University, I took a position and began my work at the Laboratory of Theoretical Physics supervised by Nikolay Nikolaevich Bogoliubov, who became my teacher and our Laboratory is named after him. My mentor and senior comrade Albert Nikiforovich Tavkhelidze played a great role in my life and work. Since that time, as they say, much water has flowed, a lot has happened: transfer to work at the Institute for Nuclear Research of the USSR Academy of Sciences, work in the Directorate of the Russian Academy of Sciences as a member of the Presidium, Chairman of the Troitsk Scientific Centre and Academician-Secretary of the Department of Physical Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Being elected as JINR Director in 2011 was a gift of fate for me, I could again return to our city-science and the Institute that became my home, where in 1965 my scientific activity as a trainee researcher started. To be Director of such a large international Institute with its highest traditions and scientific criteria laid down by the founding fathers of JINR, to achieve decisions that ensure the development of the Institute and the required budget growth for this – all this is a very difficult burden for any director. And if in our Institute, in its Directorate, there were no my colleagues and comrades infinitely loving Institute and being devoted to it, it would hardly be possible to face with many of these problems. And I am sincerely grateful to all of them.

And today, I have the opportunity to look at the path that I have passed together with my colleagues over the years. Of course, much could have been done earlier and better.

Life goes forward by leaps and bounds, so, we can and will look at many things with completely other eyes.

It is difficult to completely and critically evaluate everything performed by the previous Directorate within the framework of this interview. This could be the subject of a separate discussion. Here, in general, we mention all this in order to at least briefly characterise the basis on which we currently rely in the development of our new Seven-Year Plan.

The role of the Scientific Leader of the Institute does not have its own traditions yet, they are still being developed and I am sincerely deeply grateful to the current JINR Director, still quite a young talented scientist and organizer, already well known and enjoying high authority in the world, that he gave me the opportunity to be an active participant of everything that happens in our international Institute. I sincerely believe in talent and highly appreciate the organizational skills of our young Director, his ability to charge his young colleagues with new ideas and unite like-minded people around him to implement them. I am pleased to know that some of these approaches and innovations were discussed during the period of his work as part of the previous Directorate, when he was next to all of us and was the youngest of its members.

Concluding this interview mainly dedicated to the story of the work that is aimed at preparing a new Seven-Year Plan for the Institute’s development and its consideration at the meeting of the upcoming JINR Scientific Council in September, I would like to wish all the participants in this complex and responsible process its successful completion and satisfaction from the accomplishment of this essential task for the Institute.