Academician Rozanov on award of Demidov Prize

Interview, 21 February 2023

On 10 February, Academician A. Yu. Rozanov (Paleontological Institute of RAS, LRB JINR) became the winner of the Demidov Prize. We congratulated Alexey Yurievich on receiving a high award and asked him to comment on the event.

Photo © “Scientific Russia”

– The prize has a long history, it was founded by industrialist Pavel N. Demidov in the 19th century. This is the most prestigious non-governmental award existing in science. Its Advisory Committee includes prominent scientists, and the Board of Trustees consists of people who make investments in science, including those who form the financial status of the prize. Have you never been a member of the Advisory Committee yourself?

– No, I have not.

– This is an objective evaluation of the work…

– I can say that of all the awards I have received this one is the most prestigious. For many years of its existence, only 100 people received it. I will mention some names for you to understand the level of the prize. These are Dmitry I. Mendeleev, Nikolay I. Pirogov, Adam Johann von Krusenstern. President of the N. N. Burdenko National Medical Research Centre of Neurosurgery, an outstanding neurosurgeon considered the best in the world Alexander N. Konovalov won this award together with me. Who else could you know? For example, one of the founders of our space medicine Oleg G. Gazenko received this prize. Not so long ago, Yuri Ts. Oganessian won this award.

– You won the prize for the creation of a new direction in paleontology and astrobiology. Can you tell us briefly about these works?

– Well, it was put like this to make the phrase laconic, but in one place it is written “for works on paleontology”, in another – “on biology”. My works in JINR on astrobiology are included here. Here is how it is formulated in the diploma: “Academician Rozanov, a world-renowned scientist, a specialist in the field of geology, biology, paleontology, stratigraphy, astrobiology”.

– That is, for everything done in the entire scientific life…

– That is right. Not for the specific work, but for merits in science in general. Unfortunately or fortunately, I did things in various areas and left “marks” everywhere.

– You have become the innovator in some fields…

– Indeed, I developed a new direction of bacterial paleontology. There are many other things I pioneered in, things that are in all the textbooks – it’s about stratigraphy. I was elected to the governing bodies of many international organizations. For example, I was Vice-President of the International Palaeontological Association, Chairman of the International Subcommission on Cambrian Stratigraphy, worked as an expert in UNESCO committees.

– Getting back to the topic of astrobiology, can we expect new bright results in this field in the near future?

– You know, it was at JINR a year and a half or two ago that the book “The Orgueil meteorite (Atlas of microfossils)” was created. The authors are my entire group and our colleague Richard Hoover (USA), who recently became an Honorary Doctor of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

– What advice can you give young scientists on how to work and perhaps what to sacrifice in order to reach your heights in science?

– There is no need to sacrifice anything, one just need to work conscientiously, read as much as possible, and most importantly – this is what distinguished all my activities – if I started something, I always brought it to the end. Sometimes I started such works that lasted 10-12 years, but I still finished them. In science it is impossible to find out anything until the very end, it is an endless process. One should not be afraid that something will not work out, or it will, but everyone will stamp their feet or vice versa, clap their hands. I went through all these stages many times and managed to figure everything out.

– A new President of the Academy of Sciences was elected recently. Do you expect changes in the attitude of the state towards the Academy, an increase of its role in society and its influence on decision-making on a governmental scale?

– This is a difficult question. The attitude towards the Academy has always been complicated, the reputation of the Academy has been different over the years. The attitude of the country’s leaders to science has also been different. Some believed it was important, others considered it unimportant, some respected scientists and provided financing, others disrespected and did not give them money. As for today, I think, despite all the difficulties, the attitude towards science is beginning to change, except for one moment. It seems to me that the country’s leaders do not really understand that import substitution is not yet science, but a race. The only way we can develop independently is if our basic science is protected and if scientists are not guided in their research. The amount of money that is allocated to fundamental science may be small, but untouchable. And the last. There will be a lot of not really important, not bright or even erroneous things among fundamental research, but we must put up with this. In addition, it is in these “odds and ends” that in 30-50 years someone will find something interesting that was not recognized at the time. There is still no understanding that fundamental science is something that changes paradigms and fills reference books and encyclopedias. These are the basic factors on which later on the world develops in a new way. This is vital.