At PAC CMP meeting: Debatable, friendly, innovative

News, 16 July 2021

On 28 June, the 54th meeting of the Programme Advisory Committee for Condensed Matter Physics was held. At the meeting, in addition to the traditional reports on the decisions of previous meetings of the JINR Scientific Council and the JINR Committee of Plenipotentiaries, there were reports on the new neutron source and the status of the YuMO spectrometer, proposals for new projects, two scientific reports, and virtual poster presentations by young scientists. PAC CMP Chairman Dénes Lajos Nagy summed up the results of the PAC meeting in the form of correspondence that is already traditional for recent meetings.

– Welcoming the members of the PAC, JINR Director Grigory Trubnikov proposed integration of human and financial resources similar in scientific topics into large-scale projects as a possible but not the main mechanism for the transition from the current seven-year period to the next one. Taking into consideration the specifics of scientific activity (data analysis or engineering and technological support, methodology, theory, etc.) completely various combinations are possible here. It is impossible to act according to one template. Another mechanism is the possible automatic prolongation of projects for one or two years if the PAC does not doubt the importance and necessity of continuing the project. What is the opinion of the Programme Committee members?

– Before answering your question, let me start by apologising that my answer came much later than after the previous online meetings of the PAC for Condensed Matter Physics. The reason is that this time we had a kind of continuation of the discussion in order to clarify and formulate some points of our recommendations more precisely. Although little has changed, the final text was published only on Sunday, 4 July. Now we turn to your question: the situation can be understood only within the framework of the task of prioritising projects set by the JINR Directorate in January last year to optimize the available human and financial resources for the remaining period of the current Seven-Year Plan. The final opinion of the Committee was summarised in the general recommendations of the Programme Committee, which are formulated specifically for certain projects as important and integral parts of the document. It should be noted that the priority categories A, B, and C were too narrow to make all the projects fit into them. There was a consensus on the final text of the PAC recommendations, which means that it was supported by all members of our Programme Committee.

As for the proposal of Academician Grigory Trubnikov to unite similar projects into one, this is really due to the necessity to optimise human and financial resources. As for condensed matter physics, the situation is quite complicated taking into account the large thematic diversity of projects within the competence of our PAC, such as solid state physics, materials science, chemistry, industrial applications, life sciences, medicine, Earth sciences, space research, archaeology, preservation of cultural heritage, and others. Although it is quite clear that the JINR Directorate is trying to unite similar small projects into large ones thus making it possible to manage human and financial resources optimally. I do not think that this will be just a symbolic measure for projects in our competence, which does not really help the JINR Directorate. I firmly believe that the real solution to the problem will be to evaluate topics and projects in terms of a set of requirements that meet international standards. Finally, the task of our Committee is to give useful advice to the JINR Directorate, and I will do everything possible to make our Committee meet these expectations.

– The work on prioritising projects has been continued. You have heard the revised proposals for the postponed projects that received an excellent rating. During the discussion, opinions were expressed, for example, by Alexander Ioffe, that experts are not very critical and reviewers should be independent and anonymous. Do you agree with this?

– That’s right. The practice of selecting reviewers, as well as the method of reviewing, should be changed and comply with international standards, which is not quite the case now. Working with independent and anonymous reviewers is an established practice not only for scientific journals but also for user programmes of open access research infrastructures, including the user programme of the IBR-2 FLNP. The existing practice of the PAC for Condensed Matter Physics will be reviewed, and as a result, we have included this issue in the agenda of the January 2022 meeting of our Committee.

– In my opinion, the reports on the project of a new Neptune neutron source, on the status and prospects of the YuMO IBR-2 spectrometer, as well as two scientific reports generated deep interest. Has the PAC approved them?

– Yes, of course. M. V. Bulavin made an excellent, very detailed presentation about the state-of-art and future plans of the new JINR IBR-3 Neptune neutron source. Recently, FLNP has updated the roadmap for the creation of this unique object for approval by the management of JINR and Rosatom. The approval of the roadmap will allow R&D to be carried out on the development of fuel elements based on neptunium nitride and the preparation of technical specifications for the conceptual design of the Neptune reactor. Although the new source will not start working until 2036, the action plan is quite strict. The PAC thoroughly analysed it and recommended submitting a detailed report on the R&D on the development of fuel elements and on the preparation of the conceptual design of the Neptune reactor at its next meeting. The Committee also expects a report on the main points of the design of cold moderators, primary neutron optics, and protection as integral parts of a neutron source.

A. I. Ivankov in his report on the YuMO small-angle neutron scattering spectrometer named after the outstanding JINR physicist Yuri Mechislavovich Ostanevich presented the present state and prospects of this equipment. YuMO is currently the most popular spectrometer in the IBR-2 user programme. Researchers from all the JINR Member States and Associated Members, as well as other countries, use it. The results of experiments are published in prestigious journals. The PAC noted with satisfaction that the creation of a new source of cold neutrons led to a significant increase in their flux at the YuMO without a significant reduction of the flow of thermal neutrons. The Programme Committee supported further development of the small-angle neutron scattering method today and on future JINR pulsed neutron sources. The Committee has recommended continuing the modernisation of the YuMO spectrometer and expects that a detailed modernisation programme will be presented at a meeting in January 2022.

Two excellent scientific reports “Magnetic fluids and elastomers: structural studies for innovative applications” and “Investigating model lipid membranes complementarily by neutron and Raman scattering” presented by Maria Balasoiu and Dmytro Soloviov with Yersultan Arynbek, were very well received by the PAC.

– A virtual poster presentation by young scientists was organized only at the meeting of the PAC for Condensed Matter Physics. How was it? How do you assess the practice of performances by young scientists?

– Yes, it was a really great success, and I would like to express my gratitude to the secretary of our Committee, Oleg Valerievich Belov, and the technical staff of the IT service for making it possible. Actually, these were no longer posters in the traditional sense, but electronic presentations. Our world is rapidly changing, and we should use the very few positive outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic like this. The “Zoom: meeting rooms” technique worked perfectly; it seems to be ideal for such poster presentations if the number of presentations does not exceed 30. I hope that another two PACs will use our innovative experience at their upcoming meetings.

– Unfortunately, this time there were several technical failures, but the general atmosphere, in my opinion, was still traditionally friendly. Do you agree?

– The general atmosphere of the meeting, as always, was absolutely friendly. To be honest, I don’t remember any serious technical problems. Of course, it happened sometimes that someone could not immediately switch to the appropriate presentation mode or something of that kind, but everyone coped with such problems this time, too. It seems like we already forgot that there were often similar or even more serious problems at traditional meetings with in-person participation. Nevertheless, I cannot but admit that online contacts will never completely replace personal meetings, especially their traditionally friendly general atmosphere. Therefore, I sincerely hope that next year, maybe in January, maybe a little later, we will return to normal work, even if the world is never the same as it used to be before the pandemic.


Dina Badreeva (MLIT) with the scientific paper “Effect of charged lipids on β-amyloid peptide interactions with a phospholipid membrane” won. The second place was shared by Elena Mazhitova (MLIT) with the paper “Distributed information and computing infrastructure of the JINR member state organizations” and Inna Kolesnikova (LRB) who made the presentation “Information system for analyzing morphofunctional changes in the central nervous system in the study of the effects of ionizing radiation and other factors”. The best virtual poster presentation will be presented at the session of the Scientific Council in September.

Olga Tarantina,
JINR Weekly Newspaper