Grigory Trubnikov: “The basis for JINR is an ambitious scientific programme”

Interview, 26 August 2022

The seven-year period at the Joint Institute is finishing, and a new Seven-Year Plan for the Development for 2024 – 2030 is being actively prepared. JINR Director Grigory Trubnikov spoke about its development and the ideas underlying the document.

– Grigory Vladimirovich, how is the preparation of the new Seven-Year Plan for the development of the Institute going?

– The Directorate of the Institute – directors of laboratories, heads of departments are deeply involved in the process. We meet weekly and not a single major issue passes without a group discussion.

Nowadays, the active phase of preparing a new Seven-Year Plan is underway: we passed from the concept of the plan supported by CP JINR to the formation of the document’s text and its assemblage has begun. On 20 July, an extended meeting of the JINR Directorate with directors of laboratories, heads of departments, and management services was held. I would like the staff of the Institute to know about this work.

– Previously, public organizations worked at JINR, they actively participated in the discussion of the issues of the Institute’s development. Today, these functions have been partly transferred to STC and the Public Council, thanks to AYSS, the youth has become more active. What work is going on to discuss and draw up the Seven-Year Plan, what goals and significant indicators are included in it?

– The first approach was in February of this year at the Scientific Council. We discussed the logic of goal-setting and development of this Plan. The way how it should be formulated, arranged, and what the balance should be between desires, plans, and opportunities: personnel, resources, technological capabilities, observance of the interests of the Member States and Partner Countries of the Institute. As a result, we want to see a dynamically developing Institute. What, in my understanding, can be a criterion of how we develop, is it fast or is it good? In my opinion, our attractiveness to the world scientific community and the authority of the Institute can be such a criterion for success. Authority is the entirety of experiments, scientific results, achievements that we must demonstrate. And attractiveness is the interest in the scientific programme of the Institute, first of all, among Member States. And not just the desire, but also the readiness of researchers, engineers, specialists from Member States and Partner Countries to come to the Institute, join the scientific collaborations of experiments in Dubna or convince the Institute to participate as a key partner, that is, one on which the fate of an experiment depends, in international research abroad. The concept of attractiveness also includes not only the desire to participate in an already developed experimental programme, but also the desire to come to Dubna and to offer an experiment of global significance, using our infrastructure or developing it … and, in the language of our governments, to increase the added value, the scientific content of the Institute. Therefore, for the Seven-Year Plan, we chose the logic that was supported by both the Scientific Council in February and the Committee of Plenipotentiary Representatives of the Governments of the JINR Member States in May: the Institute should focus as much as possible on a large-scale experimental research programme at those facilities that have been built over the past 10-15 years.

The CP members appreciated the fact that we proposed to call the next seven-year period the time of “harvest”. This was preceded by huge investments, first in the scientific and social infrastructure of the Institute, in personnel. Today, this scientific base should bear fruit… The Superheavy Element Factory in FLNR has already started operating, DLNP is in the active phase of designing the Baikal-GVD deep-sea neutrino telescope and the results of this work are already accumulating. Next year, the NICA accelerator complex is to be commissioned and in 2024, the international programme on the MPD detector should start. MLIT constantly develops and not only follows the global trends in information technology, but in some ways even outstrips them. FLNP and LRB rapidly develop as international centres for shared use. It is very important to maintain this level. The entire scientific infrastructure of JINR should become an open platform for scientists, engineers, and specialists from all over the world.

– Are there new projects?

– In the next Seven-Year Plan, we are not going to launch a new large-scale megascience project, such as, for instance, NICA, but deliver the main resources to the reliable, sustainable operation of all our basic facilities and the arrangement of conditions for attracting new personnel to the Institute. For me, the main priority and the main success criteria of our new programme and of our work is involving a thousand people in the orbit of the Institute, primarily in the format of associate personnel.

– In what year of the new Seven-Year Plan can this figure be reached?

– Let’s say, by 2027 – 2030. Here one should be very careful in forecasts, because a year ago we could speak more confidently, but today, geopolitical turbulence has a great impact both on the mobility of personnel and the international scientific and technical cooperation at the system level. But in general, in a big way, if we present in numbers, then a thousand people more will be involved in the work of the Institute. This does not mean that we have to employ a thousand new specialists. Researchers, research engineers may be associate personnel. These are scientists affiliated in scientific centres of their countries and at the same time participating in collaborations and research projects of the Institute.

– And their names are in JINR scientific publications.

– Yes, they are co-authors of publications on scientific results. In my opinion, in order for our entire research infrastructure to be involved for no less than six to eight months, or even nine months a year, we need to increase the number of scientists and specialists to at least a thousand. We also have to allocate resources to the operation of basic and experimental facilities, maintaining their reliable, safe operation in accordance with the most advanced environmental standards and the requirements of nuclear and radiation safety, industrial safety. This also requires a lot of money.

Of course, in order for a thousand people to live to the utmost and comfortably and they will also come with their families, we need to seriously take care of the development of the Institute’s social infrastructure. The subcommittee headed by Vice-Director Latchesar Kostov is actively engaged in such a programme, it will be included in the new Seven-Year Plan. At one time, in my pre-election plan, it sounded like a new residential area in the city. In addition, the active development of a hotel and a hostel for students, advanced service housing and, probably, the Ratmino complex is envisaged.

– To what extent does the implementation of the Plan depend on the external conditions in which the Institute will develop? And how can JINR position itself as one of the global poles of the world’s research space, along with such centres as CERN and be vigorously included in the current global research agenda, taking into account the expectations of Member States?

– Of course, attracting new countries, involving new partners in our programme and supporting our participation in new international projects in Europe, China, the United States also requires a lot of resources. These are not only trips to conferences, but also scientific visits, participation in experiments outside Dubna… Three major key areas: reliable work on the experiments of the basic facilities, providing conditions for comfortable work and life in Dubna and JINR’s proactive participation in the world’s leading experiments undoubtedly increase our authority in the world. Based on this, we have developed a draft of the Seven-Year Plan. Today, we have a draft document that balances the capabilities of the Institute, human and other resources, as well as the ability of laboratories to fulfill those scientific obligations and participate in those programmes that we want to support and develop both at home and outside. The first discussion of the draft Plan was held at the Directorate meeting. Quite a lot of constructive comments were made, most of them related to risks and the development of various scenarios depending on how external circumstances change.

But science also develops. The life sciences and information technology change very rapidly. If we want to be integrated into the research process and be prominent in the world, we need to pragmatically choose those areas in which we are ready to develop and are able to stay at the forefront. In some areas, we could act as the most beneficial partner in the global scientific landscape. But in our traditional particle physics and nuclear physics, the same synthesis of superheavy elements or the study of exotic nuclei, relativistic heavy ion physics, we have not been alone in all the past years and decades. Our competitors-partners no less actively develop, there are already the first results, for instance, in Brookhaven at the RHIC facility and we, accordingly, dynamically adjust our programme at the NICA complex. Neutron physics and physics based on pulsed neutron sources also undergo quite dramatic changes and we must not catch up, but offer something new so that the facility to be built in 15 years would be the most attractive in the world at that very moment. Astrophysics, neutrino physics is also a strategically important area of work that is today especially in demand. Here we must choose those niches in which we are already strong both in terms of our experts and the results of our experiments, our technological capabilities. We should still play a leading role both in the home experiments that JINR carries out at nuclear power plants and at the Baikal Neutrino Telescope, as well as in experiments in astrophysics and neutrino physics in Europe, very ambitious experiments in the United States, China, Antarctica. And here we should set goals, investing in which, first of all intellectually and then with other resources, we could be very noticeable in the world.

Today, the draft of the Seven-Year Plan has passed the first iteration, by September we will have a document agreed within the Institute and a month before the Scientific Council that will be held on 29–30 September, we will send it to the participants of the session. We hope that an open and constructive discussion will be held at the Scientific Council and we will be able to defend this programme.

– My last question is the shortest one, but it goes a bit off topic: how do you imagine our Institute in 2030?

– I imagine it. And this is the most important thing. What matters most is that the Institute will live and develop. The composition of Member States, apparently, will change. I really hope and believe that over the years several new countries will appear in our family. After the pandemic and geopolitical turbulences, we actively resume work with our long-term partners from many countries of the world – China and India, the countries of South America and Africa, Europe and Southeast Asia.

Recently, the science attache from the Indian embassy in Russia came to visit us. We actively work with China. As the largest international intergovernmental research organization located in Russia, we are invited to take part in a meeting of the subcommittee on scientific and technical cooperation under the Commission for the preparation of regular meetings of the Heads of Governments of China and the Russian Federation, where we want to offer our Chinese partners an increase in the level of their participation in the Institute and discuss their associate membership at JINR. I would put it this way: talk about a special intergovernmental agreement between China and JINR.

We make every effort so that in the coming years Serbia and the Republic of South Africa, Associate Members of JINR, make decisions at the government level to upgrade their status to full membership in the Institute. There are all prerequisites for this. And the precedent with Egypt showed an example to the Institute’s Partner Countries of how carefully, comprehensively, including the highest scientific and state level, the process of admitting a new country to the Joint Institute is worked out. Today, we proactively interact with Latin American countries: Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Chile. There is already active cooperation with Mexico within the framework of the NICA project. The partnership with theorists from Chile and specialists from DLNP and BLTP has become traditional. In my opinion, very fruitful cooperation can develop with Argentina and Brazil on research being carried out in FLNP and LRB, as well as in FLNR. Large facilities in the form of synchrotrons and research reactors are constructed in these countries. There has always been a great mutual interest in the interaction between JINR and scientific organizations in South Korea and today it has received a new impetus. And here we also have a serious start: FLNR, FLNP, and other laboratories have been cooperating with South Korean institutes for a long time.

I am confident that the Institute’s family will grow by 2030 and the main base, the main magnet for attracting new countries, will be a serious and reliable scientific programme at all our facilities. Let me repeat once again that the main focus of the new Seven-Year Plan is “gathering the scientific harvest,” that is, scientific achievements. We move from the stage of design, the construction of large scientific facilities to the one in the name of which all this was started. And by involving new countries in the analysis of prospects beyond the Seven-Year Plan, after 2030 we must move on to a serious discussion of what new megascience facilities could appear at the Institute. As a result, two or three proposals will have to be worked out in the same way as it was done in the middle of the 2000s.

In this sense, NICA is a very competitive niche both in the field of relativistic heavy ions and in the field of spin physics. In the area of nucleon structure research in terms of the reaction product yield statistics, the possibility of scanning by energy and the accuracy of the experiment, we are absolutely competitive with both Brookhaven and the future FAIR, the launch of which is postponed a little. We are also confident that the scientific programme proposed by our specialists for the NA61 experiment at CERN is of interest to the entire world community.

The Baikal Neutrino Telescope is a unique world-class facility for detecting ultrahigh-energy neutrinos. In addition, in Baikal the area of neutrinos is determined much more accurately than in a similar facility at the South Pole. Work on the deployment of the neutrino telescope is carried out by several institutes and universities with the consolidating role of our Institute and INR RAS. Besides, within the framework of our large scientific neutrino programme, by the way, the largest in the world, specialists from DLNP work on the construction of the largest detectors: a liquid scintillation detector for detecting reactor antineutrinos (JUNO, China) and a liquid argon detector (DUNE, USA) for detecting neutrinos and antineutrinos from the particle accelerator. Finally, we are involved in a number of neutrino and astrophysical projects in Europe and in our country, using our know-how in the construction of low-background detectors with ultra-pure materials, gamma-ray telescopes, nuclear emulsions, scintillation materials, and much more. This is our strong point and our specialists are in demand all over the world. We rely on this, we will further develop our competencies and train personnel.

With the launch of the Superheavy Element Factory, FLNR holds the absolute record for the intensity of accelerated beams and today experiments on the synthesis of the elements 119 and 120, the first elements of the new Seven-Year Plan, are currently prepared. Further work on exotic nuclei and a number of other bright areas will be carried out.

We hope that a channel for ultracold neutrons will appear on the reactor in FLNP in the next seven years. A new spectrometer will be constructed and we expect that it will be possible to modernise several operating spectrometers and improve their efficiency by one or two orders of magnitude.

MLIT passes from data transfer rates in the order of 100 – 400 Gbps to rates above terabits per second. Data storage volumes will reach exabytes. This is about two orders of magnitude higher than what we have today. On the basis of the NICA complex, a Tier1 level centre will appear.

On the topics of LRB – life sciences, radiobiology, we will be engaged in the development of genomic-molecular, protein technologies that give the most striking results using a unique set of ionizing radiation sources in a record energy range.

Science is the most important thing for the Institute. As long as strong science exists, the Institute will live. This is our top priority. An ambitious and competitive scientific programme is the foundation of the entire Institute. Everything else: infrastructure, social programmes, educational component are also very important, but these are the walls of our building. And the foundation is an ambitious scientific programme.