'Fund pure research,' Putin is told

May 12, 2006

Russia must target spending on the most promising areas of pure research if it is to retain a leading role in international science, Vitaly Ginzburg, the Nobel prizewinning physicist, has told President Vladimir Putin, writes Nick Holdsworth in Moscow.

In a letter, Professor Ginzburg - a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences - urges President Putin to recognise that "fundamental science" is crucial for the future of the country and must not be subject to short-term political considerations.

Identifying and funding research priorities was essential and could be done only by experts, said Professor Ginzburg, who shared the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physics with Alexei Abrikosov and Anthony Leggett for work on superconductors and superfluids.

"Fundamental science takes time to produce results, and prioritising is essential. For example, I proposed that the President support a new laboratory to study superconductivity. This would cost $15 million (£9 million) to set up and a further $2 million or $3 million in annual running costs - that's not a lot of money for such a key area of research," Professor Ginzburg told The Times Higher .

Professor Ginzburg, now aged 89, played a key role in the development of the Soviet hydrogen bomb in the 1950s. He works at Moscow's Lebedev Physical Institute.

His letter to President Putin was, in part, prompted by proposals for major reforms of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Professor Ginzburg said that scientific research was threatened by plans to give the Kremlin the right to appoint or approve the academy's head or to turn the organisation into a state department.

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