Struggles for Money Consume Scientists

Fellows Spring 2001

By Andrea Widener

June 06, 2009

Andrei Arzhannikov is a thin, helpful man with a brown goatee and an earnest manner. At one point he chased a rapidly moving van several blocks through Akademgorodok's April slush when it left without his visitors.

But Arzhannikov's real enthusiasm is for science.

Arzhannikov heads a research group at the well-known Budker Institute of Nuclear Physics. With 3,000 people, it is the largest research center of the 450-institute strong Russian Academy of Sciences. In addition, Arzhannikov leads the physics department at nearby Novosibirsk State University.

As he ducked under the metal tube of his electron accelerator, nestled in the ground room of a cavernous lab building, Arzhannikov explained how short, high-pressure bursts of electrons can help scientists understand how materials change from solid to plasma. Unlike many laboratories in Russia, this electron accelerator and other nearby equipment has the cluttered, cared-for feel of a research center in any Western laboratory.

In the past 10 years, "life in our country completely changed," he said. Students don't have the opportunities they once had; even many high-level scientists have left. His mentor, a Russian physicist, now works at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory.

Sitting at a large round table with a wooden engraving of institute namesake Andrei Budker on the wall, Arzhannikov said his facility has managed to raise money by selling accelerators and accelerator parts. Through deft leadership that equalizes enterprise and research, it has managed to funnel a large part of that money into basic science research.

Even then, Budker's scientists spend much of their time trying to raise research money from Russian and Western agencies and writing status reports on those grants. That's something Russian scientists never had to worry about in a system that doled out money without an application process.

"We spend a lot of power to collect money, to organize the grants," Arzhannikov said with a sigh. "The time for thinking decreases year by year."