Zhores Alferov: “Future lies in the union of computer technologies and biology”
Zhores Alferov is one of the most famous and recognized scholars of our time. The Soviet and Russian physicist, the only living (out of those dwelling in Russia) laureate of the Nobel Prize in physics. The discoveries made by Zhores Alferov became the basis of the modern information technology. Lasers transmitting information flows via optical fibre networks of the Internet, technologies in the basis of cell phones and many other things were created because of his research.
A physicist, scholar, person putting his back and heart into the development of the Russian science cannot and does not want to keep out of the ongoing social processes. What way should the modern society choose, where the requirements of time lead the Russian science and due to what Samara University is going in the right direction – about these and many other things Zhores Ivanovich told us in his interview.
- Zhores Ivanovich, it is not for the first time that you have come to Samara. Your visits became a good tradition?
- I came to Samara in 2004 for the first time, to sanatorium “Volga Cliff Resort” ("Âîëæñêèé óòåñ"), and since that time go there every year. I have known Aerospace University for a long time, for many years have been communicating with Viktor Aleksandrovich Soyfer, with Evgeniy Vladimirovich Shakhmatov, we have long scientific ties. I visit Samara University with great pleasure as an institute led by Viktor Aleksandrovich (Soyfer). This is a powerful academic centre. I am glad that scientific potential is being preserved at university.
- Is it rare nowadays?
- Of course. Much is lost. It is especially true about the industrial potential. A very bright illustration is a visit to RSC “Progress” and nearby Aviation plant. “Progress” was in fact based on Kuibyshev Aviation Plant, but it is a space industry, we take care of it, preserve it, but aviation industry was lost by us. Generally, the losses which we had in the last 25-30 years are tremendous. Our country stayed at the cutting edge, was an industrial, scientific and technical power. I often give the following example. In 2000 when I was awarded the Nobel Prize I took part in the round table held annually by BBC for a new group of the Nobel Prize Winners. My neighbour during the talk was an outstanding American economist, James Heckman, Chicago School of Economics, who received the Nobel Prize in economics. Answering one of the questions he made a point: “Scientific and technical progress of the second half of XX century was completely determined by the competition of the USSR and USA. And it is such a shame that this competition is over”. This is an opinion of the American specialist, representative of the market economy and American scientific society.
- Do you believe that socialism is the best way of social development despite the experience of our country?
- Yes, even with all its drawbacks. I am going to read at Samara University lecture “Albert Einstein, socialism and modern world”. I think that the name of Albert Einstein is known for everyone, but only few know that he was a supporter of the socialist development of Earth. In 1949 for the journal “Monthly Review” Albert Einstein wrote the article “Why Socialism?” where he grounded that only the socialist way of the planet development has the right to exist and must determine the development of the human society. He made the point that the leading capitalist countries became the leading ones not because they won the competition in the market economy. They achieved this position much earlier by the way of conquest. Indeed, the capitalist system of management inevitably leads to oligarchy and one of the most terrible consequences of the capitalist development is the system of education and ruining of the upbringing of the younger generation. The accent is made of the idea of competitiveness. One should strive to win to get additional material values. Albert Einstein makes a point that this is a dead-end track for the humanity.
- And where should society move today, in what sphere of science investments must be made? Is it true that future lies in interdisciplinary education?
- Interdisciplinary research has always played a big part. Scientific and technical development in war and post-war years was greatly connected with the development of physics, as well as new technologies of radio electronics, radio detection and ranging, computer technologies. Times change. Yes, community of physics, mathematics, technologies and technical sciences gave the modern computer technical equipment, modern informatics, but everything develops. Today an important part is played by the development of biology, physiology. And to move the science ahead, naturally, the youths should be taught it. Much in this direction is done by MIPT, physics and mechanics department of Leningrad Polytechnic University and my department of optoelectronics at LETI.
- Does it mean that this practice already exists?
- Not only it does exist, it used to be implemented at all universities. In Moscow physical and technical university, Moscow engineering and technology, in the Urals, and by the way at your university the work in this direction was on. Today I develop this practice in the academic university created by me. At first, we oriented at the bachelor degree programme of Polytechnic Institute, now we have created our own. It is not big, but we overtook all the universities of our country on the quality of the admission and there we teach the bases of physiology and medicine alongside with informatics, physics and mathematics.
- Modern Russian science has an acute problem about which you often speak, i.e. brain drain. How it can be solved?
- It is impossible to stop brain drain till we revive high technology and industry of Russia. To stop people leaving they should have interesting, well-paid work at home. High technological industries and almost completely industrial science are ruined here. Overall scientific potential of the country shrank incredibly, and students will always be interested in research, that is why they leave for abroad where they can be engaged in science.
- Does it mean that we should create our own i-phones?
- Generally, we could make them earlier than Apple. Only two things are their basis, i.e. silicon chips and semiconductor heterostructures. What heterostructures are? They are high-frequency transistors, all types of lasers, all types of LED, all types of light detectors, all quick electronics. It is all based on heterostructures. And we were the leaders in this direction, for this I was awarded the Nobel Prize. We did it earlier, we had experimental production earlier, to the end of the 80s – beginning of 90s we destroyed it all. Today we do not have any material base. Though we can, certainly, buy the technology. To buy the technology created by us.
-Zhores Ivanovich, if you had had an opportunity to give yourself aged 20 some advice, what you would have said?
- To myself and current day youths I can give only the piece of advice by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin: learn, learn and learn.
Zhores Ivanovich Alferov was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2000 for the development of semiconductor heterostructures and creation of opto- and microfibre components. Member of the Order of Merit. Vice-president of RAS. Foreign member of National Academy of Sciences (USA) and National Academy of Engineering (USA), Dr.h.c. and supervisory director of Samara University.