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Russia Close-up: Soviet science city rises from the ashes

Russia’s Novosibirsk region in southwestern Siberia is about half the size of Germany. Akademgorodok, or Academy Town, is the region’s scientific and educational centre. Founded in the 1950s, it brought 65,000 of the USSR’s greatest scientific minds together. After the collapse of the Soviet Union it had fallen into decline, but now it’s reviving.
The region’s capital, Novosibirsk, is Russia’s third biggest city after Moscow and Saint Petersburg. A unique scientific centre, Akademgorodok is located near the city. It was established in 1957 when thousands of the brightest Soviet scientists came to work in various fields, from maths and physics to sociology and philosophy.

It thrived for decades under the Soviet regime.  But by the late nineties it had fallen into decline. 

Now it's back on its feet again. Companies are investing in research and development.  They're reaping the rewards of scientific innovation in the form of new products and technologies.

The breadth of research is staggering.

Scientists in one of the institutes here are creating the next generation of modern medicine: tablets to prevent and treat strokes and heart attacks, insulin treatments for diabetics that avoid the need for painful injections.

In a different area of research, just down the road, the history of man is being revealed in the remains of one of the world's best preserved mummies.

It was found in Siberian ice and is unlocking the secrets of a 2,000-year-old civilisation.

Archeologists are using the skills of their colleagues here in the fields of biology, DNA and physics to form a clearer picture of the past.

And just out of town a project that has been ongoing since the sixties - to see if the processes that lead certain animals to be domesticated can be reproduced through genetic engineering.

However, Ludmila Trut, a genetic scientist who has devoted her life to the subject is still sceptical that Russia invests enough in science to keep projects like hers going.

“Even gifted and talented scientists get so little pay that they can’t afford to buy a home. Some have families and children, but no money to sustain them and no homes to live in,” she said.

Nevertheless, some young scientists say that despite funding problems, they still think the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Konstantin Lotov, a scientist and a second-generation citizen of Akademgorod confessed he has no intention of moving from the town.

"The atmosphere in Akademgorod is not too scientific, but first of all informal. It's like one big village, where everyone knows each other," Lotov said.

Science and business can work together

Mikhail Predtechensky is an accomplished scholar and runs a multi-million dollar manufacturing business.  He says the opportunity to move forward is ripe for the picking.

“The future very much depends on us, how we work. We need to take a positive approach to life. We feel confident at the moment, so I think the future is in our own hands,” Predtechensky said.


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