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Sep 13, 2017 - FEFU News
Nikita Anisimov: University and Grand Challenges

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Historically, universities play the role of centers of concentration of the intellectual forces of humanity. Their main task is to preserve and reproduce the culture, and to build long-term strategies for transforming the world. At different times, the positions of universities and the nature of these strategies have changed–from the University of Bologna as the creator and custodian of the system of law, to the University of Wilhelm von Humboldt as the driver of technological progress. However, in each historical period they were solving major problems of human civilization.

Since the early reports of the Club of Rome published in the second half of the 20th century, the focus has been on the social and economic problems arising from the interaction of the worlds of nature and technology. Among these problems are the problems of environment, climate change, demographic transition, and human health issues, exhaustion of natural resources, the challenge of developing of the new spaces (the outer space, the World Ocean, and the Arctic), the transition to the digital economy, and associated with it challenges of cyber security.

The role of Russian science in solving global problems cannot be overestimated. It is no coincidence that the Strategy for the Science and Technology Development of the Russian Federation, approved in December 2016 by President Vladimir Putin's Decree, is focused specifically on solution of the Grand Challenges.

Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU), as an academic outpost of the country in the dynamically developing Asia-Pacific region, sets itself the task of becoming a globally visible entity in addressing these challenges. We are developing the communications of the Russian and international expert community with the research, academic and innovation institutions of the countries of the Asia-Pacific region (APR). Our partner network includes universities and research centers in Japan, South Korea, China, and other countries of the Asia-Pacific region. We see that the path to a real international competitiveness enhancement for a modern Russian university lies through inclusion in global research networks, Big Science, and Grand Challenges.

Challenges of New Spaces

The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean of the Earth; its area is about 179 million square kilometers. That is about half the surface area of the entire World Ocean. Its importance for the Asia-Pacific economies is difficult to overestimate. The Pacific Ocean is a key source of bioresources: fish, seafood, seaweed, which are a significant part of the diet of the population of the Asia-Pacific countries. The use of natural ocean biological resources is still more cost-effective and efficient for ensuring food security in the short and medium term than the development of aquaculture.

Besides, the Pacific Ocean can be used for alternative energy generation: floating solar and tidal power stations, wind turbines on the coast, as a conditioning and cooling system for automatic mega data centers for processing and storing information. In the medium term, there is a high probability of large data centers to be transferred under water. Thus, Microsoft is already testing its first underwater data storage and processing center, the Leona Philpot.

Despite increased attention to alternative energy, fossil fuels—hydrocarbons—remain the main source of energy for both cars and thermal power plants on the horizon of 20–30 years. In this regard, the development of oil and gas fields in the shelf zones of the Pacific Ocean using subsea production facilities remains an important area of economic activity in the region.

At the same time, the ocean is not only a source of resources for the economy, but also a huge water area, which is fraught with danger for the large population of the Asia-Pacific region. Devastating typhoons and storms, the number of which with the global warming will only increase, threaten the largest cities in the region and the complex infrastructure of the technological world. In addition to the direct threat to people's lives due to the impact of high waves and the flooding of coastal areas, there is a risk of destruction of power plants, water supply systems, agricultural lands, outbreaks of diseases due to insufficient sanitary arrangements at the place of disaster. The accident at the Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant demonstrated how fragile the well-being of technological civilization can be in the face of the elements. In this regard, the development of reliable means for forecasting, early identification and warning of weather and seismic risks is one of the key promising tasks for the Asia-Pacific countries.

Today, FEFU laboratories and institutes of the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences are involved into the research and development of engineering facilities for the field infrastructure development in the Arctic, underwater communication systems, the ergonomic production of ship parts and subassemblies, the design and maintenance of the reliability of marine equipment in partnership with both the Russian Far East plants (Dalpribor, Zvezda-DSME Shipyard, etc.), and the national technology leaders (Concern Morinsys-Agat and Transas Group of Companies). The university is a member of the University of the Arctic—UArctic, FEFU has the Center for the Study of the Legal Status of the Arctic and the Asia-Pacific Maritime Space. On May 30, 2017, the Russian Government approved the Concept for Russky Island Development, which featured creation of a marine biotechnopark for the intensive development of marine aquaculture on the Far Eastern coast of Russia.

Another important challenge for Russia in the Asia-Pacific region is the exploration of the outer space. The Asia-Pacific countries are interested in developing the space industry in the provision of services with the help of orbital constellations of satellites, such as satellite television, voice communications, the Internet, navigation services, and remote sensing of the Earth.

Today, most of the added value of the space industry is created not in the launch segment, but in the provision of services with the help of orbital constellations of satellites: satellite television, voice communication, Internet, navigation services, and remote sensing of the Earth. In the long term, it will be important to create conditions in Russia for the emergence of appropriate service companies and to attract producers from abroad.

Russia's participation in the space market today is ensured by the continuing dominance in the segment of delivering payload to orbit, which is strengthened by the development of new infrastructure in the Russian Far East. The construction of the first launch complex of the Vostochny Cosmodrome was completed in 2016. On April 28, 2016, the first flight of a launch vehicle took place. The new city district of Tsiolkovsky will become a residential neighborhood for the Vostochny Cosmodrome. World experience shows that it is possible to create full-fledged aerospace clusters based on the satellite cities of the cosmodromes, with the development of related industries —the production of components, the research and development sector, tourism, the maintenance sector, and others.

The world space market is about 335 billion dollars in scope and it demonstrates an annual growth of about 5%. The government-funded programs segment in it amounts to about 1/4. The rest falls to the share of private companies that not only provide final services, but also change our vision. More and more countries and private companies gain access to space, as space infrastructure becomes critical for solving the problems of the economy. Within the framework of the National Technology Initiative–a state program to support Russian companies entering new high-tech markets–measures are being taken to develop private space exploration in Russia. In particular, the international competitions to develop and launch into orbit microsatellites (NTI Sputnik Challenge) are initiated, one of the centers of which is FEFU.

Ecology and Health Challenges

Asia Pacific is a region with a rapidly developing industry and transportation network. Negative consequences of active economic development are as follows: large-scale pollution of the atmosphere, lithosphere, and hydrosphere. Pollution of the atmosphere leads to global climate change, and in the local aspect it worsens air quality in large cities, increases mortality from cardiovascular and cancer diseases. Pollution of the lithosphere leads to soil erosion, acidification and alkalization of agricultural soils. As a consequence, there is a decline in yields, a reduction in food production based on organic farming, a food crisis in countries with a large population. Pollution of the hydrosphere leads to the death of populations of marine life, the reduction of biodiversity, the destruction of marine biocenosis, and the food crisis in countries where seafood accounts for a significant share of consumption.

In response to environmental challenges, FEFU has developed interdisciplinary research in systems analysis of global models and regional environmental monitoring. They focus at conservation and enhancement of the efficiency of use of ecosystems and public goods, among other things by justifying their high value and competitiveness on the international markets in the context of global climate change and its consequences in the Asia-Pacific countries. The project is implemented under the guidance of the lead researcher Riccardo Valentini, Professor of the University of Tuscia, within the framework of the Far Eastern Climate Smart Lab. Simultaneously with the agroclimatic project, the university raises the question of the future of modern cities: monitoring of nano- and microparticles in the atmosphere, investigates sources of nanopollution: galvanic and welding shops of enterprises, as well as exhaust particulates of all types of vehicles. The project is implemented by the FEFU Nanocenter under the leadership of Aristides Tsatsakis, the President of the Association of European Toxicologists and Toxicological Societies (Eurotox), a foreign member of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Almost 4 billion people live in the Asia-Pacific region, and this number is constantly growing. Accelerated rates of economic development lead to an increase in the standards of living of the population and bring about improvement of the sanitary and hygienic situation in a number of the largest countries of the region. Most of the Asia-Pacific countries are currently experiencing a demographic transition: an increase in the number of older people as a percentage of the total population, due to better medical care, lower infant mortality, mortality from infectious diseases, mass immunization, and rapid emergency care. This increases the number of patients with cardiovascular, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, which is associated with an increase in the average life expectancy and the achievement of the majority of the population of age, when systemic age changes begin to manifest themselves. This circumstance does not allow along with an increase in life expectancy to increase the age of the working ability, which brings about serious socio-economic risks.

As a response to the challenges in public healthcare, Far Eastern Federal University not only develops the School of Biomedicine and the Medical Center on Russky Island, but also initiates international projects. One example is a project on the development of hadron therapy, including the creation of a PET center and the Center for Proton Therapy (CPT). Hadron therapy is an organ-saving cancer treatment technology and it allows to increase the five-year survival rate and the quality of life of cancer patients right up to complete recovery. The technology is based on the use of accelerating beams of heavy particles: protons and carbon ions. Heavy particles, practically without affecting the tissues, exterminate the malignant cells at a given depth, which is determined by the energy of the beam. Currently, there is no such technology on the territory of Russia and due to the high social significance of cancer diseases, the issue of its introduction is particularly acute. FEFU is the only Russian university in which, thanks to the geopolitical location, it is possible to effectively organize cooperation with the leading organizations of Japan in this field: the National Institute of Radiological Sciences, Hitachi, Mitsubishi, and Sumitomo.

Virtual Space and Cybersecurity

The popularity of information technologies in the world and in the countries of the Asia-Pacific region is growing: As of March 2017, over 30% (over 1.5 billion people) of Internet users are residents of China, the US, Indonesia, Vietnam, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, Russia, and Japan. In the 21st century, the center of the world economy is increasingly shifting towards Asia. The cost of labor in China and other Asia-Pacific countries is growing and changing the competitive strategies of all states. There will be a final transition in 30–40 years from serving the 'assembly' needs of Western countries to developing their own high-tech products. At the same time, we are witnessing the rapid development of virtual economies in the Asia-Pacific countries: the economies of social networks and gaming universes, which become the main place for the pastime of a large part of the population.

Far Eastern Federal University has become the first Russian university to implement a master's program in virtual reality technologies and game development. The academic program is implemented under the Cyber Russia Project, approved by the President of Russia Vladimir Putin at the meeting of the Supervisory Board of the Agency for Strategic Initiatives on July 26, 2017. FEFU master's degree students will master the game design, custom scenario creation and operating techniques for virtual, augmented and mixed reality devices. The result of the project will be ready-to-implement commercial products created by order of academic institutions, commercial companies and corporations, as well as startups that can operate in the Asia-Pacific markets.

Simultaneously with informatization of most spheres of the economy, cyber weapons appear, which becomes an effective way of attack. With the help of computer viruses, it is possible to disable industrial equipment, disrupt the operation of power grids, undermine life support systems, intercept control of transport nodes, monitor people, steal electronic money to finance terrorism, and gain access to weapons. The ability to defend against cyber attacks is a guarantee of stable economic and political development. Cybersecurity should be provided both at the level of individual enterprises and organizations, and at the level of the entire state.

To this end, FEFU and Kaspersky Lab are opening a special education center on Russky Island in order to jointly develop and implement academic and research programs aimed at the development of general and professional education in cybersecurity. The main goal of the partnership is the creation of a favorable academic environment for the formation and development of youth competence in cybersecurity and training of personnel for the high-tech industry.

Challenges of Russia's Technology Leadership

In today's world, the country's global competitiveness is largely determined by its ability to operate in new technology markets. On May 30, 2017, the Government of the Russian Federation adopted the Decree No. 1134-r on the approval of the Concept for the Development of Russky Island. The concept envisages giving Russky Island the status of the Territory of Advanced Development and the creation of a technology and innovation park near the campus for the purpose of forming and supporting an active environment for innovation and technology entrepreneurship. President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin in the framework of the plenary session of the II Eastern Economic Forum on September 3, 2016, called for the formation on the island of a “support system for startups, including venture financing.”

Being a key actor of the development of Russky Island, Far Eastern Federal University is taking active steps to develop technology entrepreneurship and to establish a 'startup conveyor belt' on the island. The Far Eastern Branch of the Skolkovo Foundation and the Technology Transfer Center (in cooperation with RUSNANO) have their offices at FEFU; the university also has cooperation agreements with the Innovations Support Foundation (the Bortnik Foundation), The Internet Initiatives Development Fund, and the Kaspersky Lab. Since 2017, the university is the regional operator of Generation-S, a Russian business accelerator (general partner of the Russian Venture Company). Together with the Agency for Human Capital Development in the Russian Far East, a set of measures is being implemented to develop an IT community and to support technology entrepreneurship. At present, the work on localizing the most successful Russian technological startups on Russky Island has already begun. Agreements on the creation of joint laboratories and the launching of the test route for the first Russian MatrЁshka driverless bus and the pilot fully automated farm with Avrora Robotics company were concluded. Both companies are members of the AutoNet working group of the National Technology Initiative.

A key step in meeting the challenges of technological leadership will be the creation of Russky Technopark, aimed at supporting Russian technological startups in the Asia-Pacific region. Our goal is to provide them with access to the state instruments of support and communication of Russian and international technology companies within the framework of the annual Eastern Economic Forum.

Nikita Anisimov,
FEFU Interim President