There was an article in today’s New York times about the building of a scientific city by the Russian government. The plan is to develop a technologically and scientifically vibrant city on the outskirts of Moscow. The goal of this venture is:
Once developed, the site is intended to incubate scientific ideas using generous tax holidays and government grants until the start-ups can become profitable companies. Its backers in government and the private sector describe it as an effort to blend the Soviet tradition of forming scientific towns with Western models of encouraging technology ventures around universities.
The article reminded me of some of my experiences in Russia during the 1990s as part of the Global Thinking Project. The GTP linked students and teachers from American and Russian schools in more than ten cities by means of collaboratively developed envirnmental science curriculum, exchanges of students and teachers, and the emergent telecommunications and Internet resources that were just beginning.
For more than 15 years, student, teacher, and researcher exchanges were fostered through the efforts of the GTP with funding (follow this link to one of the GTP’s funded proposals) from local schools, GSU, and federal programs including the Eisenhower Program, and the United States Information Agency. These exchanges brought us into cooperative work with teachers and students in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yaroslavl, Chelyabinsk, and Pushchino.
Pushchino is a small town about 100 miles south of Moscow. In 1993, we were introduced to Valentina Zalim, Director of Experimental School #2, Serpuhovky district, Puschino-on-Oka, Moscow Region. She invited our delegation to her school, and the next year, about ten of us (school and university researchers) drove to Pushchino from Moscow. As we approached this remote town, we could see that it was built above the surrounding area on a small plateau. Pushchino has a population of about 20,000. It has three schools, and we were going to carry on a collaboration with School #2. It prove to be a long term, and rich collaboration. But what was most interesting about Puschino was the fact that it was a scientific city.
One of the first persons we met was a young man who was assigned to us as the “official” translator and interpreter for our delegation. He was an English teacher at a small college in a nearby city. He had never been to Pushchino. He and many of his fellow citizens understood that Pushchino was a town for retirees. He was shocked to find that the town of Pushchino housed several major scientific research institutes, and one of the world’s largest radio telescopes. Known as Pushchino Research Center, it was comprisesed of the following:
- The Institue of Protein Research
- The Institute of Theoretical and Experimental Biophysics
- The Institute of Cell Biophysics
- The Institute of Biochemistry and Physiology of Microorganisms
- The Institute of Soil Science and Photosynthesis
- The branch of the Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry
- Research Computer Center
- Special Constraction Bureau & Experimental Plant
- Radio Astronomy Station of the P.P Lebedev Physical Institute,RAS
- Branch of the M.V.Lomonosov Moscow State University
Nearly all of the parents of the students in Experimental School #2 worked at one of these research institutions, and because of their deep interest in their children’s education, we became very involved with the research centers over the years. We visited a number of these research centers, including the radio astronomy station, and were very involved with their computer researchers who had established a telecommunications business in the early years of the Internet revolution. From Pushchino, we made one of the first video conferences using the Internet in 1996.
When we first started working with colleagues in Pushchino, the various scientific research centers received their funding from the Russian Academy of Sciences. But soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and economic perils that followed, many of the research centers suffered because of lack of funding from the Academy. Over the years, the research center has continued its work, and is an important center of scientific research in Russia.