Working to realise tomorrow’s world: Russia’s futuristic university

Moscow, Feb 19 (IANS) Nanoparticles to detect and combat cancer, superconducting metamaterials to make quantum computers a reality, solar cell technology providing over 40 per cent efficiency and more — these are not goals but achievements already realised at a Moscow university which is at the vanguard of Russia’s aim to further its high-tech knowledge economy and cooperate with international partners to develop futuristic technologies.

The National University of Science and Technology (NUST MISIS) grew out of the Department of Metallurgy in the Moscow Academy of Mines, established in 1918, before undergoing a series of metamorphoses to emerge in its current incarnation as one of Russia’s most dynamic research and education hubs with an international faculty and rollcall of students, Rector Alevtina A. Chernikova told IANS.

The NUST MISIS has moved on from mining and metallurgy to now being engaged in research in cutting-edge areas of technology, especially nanotechnology for medicine and energy efficiency and as well as miniature magnetic sensors, multilayered corrosion-resistant alloys for nuclear reactors and oil and gas pipelines, shape memory alloys, solar batteries for spacecraft, biocompatible hyperplastic titanium alloys for bone-grafting, and more.

Giving an overview of the varsity to a select group of visiting journalists from eight countries, Chernikova said that it now comprises nine colleges, with 27 advanced laboratories, three-world class engineering centres, over 400 staff and 15,000 students, including over 1,000 PhD students and doctoral candidates (with over a fifth of them from 69 countries) in its nearly 300 programmes in various subjects.

While the institution, ranked ninth in the country, figuring high in the QS World University list — particularly in the BRICS segment, and the only Russian university in Times Higher Education’s World Best Small Universities — receives adequate funds from the government, it has also been successful in attracting funding from business and industry, making it a model of Public-Private Partnership in the sector, Chernikova said.

And high-level academics is not the only thing its graduates excel in — four represented Russia in the 2016 Rio Olympics in disciplines like swimming and boxing, with boxer Evgeny Tischenko winning the gold in the heavyweight category.

On the focus areas for NUST MISIS, Vice Rector for Science and Innovation Mikhail Filonov said that the thrust is mostly (nearly 35 per cent) in material sciences, over 25 per cent in physics and astronomy, followed by engineering, chemistry and chemical engineering.

Stressing on its admirable record in academic publications and citations, including leading scientific journals like Nature Communications, NanoLetters, Science and ACS Nano, he said it has collaborations on with 527 leading institutions in the world, mostly in Europe (313) and North America (84), but also 108 in the Asia-Pacific region, out of which nearly half are in fellow BRICS countries — China (31) and India (20).

To a question from IANS on links with the BRICS members, Filonov said that they were a Network University of the grouping and an active participant, with the members represented by their students. “We represent Russia in the project and look forward to improve collaboration in science.”

He admitted that links with Brazil and South Africa were on a lesser scale than with India and China, but now picking up. “We have a project in South Africa in mining, especially platinum, palladium and rare earths… also with De Beers. We also have some joint research on with the University of Sao Paulo (Brazil).”

The visiting journalists were taken to a few of its leading laboratories, including the one for Biomedical Nanomaterials headed by Alexander Majouga, which has synthetised biomedical magnetic nanomaterials for targeted treatment of brain, liver and prostate cancer.

The 10-nanometre particles of magnetite (ferrous oxide) are coated with a biopolymer, which contains the anti-cancer drug intended to kill the tumour cell, said Majouga, who told IANS that all pre-clinical trials have been successfully completed, and human trials are scheduled to start later this year or next year.

In the Hybrid Nano-Structure Materials lab, Alexander Komissarov — the varsity’s youngest faculty member — is engaged in various key infrastructural projects like using acoustic signals to detect internal fractures in rail tracks and stemming corrosion in oil pipes, while in the Advanced Energy Efficient Materials, Japanese Professor Akihisa Inoue is leading attempts to develop new metal amorphous and nanocrystal alloys, including “metallic glass”.

Prof. Alexei Ustinov, who heads the Lab of Superconducting Metamaterials, where he divides his time with Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, has presided over development of superconducting qubits (quantum bits — the building blocks of quantum computers), and Prof Anvar Zakhidov, of University of Texas at Dallas, is leading here a project to develop high-efficiency tandem solar cells based on perovskite and polymer semiconductors.

Zakhidov told IANS that India, which is leading solar energy campaigns, must associate in this technology which is at least twice as efficient as existing techniques but still has teething problems.

But among the varsity’s crowning features is the Vladimir Pirozhkov-headed Centre for High-Complexity Industrial Prototyping, which can produce samples of any equipment, ranging from a micron to 20 metres, with its 3-D printers and other advanced machines, and the FabLab to train aspirants in digital manufacturing.

And the university is keen on international students to help it achieve its objectives, with many programmes in English and ample scholarships available.

(Vikas Datta’s visit to the university was sponsored by the Rossiya Segodnaya [Russia Today] News Group. He can be contacted at vikas.d@ians.in)

–IANS

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