’10 Nobel Physics Prize win exposes Russian brain drain

By Maria Antonova, AFP

MOSCOW — The award of the Nobel prize Tuesday to two Russian-born physicists based abroad cheered Russia but also showed up its losses from a calamitous brain drain since the fall of the Soviet Union. “We need to make an effort so that our talented people do not go abroad,” Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in a regretful response to the award of the 2010 Nobel Physics Prize to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, the Interfax news agency reported. Medvedev slammed the government’s failure to provide attractive conditions for scientists to work in the country after they graduated. “We do not have a normal system to stimulate our young specialists, talented people, so that they stay to work in this country,” Medvedev said, calling government efforts to improve research facilities a “huge failure.” Both Geim and Novoselov, who shared the prize for pioneering work on graphene, graduated from the Moscow Physics and Technology University (MFTI) and conducted research in the Moscow region. In televised comments on Tuesday, Geim, 51, who has not worked in Russia since the early 1990s, praised his Soviet education: “You cannot obtain such an education, not in Harvard nor in Cambridge, nowhere.” But his strong accent gave away the fact that Geim, now a Dutch national, has long since moved on from Chernogolovka, the Moscow region town where both laureates worked in the Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Solids. The scientists’ undergraduate alma mater is thrilled with their win, said Mikhail Trunin, the dean of general physics faculty at MFTI.

“Undoubtedly, both their education at the university, and research in Chernogolovka, played a role,” he said. “They were taught to think… They are educated scientists. That is to the credit of our educational system,” Trunin told AFP. The university was founded by Soviet Nobel laureates Lev Landau, Pyotr Kapitsa and Nikolai Semyonov, who also developed its unique educational system that combines theoretical teaching with lab-based research. Geim and Novoselov, 36, are the first students from the school to receive the Nobel prize and Trunin conceded they left in the “brain drain” typical of the post-Soviet era.