President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Mr Alferov, I offer you my sincere best wishes on your birthday. You have reached a ripe old age and are meeting this celebration in excellent physical and intellectual shape. It gives me great pleasure to congratulate you, not only as President of the Russian Federation, but also simply as a citizen of this country, because you really are one of the individuals with whose names Russia’s scientific achievements are so closely bound. The work to which you have devoted your life became one of the building blocks in Russia’s scientific capital during the Soviet period, and has remained over these last years.
You remain at the forefront of scientific work today. We are in regular contact, take part in the meetings of various scientific councils together, and discuss issues concerning the development of our Academy of Sciences, academic and applied science. The last time we met we had a rather interesting discussion, in my view, during the meeting at the Academy of Sciences. I think the fact that you take such active part in all the work going on, in these discussions, in policy making, and stand up for your point of view, is very important for our country and for you personally.
I take this occasion to congratulate you on your birthday and present to you this decoration, thus far absent from the collection of decorations you have received from our country. This is the Order for Services to the Fatherland IV degree, and with the award of this decoration you now become a full cavalier of this order. I think this is a deserved addition to the list of awards you have received. I congratulate you sincerely and propose that we carry out the presentation ceremony now.
Vice President of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Nobel Laureate Zhores Alferov: Mr President, thank you for your birthday wishes, your kind words, and for this decoration. Now I am indeed a full cavalier of this order, having earlier received the third, second and first degrees…
I think the greatest task facing our country today is indeed to revive the high-technology industry. This is a task for the country, and it also has huge importance for science, but at the same time it shows that scientific research is in demand. We have managed to preserve the Academy of Sciences as our country’s highest scientific organisation throughout these difficult years. We need to develop it now, and develop university science too, but as you are well aware, these must not become opposing objectives, but must be developed together.
Many years ago now we met and discussed development of microelectronics – one of the most important fields in scientific and technological progress. Unfortunately, we did not succeed in reaching all our goals at that time, but I think that today this field is not only the engine of scientific and technological progress, and not only a factor of social change, but is also a driving force in science and an excellent source of demand for our scientific research.
Dmitry Medvedev: Absolutely.
Zhores Alferov: I think that the kind of academic university that we have founded and developed, a research university, in essence – and we claim this title too – is precisely an example of the way we can unite science and education.
I want to make one other very important point. An old friend of mine, unfortunately a late friend now, George Porter, president of the Royal Society in London, once said that all science is applied, the only difference being that some applications emerge very quickly, while others take 50 or 100 years to emerge.
Dmitry Medvedev: Very well said indeed.
Zhores Alferov: But in the field I am talking about now the applications develop very rapidly.
Dmitry Medvedev: Practically overnight.
Zhores Alferov: So, let’s hope that with your help and the Russian Government’s help we can properly develop this field and other important areas too. For my part, I am ready to work as hard as I can on these endeavours, which I consider to be our country’s biggest priority now.
Dmitry Medvedev: We are certainly counting on your help.
Once more, I congratulate you sincerely and wish you the best of health. We will keep on working.
Zhores Alferov: Thank you.
Dmitry Medvedev: Actually, we have been meaning to get together and talk for a while now, and now we have the perfect occasion.
I think that, despite the difficulties that we have indeed faced over these years of our recent history, you are absolutely right in saying that we have managed to preserve the backbone of the Academy of Sciences. Now it is essential that we do what we discussed during the last meeting at the Academy, namely, prepare the future by bringing young talented people into science. In specific terms, what I mean is doing what we talked about actively at that meeting – offering young scientists a package of social protection measures. You have been working in science a long time now and you know that we do not always manage to hold on to talented people here. They either simply vanish somewhere or leave for abroad, unfortunately. I think that today, regardless of whatever crises are out there, our country and our economy have enough resources to resolve this problem. What do you think?
Zhores Alferov: I think this is the most important thing. But I do not think that people who have left and made successful careers abroad will return.
Dmitry Medvedev: Probably. In any case, we cannot expect to see them return on a mass scale.
Zhores Alferov: Those who have achieved success abroad will not return. As for those who have not found success abroad, perhaps they are not the ones we really need to be worrying about here. This is certainly an extremely important matter, but people will always leave. They leave even the most advanced countries in Europe.
Dmitry Medvedev: Of course, this is all part of scientific mobility, and this is essential in today’s world.
Zhores Alferov: Europe is experiencing this brain drain too. Our task is to lessen its extent. Our task is to create demand for these scientists here at home. Actually, a few of my former students, who left to set up small start-up companies abroad, are now returning and setting them up here too. But the most important thing for creating these sorts of opportunities is that there be demand in the economy and in society for the results we produce. I think this is what we need to focus on above all now.
Dmitry Medvedev: To be honest, this is the most important and also the most difficult task.
Zhores Alferov: That is true.
Dmitry Medvedev: We discussed together the issue of how to get our industry and our business sector to focus on innovation. This is not something you can do by decree, not something you can achieve just by passing laws. But we do need to create the kind of environment that will incite business to invest in new technology, new solutions.
Zhores Alferov: I am at an age now when I look back on how much time has passed, and if I take the last five-seven years, there are two things that sadden me greatly: the first was our failure to establish what would have been for its time a truly modern microelectronics company. You remember that moment.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, this is something we discussed.
Zhores Alferov: And the second is that we failed to take the opportunity to establish the Northwestern Division of the Russian Academy of Sciences. I was not ripe for this decision myself at that time and I reproach myself to this day for that, because we have such huge potential in the Northwest, in St Petersburg above all, and we should not always… As they say, in science we do not need a completely vertical hierarchy.
Dmitry Medvedev: That kind of vertical structure is a dangerous thing in general in science, because it could lead to orders being given that completely go against the way science works.
Zhores Alferov: I think in this respect… Well, you are from St Petersburg…
Dmitry Medvedev: There’s no denying that.
Zhores Alferov: In this area, in order to organise cooperation with the university, cooperation between science in the universities and in the Academy of Sciences, we need a certain…
Dmitry Medvedev: Organisation independence.
Zhores Alferov: That’s exactly right.