by Sergei POPOV, journalist
The past is always surrounded by legends. This makes all the more important eyewitness accounts and assessments of events of the distant past. A newly published book by biophysicist, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy Genrikh Ivanitsky KRUGOVOROT ("Rotation") (M., Nauka, 2005) represents an attempt to describe some episodes, sometimes dramatic, in the recent history of Russian science, looking at them and their participants in the context of development of world science.
The author of the book holds the post of director of the RAS Institute for Theoretical and Experimental Biophysics (Pushchino, Moscow Region). He is known in the scientific circles in connection with the implementation of major science-intensive projects which won the Lenin and State prizes and other top awards of this country. Working in conjunction with the German Carl Zeiss Jena company, he produced the world's first electronic automatic instrument for analyzing microstructures which helped achieve the theoretical limit of resolution of optical microscopy. He and his coauthors discovered and studied a new class of autowave processes in distributed excitable biological systems. They were the first in the world to produce perfluorane - the world's first gastransport blood substitute. The scientist is the author of more than 400 research publications. But in the Krugovorot he appears in a new light which is unusual even for him. An introduction to the book points out that the genre of memoirs for him is not a hobby, but hard work even when he is dealing with matters of science and the lives of his close associates. And his efforts have not been in waste-his book is arousing unslackening interest. This being so, we try to give our readers at least some ideas about that work.
"Society and Science"-this subtitle on the cover of the book is very appropriate, especially bearing in mind the axiom that every scientist, irrespective of his field of knowledge, is linked with his social environment. The society is responsible to a large extent for incentives encouraging scientific research (awards as recognitions of scientific achievements-to mention but a few). For more than a century the top award of this kind has been the Nobel Prize. But for all of the past years not more than 1.5 thous. people have been honored with this award. The total number of people engaged in all fields of research is 3 - 5 mn... Hypothetically one can assume that at least one tenth of this number are ready to get awards. But the probability of being awarded even for some outstanding achievements is very small-10-3 - 10-2 .
And that means that what we are dealing with is a lottery, because even the best minds can be overlooked. Missing in the list of winners are our compatriots who provided significant contribution to world culture: the author of the periodic law Dmitry Mendeleyev, the founder of many sciences about the Earth Vladimir Vernadsky, writers Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov and Mikhail Bulgakov. On the other hand, the list of the awarded includes many immigrants from
Russia to the United States (such as economist Vasily Leontyev and microbiologist Zelman Vaksman) and their children (physicist Sheldon Glashow, biochemists Paul Berg and Stanley Cohen, biochemist and pharmacologist Gertrude Elion and many others)-they received two and a half times more Nobel Prizes than scientists who live in Russia. This kind of "extravagant" attitude to talents exists to this day. Acad. Ivanitsky notes with regret that from 1987 to 2002 more than 500 of the most promising persons left the Pushchino Science Center and moved to other countries. Today many of them hold prominent positions in foreign universities and companies. Their works are well known and are being quoted. The consequences of this "brain drain" are hard to be assessed in rubles, but it is clear that the scientific potential is dwindling, science schools are disintegrating and the scale of scientific research is shrinking. Acad. Ivanitsky says with irony that probably some of the "immigrants" could later be found in the lists of Nobel Prize winners.
But are there really some regularities in the development of science? Acad. Ivanitsky gives a positive answer to that question. In most new areas of research there is a hidden period of initiation which can be measured by decades. The new ideas are asserted against opposition of a "conservative" environment. This, however, restrains unjustified claims of ambitious scholars. This struggle of opinions makes it possible to choose from a multitude of advanced theories those which can best describe the world around us. This is accompanied by "expenses"-slow recognition and acceptance of unexpected ideas which turn out to be progressive. For example, an outstanding German scientist- the author of fundamental works of physics, biophysics, physiology and psychology Prof. Hermann Helmholtz (Foreign Member of the St. Petersburg Academy since 1868) was refused the publication of his article on the rate of passage of a nerve pulse. And he himself later refused to publish an article by his compatriot, one of the founders of the quantum theory and future Nobel prize winner, Max Plank (Foreign Member of the St. Petersburg Academy from 1913 and Honorary Member of the USSR Academy from 1926). And one can think of some more recent examples: prolonged non-recognition of the chemical oscillatory reaction of Acad. Belousov or the story with the "blue blood" and death of Prof. Felix Beloyartsev.
Acad. Ivanitsky insists that the number of publications and the index of popularity being important indicators of a scientist's productivity, do not always reflect his real contribution to world science. Works in the traditional fields, in which most of the scientists are engaged, are quoted more often than "pioneering" ones. But as a rule it is these latter ones which receive Nobel prizes. The book we are discussing here contains some interesting foreign statistics: US scientists in their works quote their own colleagues in 67 percent of cases, Japanese scientists do so in 37 percent, in Great Britain-in 30 percent, in France - in 24 percent and in Russia only in 17 percent of cases. In this respect the author's call "Read more of our national journals and refer to your own colleagues" sounds very important.
When scientific research work entres on the exponential growth of the number of publications, it approaches its doom-specialists turn to other fields. According to data of students of science, writes Ivanitsky, an actively working scientist changes the area of his research every 5 to 7 years. "Thus, the entire field of science can be described as a vast live ocean consisting of thousands of physicists, mathematicians, chemists, biologists and other specialists engaged in obtaining, transfer and putting into order scientific data. Different regions of this ocean change periodically, growing or shrinking, being separated or brought together. Different rates of development of various fields of science are accompanied by migrations of specialists".
What about getting the manpower for new fields of knowledge? The author shows this on an example of biophysics. At the initial stage of its formation the personnel was recruited from interdisciplinary fields of science. Back in its time its problems attracted the attention of leading men of science-from the physiologist Ilya Sechenov (1829 - 1905) to the natural scientist Vladimir Vernadsky (1863 - 1945). But the formation of the new science as such did not take place and researchers were working in the neighboring fields
Different structures of autowaves appearing in a thin layer of the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction: a - concentric autowaves; b - spiral autowaves; c - cellular structures.
of physics and medicine, either getting a second education or training in physical and physiological labs. Another example: Acad. Pyotr Lazarev (1878 - 1942). He graduated with honors from the Medical Faculty of Moscow University and two years later passed the exams at one and the same time for a degree of Doctor of Medicine and for the whole course of the University Faculty of Physics and Mathematics. In 1919 he initiated the establishment in Moscow of the world's first Institute of Biophysics of which he was the head.
...Discoveries in science hide the destinies of dedicated men. Acad. Gleb Frank (1904 - 1976), the predecessor of Acad. Ivanitsky as the director of the Institute of Biological Physics of the USSR Academy of Sciences, began his carrier as a radiobiologist. Then he plunged into biophysics and in 1933 organized a laboratory at the Leningrad Physicotechnical Institute of which Acad.
Abram Joffe (1880 - 1960) was the director. Later on he worked on a supersecret atomic project with his lab studying the impacts of radiation on living organisms. In 1947 he founded-which was then a secret center - the Institute of Biophysics of the Third Directorate of the USSR Ministry of Public Health. In 1951 he was dismissed for all edged violations of safety rules.
An outstanding Russian Philosopher Prof. Semyon Frank died in Britain in 1950. He had been expelled from Russia in 1922 and left on board the notorious "steamer of philosophers". In connection with his death there appeared many publications in the foreign press which mentioned the names of his relatives: his late brother and two nephews-future academicians: Ilya (Nobel Prize winner of 1958) and Gleb. That must have had a decisive role to play in the dismissal of Gleb Frank from his post in the Institute which was closed to the public. But he con-
tinued his biophysical studies at the Academy on declassified subjects.
Then there occurred an event which influenced his life, though in an indirect way. After the discovery in Great Britain of the double DNA helix (1953) by Francis Crick and James Watson further progress of radiobiology could not be imagined without genetics because it was established that the activities of biosystems, including those exposed to radiation damage, are regulated at the molecular level. And it became clear that biophysics as a science has a much broader field for studies than had been thought before. A year before that epoch-making event the Institute of Biological Physics had been organized at the USSR Academy of Sciences which conducted non-secret research. From 1952 to 1956 it was headed by Prof. Alexander Kuzin. In 1956 the Institute of Biological Physics was reorganized and its range of studies broadened. Prof. Gleb Frank was appointed its director. During the two decades under his leadership the Institute carried out many major projects which won the State and other prizes.
After the death of his teacher, Prof. Frank, in 1976 the Institute was headed by the 40-years old Prof. G. Ivanitsky. When he was of the same age Acad. Yuri Ovchinnikov, who held the post of Director of the Institute of the Academic Institute of Chemistry of Natural Compounds (now the RAS Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry named after M. Shemyakin and Yu. Ovchinnikov) was elected Vice-President of the Academy of Sciences. According to the author of the book who describes those events of the past in the light of his own experience, 40 years is not enough for the administrator of a big Institute. He is still guided by ambitions and striving for radical reforms. A rapid administrative career at an early age does not, as a rule, improve the human qualities of a scientist but increases the lust for rivalry, suspicions and animosity towards everyone who manifests his own judgements..."
Rather dramatic is the chapter of the book describing the history of development of perfluorane ("blue blood" as journalists called it) - the world's first gastransport substitute which improves capillary blood circulation. This is an emulsion from perfluorocarbon particles of 0.05 - 0.1 mem in size and of bluish color. So what are the advantages of perfluorane as compared with earlier preparations of this kind? All of them only supported the functions of sustaining the volume of blood circulation, osmotic pressure, ionic balance but played no role in the respiratory function of the blood. Solving this problem is one of the major tasks of present-day medical science. Nearly half a century attempts to produce "artificial red blood" on the basis of hemoglobin which carries oxygen from lungs to tissues) have been of little success and the search for analogues continues. Prof. Ivanitsky and his staff have chosen a different way- of producing synthetic blood substitutes on the basis of perfluorocarbons which well dissolve gases (up to 50 volume percents of oxygen).
Now a few words on the circumstances which accompanied the development of this preparation. The author of the book writes that in 1979, he as the Institute director decided to take on staff a young anesthesiologist Felix Beloyartsev. He suggested that we, together with the lab of Acad. Ivan Knunyants (founder of our school of chemistry of perfluorocarbons) prepare-and get a USSR Government approval-an interdisciplinary program "Perfluorocarbons in Biology and Medicine". The main objective was to develop several medicinal preparations and, above all, a new artificial gastransport blood substitute.
When the research program was approved an intensive 3-year program was launched for the development of perfluorane. But when clinical tests were in full swing there began unexpected hostile attacks: something made unhappy the Academy Vice-President Prof. Yuri Ovchinnikov, then there were attacks from the Serpukhov KGB, then from the USSR Ministry of Health and, finally, from the Serpukhov Communist Party Committee. The work was stopped especially after an intervention of the Serpukhov Office of Public Prosecutor. The charges were really absurd: experiments on patients, stealing alcohol, unauthorized spendings, etc.
Being unable to endure these charges and persecutions, Prof. F. Beloyartsev committed suicide after yet another search at his country house in December 1985. (Ivanitsky himself was removed from the post of Director of the Institute of Biological Physics and head of the program of developing artificial blood in 1987. - Ed.)
Prof. Ivanitsky goes on to say that in the summer of 1990 he had to start, almost from scratch, work on the "blue blood" synthesis. And the preparation was synthesized despite all of the attacks. It passed successfully all stages of clinical tests and went into commercial production from 1997. In 1999 specialists who took part in the project won
prizes of the Government of the Russian Federation, and in 2002 they became winners of the first national prize "Priznaniye" ("Recognition"). As for Prof. Beloyartsev, he received both his awards posthumously.
One of the important points of the book under review is the moral position of a scientist. Should one accept a compromise and openly give up his understanding of the truth as Galileo did before the inquisition? Or like Socrates to die and not to give up one's convictions? May be in not so dramatic form, but the problems we call eternal remain important even for the present generations of scientists.
During his half a century in science, Prof. Ivanitsky was in contact with many outstanding men of science. Two of these meetings he describes in special detail. The first was with one of the founders of bioenergetics, Nobel laureate (1937), biochemist Albert Szent-Gyorgyi (1893 - 1986).
Until he was 54 he lived in Hungary and then emigrated to the United States. Despite universal recognition, he was haunted by thoughts like "I have a bagful of articles about politics and its attitude to science, which deal with the only problem-does science help elevate an individual or leads him to destruction? Is there any sense in the work of a scientist, including my own?"
His second meeting of this kind was with a Russian who spent most of his life in Belgium - a physicist, a physical chemist and one of the founders of the thermodynamics of non-equilibrium processes, a Nobel Prize winner for 1977, Prof. Ilya Prigozhin (1917 - 2003).
Each of these prominent scientists possessed, apart from his original views, his own ideas about the mechanisms which control the social organism. Unlike Szent-Gyorgyi who supported the idea of a cyclic nature of social processes, Prof. Ilya Prigozhin favored the concept of an "arrow of time"-monotonic and uninterrupted development of social processes on our planet. He said: "When we pass from the equilibrium to some very different states, we distance ourselves from the common things, which are repeated and move towards things specific and unique. Near the state of equilibrium processes tend to repeat themselves. And away from it there come into action mechanisms leading to the emergence of various dissipative* structures. Only when a system behaves in a sufficiently random way, there may appear in its description some differences between the past and the future, and that means irreversibility... The arrow of time is the manifestation of the fact that in reality the future is not prescribed in advance".
The idea of rhythms, cycles in nature and in society preoccupies the author of the book as well as the fact that "at the base of many processes in human populations lie biological laws, and not economic factors as they had thought before". Many studies of the author of the book under review and his colleagues are devoted to the social behavior of microbes. Interesting regularities have been detected, for example, which explain how bacteria move in search of food, why they behave in certain way in the "company" of similar ones. Important results were obtained in the studies of bacteriophages which are not living organisms in the full sense of the word, but rather molecular machines made of protein-DNA subunits. It took almost 20 (!) years to study in detail the 3-dimen-sional structure of a phage and understand the mechanism and logic of its operation.
The author of the book under review finds much in common between different living systems and reveals in their basis common biological predispositions: cyclicity of multiplication, mobility, memory, trying to find comfortable zones and avoid uncomfortable conditions. Ivanitsky stresses that "people are given faith, conscience, sensible choice, understanding of the truth and a desire for creativity. One would also like to believe that Man also has the genes of inquisitiveness, but no genes of self-destruction".
...Uninterrupted movement is one of the interpretations of the word "rotation", which is the title of the book. One would like to believe together with the author that the uninterrupted movement towards the truth will always be the goal of real science.
* Dissipative systems-mechanical systems whose full energy is dwindling in motion, turning into other kinds of energy, such as heat. That means that energy is dissipated. - Ed.
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