By the end of the 1990s, the research equipment at the University had, to a great extent, become outdated. In the last 8 years, we made a leap forward: the University managed to create the best University Research Park in Russia and considerably update its laboratory facilities. The St Petersburg University Research Park now provides cutting-edge research facilities, serving as an experimental base for scientific research at a totally new level.
First off, there are two important facts to be mentioned. Fact number one: In October 2006, when St Petersburg University Rector Lyudmila Verbitskaya offered the Dean of the Faculty of Law, Nikolay Kropachev, the position of Senior Vice-Rector of St Petersburg University, the deans at the St Petersburg University Senate meeting outlined the main problems that urgently required attention of Rector Lyudmila Verbitskaya and Senior Vice-Rector Nikolay Kropachev. One of the most important problems was the critical condition of practically all University property assets: buildings, sports facilities, field and research practice facilities, administrative and services facilities. This included instruments and equipment for research work that, by that time, had for several decades been too outdated for the challenges facing a modern research and educational institution (see “Rules for the formation of the centralised part of general and administrative expenses”, Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 9 July 2012, clause 2).
Fact number two: During the meeting of the St Petersburg University Academic Council held in December 2013, the Associate Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences V. Ananikov, head of the laboratory at the N.D. Zelinsky Institute of Organic Chemistry of the RAS (Moscow), Professor of Lomonosov Moscow State University (MGU), who also heads the Laboratory of Cluster Catalysis at St Petersburg University, named three reasons behind his decision to compete for St Petersburg University large grants. One of them was the establishment of the Research Park with cutting edge facilities, where he could carry out the physical and chemical research that was necessary for his work (see Results of the meeting of the St Petersburg University Academic Council held on 23 December 2013, the Scientific Reports Section). Only seven years passed between these two dates!
In addition, a third example: At the meeting of the St Petersburg University Academic Council held on 27 January 2013, Academician A. Rusanov said, “We are now happy. Indeed, we have never enjoyed such excellent conditions for research work as we do today...” (see Results of the meeting of the St Petersburg University Academic Council held on 27 January 2013, the Results of Research Activity… Section; Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 08 December 2014, clause 7).
Almost from scratch
In 2007, the University, for the first time in more than twenty-five years, bought several major modern research instruments and equipment which cost several dozen million roubles. By that time, our researchers had already lost the hope of being able to carry out modern scientific experiments within the walls of their own University and had to conduct their studies on the equipment of foreign research centres. Eighteen months had passed, and the members of the University celebrated an important victory: in 2009 the law “on two universities” was passed. In connection with that, the University administration succeeded in getting endorsement for the St Petersburg University Strategic Plan 2010-2020, which was approved by decree of the Russian Government. Unlike the law “on two universities”, the latter document met with a mixed reaction of the University members. During the past decades, the members of the University had become used to the situation when programmes had been adopted, plans approved, and targets set for the University, while no financial support had been provided for those plans, programmes and targets. It soon became clear, however, that the administration of the University successfully solved that second problem, and the Russian Government issued a resolution on budget financing of the St Petersburg University Strategic Plan.
The St Petersburg University Strategic Plan defined the main priority areas for the development of the University in 2010–2020 (see St Petersburg University Strategic Plan 2010-2020); it also specified precise targets (including annual targets), which the University members were to achieve in their educational and research work. Thus, the funding was allocated to the University so that it could attain certain precise targets set in the St Petersburg University Strategic Plan. As a result, the requirements for the University and its members increased considerably. If earlier the University annual report was essentially limited to just two figures ─ the number of students accepted to the University and the number of students who graduated from the University with a degree ─ now the University was obliged to achieve certain annual targets set in the Strategic Plan for a particular year.
In order to restore the almost completely ruined material research assets, the University needed more than 60 billion roubles; however, only five billion roubles were allocated from the budget for 3 years, without any promise of further financial support in subsequent years. It was therefore decided to make long-term investments into the materials assets of the University over the course of the next three years. The first stage included the following focus investment areas:
- establishing modern research equipment facilities;
- expanding the access of academic staff to modern scientific and academic electronic resources;
- establishing cutting-edge research laboratories;
- providing equipment for working spaces of research and teaching staff.
When the University began implementing the Strategic Plan in 2010, the development of a high-powered Research Park started, which has now become a source of pride for St Petersburg University (see “On draft documents for resource centres” in Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 03 May 2011, clause 3; “Acquisition of equipment for resource centres has started” in Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 10 May 2011, clause 2; “On the outcome of the discussion about regulations for resource centres” in Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 30 May 2011, clause 3; “On University resource centres” in Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 06 June 2011, clause 8; “Resource centres” in Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 27 June 2011, clause 8; “Directors of St Petersburg University resource centres” in Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 22 August 2011, clause 2; “On the staff of St Petersburg University resource centres” in Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 28 November 2011, clause 5). When the first divisions of the St Petersburg University Research Park, separate resource centres, were established in the spring of 2011, the rules which later became the basis for the development of the entire Research Park were already scrupulously followed:
- a preliminary public discussion at the University of the list of equipment to acquire;
- an external review of University members’ suggestions and projects;
- an extensive discussion of new rules governing the work of the Research Park which were developed practically from scratch: regulations for resource centres, the rules of access to and work on the equipment.
Scrupulous compliance with the first two rules helped to select, from among the suggestions submitted by the scientists, the best ones, those that satisfied the demands of the largest number of users; it also helped not to waste money on purchasing duplicate equipment, to acquire only the models that had fundamentally different specifications, and to use the acquired equipment to full capacity. The third rule helped to establish the first divisions of the St Petersburg University Research Park (recourse centres) as real core centres: the equipment installed here is accessible to all researchers (not only those who work at the University but those from Russian and foreign higher education institutions and research centres), while the resource centres have policies that are convenient for all users. This encourages prominent scientists to work at St Petersburg University. For instance, Professor V. Ananikov admits: when he was told that St Petersburg University had 21 resource centres (this was the case in December of 2013; now the Research Park already has 25 resource centres — Ed.), he at first did not believe that they were all actually working and asked to organise a visit for him. When he came and found out that the information was true, he was very excited about the opportunity to conduct necessary scientific research there (see The results of the meeting of the St Petersburg University Academic Council held on 23 December 2013, the Scientific Reports section).
Putting the house in order–1: Transparent procedures
As you recall, the first large equipment appeared at the University less than eight years ago. However, even its acquisition did not guarantee new opportunities for our scientists. Up to 2010, just like before, you could hear the following complaints: “This or that department or faculty does not allow us / me to use certain equipment…” And this is what you would hear in reply: “It is not your equipment! This equipment belongs to our department / faculty…” Sometimes you would even hear something like “this is the equipment of (name of person) …” Thus, any equipment was regarded not as university property that should be accessible to any member of the University. It is interesting that at the time all buildings, sports facilities, field and research practice facilities, places in the halls of residence, and books were not regarded as belonging to the University but rather as owned by the faculties or departments. All that was true about St Petersburg University not so long ago. As for the equipment, even now the majority of educational and research institutions of Russia continue to organise and manage equipment utilisation in this manner.
In 2010, the University administration needed to solve two tasks. Task number one: to correctly identify the modern equipment which the University really needed and which would be used effectively. Task number two: to implement at the University the principle of collective use of scientific equipment. To achieve that, new rules needed to be developed and established, which would ensure equal access to equipment for all users, regardless who exactly had that equipment (physicists, chemists, biologists, or geographers, etc.) and where, “at what departments” or “at what laboratories”, it was installed.
The main ways to solve the first task were:
- open discussion by University staff members regarding the list of equipment that should be acquired;
- competition of applications for the purchase of new equipment;
- review of applications by external experts.
As a result, contrary to the previous “tradition”, the question as to what equipment the University would buy was decided not behind closed doors, not in the quiet of administrative offices, but openly and publicly! On the initiative of the Rector, the question “what instruments and consumables to buy” was discussed many times — at the meetings of research committees and academic councils of the faculties, at numerous meetings of the users… For the same purpose, a special competition was announced in 2011 for the establishment of resource centres. Seventy projects were submitted and only twenty-one applications were approved, and even that after some time. The authors of the projects offered their opinion on the equipment required, while participants of the public discussion (both scientists and end users) argued against them and suggested their own variants. Finally, based on the opinions of external experts and participants of the public discussion, the list of the equipment and consumables to be acquired for the St Petersburg University Research Park was created.
The decision to consolidate all large research equipment within the resource centres did not at first find much support with the scientists. Few of them believed that it was possible to organise shared use of equipment with open access to users. The majority of scientists thought that heads of the resource centres would be heads of core centres for collective use in name only. In reality, they argued, the equipment installed “in the premises of a particular faculty” would immediately become “property of that faculty / department / head of the resource centre”.
The experience of the past decades clearly and convincingly suggested that this was exactly how it would be! If the University administration confined itself to building a cloud-castle — an ideal image of resource centre teams working for the benefit of all University members — and did not take any measures for administrative support of the task set, everything would have remained as it had always been. It was not the first time that the University heard such ideas voiced: we are all members of the University, so we should use buildings, library holdings, sports facilities, and research equipment for the benefit of everyone! That concept had been voiced many times, but the University continued to live following the same unwritten rule: research equipment belongs to the members of the faculty / department which bought that equipment on “its own grant”, “its own non-budget earnings”, or which was bought “directly for the faculty / department”, even if it was paid for from the budget.
Following the public consultations, two managerial decisions were formulated, which helped to change the situation:
- the need for the division of academic and administrative roles;
- promotion of openness and transparency that should be implemented at all stages involving application submission, actual research work and reporting of the work performed.
In order to implement the first decision, the University administration informed the participants of the public discussion what equipment the University needed to purchase and the participants of the competition for the establishment of resource centres ─ that very soon anyone who was going to become a member of a resource centre team would have to make a choice: they would either work as members of the resource centre team or as members of the academic staff (this particularly concerned the heads of resource centres).
“If we do not divide up roles and responsibilities, this might lead to a conflict of interest,” the Director of the Research Park S. Mikushev explained. “The director of a resource centre thinks: since I control the use of the device, I will first of all use it to perform my own tasks, and only after that ─ the tasks of any other users, and the preferred configuration of the equipment will be that which I need for my research... And everyone went through this point of psychological unbalance.”
“To what extent is a study carried out by an individual scientist his/her and only his/her research? After all, scientists conduct their research as part of a government commission, or financed by a grant, or on request from the employer. In the same way employees of the Research Park conduct measurement by request of the users. When doing that, they successfully employ their scientific experience and qualification. For instance, an optical physicist here does not become a biologist or a chemist; he/she works as any researcher, implementing the target set before him/her,” S. Mikushev said. “For instance, we have a task to determine the structure of a sample. A Research Park employee makes the decision as to what methods of investigation to use and what experiment to perform…”
The second managerial decision was fully implemented only in 2013, when the resource centres were united into the St Petersburg University Research Park. Before that, the team of each resource centre had followed its own rules and conditions of work, and a user who carried out research in several resource centres could see the differences. After the unification, the rules of equipment use became the same for the entire Research Park; they had been developed on the basis of a six-month (at that time) experience of the work of the resource centres. These rules are still being discussed, reviewed, updated and improved. For instance, currently a public consultation on this issue is being conducted on the University Internet portal (see On improving the procedures regulating access to the St Petersburg University Research Park equipment).
Here are some features of the St Petersburg University Research Park rules that contribute to the transparent character of its work:
- submission and processing of applications to work at the resource centres take place right on the St Petersburg University website;
- the use of equipment is scheduled on a first-come-first-served basis;
- not only the applications, but also comments on the processing of the applications are published on the St Petersburg University website;
- employees of the research centres are not allowed to take part in competitions that award additional payments for research publications. They receive incentive payments based on the results of their work at resource centres and not for their research activity (see “On the discussion of the development of the St Petersburg University Research Park” in Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 31 March 2014, clause 5).
The St Petersburg University Research Park possesses cutting-edge research facilities (worth more than 7 billion roubles), serving as an experimental base for scientific research at a totally new level (see Research equipment of the St Petersburg University Research Park). Even now the core equipment runs an average of 16 hours per day. The Research Park is also a team of highly qualified professionals (over 250 people), who are certified to maintain and operate the equipment. Most of the consumables used during the experiments are provided by the University and paid for from budget funds.
All visitors who in the recent years have had a chance to see how work is organised at the St Petersburg University Research Park recognise its obvious advantages:
- the rational organisation of equipment acquisition (the most cutting-edge equipment, which cannot always be found even at the world’s best research centres);
- administrative independence of the Research Park management from the leaders of research teams and St Petersburg University institutes and faculties;
- equal opportunities to use the equipment for all employees and students of the University;
- equal opportunities to use the equipment for scientists from other organisations, both Russian and foreign;
- a transparent procedure of submitting applications, monitoring of the results, and the possibility to receive feedback from users;
- highly qualified engineers and technicians supporting the research work on the University equipment;
- highly efficient use of the research equipment.
“Just from January 2015 to July 2016, the total of 1,985 research projects and at least 76,936 measurements had been carried out at the St Petersburg University Research Park. The results of research conducted with the help of the Research Park equipment formed the basis for over 980 research papers, of which 850 were published in journals indexed in WoS CC and Scopus. So far we have not heard a single critical comment concerning the work of our resource centres,” the Director of the St Petersburg University Research Park S. Mikushev said (see also Statistics of the Research Park work).
25 resource centres
Currently there are 25 resource centres at the St Petersburg University Research Park. They are grouped by the main research areas identified in the St Petersburg University Strategic Plan (see St Petersburg University Research Park):
Nanotechnology and Materials Science (15 resource centres):
- Magnetic Resonance Research Centre; Centre for X-ray Diffraction Studies; Chemical Analysis and Materials Research Centre; Centre for Optical and Laser Materials Research; Centre for Physical Methods of Surface Investigation; Centre for Thermogravimetric and Calorimetric Research; Centre for Nanofabrication of Photoactive Materials (Nanophotonics); Centre for Innovative Technologies of Composite Nanomaterials; Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis; Interdisciplinary Resource Centre for Nanotechnology; Physics Educational Centre; Chemistry Educational Centre; Centre for Applied Aerodynamics; Centre for Extreme States of Materials and Constructions; Resource Centre “Neutron Physics – Neutron Research”.
Biomedicine and Human Health (five resource centres):
- Centre for Diagnostics of Functional Materials for Medicine, Pharmacology and Nanoelectronics; Centre for Molecular and Cell Technologies; Centre for Culture Collection of Microorganisms; Chromas Core Facility; Biobank Centre.
Ecology and Nature Management (three resource centres):
- Environmental Safety Observatory; Centre for Space and Geoinformation Technologies; Centre for Geo-Environmental Research and Modelling (GEOMODEL).
Information Systems and Technology (two resource centres):
- St Petersburg University Computing Centre; Communicative Competence Centre.
Since the resource centres of the Research Park are united into research areas, one of the tasks is to establish horizontal communication between research teams from various centres. For that purpose, topical workshops are held: for example, on the topic of the Raman effect (Raman scattering). This phenomenon can be studied at the Resource Centre for Optical and Laser Materials Research or at the Resource Centre for Diagnostics of Functional Materials for Medicine, Pharmacology and Nanoelectronics. However, the Research Park has resource centres in which there are no such problems, since from the very beginning they have been focusing on interdisciplinary research: for instance, the Chemical Analysis and Materials Research Centre, which can accommodate scientific investigations conducted by a biologist, chemist, or even a physicist.
For external users, there is an essential condition: research work conducted at the St Petersburg University Research Park is subject to shared intellectual property rights with St Petersburg University. Research papers based on the results of work carried out at the St Petersburg University Research Park need to acknowledge that the work was conducted on St Petersburg University equipment.
Examples of equipment use
For two years, on the pages of St Petersburg University Journal, journalists have been writing about the unique cutting-edge equipment of the Research Park; you can find this information practically in every issue under the journal sections Research Park, Science and Practice, and Grants. Here are some examples (see “The park of science and technology”, St Petersburg University, No 4 (2014), pp. 46–50; “Six devices and one diffractometry”, St Petersburg University, No 3 (2015), pp. 25–29; “Health cannot be bought but can be preserved”, St Petersburg University, No 7 (2015), pp. 31–33; “Through profitable lenses”, St Petersburg University, No 1 (2014), pp. 20–23; “Size matters”, St Petersburg University, No 6 (2015), pp. 27–29; “When what is important is on the surface”, St Petersburg University, No 1 (2015), pp. 26–28).
Attracting the planet’s leading scientists
Open access to the Research Park equipment helps to attract to St Petersburg University leading research teams from over the world. The University has established several research laboratories that are headed by prominent researchers:
- Professor Ch. Pissarides, the 2010 Nobel Prize winner in economics, head of the St Petersburg University Economic Growth Laboratory (see St Petersburg University Economic Growth Laboratory);
- J. Thiede, palaeoclimatologist, the leading scientist in the field of Arctic regions research (see Research Laboratory of Palaeogeography and Geomorphology of Polar Countries and the World Ocean);
- Professor R. Gainetdinov, Director of the Institute of Translational Biomedicine, St Petersburg University (see Raul Gainetdinov); the Translational Biomedicine Project received a Russian Science Foundation grant in 2014.
St Petersburg University has also attracted some winners of the open mega-grant competitions organised by the Russian Government (funding provided by the Government of the Russian Federation to offer state support to scientific research led by world-famous scientists in higher education institutions, research organisations of the academies of science and state-maintained research centres of the Russian Federation):
- Stanislav Smirnov, a Fields Medal winner, Professor at the University of Geneva, Switzerland; head of the Chebyshev Interdisciplinary Research Laboratory (see Chebyshev Laboratory);
- Stephen O’Brien, a leading scientist in the field of bioinformatics, head of the Theodosius Dobzhansky Center for Genome Bioinformatics (see The Theodosius Dobzhansky Center for Genome Bioinformatics);
- Alexey Kavokin, chair of the Department of Nanophysics and Photonics at the University of Southampton, the UK; head of the Uraltsev Spin Optics Laboratory (see Uraltsev Spin Optics Laboratory);
- Ruslan Valiev, Director of the Institute of Physics of Advanced Materials, Ufa State Aviation Technical University; head of the Laboratory for Mechanics of Advanced Bulk Nanomaterials for Innovative Engineering Applications(see Laboratory for Mechanics of Advanced Bulk Nanomaterials for Innovative Engineering Applications; Ruslan Valiev);
- Detlef W. Bahnemann, Professor of Leibniz University Hannover, Germany; head of the Laboratory for Photoactive and Nanocomposite Materials (see Laboratory for Photoactive and Nanocomposite Materials);
- Elena Grigorenko, Professor of Yale University, the USA; head of the Laboratory for Interdisciplinary Studies of Early Childhood (see Laboratory for Interdisciplinary Studies of Early Childhood).
- Valentin Ananikov, Professor of Lomonosov Moscow State University, head of the laboratory at N.D. Zelinsky Institute of Organic Chemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences, head of the Laboratory of Cluster Catalysis at St Petersburg University, Associate Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences (see Laboratory of Cluster Catalysis);
- Alexander Knysh, a researcher from the Department of Near Eastern Studies, the University of Michigan, the USA; head of the Research Laboratory for Analysis and Modelling of Social Processes at St Petersburg University (see Research Laboratory for Analysis and Modelling of Social Processes);
- Nikolai Skrynnikov, Professor of Purdue University, Indiana, the USA; head of the Laboratory of Biomolecular NMR (see Laboratory of Biomolecular Nuclear Magnetic Resonance);
- Yury Chernoff, Professor of Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, the USA; head of the Laboratory of Amyloid Biology (see Laboratory of Amyloid Biology).
The winners of the second St Petersburg University large grants competition held in December 2014 (see Winners of St Petersburg University Mega-grants Competition 2014) were:
- Pavel Pevzner, the University of California, San Diego, the USA; head of the Centre for Algorithmic Biotechnology;
- Evgeny Chulkov, the University of the Basque Country, Spain; head of the Laboratory of Electronic and Spin Structure of Nanosystems;
- Peter Kivisto, the University of Turku, Finland; head of the Laboratory of Transnationalism and Migration Processes: Comparative and Institutional Analysis;
- Frederick van der Ploeg, the University of Oxford, the United Kingdom; head of the Laboratory for Economic Performance and the Environment;
- Lilac Nachum, the City University of New York, the USA; head of the Laboratory for Internationalization of Politically Affiliated Firms in Emerging Countries.
Science, Nature, and others
In their research papers based on the results of work carried out at the St Petersburg University Research Park, the users are obliged to mention that the work was conducted on the University equipment, including publications in such journals as Science and Nature, as well as other leading peer-reviewed journals (see Names of St Petersburg University scientists on the pages of leading scientific and academic journals). Professor V. Ananikov, head of the St Petersburg University Laboratory of Cluster Catalysis, has been recently recognised as the most frequently cited Russian scientist in the Field of Chemistry in 2015 (according to the analysis of the Web of Science database), after a competition held by the Thomson Reuters international company together with the Russian Ministry of Education and Science (see The most widely cited chemist of the country in 2015 works at St Petersburg University). He obtained scientific results for writing his papers while working on the equipment of the St Petersburg University Research Park.
The St Petersburg University Research Park portal has a webpage listing works of its users published in periodical literature in 2013–2016 (altogether 1,450): Publications of the Research Park users based on data obtained on the equipment of the Research Park. Websites of each of the St Petersburg University research laboratories listed above contain a Publications section: for example, the Uraltsev Spin Optics Laboratory (see Uraltsev Spin Optics Laboratory — Research Papers); the Theodosius Dobzhansky Center for Genome Bioinformatics (see A new paper published by members of the Theodosius Dobzhansky Center for Genome Bioinformatics); the Laboratory of Biomolecular NMR (see Laboratory of Biomolecular NMR — Publications). In 2015, for example, scientists of the St Petersburg University Institute of Translational Biomedicine published 74 research papers in international journals with the overall impact factor of 333.6 (see Publications by members of the St Petersburg University Institute of Translational Biomedicine in 2015-2016).
Time to collect and use the scattered equipment
Another aspect of the problem gradually became obvious ─ organisation and management of St Petersburg University research equipment utilisation (except for the equipment of the St Petersburg University Research Park). The University possesses thousands of pieces of equipment which are not part of the St Petersburg University Research Park resource centres. Even seeing all of this equipment would be a difficult task: the equipment is scattered over numerous premises; it is not always listed on the inventory register; it is not used to its full capacity and often employed inefficiently... After a meeting with one of St Petersburg University scientists, who complained about not getting access to the equipment installed at his department (see “An unexpected offer” in Minutes from the Rector’s Meeting with Visitors on 24 February 2015, clause 2), the Rector set the following task: to create a register of equipment that is not part of the St Petersburg University Research Park resource centres and develop regulations for its use which would be convenient for everyone. Equal access to all equipment for all researchers would be beneficial for many scientists. During the first phase, the task would be to create an open database containing the information on the field of study that uses a particular piece of equipment, its location, the results and projects achieved with its help, as well as the basic technical specifications of the instrument and consumables needed for its operation (see “On efficiency of use of the equipment that is not part of the St Petersburg University Research Park” in Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 25 May 2015, clause 8).
If the use of equipment is low, this is not good, and we should find a format for equipment utilisation by other research teams. We need an efficient schedule for equipment use, and its development should become a topic of an extensive public discussion. An information resource containing detailed data on the equipment and the results of its use will help to clarify the overall picture of experimental research carried out on the equipment outside the framework of the resource centres. Consolidation of the information and a further consultation with the scientific community can lead to concrete proposals for improving the efficiency of equipment utilisation (for more information on that see Time to collect and use the scattered equipment).
Putting the house in order–2: New equipment
Sometimes a question arises: should we purchase new equipment that is needed in order to solve a new problem or should we rather use the equipment of our partners? For instance, two years ago our scientists needed a powerful Titan Microscope to carry out a series of measurements. This microscope costs one billion roubles, plus the costs of training an employee to work with it, plus the costs of its maintenance and operation. Owing to friendly contacts between St Petersburg University and National Research Centre “Kurchatov Institute”, we found out that such microscopes were used in the Kurchatov Institute (two, with different functionality), and also at the Karolinska Institute (Sweden). St Petersburg University scientists thus had a chance to use the equipment of our partners, and the University did not have to spend money on a new microscope of its own.
Here is another example: In 2014 we established the Biobank Centre. This centre is not only a unique, specialised cryorepository of biological samples but also a database with clinical, laboratory and personal information (see Biobank Centre). The first biobank in Russia is designed to achieve global scientific and medical goals, namely, to support biomedical research into the foundations of human health and longevity. The Biobank Centre was established when, in 2014, St Petersburg University scientists won a grant of the Russian Science Foundation (750 million roubles) and started working on the project for the development of translational biomedicine, which is unique for our country (see St Petersburg University received 750 million roubles for the development of translational biomedicine). Then the Genome Russia Project was launched, with the aim of creating a database containing information on DNA sequences of people living in different regions of Russia (see Genome Russia Project). New equipment was acquired so that such global tasks could be achieved. And we already have the results: the research has led to three publications in Science, and several dozens of research papers have been published in other high-ranking scientific journals.
Here is a third example: As early as in 2007, on recommendation of the Department of Optics supported by the dean of the faculty, St Petersburg University acquired the Univer-M platform at the cost of 125 million roubles. The platform was bought, so what next? At the time, the same unwritten rule was still active: the equipment was bought for the department, so the department controls the use of the equipment and, therefore, it should enable its operation. However, the physicists did not have enough funds to maintain and service such expensive equipment. In the end, the scientists themselves suggested transferring the platform to the Research Park. The equipment was transferred to the Research Park but an entire year was required to “bring it back to life”! The accuracy parameters of such equipment have to meet very strict requirements, while its servicing, maintenance, and repair are rather costly procedures.
We have already had quite a few cases when equipment which is not part of the Research Park is transferred to the Research Park on the initiative of the academic staff. S. Mikushev defined two rules that need to be followed in the course of such a transfer:
- obligatory shared access to the equipment and its registration in the unified information database of the University (to inform all researchers about the equipment and its specifications);
- the research engineer who used to work on that equipment has to become an employee of the Research Park.
At the same time, there is no requirement to physically remove the equipment from the department and move it to the Research Park; it can stay where it is. While the equipment is transferred to the Research Park, it becomes registered in the inventory and its performance is analysed: the equipment in operational condition will be maintained, while the inoperable equipment is retired.
Can the scientists work on the equipment of the St Petersburg University Research Park by themselves? Yes, they can, if they prove that they have the necessary qualification (i.e. show a corresponding certificate confirming that the scientist has completed the necessary training). If the equipment is not unique, many scientists know how to operate it (for instance, x-ray equipment for powder diffraction or optical equipment for studying absorption and transmittance spectrums). Some equipment is more complex, more specialised, or more expensive (for instance, equipment for high-resolution diffractometry); measurements on such equipment are carried out with the help of the Research Park employees. Besides, there are additional educational programmes for the University scientists and professional development programmes which train participants to operate more complex equipment.
On many occasions, in order to obtain permission to work with expensive equipment, it is necessary to get certified by the manufacturer. This is quite costly (for instance, a three-day trip to the USA to take a qualification exam and obtain a certificate will cost 700,000 roubles). It is sometimes simpler (and cheaper) to invite an expert from the manufacturing company to spend a couple of weeks at St Petersburg University and organise a short training course for our employees on our equipment. For example, such on-site training was organised for us by representatives of Bruker Corporation, a leading manufacturer of scientific instruments.
The future of science
The Research Park is a key competitive advantage of the University, one of the few core facilities successfully working in Russia. This was once again confirmed during the Russian Ministry of Education and Science Conference on the Development of Core Facilities and Unique Research Installations, held in June 2015 at St Petersburg University (see “The work of core facilities was discussed at St Petersburg University”). More than 150 scientists, representatives of national research and federal universities, national research centres, and organisations of state academies of sciences saw the unique equipment and the operation of the St Petersburg University Research Park. This Conference has again proved that the principles on which the work of the St Petersburg University Research Park is based (consolidation of research equipment within resource centres, equal public access to the equipment, the division of administrative and academic roles) are correct (see “On the work of core facilities and the St Petersburg University Research Park” in Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 08 June 2015, clause 2).
Representatives of the Russian Ministry of Education and Science and our colleagues from Ural Federal University, Far Eastern Federal University, and National Research Center “Kurchatov Institute” expressed their delight at what they had seen at the St Petersburg University Research Park and offered an opinion that the St Petersburg University Research Park represented the future of science in Russia. According to the President of the Kurchatov Institute and the Dean of the Faculty of Physics of St Petersburg University, even the USA does not have a university with such advanced facilities (see Mikhail Kovalchuk on the St Petersburg University Research Park: You will not find a university with such high-level facilities in the United States, Vesti FM Radio Station).