Opportunities for international researchers in Russia

Russia and Korea to embrace the digital revolution

August 16, 2017

In the year of the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution, which completely changed the life of the country in the 20th century, Russia is trying to lay the foundation for the celebration of its centennial anniversary of the digital revolution in 2117. On this path the high-tech cooperation with the Republic of Korea may be of interest to both states obsessed with the idea of digital transformation.

With the appointment of the new minister for science and ICT, South Koreans expect their country to march into the digital age of fourth industrial revolution characterized by a fusion of cutting-edge technologies, such as big data and the Internet of Things (IoT), based on the successful progress in science with a big hope that they can innovate the way out of an emerging economic crisis - and win a Nobel prize in the process. This is what the current president of the country, Moon Jae-in, promised his people during the recent election campaign. Investments in the new technological structure, according to President Moon's statements, should help create during his 5-year term 810,000 new jobs in the public sector, which could also in turn prompt the private sector to create up to 500,000 new jobs every year .

Such high public expectations justify almost 5% of GDP as investments in R&D, twice what Korea spent in 1999, and boosting annual basic-science funding as a source of new technologies and industries to the historically record levels. Ministry for Science and ICT (MSIT) earlier announced that it will spend 1.52 trillion won (US$1.3 billion) in 2018 on various science and technology R&D projects, up from 1.26 trillion won allocated for this year.

The development of hi-tech was a primary focus of this year’s Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum so that the world learned Russian President Putin was passionately fond of digital economy with understanding that growth rates are based on the country’s leadership in high-tech areas. In August, Russian Prime Minister Medvedev approved the government program focused on digital economy with substantial targeted funding available until 2024.

The breakthrough in digital leadership is supported by the development of long-term funding for research and the renewal of the existing line of research grants. Earlier this year an ambitious Presidential research funding program was announced in Russia. Around $10 billion in additional budget are expected to be made available through 2017-2023 to the Russian Science Foundation (RSF), which will distribute these supplementary funds to support cutting-edge research projects implemented by outstanding early-career researchers and to create new world-class laboratories with industrial co-funding.

According to the results of the first competitive selection, this year 504 young scientists, 239 youth research groups and 31 laboratories were awarded for up to 7 years of funding so that they can build their own independent research teams and pursue their best ideas at the frontiers of knowledge. This complements the existing diversified portfolio of other 2,500 RSF-funded projects. On average, RSF grantees employ around eight team members during their project.

In July, Vladimir Putin met with President Moon on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg. Their next meeting is expected soon in the sidelines of the third Eastern Economic Forum in the Russian city Vladivostok. One of the bilateral issues bonding two countries may be the cooperation in science and technology as both countries face high-stakes in science and have a strong track record of heavy investments in research excellence.

Although the nations’ leading research funders, the Russian Science Foundation and the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF), have not yet launched bilateral co-funding program, they succeeded in establishing trustful relations. This May they hold workshop focused on monitoring the appropriate expenditure of the grants and discussed some cases of alleged fraud and research misconduct. In May 2018 NRF President Dr. Moo-je Cho is scheduled to visit Moscow hosting the Global Research Council meeting. RSF and NRF continue to sense the growing interest from the researchers in both Korea and Russia seeking funding for their projects.

Like European Research Council or US-based National Science Foundation, the RSF funding schemes are open to top researchers from all over the world who wish to carry out a project in a host institution in Russia. Korean scientists participate in the RSF calls, and in the past three years there were 8 grant applications from the top Korean researchers. To date, one principal investigator from Republic of Korea has been awarded RSF grant in transport engineering and is based in Lavrentyev Institute of Hydrodynamics of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Novosibirsk.

Samsung has reportedly partnered with the Institute for Systems Programming of the Russian Academy of Sciences (ISP-RAS) to use a tool for static program analysis developed by the ISP’s researchers. Korean high-tech enterprise invested more than $10 million in the development of this technology with ISP reserving the intellectual right for the product, which Samsung can use at no charge. This is the only code analyzer the Korean flagship company has been using since 2015.

International funding agencies experience suggests that collaborative research projects based on the principles of scientific excellence, parity funding and credible peer-review have normally higher impact of R&D investments from the public funds compared to the research funded by the single nation.

If Russia and Korea join their great sci-fi endeavors in the modern big-budget science, the pay-off is going to be enormous and we will see perhaps some Nobel-worthy transformative projects developed by talented researchers from two countries jointly. Undoubtedly, this should help both nations be successful in emerging era of digital transition and perhaps to prepare for the Fifth Industrial Revolution. For this common goal, the Russian Science Foundation, the National Research Foundation of Korea, Korea Green Light Intellectual Network and other stakeholders will cooperate closely together.

Some of the specific fields in which Russia and Korea may succeed in collaborative research projects, combining the strong track record of Russian basic science with advanced Korean application technology, are nuclear fusion technology to cope with current concerns about the safety of nuclear power plants, cybersecurity, big data analytics, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, electric vehicles, self-driving cars, industrial robots, renewable energy, bio-industry and software development.

This article was revised and modified by the writer based on a piece previously published in the Joongang daily newspaper. © 2017

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