Viktor Matveev, scientific director of the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research, speaks in an interview to the readers of «Open Dubna» why world science and Dubna are lucky with the NICA collider.
Viktor Anatolyevich, the NICA collider at JINR began to be created in order to unravel the mystery of the first moments of the existence of the Universe. But a few years ago, Yuri Tsolakovich Oganesyan said that the NICA collider would also be able to model a neutron star, in which the Universe synthesizes heavy elements. Are all physical facilities so universal or is this a unique feature of the Dubna collider?
– Of course, all large plant projects would always like to have such a comprehensive program at their core. But not everyone really succeeds. I think that our heavy ion collider project NICA is really lucky in this sense. First of all, because such a task has been set, which in its fundamentality and significance, naturally contains this in itself.
We have been saying for a long time that fundamental physics is celebrating the huge success of the Standard Model of elementary particles. This is the highest intellectual achievement of mankind today. The model allows explaining and describing phenomena from the size of the Universe to microscales.
But such a huge success of the Standard Model still leaves a large number of questions not fully understood. And we are all convinced that there is science, there is physics beyond the Standard Model. And one of the unresolved problems of the Standard Model is that its part quantum chromodynamics gives an understanding of the interactions of individual fundamental particles with each other at ultrasmall distances, but does not allow describing the properties of strong interactions of nuclear matter at large distances.
Just the NICA project is able to explore those features of strong interactions at distances, when it is important to take into account the properties of matter itself, composed of many quarks, gluons – that is, what should have been born when the Universe appeared. The project took on a very difficult task. It intends to study very complex processes that cannot yet be fully described by theorists. There are a lot of unknowns. Therefore, everyone who is now involved in the NICA collider project is very lucky – there is so much to explain, understand, feel!
– Exactly. Now astrophysicists have gravitational wave detectors and other devices that allow them to record extreme processes in space. For example the merger of two neutron stars or the absorption of some large cosmic body by a black hole.
When neutron stars collide, in a split second as much energy is released as the Sun does not radiate in a billion years. The same extreme processes and such densities occur in nuclear matter, which we want to study at the NICA collider. Indeed, in the synthesis of heavy elements in the Universe, an important role plays not the energy of colliding nuclei, but the force of gravity, which compresses matter very strongly.
Therefore, Yuri Tsolakovich noted very accurately, that the NICA project was designed in such a way, thought out, formulated in such a way that makes possibility to achieve the maximum density of baryonic matter under laboratory conditions.
What about the Large Hadron Collider with its high energies?
– The Large Hadron Collider at CERN and its large collaborations are using high energies to study processes in the small, in individual fundamental components of a collision. And our NICA collider allows us to achieve such a density of particles that we no longer get individual particles, but matter composed of them in the form of its clots, drops.
So we are all very lucky that we will be able to study at the NICA collider such phenomena that have a much wider application than just narrow problems of the theory of strong interactions.
It turns out that Dubna is lucky, that people managed to set a really fundamental task here, covering several areas at once…
– And don’t be afraid of difficulties…
… and not afraid of difficulties. Perhaps this is Russia’s inclination to some kind of deep philosophical understanding of reality …
… yes, aspiration to comprehend a lot in the world order is voluminous at once. And here it is remembered that once the natural sciences came out of philosophy. In their development they were divided into mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, geography. Now the natural sciences have begun to unite again in interdisciplinary research, including at JINR. Will humanity in the process of such a unification of the natural sciences arrive at a new philosophy?
– Yes, there was a state in the history of science when philosophy set the task of giving some summary description of the world order and the laws that govern what happens in our life, in the world around us. Because all this was born by the curiosity, desire to imagine the world order as a whole. There were not enough tools to study these phenomena, there were not enough data. The word and the concept, which is hidden behind the word, gave birth to philosophy. There were no data, but there was a desire to understand. Explanations were born through new concepts, new words, and this was its own tool for describing the surrounding world.
But with the development of science when mathematics became its language, it became possible to formulate the most important laws in mathematical language (a more accurate expression of fundamental laws). And the role of philosophy began to go away, to be belittled. Although, of course there are limits to our understanding, our knowledge, and it is difficult to live without a common philosophical outlook on life.
But it seems to me that not the sciences themselves that are merging now, but knowledge is merging to solve the problems of our life. We see that knowledge has already become a modern productive force. Now people, including people who are at the start of new industries, new technologies, require broad knowledge of individual basic sciences, and the ability to combine this knowledge.
By the way, the Joint Institute differs from such a large scientific center as CERN in the way it sets scientific tasks. CERN sets the task for the scientists it unites to advance as much as possible in one of the areas of fundamental science. At JINR we take into account the interests of scientists and the society of our member countries. Therefore, we are investing efforts and resources in the development of those individual experimental works and exploratory works that are of interest to the participating countries.
That is, in part, we take responsibility for the state of development of science in the member countries. And here it is precisely a broad education, the ability to combine the knowledge of individual fundamental sciences that is needed.
But great importance of philosophy does not disappear in any case and cannot disappear. Because the worldview of the modern people is very important. It is a necessary element of culture. This is an understanding of the foundations of the universe, processes that have been going on since time immemorial in which modern people have no direct experience of life.
It is interesting in connection with this why nature gives us the opportunity to think about what it does not and cannot have in direct experience. Cosmology and fundamental physics have managed to unfold these data in time and obtain information about the development of processes in the Universe. We did not exist then, but today we can get this information from the observed data. The intellect of man allows to penetrate where his direct experience does not allow him to penetrate.
It is important that all this leads to a more complete modern worldview. This is an element of a common culture. So it creates an understanding that we must take care of the future of mankind in such a way that its progressive development does not stop. And physicists give a good example, showing how many fundamental problems can be solved together in creative cooperation, and not in confrontation, which always limits people and does not bring anything qualitatively new.
Worldview, especially on the basis of new knowledge, is nevertheless formed at school. A person leaves school at the age of 17 with a practically formed outlook on life. Now there is an opinion among schoolchildren and students that only physicists are hired at JINR. But it’s not like that. What sciences do you need to study to get a job at JINR? Is it only natural sciences?
– Of course, first of all, we need people with professional knowledge in physics, mathematics, and engineering. But speaking truly, such scientific centers as ours — with a very rich research program — first of all, need creatively gifted people who have a desire for knowledge.
Academician Artsimovich wittily said that scientists are people who satisfy their curiosity at the expense of the state. In fact, he said by this: understand, society exploits the curiosity of scientists.
Curiosity is the highest gift that nature gives to man. And it gives it not by chance, but with a purpose: so that this curiosity leads a person to the search for new knowledge. Therefore, first of all, it is important to acquire people with a creative fuse. If a person has curiosity for something, there is an active desire for knowledge, it is no longer so important which narrow profession he touched on in the first place.
We’ve been thinking for a long time that it is impossible to think of great scientific progress purely in terms of the development of research infrastructure. We need people who able to obtain scientific results, and to look for creative innovations.
When we talk about innovation, it is not only in terms of business development and new directions. This is generally a position in life: a person has some kind of knowledge, burns with some ideas. It is important that he brings to life what attracted him and what he learned.
Therefore, general literacy, literary talent, and, most importantly, creativity are important here.
For example, our member countries are increasingly turning to the direction of the institute with the requests to train their employees scientific management, leadership and coordination of international cooperation.
The activities of our institute are also connected with scientific diplomacy. Here we need very unique talents — a broad knowledge of the history of mankind, the history of individual countries. We need to deeply understand the content and role of international cooperation and international politics.
And now our institute has employees from the participating countries who are not physicists and mathematicians at all, but are widely educated people who are engaged in the popularization of science. They know how to write about science in a way that is understandable to society. It requires professional intuition and knowledge. There are people who receive an education that is directly related to international activities, legal activities, and on an international scale.
In general, we need people who are curious and creatively gifted. I think they will all find one place or another in the institute, if it is clear that they really want it.