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Ural Regions to Play Host to Breakthrough Science

July 23, 2019

Big science is making its way into Russian regions.

One of the first stops along its route is the Ural Federal District, soon to host two world-class research hubs: a science and education cluster and a center for mathematical sciences.

Fostering technological advances, innovations and cutting-edge scientific investigation is one of Russia's national development goals outlined in a May 2018 presidential decree. To achieve these aims, a united action plan for the period to 2024 has been drawn up whereby inter alia 50 per cent Russian-based organizations is to become a technological innovator.

To this end, 15 science and education clusters and 14 National Technological Initiative competency centers are to be set up across the country by 2024. Five regions are already running pilots for the science and education clusters. They are the Kemerovo (Kuzbass), Nizhny Novgorod, Tyumen and Belgorod Regions and Perm Krai. Also, a process has been launched to sel ect the entities that will host the centers for mathematical sciences and genome investigations. These initiatives make part of the R636 bln National Project for Science.

An agreement to create the Ural Interregional Science and Education Cluster that will bring together major universities, research institutions and real-economy enterprises from the Sverdlovsk, Kurgan and Chelyabinsk Regions was signed at the INNOPROM International Industrial Trade Fair in July 2019.

The core institution for the cluster is Ural Federal University (UrFU) which will coordinate its work overall, with South Ural State University (SUSU) overseeing its operations in the Chelyabinsk Region.

Cluster participants will engage with major scientific problems and aim for breakthroughs in priority research areas while also training the research and technical staff required to support this effort. As local business, too, will be involved, the three regions should eventually gain in terms of efficient industrial development.

The cluster's educational activities will emphasize educational exports and accelerated digitalization. The Sverdlovsk Region is already implementing projects to create a digital environment and launch a single digital platform in the field of secondary (non-vocational) and higher education.

According to Sverdlovsk Region governor Evgeny Kuyvashev, the three regions are pooling their resources to deal with a major challenge, that of enhancing their global competitive advantage by stepping up innovation and improving science–industry interaction. The cluster will become the key element of the regions' innovation infrastructure and the nucleus of their emerging high-tech industries.

Specifically, tenants will seek to design breakthrough solutions that would contribute to the development of adjacent territories and generate substantial economic benefits within five to ten years in such fields as sensorics, robotics, laser additive manufacturing, industrial and household waste recycling, smart grid, intelligent materials, etc. The cluster's portfolio capacity is estimated at up to 120 projects.

As SUSU Rector (President) Alexander Shestakov explains, the three cooperating regions are now busy putting together an application for establishing and operating the cluster. SUSU's contribution to its portfolio will include several projects that fall in line with the university's strategic agenda in such key areas as digitalization, materials sciences, rocket and space technology, and ecology. For a project to qualify it must involve an industrial partner.

The cluster is to receive more than R1 bln in annual investment, mostly from its business collaborators and the regional budgets. Fr om 2020, the regions will be awarding grants to finance those integrated projects to build high-tech businesses that are at least 50% funded by industrial partners or private investors.

To promote cooperation within the cluster, steps will be taken to simplify procedures, remove administrative hurdles, grant tenants tax benefits and preferential access to the facilities and provide other assistance for which the cooperating parties as eligible by law and the nature of their relationship.

While the application to host the cluster, initiated by the Sverdlovsk Region and seconded by the Chelyabinsk and Kurgan Regions, is due to be submitted in 2020, the cluster's main administrative bodies and project finance facilities are expected to be set up before the end of 2019.

Under the National Project for Science, the Ural Federal District will also be getting state-of-the-art maths laboratories. These will form part of the world-class Ural Center for Mathematical Sciences to be created by UrFU in conjunction with the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Three labs will be established at the Academy's Krasovsky Institute of Mathematics and Mechanics, two at UrFU and one at Udmurt State University, with some of them to be run on a joint basis.

The center's primary brief will be to conduct basic and exploratory research into machine-learning-based design of new materials. Its labs are expected to focus on mathematical modeling of dynamical systems, function and approximation theory, TCS and mathematical foundations of computer science, algorithmic (computational) topology and data-driven and mathematical techniques for predictive modeling.

At the moment, says Valery Charushin, president of the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, who sits on the UrFU supervisory board, the parties are preparing the application that they will submit when the competition to house the labs is launched, presumably in the spring of 2020.