“We will have to live and work in a world where there are two wars”

In Chicago, at Northwestern University, an annu­al con­fer­ence was held, orga­nized by the Russian-American Association of Scientists Russian American Science Association (RASA). This time the meet­ing was timed to coin­cide with the 150th anniver­sary of Sergei Rachmaninov, the com­pos­er who emi­grat­ed to the United States in 1918. More than 50 sci­en­tists from dif­fer­ent states and coun­tries came to Chicago, who for two days talked about their achieve­ments, shared their expe­ri­ences and made plans for the future. The con­fer­ence itself is pri­mar­i­ly sci­en­tif­ic, but there was no dis­cus­sion of polit­i­cal news. Denis Cheredovattend­ed the meet­ing of sci­en­tists and learned what top­ics it was devot­ed to and how the polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in the world affect­ed the work of Russian-speak­ing stu­dents, can­di­dates of sci­ences, and pro­fes­sors abroad. 

The con­fer­ence of sci­en­tists in Chicago kicked off just days after the Hamas attack on Israel. Russian-speak­ing schol­ars of dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions have already shown how, after Putin’s aggres­sive inva­sion of Ukraine, they sup­port­ed the Ukrainians with­out aban­don­ing Russia. And now, after the Hamas attack on Israel, RASA pub­lished let­terin which sci­en­tists con­demn ter­ror­ist attacks on the Jewish state. Participants of the 14th RASA con­fer­ence imme­di­ate­ly stat­ed that they will now have to live and work when there are already two wars going on in the world at the same time. 

“When Russia launched a full-scale attack on Ukraine, many ques­tions imme­di­ate­ly arose before us. We didn’t even know how Russian, Russian-speak­ing and all that stuff now relates to words and names. And we decid­ed to speak out in defense and help sci­en­tists from dif­fer­ent coun­tries who are suf­fer­ing as a result of this war, who are suf­fer­ing as a result of a total­i­tar­i­an dic­ta­tor­ship, who are forced to leave their coun­tries en masse and end up in the West, where we have already tak­en place,” said the pro­fes­sor at the University of North Carolina Alexander Kabanov.

It is to help new immi­grants that RASA cre­at­ed a spe­cial site in Russian. The orga­ni­za­tion now has cura­tors to com­mu­ni­cate with sci­en­tists who are now forced to leave Russia and immi­grate to the United States. 

According to tra­di­tion, at the begin­ning of the con­fer­ence, RASA President Elena Atochina-Wasserman pre­sent­ed award named after the out­stand­ing physi­cist Georgy Gamow</a >.

Georgi Gamow is a the­o­ret­i­cal physi­cist known for his break­through research in quan­tum mechan­ics, atom­ic and nuclear physics, astro­physics, cos­mol­o­gy and biol­o­gy. He was born in Odessa and worked in Leningrad, Paris, Gottingen, Cambridge, Washington, Berkeley, Boulder. Every year this award is giv­en to Russian-speak­ing res­i­dents abroad for their out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tions to sci­ence and for the preser­va­tion of Russian cul­tur­al her­itage. This time the prize went to MIT pro­fes­sor Viktor Chernozhukov and Oxford University pro­fes­sor Andrey Zorin.

The RASA con­fer­ence brings togeth­er rep­re­sen­ta­tives from a vari­ety of fields - math­e­mati­cians, econ­o­mists, physi­cists, chemists, biol­o­gists. At the 14th meet­ing in Chicago, they dis­cussed var­i­ous top­ics and stud­ies ded­i­cat­ed to the work of Russian-speak­ing sci­en­tists. For exam­ple, Anton Lukashevich from the University of Iceland talked about what ensem­ble sta­tis­tics is: how we see the world around us in its entire­ty. And the report by Andrei Rzhetsky from the University of Chicago was devot­ed to com­put­er analy­sis of com­plex human phenotypes. 

It is very impor­tant that right now Russian-speak­ing sci­en­tists can com­mu­ni­cate in a nar­row cir­cle on var­i­ous top­ics, sup­port each oth­er and share sci­en­tif­ic knowl­edgeachieve­ments.

“There are tru­ly out­stand­ing world sci­en­tists herescale. For exam­ple, Viktor Chernozhukov, a pro­fes­sor from MIT who stud­ies eco­nom­ics, Vladimir Gelfand - now he had a report in the sec­tion of mol­e­c­u­lar biol­o­gy. He is the son of the out­stand­ing math­e­mati­cian of the 20th cen­tu­ry Israel Gelfand, who was a stu­dent of Kolmogorov, who, in turn, was one of the founders of mod­ern prob­a­bil­i­ty the­o­ry. That is, in a sense, these are some kind of liv­ing leg­ends. Also a lec­ture about Tolstoy and his atti­tude to war. This is all close to me too, because I love fic­tion and “I’m read­ing Herzen at this par­tic­u­lar moment,” says young sci­en­tist Konstantin Guryev from State College in Pennsylvania.

Oxford University Professor Andrei Zorin gave a pre­sen­ta­tion on the top­ic “Tolstoy and vio­lence.” It was no coin­ci­dence that Zorin chose his research about Leo Tolstoy for the pre­sen­ta­tion. The philol­o­gist is con­vinced that Tolstoy was a paci­fist. However, he knew that peo­ple are imper­fect and that there are no peo­ple in the world who are able to ful­ly embody “>all his ideals. He him­self was not a per­son capa­ble of liv­ing in accor­dance with his own absolute­ly nation­al­is­tic demands. And he said many times that he, like every­one else, is a sin­ner. But here’s what’s impor­tant: Tolstoy’s man has the oppor­tu­ni­ty to strive for the ideal. 

Professor Zorin before the war in Ukraine lived in two coun­tries: Russia and England. He was born and raised in Moscow. Now he has no plans to return to his home­land. Only “if life allows,” adds the lit­er­ary critic. 

“I would say that now the reac­tion of Russian soci­ety to the hor­rors tak­ing place is aver­age. I don’t see any­thing spe­cial in her. This is how most war­ring soci­eties react. But when a per­son sees some­thing ter­ri­ble and can­not pre­vent it in any way, he nor­mal­izes it. This is an inter­nal nor­mal­iza­tion mech­a­nism that just keeps you from going crazy. When you see total evil, you must explain itandfind an excuse for it. This is how the human psy­che works, this is how most peo­ple work,” says Zorin. 

According to the philol­o­gist, Tolstoy even devot­ed a text­book to this top­ic. In it, the writer talks about a person’s abil­i­ty to find expla­na­tions for every­thing, jus­ti­fy every­thing and come to terms with his own way of life. 

Explanations for what is hap­pen­ing in the world are also found in the mod­ern sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty. Like-mind­ed peo­ple gath­ered at a con­fer­ence in Chicago. These are peo­ple who work at dif­fer­ent uni­ver­si­ties, and at the same time they con­demn Russia’s inva­sion of Ukraine and under­stand why some sci­en­tists and artists have either already left abroad or are plan­ning to emi­grate. The unique­ness of this meet­ing also lies in the fact that dozens of pro­fes­sors and sci­en­tists gath­er in one place, unit­ed not only by polit­i­cal like-mind­ed­ness, but also by the Russian language. 

Chemistry pro­fes­sor at the University of Southern California Anna Krylova says that late­ly she has often been asked who she con­sid­ers her­self to be: Russian, Ukrainian, American? 

“I was born in Ukraine. Studied in Moscow. And I always say that this clas­si­fi­ca­tion based on bio­log­i­cal and nation­al char­ac­ter­is­tics real­ly dis­gusts me. That is, I believe that we should think to our­selves as peo­ple, as cit­i­zens of the world, as sci­en­tists,” says the professor. 

At the same time, Anna Krylova notes that even among the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty there are com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent peo­ple who may hold com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent views. 

“There are even sci­en­tists who now say that Hamas declares every­thing won­der­ful­ly and we should sup­port them. That is, these are peo­ple with absolute­ly mon­strous views,” adds the chemist. 

Also, since the begin­ning of the war in Ukraine, the abo­li­tion of Russian cul­ture has been dis­cussed among Western intel­lec­tu­als. Anna Krylova gives one illus­tra­tive exam­ple demon­strat­ing that this prob­lem is real­ly relevant.

“There is an American writer, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the pop­u­lar nov­el “Eat, Pray, Love.” And so she recent­ly announced that she is can­cel­ing her own book “Snowy Forest”. Why? Because this is a nov­el that describes a fam­i­ly of reli­gious her­mits, Old Believers. And the action takes place in Siberia. And since there is now a war, Russia attackedUkraine and peo­ple are being killed by mis­siles, then this book about Russia may offend and cause pain to some­one. This is sim­ply mon­strous destruc­tion,” says a pro­fes­sor at the University of Southern California.

Anna Krylova’s col­league, research fel­low at NORTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY Maxim Anokhin is also involved in chem­istry. It’s hard to believe, but, accord­ing to him, the lead­er­ship of his uni­ver­si­ty banned Maxim from par­tic­i­pat­ing in the con­fer­ence. Anokhin is sure that his par­tic­i­pa­tion was pri­mar­i­ly opposed by his for­mer sci­en­tif­ic super­vi­sor, Evgeniy Nesterov, Professor of the Faculty of Chemistry and Biochemistry. The young sci­en­tist believes that the ban on the lead­er­ship is pri­mar­i­ly relat­ed to the views of the pro­fes­sor, who, while work­ing in America, sup­ports the Russian regime.

“One day he and his wife invit­ed me home. This was in March. Under the pre­text that a new employ­ee has arrived, we need to meet him. So they raised a toast to Russia’s vic­to­ry in this war. I was ready to devour my glass. Well, nat­u­ral­ly, I didn’t pick it up. I raised a toast to Moscow University because I received my PhD there from Moscow State University. But, of course, rais­ing a glass to Russia’s vic­to­ry in this war is immoral. This is hor­ror, this is some kind of nightmare.” 

The pub­li­ca­tion T-invari­ant sent a request to the man­age­ment of NORTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY with a request to com­ment on the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion. But we nev­er received an answer. Meanwhile, researcher Maxim Anokhin is already look­ing for a new job. According to Anokhin, his polit­i­cal views and his sup­port for Ukraine inter­fere with his career at the University of Illinois. 

One of the most hon­or­able speak­ers of the con­fer­ence appeared in the cor­ri­dors of the University of Chicago - con­duc­tor Viktor Yampolsky. During his long con­cert career, the pro­fes­sor per­formed all of Rachmaninoff’s works. Now Yampolsky leads the orches­tra of the Northwestern University Bienen School of Music.

Yampolsky told why Rachmaninov gained the fame of “the most Russian com­pos­er” and why today, in his opin­ion, emi­grat­ed cul­tur­al and sci­en­tif­ic fig­ures will feel a con­nec­tion with Russia until the end of their days. 

A spe­cial fea­ture of this con­fer­ence was the fact that RASA was able to help more than 10 young sci­en­tists come to Chicago. For exam­ple, Alexander Kabanov was able to bring a Ukrainian woman to the United States, who now works at his university. 

“In the very first days of the war, I start­ed work and invit­ed a girl who grew up in Bakhmut. And it was very dif­fi­cult, because it was impos­si­ble to bring her. The Americans refused her a visa and said that she would not return. But you have nowhere to return to Ukraine. People from Russia prob­a­bly expe­ri­ence sim­i­lar things. Someone arrives, some­one is wait­ing for a visa, and so on. One of the ele­ments of per­son­al one-on-one assis­tance is, of course, those who know you by pro­fes­sion. They are turn­ing to you. If you have a posi­tion (place), you help. But, of course, this is not a bot­tom­less net­work. Many of these peo­ple left Russia, but when they come here, to Israel or to some oth­er places, they, in gen­er­al, must adapt to a new life, change their field of work, change direc­tion, under­stand how they can enter the labor mar­ket. And to help them, we cre­at­ed a web­site about the Russian move­ment,” says Professor Kabanov. 

Graduate stu­dent Stanislav Cherepanov works at the University of Michigan in the Department of Biophysics. Several years ago, Stanislav was diag­nosed with sar­co­ma. But now it’s all over. Now the grad­u­ate stu­dent is study­ing mol­e­c­u­lar dynam­ics with con­stant pH (Constant pH Molecular Dynamics, CpHMD). This method allows you to sim­u­late the behav­ior of mol­e­cules under con­di­tions where the pH of the envi­ron­ment is an active para­me­ter. pH plays a key role in many bio­log­i­cal process­es, such as pro­tein fold­ing, catal­y­sis, and lig­and bind­ing and release. Traditional mol­e­c­u­lar dynam­ics meth­ods do not take into account changes in pH, which can lead to insuf­fi­cient­ly accu­rate oror incor­rect pre­dic­tions. The CpHMD method solves this prob­lem by allow­ing sci­en­tists to sim­u­late dynam­ic changes in the pro­ton state of mol­e­cules in response to changes in pH. This opens up new oppor­tu­ni­ties for study­ing bio­log­i­cal sys­tems, espe­cial­ly those where pH plays a crit­i­cal role.

“My goal in this research is to devel­op and opti­mize CpHMD meth­ods for more accu­rate and effi­cient mod­el­ing of bio­log­i­cal sys­tems. This could help in under­stand­ing the mech­a­nisms of var­i­ous bio­chem­i­cal process­es and in the devel­op­ment of new drugs, espe­cial­ly for dis­eases asso­ci­at­ed with changes in pH, such as can­cer. In our exam­ple, folic acid binds to a pro­tein mem­brane, after which it under­goes endo­cy­to­sis, where it forms a ball that pass­es into the cell. Along the way, the acid­i­ty lev­el decreas­es, which releas­es folic acid. There is a class of drugs - antifo­lates, where the drug binds tight­ly, pre­vent­ing this process. It is harm­ful to can­cer­ous and non-can­cer­ous cells, such as the liv­er. It is active­ly used in chemotherapy.

Given that can­cer cells have a more acidic envi­ron­ment, this under­stand­ing could be key to devel­op­ing new can­cer treat­ments that could help under­stand how this hap­pens. Computer mod­el­ing allows us to quick­ly and effi­cient­ly under­stand the mech­a­nism and come up with poten­tial new drugs, sav­ing time and resources com­pared to tra­di­tion­al meth­ods,” says Stanislav Cherepanov. 

If a young sci­en­tist can iden­ti­fy exact­ly how changes in pH affect the activ­i­ty and func­tion of folic acid recep­tors, then this may make it pos­si­ble to cre­ate new med­ica­tions that will specif­i­cal­ly block or acti­vate these recep­tors only in can­cer cells. Such med­ica­tions may offer more effec­tive and safer treat­ment, reduc­ing the risk of side effects and improv­ing patients’ qual­i­ty of life.

And such research plays a huge role in sci­ence, since can­cer is one of the main caus­es of death in the world. Any new knowl­edge in this area could lead to the devel­op­ment of inno­v­a­tive treat­ments and improved prog­no­sis for mil­lions of people.

All these advanced sci­en­tif­ic achieve­ments could remain only with­in one sci­en­tif­ic field where Stanislav Cherepanov works. Therefore, the val­ue of the con­fer­ence lies in the fact that sci­en­tists from dif­fer­ent states and coun­tries can per­son­al­ly show their work to col­leagues and share their expe­ri­ence. It is already unusu­al for most speak­ers to make sci­en­tif­ic reports in Russian, but the point of this activ­i­ty is to pre­serve and devel­op the Russian lan­guage as an intel­lec­tu­al space, espe­cial­ly now when in many coun­tries Russian is asso­ci­at­ed with the lan­guage of aggres­sion. The Association of Russian-American Scientists has already promised that in a year RASA will again hold a con­fer­ence for Russian-speak­ing sci­en­tists. And there will cer­tain­ly be a lot of top­ics for discussion. 

Text: Denis Cheredov


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