Convergence of Sciences and Technology - the base of the new technological order

M.V. Kovalchuk

Russian Scientific Center "Kurchatov Institute", Acad. Kurchatov sq., 1, Moscow,



Director of the “Kurchatov Institute” M.V. KovalchukOver the past two years at the “Kurchatov Institute” was established the Center for Converged of nano-, bio-, info- and cognitive (NBIC) sciences and technology – one of the first sites in the world where there are developing in close interpenetration the research in physics, chemistry, biotechnology, cell and molecular biology, nanotechnology and information technology, cognitive science. NBIC-convergence provides the basis not only for the formation of another way of technological development, it opens the way for a transition to a qualitatively new civilization.


Large-scale, breakthrough, interdisciplinary megaprojects such as nuclear or space, has always relied on the achievements of many fields of science and technology. While each of these areas has continued to develop with its own logic and came to their concrete results, which then were integrated, folded together to achieve a specific, albeit a global goal. As part of global projects entirely new research areas and industries were born, but the logic of their development remained specialized, of industry, the achievements of various regions, simply folded.

In the 60th the information technology widespreaded, which had already fundamentally new multisectoral character. Today there is no field of science, education, industry, which would not be associated with the use of information technology. Later the same multisectoral integrative role, but in the context of material, played nanotechnology, which at the atomic level, on principles of atomic-molecular design unified quite different areas of knowledge.


Nanotechnology – a methodology for creating "custom" material of any kind, any type, for any application, using the directed manipulation of atoms and molecules. When we talk about the development of nanotechnology in general, it is a solution of two fundamentally different tasks. One task is to develop technologies of atomic-molecular engineering and to use nanotechnology for creating MAKROmaterials for various areas of the economy. Today, we already are programming the creation of such materials using supercomputers, we have the ability to calculate the configuration, consisting of billions of atoms, to give in advance the substance of material and technologies of its creation on a qualitatively new level. This problem is understandable, it is based on the modernization of existing facilities through the introduction of nanotechnology solutions, their further development, reducing energy costs. This line of development is determined at the state level, the strategy is developed, necessary mechanisms and organizations created (e.g. corporation Rosnano), which should facilitate inflow of scientific ideas in the industry, and their commercialization. But this is only one branch of developing nanotechnology – the linear, extensive projects.


But there is another branch that I conventionally call the "launch of the future". It involves not only building a fundamentally new research infrastructure, but also the transition to a new, interdisciplinary scientific mentality.

Today the world is already crossing the threshold of a new phase in materials – bioorganic. Its essence – in the compound of technological possibilities that we have, first of all solid-state microelectronics, with our present knowledge of live nature. Its strategic goal – the creation of anthropomorphic technical systems, such as the designs created by live nature. At the initial stage – a hybrid nano-bio materials, and sensor systems based on them, then biorobotic systems using the technology of atomic-molecular design based on self-organization of atoms and molecules.


When the computer era began, as the base of semiconductor electronics was chosen a silicon crystal: a total of eight atoms, while in the unit cell of any protein there are tens and hundreds of thousands. 60 years ago, the structure of the protein molecule, not to mention the modeling of her features, was just out of reach. More than half a century the stake was on much more simple inorganic crystals. Was originated and perfected one of the greatest technological achievements – the solid-state microelectronics technology allowing to create integrated circuits. This reproducible technique of microminiaturization allows using sequential lithography and alignment, i.e. creating a certain image, relief on the surface of the crystal, to form complex integrated circuit an infinite number of times anywhere in the world in the same reproducible manner.


At the same time we penetrated very deeply into constitution of protein and learned how to make protein crystals. Over the past decade, thanks to the development of fundamental sciences, the use of synchrotron radiation and neutrons, nuclear and magnetic resonance, the creation of supercomputers we were able to decipher the structure of biological molecules, to understand how they work, to study their function. The boundaries between bioorganic and inorganic materials on the basis of which technologies has been traditionally developed, have begun to blur.

The desire of mankind – to reach in our instruments the perfection, which is incorporated in each of us. But if before we could only copy individual organs or systems, such as hearing, seeing, as a model of technical systems, various sensors, etc., today we came to an understanding of how the live nature is constructed. Combining the technologies of microelectronics with our knowledge of live nature, we will be able to create entirely new hybrid materials, which will consist of inorganic and organic materials. The strategic goal of the "launch of the future" is the creation of anthropomorphic technical systems, such as the designs created by live nature.


This task may be achieved not simply by connecting one technology to another, but with the help of convergence, the interpenetration of the highest technological advances and knowledge in the field of live nature and human beings. All these tasks require fundamentally new approaches, work for a common goal, to ensure synergy effect, interdisciplinary convergence.

This convergence, combining science and technology will stimulate the formation of the new technological order, based on NBIC technologies, where N – is nano, a new approach to the design of materials "by order" by the atomic-molecular design, B – bio, which will allow to enter into construction of biological inorganic materials and thus to obtain hybrid materials,
I – information technology, which would allow such a hybrid material or system "to plant" an integrated circuit, and eventually get some kind of intelligent system, and C – are cognitive technology based on the study of consciousness, perception, thought processes and behavior of living creatures, and man in the first place, from both neurophysiological and molecular-biological point of view, and with the help of humanitarian approaches. Accession of cognitive technologies will enable, basing on the study of brain functions, mechanisms of consciousness and behavior of living beings, to introduce the algorithms that actually will "animate" the systems that we create, giving them something like a mental functions.


The main idea of NBIC-Center at the “Kurchatov Institute” was in fact to form an infrastructure base of this convergence of science and technology. The nucleus around which Kurchatov NBIC-Center develops is a unique combination of world-class MEGA facilities – sources of synchrotron and neutron radiation. Kurchatov NBIC-Center includes a new nanotechnology building, renovated and reconstructed synchrotron radiation source, the research neutron reactor IR-8, the center of processing and storing data on a supercomputer. At the Kurchatov NBIC-Center there is a unique X-ray equipment, nuclear – power and electron microscopes, various technological devices for nanobiotechnology, clean room areas. I would like to note that a substantial part of this unique equipment was designed and manufactured by national companies.


All of these highly complex technologies require fundamentally new class of professionals, already trained in an interdisciplinary manner. I think we managed to choose the right direction in this area. United Department of Physics of Nanosystems at the Department of Physics of the Moscow State University of M.V. Lomonosov and the RRC "KI" has been successfully operating since 2005. A student receiving a bachelor's degree in one specialty, then enters the Masters, where there is no division in the field, it is "integrated" teaching, since the number of formally taught courses is bigger than in the curriculum, students have the opportunity to select an individual trajectory.


Our next educational project – the world's first and still the only faculty of nano-, bio-, information and cognitive technologies (FNBIC), established in May 2009, in the MIPT in Moscow, where I became the dean. Educational and scientific base of FNBIC is the Kurchatov Center for Nano-bio-info- and cognitive technologies. Young people actively come there, for whom the disclosure of the acronym NBIC is not required.

The humanitarian block is also very important for us – structural linguistics, sociology, anthropology, psychology – all these are integral components of the cognitive direction, along, of course, with its medical-biological unit.


We are not only creating a qualitatively new scientific environment, interdisciplinary, focused on the transition from the "analysis to synthesis", from narrow specialization – to convergence. Our NBIC-Center – a prototype of production plants of a new generation, a model for training future technological order. Microelectronic plants will become only a part of the converged IT-sector industries of the future, "nanosector" is focused on the release of inorganic "smart"-materials, sector of biotechnology – the hybrid materials, "cognosector" will deal with the algorithmics of intelligent "recovery."


The NBIC-Center already now models similar production, and simultaneously addresses a large number of private, but important and socially significant problems. For example, the platform for drag-design has been deployed, for development of new drugs by joint and simultaneous efforts of physicians, crystallographers, biologists, using our synchrotron and supercomputer. I will also mention a new platform for genomics, ensuring the creation of personalized medicine technologies, the solution of a number of problems for the integrated study of etnobiological characteristics of the population of our multinational country.


The main thing we have managed – to build at the Kurchatov NBIC-Center a qualitatively new research structure. First of all, we have developed a strong research and technological infrastructure, interdisciplinary pool of scientists, including well-known Russian scholars, mostly members of the Department of Nanotechnology and Information Technologies of RAS. The system of training of multidisciplinary experts has been created. At the Kurchatov NBIC-Center is already working a prototype of the plant of the future, which includes synchrotron and neutron experimental station, nanotech, genetic laboratory, the protein factory, laboratory of cognitive research and more.


The “Kurchatov Institute” has always been a multi-interdisciplinary research center of a national scale. Today, with the launch of converged Kurchatov NBIC-Center, the Russian Science established a reserve for a decade, which will provide us a leading position among the leading research centers around the world.

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