Live cells, quantum computing and a drone engine: Moscow Award winning projects

Live cells, quantum computing and a drone engine: Moscow Award winning projects
Photo: Photo by the Mayor and Moscow Government Press Service. Yevgeny Samarin
On 8 February, the Moscow Government presented 50 awards with prize money of 1.5 million roubles each to 77 young scientists for their outstanding achievements in research and developing new technology. Four of the winners provided with insight into their projects.

Dmitry Sorokin, Senior Research Fellow, Faculty of Computational Mathematics and Cybernetics at Lomonosov Moscow State University

Dmitry Sorokin won the Moscow Government Award for his considerable contribution to developing methods for processing the biomedical imaging of live cells.

Dmitry Sorokin

I work at the Laboratory of Mathematical Methods for Image Processing, which is part of Lomonosov Moscow State University’s Faculty of Computational Mathematics and Cybernetics. Medical researchers and biologists are involved in experiments we undertake. Doctors obtain a lot of data from various devices such as MRT scans, CT scans, ultrasound and other equipment, including 2D and 3D imaging (X-rays, tomography scans, etc.). Our task is to develop algorithms and write software code to allow us to extract useful information from these images to help doctors identify diseases and assist them in their research.

Biologists also rely on multiple methods in their research, including microscopy as one of the most wide-spread techniques for studying cellular processes. The microscopes they use provide a lot of 2D and 3D images and video. Understanding the processes that are taking place at this level is also important. For example, one of the questions could be to analyse the direction and speed of specific particles within a cell nucleus, measure the area or volume of a substance, a cells’ trajectory, how they divide, multiply, etc.

Of course, all this can be measured and observed manually, but it takes months and even years. In addition to this, processing large data sets of this kind requires a huge workforce. On the other hand, this process can be automated and streamlined using the algorithms and software my colleagues and I are working on.

This is a vibrant research field that will definitely remain relevant in the future. Genetics, and medical and biological research in general, are currently at the forefront of research. Just look at the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Three prizes have been awarded in recent years for microscopy research: for the discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein in 2008, for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy in 2014 and for developing cryo-electron microscopy in 2017. Another important field in microscopy is imaging technology. Broadly speaking, as devices become increasingly sophisticated, methods for processing data from these devices must also improve.

I applied for the Moscow Government Award for the first time last year, but didn’t get it. This year I had more luck. There is a lot of competition: there are 50 prizes, which means just three or four for each discipline, while there are hundreds of applications, as far as I know.

I enrolled in the Faculty of Computational Mathematics and Cybernetics at Lomonosov University in 2003, and have been working at the laboratory since 2005, first as an undergraduate student, then as a postgraduate student and now as a senior research fellow. I am now in charge of many undergraduate and postgraduate students who can benefit from by expertise.

For those thinking about building a career in research and technology, my advice would be to look at computer science. As a researcher in this field, I can say that it is about to enter a new stage in its development. Artificial intelligence and neural networks (we also use these) are very much relevant subjects in terms of employment opportunities. The same applies to robotics, and of course medicine and biology.

Faculty members play a key role in introducing people to research and technology and promoting this activity. That said, the city can also promote research by creating favourable conditions. I am aware of the technology parks and initiatives to promote research in Moscow. As for young researchers, be it undergraduates or postgrads, I think that the best the city can do for them is to offer financial support. Winning scholarships and grants is a big help and a major motivator for talented researchers.

Ilya Rodionov, Director, Research and Education Centre Functional Micro/Nanosystems, Bauman Moscow State Technical University

Ilya Rodionov won the Moscow Government Award for his work titled “Creating a unique pilot production unit, developing and introducing a technology platform based on a new class of epitaxial material for quantum computing, security systems and medical diagnostics.”

Ilya Rodionov

I graduated from Bauman Moscow State Technical University where I defended my Candidate of Science thesis on microprocessor manufacturing technology, and where I took part in creating a research and education centre in 2015 along with our partners from the Dukhov All-Russia Research Institute of Automatics (VNIIA), which is part of ROSATOM State Corporation.

Today, the performance and efficiency of almost all hardware components, whether it’s processors inside our computers, various lasers, etc., largely depend on the materials they are made of. These materials have to be perfect. Epitaxial materials or epitaxial film are the most sophisticated materials, something we have known for some time. However, some sought-after materials could not be created for more than 50 years anywhere in the world due to their specific characteristics. It was so challenging to create, or grow these materials when no one could make them.

We installed the best equipment made by international companies over 50 percent of which cannot be found anywhere else in Russia. Still, there is much more to it than just equipment. This is part of a complex infrastructure, and complex technology is needed. Even if you have a hammer, you still need to know its purpose and how to use it, otherwise there will be no result. Our centre developed the technology that was required in recent years paving the way for the creation of new-generation devices based on new physical principles. Before we introduced our advanced materials these devices were ineffective, but now we can experiment with the physics of these processes.

We have a number of major projects, and almost all them have resulted in world-class outcomes that are far ahead of anything we have seen in Russia before.

We work in a number of areas. The first one consists of creating a new class of supercomputers, i.e. quantum computers. The continuing improvement of existing processors and microelectronics is about to hit the wall, which is attributable to specific technical limits. So humankind is looking for new approaches, and most of them lie in the realm of quantum technology or nano-sized photonics. Today, computers rely on electrons which makes computers very slow (laughs). Researchers around the world are trying to use photons (light) or quantum effects in nano-objects.

Our centre is the main technology contractor in two major quantum computing projects in Russia. These are large-scale initiatives involving over ten leading institutions. They consist of creating two different kinds of computers: one based on superconductors, and the other on photonics. Quantum computing opens new horizons in terms of national cybersecurity, fending off hacker attacks, as well as a way to create new materials, medicines, etc.

We work with medical researchers and biologists by creating tailored treatment and diagnostics solutions. For example, when carrying out biochemical blood tests we currently have limitations in terms of assay sensitivity, and other restrictions. Our aim is to come up with solutions to maximise measurement sensitivity down to a single molecule and reduce response time so that practically any test can be completed in a matter of minutes. These solutions could be used for early-stage diagnostics as well as for treatment purposes.

Security systems and solutions for identifying low concentrations of various substances in public places with lots of people, for example, are another important aspect of our work. This could help protect people at airports, train stations and shopping centres. For example, we worked on a system for a big city to analyse the quality of incoming water to identify certain toxic substances.

We always cooperate closely with the leading Russian research teams on any given subject. Despite the extremely challenging tasks that we face, our centre focuses on developing real-world applications, and our aim is to ensure that our solutions are usable and deliver tangible results.

I envy students currently attending technology schools. Back in my student days there was hardly anything out there to support young researchers. I remember the exact lecture when it dawned on me that I wanted to work on semiconductors and nanotech, and I remember the lecturer who was talking at that moment. But finding the job that could help me fulfil my dream was not easy, and took some time. If I had the possibilities that are currently offered to third and fourth year students, I would have stayed in the lab for days and would have reached a level of the leading international research teams a decade ago.

Svyatoslav Nerush, Head of the Laboratory of Powder Metallurgy and Additive Manufacturing, All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of Aviation Materials

Pavel Mazalov, Head of the Laboratory of Metal Powder–Based Compositions and Additive Technology in the Synthesis of Structural Part and Components, All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of Aviation Materials

Svyatoslav Nerush and Pavel Mazalov won the Moscow Government Award for developing, producing and testing a small-size 12 kgf gas turbine engine for UAVs based on additive manufacturing technology.

Pavel Mazalov: We started this project in 2016. The goal was to create a small-size gas turbine engine, not a mock-up model or a prototype, but a working model of a small 12 kgf engine. Most interestingly, all the components were made with the most advanced Russian manufacturing technology, which is the selective laser melting additive technology. The process consists of loading fine metal powder into the device, which melts with lasers, layer after layer to produce extremely complex geometrical shapes that would be impossible to produce with conventional technology.

This approach enabled us to reduce the time it takes to assemble small-sized engines from six months to seven days, including engineering. This means that using a digital mock-up we now need only seven days to make a device that can be mounted on a drone.

This engine has already completed operational testing and can be mounted on an aerial vehicle that we are developing, also based on additive technology. Air trials for this engine are expected to take place this year. Building on this project and with the support of the Advanced Research Foundation a larger project was initiated on scaling the additive technology used for making small-sized engines, and the production of part and units for 10 to 300 kgf engines was established at the All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of Aviation Materials.

Svyatoslav Nerush: This was the second time we applied for this award. The first time our score was quite high for making a small 12 kgf engine. Over the past year we scaled the technology and succeeded in making a 125 kgf engine.

This larger engine is expected to be mounted on an aerial vehicle, just like the smaller one, which will be the final stage in the development.

We are also working with companies from other sectors, including Roscosmos affiliates, Energomash. We develop technology for making various parts including heat-exchange units with an increased number of channels, which also requires additive technology.

Pavel Mazalov: We are happy to have an opportunity to take part in this competition, and we appreciate the Moscow Government for supporting young researchers. We will definitely support other research teams applying for this award. Winning the prize was of course great for us, and we intend to invest the prize money in education and improving our skills so we can undertake bigger projects.