Selling science: Russians are exporting their expertise to American technology institutes. Source: AP
While Western scientists
are well used to developing ideas with an eye on the market, this mindset is
largely absent among Russians brought up in the Soviet
Union, and even among some young scientists. However, with the
skills and knowledge of Russian scientists and technologists increasingly in
demand, they are now becoming quite a commodity.
Tech transfer agencies – organisations that link innovators with businesses
that need their ideas and products – are cashing in on Russians’ scientific
expertise. Tech transfer happens in two ways. First, agencies place a request
on behalf of a foreign client for a specialist with a certain skillset, or a
specific person. John Neiper, Eastern European manager for the tech transfer
says: “The most frequent customers are American technology institutes
fulfilling complex orders for industrial corporations. The leading tech
transfer customer is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). We fulfil
six to 10 orders of this kind annually. Russians are traditionally strong in
physical chemistry, astronomy, quantum physics and microbiology.” Once a
contract is signed, the agency earns a fee equal to a portion of the expert’s
A second route to connect scientists with those who need their skills is
through sabbaticals between Russian universities or corporations working in
partnership with similar institutions abroad. These allow young specialists to
work for the overseas partner for a set term. The employee shares his or her
knowledge, and has the chance to earn a higher salary than they could by
working at home.
At the moment, the construction sector dominates in this kind of transfer.
“Companies like ours have unique technologies for building the most complex
spatial structures,” said Ilya Ruzhansky, deputy director of Mostovik, a major
design and construction firm operating in Siberia and Russia’s Far East.
“Back in the Soviet era, we mostly had contracts in Africa and Asia, and partnership with the West was minimal; now graduates of the Moscow Architectural Institute who are capable of designing miles-long bridges are worth their weight in gold. They can compete for annual contracts of up to $200,000.”
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