After decades in the forefront of science, Budker Institute of Nuclear Physics continues developing synchrotron radiation sources, colliders, and other installations, for the Russian science sector and under international projects.

At the moment, the scientists are working to set a new record — create a source with unique parameters. What is the Siberian Ring Source of Photons (SKIF) — a universal “mega-science” class facility for science and technologies of the future – is going to be like? Pavel Vladimirovich Logachev, Director of Budker Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told us about this and many other things.

What makes the Siberian Ring Source of Photons unique?

Once launched, it will become the best synchrotron with advanced parameters. We are aiming to set a world record in this field.

Who was the previous record-holder?

Today, MAX IV is considered to be the best machine. It’s a synchrotron radiation source located near the town of Lund, Sweden. The accelerator at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble is also working to achieve parameters close to the 4th generation level. SKIF is expected literally to step over the existing characteristics.

To catch up and overtake at the same time?

In this case, we are not catching up with anyone. We are building on the experience of our colleagues. Actually, Russian specialists were involved in the creation of all the sources mentioned.

You mean that the Institute of Nuclear Physics (INP) is known across the world as an organization producing the best technological solutions? 

That’s right. The most striking example was the launch of NSLS-II (National Synchrotron Light Source) in 2014, the best synchrotron radiation facility in the USA and in the world at the time, which was built at the Brookhaven National Laboratory. Under the project, INP built a booster synchrotron on a turnkey basis. If was the first time we were working on a nearly 200-meter machine. The entire work was based on our research projects and the experience that the institute gained creating colliders and other high-tech devices.

Another interesting fact is that there were similar facilities operating even before NSLS-II, which, however, never achieved the 3rd generation parameters: the French SOLEIL, the Spanish ALBA, and the Australian Boomerang. The system of launching a beam from a preparatory injection complex was quite stable but the beam kept quivering. Those accelerators operate in the continuous injection mode. This means that, with constant disturbances, the bunch has to be put on equilibrium orbit with a filigree precision so that the users cannot see those oscillations or a shift of the X-ray source. Thanks to the efforts of the Institute of Nuclear Physics specialists, NSLS-II synchrotron at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, once launched, instantly achieved its design parameters. We will apply a similar solution for the injection complex in SKIF. That is, the product we made for the USA is going to play a positive role for the Russian facility.

You are talking about parameters and the 4th generation. What characteristics do you have in mind exactly?

Essentially, it’s about the size of the X-ray source. Everyone knows that a smaller light source in a flashlight means a brighter ray with a longer range. The same applies to X-ray sources and synchrotron radiation. The scientific community is striving to minimize the size of the emission region. The 4th generation means that the size must be smaller than the emission wavelength. This gives us the unique property of coherence. The thing is that all electrons in the bunch are randomly positioned, which means that every electron is an emitter. But with the right size of the bunch, radiation will become coherent and have the property of a laser.

When the source is much smaller than the wavelength, even randomly emitting electrons become tied to the phase and emit practically at the same time, all following the same trajectory. That would allow us to make fine measurements and see what cannot be seen with spontaneous radiation. Another important property is the colossal brightness with enormous intensity of the bunch.

Besides, there are other nuances associated with the advancement of modern technologies for accelerator equipment. There has been a serious progress in the recent decades — the Institute of Nuclear Physics is the absolute world leader in this area: the so-called synchrotron radiation generating devices. Firstly, they have become superconductive long time ago. Secondly, liquid helium is not required to work with them. The user does not have to buy it on the market, collect it into a tank, return it, etc. – all this is quite a burden on the budget. It turned out that a small amount of helium contained inside the system is enough. All you have to do is to turn the network power switch on — and the magnet will reach the superconductive condition after 24 hours.

When did you succeed in that?

About five years ago. No-one in the world can do it but us. In this regard, we are considered to be the monopoly, in the best sense.

Is there an interest in this technology?

They only buy from us. Scientific groups are willing to wait for years to get our device without paying a lot of money for operation.

Let's talk of the tasks in the SKIF project. What are the key areas of research that will use it?

I would divide the tasks into two parts. The first part is to support established methodologies applied to all synchrotrons; there are around 50 of those in the world. A synchrotron is a work tool that is needed virtually in all branches of natural science, from physics through medicine and archeology.

The second part is focused on mastering the 4th generation technologies. We have to understand that there are no such small-sized sources. Nobody knows how to work with the 4th generation, it being an entirely new thing. We are going to try to come close to those unique bunch properties, the use of which is yet to be learned. The outlook is great, but nobody has worked with that yet.

So, you will have to learn as you go?

Of course. This is another challenge for researchers. They are going to have a tool that has never been available before. This is one of the goals in creating the Siberian Ring Source of Photons. But for our institute, SKIF is rather a side product. For us, our effort to create the accelerator is, in some sense, a distraction from our research and our main activity areas. However, being aware that the entire scientific community needs this, we don’t stop working for a minute. It’s a sort of scientific charity.

What is the use of SKIF to a researcher? Experimental evidence to support theories or hypotheses?

I wouldn’t say theories, but models that may develop into more systemic ideas by using this tool. Essentially, it allows one to research the atomic structure of the matter of any molecules. This also applies to biological objects, viruses, genetic material in a cell, etc. SKIF will enable design research in synthetic biology. Scientists will be able to study the organization of cells, molecules and their connections in detail, and measure atom spacing.

Another important area is material science and creation of new materials. SKIF will allow scientists to find out how materials work under real loads, why they decay, how to prevent the decay, how to create materials with the right properties under various conditions. Scientists will be able to see how atoms are positioned, how they change their positions in response to pressure, temperature, loads, and how and why decay happens, etc. What could not be accessed before, will become directly visible, which will give us new knowledge.

And of course, pharmaceutical companies are going to use the synchrotron quite a lot to make promotion of new medical products on the market faster and more effective, including the drugs that are very hard to create and produce such as those used in targeted cancer drug delivery. There is also the creation of various drug products that use capabilities of the immune system and rely on its activity. All these areas are extremely important. 

SKIF will open new opportunities in research of fast processes that are used in the defense industry amongst other things. We have never had powerful sources and capabilities to support the development of military science in this area. We’ll have that with SKIF. 

The world today is betting on major megascience projects. Why?

In fact, this “bet” was placed long time ago – in the 1950s. It was the period when major infrastructure projects were created for researching the fundamental properties of matter. For instance, such facilities were built both in the USA (at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, the Brookhaven National Laboratory, and the Argonne National Laboratory), and in Russia (at Sarov and Snezhinsk). In addition, one shouldn't forget about Dubna, where megascience facilities were being created from the start.

Remember that the Institute of Nuclear Physics was founded in 1958. Four years later, it moved from the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow here, to the platform of the Academic Town (Akademgorodok). The first mega facilities were created here as early as the 1960s, including the world’s first electron-positron collider, which showed good performance and produced good results in physics. The institute has always had at least one operating collider since 1968. There isn’t another laboratory in the world that for such long time has maintained a long, continuous process of developing, creating, and operating colliding-beam facilities – colliders – and produced results.

Our accelerators are used as colliders of electron and positron beams, matter and antimatter. At CERN, protons collide with protons in the Large Hadron Collider. However, there was the LEP electron-positron collider operating in the same 27 km tunnel before that. Experiments at DESY synchrotron center in Germany led to the discovery of quarks, and successful research of the structure of protons and neutrons. Therefore, the implementation of megascience facilities cannot be called a recent trend. It’s a logical development progressing at an ever-increasing rate.

Normally, such projects are created on the basis of consortia of research institutes or countries, as is the case in Dubna, for example. Why must there be a concerted effort?

Actually, there is no legal consolidation. But all physicists in the world always work together, because science and laws of Nature are not country-specific, nor do they depend on the point in space or even the point in time. Scientists from different countries, physicists in particular, have the same goals and objectives and the same mentality. Understanding Nature, this surge of joy from seeing the beauty of Nature that you haven’t seen before, from being able to bring this beauty and knowledge to people — this is the main motivation for a scientist. And it has always been so: scientists understood and supported each other.

ВOne example of that is the great friendship between G. I. Budker, the founder of our institute, and Wolfgang Panofsky, the founder of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (now SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory). They were friends and helped each other with everything. And we still feel the help and support from our colleagues from SLAC.

It’s the natural desire of creative people to work together. Every one of them understands: an entire orchestra with many talented, beautiful and professional musicians would be able to play a marvelous melody that could not be played by one musician. The same can be said about science. Therefore, such cooperation has and will always exist, the form of cooperation depending on the political situation at the moment, various legal restrictions, etc. But the global scientific community is united. We all know and support each other, value opinions of our colleagues from other countries.

What do you think were the key development phases for the institute?

Each phase is important in its own way. But I would emphasize those that are the most important ones. The institute founder, Academician G. I. Budker, contributed two very powerful and profound inventions (aside from the numerous discoveries in physics) related to the creation of our institute, which are developing to this day.

The first one was the round table, which was organized here just after the institute was founded. It was small at first, and then it grew to reach its current dimensions, which you saw. What is a round table?

It’s a kind of a work process designed to maintain and develop a free and creative atmosphere in the institute, regardless of who the management are. In terms of management, this mechanism allows us to combine the decision-making center with the center of maximum competence on a given issue. In the institute, decisions are always made by the most knowledgeable and competent specialists regarding the issue at hand, rather than managers and supervisors. The latter’s job is to create an environment that would ensure the institute having such specialists, and that they develop, grow and become world-class scientists. And, of course, such specialists should be provided all kinds of support, not hindered. This is why, thanks to the round table process, the institute today is led by about 200 people. In addition to a large number of outstanding physicists, there are also graduate students, technologists, and even blue-collar workers. I mean our supporting departments that are totally integrated in the team of our institute, which works using horizontal connections. Our people know who is worth what, who can do what, and they go to the person who will do the job and find the most appropriate and realistic solution to the problem at hand.

The round table allows us to identify people who are able to lead the institute efficiently. By trial and, sometimes, error, everyone has to climb a ladder of success, proving at every step that they have succeeded in their task.

Our employees get together at the round table, informally, and decide who is to be assigned this or that project, based on potential and professional skills of the candidate. The person can expect to receive help and support from their colleagues at every stage. The person selected then serves as director, the leader of the activity area. He or she decides on all the steps towards the implementation. An important thing is that the person who has undertaken a project respects the colleagues who entrusted it to them, and that their trust is the main motivation for them. We call this the reputation responsibility mechanism. Reputation is much more powerful than money as it cannot be bought or sold. And the scientific reputation is the primary mechanism for positive development of any genuine scientific community. This is the main capital scientist have.

The other invention by G. I. Budker was our experimental production. Budker understood that an ordinary factory could not make things that had never been made in the world before. It takes a special plant with creative people working there, following the same principles as those applied by the scientific community of the institute. It’s not an accident that we don’t just have physicists and engineers at our round table, but also economists, accountants, utility service officers, production staff, blue-collar workers, and technologists. Every one of us is part of the same team. The research staff work directly with mechanics, machine operators, foremen, and technologists employed in our experimental production. They know where their product parts are, what their stage is; they look how things are progressing and promptly make decisions if changes are needed. Absolutely unique things can only be created in such atmosphere and such operation mode. As a friend of mine from Sarov said, Sarov being our partner laboratory at the Russian Federal Nuclear Center – All-Russia Scientific Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF), “I know what INF is. It is a large factory that makes science.”

What are the areas that are developing in the institute today?

Today, we are developing four major areas. The first one is synchrotron-radiation sources and free-electron lasers. In fact, INF was among the pioneers of application of synchrotron radiation in the world. Americans and Europeans would come to see us, learned a lot from us and we did from them. We worked with better parameters at the time, and therefore the radiation had unique characteristics. We keep our leadership to this day thanks to that experience.

The second area is particle physics. This is the part that is at the core of understanding of our world, of how our Universe originated. Essentially, cosmology and particle physics are one and the same science. Today, they are connected so closely, that one cannot exist without the other. They are the two branches of the science studying the structure and nature of our space, the physical world — what is known today as the Standard Model. 60% of the Standard Model, the most accurate and profound knowledge of Nature humankind has, is based on data produced by colliders — colliding-beam facilities. Those instruments enabled the discovery of quarks and electroweak interaction, successful research of properties of particles and matter, including predictive properties, and the discovery of the Higgs boson.

This is a most powerful area, and more instruments need to be created to support further development of science. There is a number of questions regarding the Standard Model even today. It is an artificial construct that still has many blank spots. We still do not understand its foundation. Modern scientists work with a broad range of the unknown, much broader than what we do know. Of course, we have to move forward and explore uncharted areas. This is why new accelerator systems are being created. New experiments will give us a better understanding of our complex world, which today is described by the Standard Model. It is certainly even more intricate and complex, and we have to deal with it.

The third area is the physics of plasma and controlled thermonuclear fusion. It’s a solution to the energy problem, which is based on the use of thermonuclear energy. We are sure to get there; we are at the cutting edge of the world science already, participating in the most ambitious global projects in thermonuclear synthesis. Neither the American project nor the European one will work without our knowledge and our unique instruments. We are key participants in each of them.

The fourth area is traditional development of accelerator equipment.

Each of the areas is important and involves multiple disciplines. There are no partitions between laboratories within the institute. Physicists from different laboratories can get together and work on an interesting idea or a task to find the solution together.

As far as I know, accelerator equipment is what you do. Why did you choose this particular area?

Accelerator equipment was at the peak of its popularity when I was still a boy. There were accelerator complexes operating in Dubna as early as that; a large center was created and worked in Protvino. It was a high-profile topic, prestigious, interesting and a total enigma.

I first came to INF at 14. It was in January 1980, 41 years ago. I liked physics and was doing well. First, I was invited to join the winter school under the Novosibirsk State University. There was a competition held at INF as part of the winter school, and the winners were invited to the summer school and then – to the physics and mathematics school. First, I got into the INF summer school and then spent two years studying at the PMS. My physics teacher worked for the Institute of Nuclear Physics, a prominent scientist who is still creating the world’s best superconductive devices for generating synchrotron radiation – N. A. Mezentsev. I felt the INF atmosphere right then, at the seminar. Nikolay Aleksandrovich Mezentsev treated us as his colleagues. That kind of thing always wins your heart. That is why I went to study at the Physics Department of the Novosibirsk State University and then joined the INF.

What are you working on today? Is there still a place for science in your life?

Not in a serious way, of course. Not anymore. But in 2025, when I’ve finished my term, I will pass my mandate to a worthy person from the institute. Then I will resume scientific work and continue engaging talented young people, which is the most important thing. The physics and mathematics school is still working; the Physics Department of the Novosibirsk State University is developing, the best one in the country in my opinion – with excellent physics institutes within a walking distance. Moscow doesn’t have that. There are fantastic, world class professors working in Novosibirsk; they teach students for seven or eight years and then work side by side. ■

Interviewer: Anastasia Penzina 


Pavel Vladimirovich Logachev, Director of Budker Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences