From Science in the Train to Hiking at Lake Baikal: Manifold Experiences during the 9th German-Russian Travelling Seminar

By Sebastian Weiß, 4th-semester master’s student (Department of Inorganic Chemistry I, University of Bayreuth) and
Artem Loginov, 1st-semester master’s student (Department of Polymer and Crystal Physics, Lomonosov Moscow State University).

During the 9th German-Russian Travelling Seminar, we visited Irkutsk, Listvyanka on Lake Baikal, Novosibirsk, and Moscow. From 30th June to 10th August, we completed a more than 9,000 km round-trip of  Russia. The group consisted of 8 students from Russia and 12 students from Germany, all doing their masters’ or at the beginning of their PhDs. They were accompanied by the organizers Prof. Mirijam Zobel (University of Bayreuth, Germany), Asst. Prof. Maxim Vlasov (IHTE & UrFU, Russia), Prof. Andrey Rempel (IMET & UrFU, Ekaterinburg, Russia), Prof. Andrey Shibaev (MSU, Moscow, Russia), and Prof. Andreas Magerl (FAU, Erlangen, Germany). As part of this Travelling Seminar, termed “Nanomaterials and Large Scale Research Centres”, we had the great opportunity to visit modern research institutes all over Russia. We also got the chance to acquire new knowledge and friendships across cultures and geographical borders. The Seminar is unique in its form, and in its ongoing financial support over the years.

Photo of participants at  a hiking trip at the shoreline of Lake Baikal.
Hiking trip at the shoreline of Lake Baikal.

Irkutsk

On the first day, the Russian and German participants met each other during the Welcome Dinner. A wide variety of dishes, vivid discussions among everybody, and a very casual atmosphere rapidly encouraged first contacts. The next morning, the seminar was officially opened by Prof. Rempel and Prof. Zobel at the A.E. Favorsky Irkutsk Institute of Chemistry, where we were welcomed by Institute Director Andrey Ivanov. A tour of the analytical and synthetic laboratories as well as a special building for high-pressure acetylene chemistry, which is unique in Russia and Europe, provided an excellent chance to meet the responsible scientists, and to gain first-hand insights into the research subjects of the institute. Our own first scientific talks covered the basics and applications of Pair Distribution Function (PDF) as a means for structural characterization. To end the day, mixed groups set off to explore the city on their own.

Listvyanka – Lake Baikal

At the next destination, Listvyanka on Lake Baikal, we learned about the history, flora, and fauna of the region by visiting the limnological museum. The scientific part in a conference room of our hotel focussed on basic introductions by the professors into advanced scattering techniques such as (Grazing Incidence)-Small Angle Neutron Scattering (GI-SANS), Small Angle X-ray Scattering (SAXS) and Quasielastic Neutron Scattering (QENS). Students presented short introductions to spectroscopy techniques including X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy (XAS) and X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (XPS) as well as applications thereof. Apart from the science, we enjoyed a fruitful exchange of personal and cultural experiences amidst the beautiful scenery of Lake Baikal. Moreover, the whole group ventured out on a hiking trip for an awesome view across the Lake, followed by a barbecue in a remote village. Some were even adventurous enough to seize the chance to have a swim in the ice-cold lake, for an experience which will surely be remembered for a long time.

Trans-Siberian train

During our train journey to Novosibirsk, we enjoyed and appreciated the seemingly endless Siberian forests. Due to the very vivid and cosy atmosphere inside our compartments, it was easy to get to know each other better. Some of the German participants tried to extend their Russian vocabulary – “druschba” = friendship. The train journey featured a first-time-ever event for the Travelling Seminars series: a poster session on board the train. Posters were hung up in the compartments and the presenters held talks for small groups of four to five participants. This was very unusual but offered the great possibility to ask a lot of questions, making the presentation a very personal experience.

Novosibirsk

Akademgorodok is the name for the academic district of Novosibirsk consisting of several institutes and housing areas surrounded by forest. At Budker Institute of Nuclear Physics, Konstantin Zolotarev gave a theoretical lecture about synchrotron radiation, and Boris Tolochko explained how to study the formation of nanodiamonds in explosions via time-resolved X-ray scattering. Visiting the local synchrotron VEPP-4 and the Novosibirsk Free-Electron Laser (NovoFEL), presented a good chance to get an impression of the equipment and measurement capabilities available.

Group picture in front of the Budker Institute for Nuclear Physics, together with Konstantin Zolotarev.
Group picture in front of the Budker Institute for Nuclear Physics, together with Konstantin Zolotarev

During a bus tour of the city, we visited the opera and ballet theatre which are close to the Lenin monument. This place is well known as the midpoint of Novosibirsk, and a nearby church is even considered the geographical centre of Russia. A visit of the Boreskov Institute of Catalysis, the biggest chemistry institute in Russia, coupled some very interesting talks by the director of the institute Valeriy Bukhtiyarov and other researchers with a tour of the facility. This combination gave us a thorough impression of the industrially connected research of the Institute.

Moscow

Our sightseeing trip in Moscow started at a traditional Ukrainian style restaurant where everybody was able to recover from the flight. Visiting Christ the Savior Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow Kremlin, Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Central State Store, Manege and Alexander’s Garden offered a glimpse into some of the most historic places of the capital. During our stay in Moscow, we were accommodated in the dormitory of the Lomonosov Moscow State University (MSU).

The Kurchatov Institute presented its impressive fusion reactor Tokamak T‑15MD, currently under construction, and the synchrotron Syberia-2. Introducing the equipment as well as the experimental setups allowed everyone to recognize the scope of research being conducted there. At MSU, Dmitry Ivanov, head of the laboratory of materials engineering, gave a lecture on ultrafast calorimetry coupled with in-situ x-ray studies. During a lab tour, calorimetric measurement devices, as well as an impressive custom-designed laboratory diffractometer with both SAXS and WAXS detectors, were demonstrated.

Photo: Two participants in front of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow.
Two participants in front of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow

For the Farewell Dinner on the last day, we came together for a boat trip on the Moskva River. Passing Moscow Kremlin, some of the Seven Sisters and Downtown Moscow skyscrapers, was a unique experience. The great time the group had together over these two weeks was celebrated with a variety of toasts. Although the evening was the end of a journey, it was also the beginning of many friendships we had formed.

On behalf of all participants, we would like to thank the organizers for the flawless and interesting program and their continuous efforts.

Moreover, special thanks goes to the sponsors, without whom the German-Russian Travelling Seminar would not be possible in this unique form: the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), Ural Federal University (UrFU) and Moscow State University (MSU).

Organizers of the Travelling Photo: Seminar 2019 (from left to right): Prof. Andrey Shibaev, Prof. Maxim Vlasov, Prof. Mirijam Zobel, Sabrina Thomä, and Prof. Andreas Magerl.
Organizers of the Travelling Seminar 2019 (from left to right): Prof. Andrey Shibaev, Prof. Maxim Vlasov, Prof. Mirijam Zobel, Sabrina Thomä, and Prof. Andreas Magerl.

Further information can be found at www.travellingseminar.uni-bayreuth.de

Organizers: Prof. Mirijam Zobel (University of Bayreuth, Bayreuth, Germany), Prof. Maxim Vlasov (Ural Federal University (UrFU), Ekaterinburg, Russia), Prof. Andrey Rempel (Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (UB RAS) & Ural Federal University (UrFU), Ekaterinburg, Russia), Prof. Andrey Shibaev (Lomonosov Moscow State University (MSU), Moscow, Russia), and Prof. Andreas Magerl (Friedrich-Alexander-University (FAU), Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany).


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