Artificial intelligence might change the mathematics

The Golden Resource of Ukraine: Scientists who have to leave their country for the next war to study genetics and health in the early 21st century

The head of the National Research Foundation of Ukraine was looking forward to giving out her agency’s largest ever funding total last year, as her agency’s funding amount doubled from the previous year. The government decided to use those funds to fight the war after the invasion. The NRFU is starting to make good on its commitments. Polotska’s initial focus was on drumming up international support for Ukrainian researchers. “But the time came, in early summer, when I told myself I should focus on those who are remaining,” she says. “We need these people,” she adds. “Scientists are the golden resource.”

The survey found that around one-third were continuing their work in Ukraine remotely. Some home institutions had disagreements with absent teaching staff because the institution told them to return or lose their jobs. 42% said they would return to Ukraine if the war ended in a few months, but not every one of them said what they would do.

In March 2022, soon after the full Russian invasion, our new home was completely destroyed, as was the building in which my colleagues and I rented apartments. We were able to escape within a few days. Others, in particular those unable to leave elderly parents who had moved with them, stayed back in their basements waiting for help. We faced weeks of uncertainty as to their fate.

Once again, we survived all the adversities. Our centre might have gone, but our knowledge and experience wasn’t captured. Some colleagues with children moved abroad, and others settled in friendly institutions in western Ukraine and continue to collaborate remotely. Our centre now operates in Kyiv, conducting prenatal screening and other types of genetic testing.

Most of the country’s researchers, who totalled 60,000 before the war, have stayed in Ukraine. Estimates of the number who have left vary widely, but the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine thinks some 6,000 scientists are currently out of the country because of the war. Some of the people still in Ukranian have died fighting on the front line, while others have lost family members. Many are internally displaced because their workplace is damaged, destroyed or impossible to operate in owing to a lack of power. Money is diverted for the war effort, and some have lost their jobs or project funds.

Ukrainian scientists who have had to leave the country should always have a place for emergencies. Efforts to show solidarity with researchers who remain in the country will need to go further. The international science community should start thinking about how to get ready for the end of the war. It is important that long-term partnerships focus on capacity-building in various areas. These collaborations must try to sustain day-to-day research as much as possible now, so that the research community can hit the ground running and be much more effective as soon as the conflict ends.

The courage that Ukrainian people are displaying is far beyond words, and not only on the battlefield. Suffering the grief of losing family members, staying in basements without water and food, living now often without light and heat, the whole Ukrainian people is enduring severe deprivation with dignity and unbroken spirit.

Minakova is one of tens of thousands of scientists in Ukraine striving to keep their research going as their country enters a second year of resisting Russia’s aggression.

A plan for education and science recovery was published in November of last year. The plan includes a proposal to create a high-risk, high-reward funding agency along the lines of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). It also calls for closer integration with the European and wider global research communities, and to harness science in the task of post-war reconstruction — similar to the US-funded Marshall Plan, in which research and researchers were integral to the rebuilding of Europe after the Second World War.

Why do women are more accomplished in mathematics and psychology than male counterparts in the US? The case of the Large Hadron Collider: a case study

Tools can be used to confirm proof and find solutions to difficult problems. There could be huge sources of clean-burning hydrogen hidden beneath the ground and the towing of icebergs to quench thirsty cities is controversial.

Russian and Belarussian colleagues working at the Large Hadron collider in Switzerland will no longer be listed as affiliations on co-authored papers. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russian scientists were allowed to keep working at the LHC, but some researchers said that they did not want to continue sharing authorship with them. The dispute has kept hundreds of manuscripts in limbo between the preprint stage and formal publication as peer-reviewed articles.

Artificial intelligence can change the field of mathematics in ways that go beyond just calculations. The author of the proof was unsure of it and was helped to confirm it by Lean from Microsoft. Google’s chatbot Minerva, which (like OpenAI’s headline-grabbing ChatGPT) is based on machine learning, might eventually be able to converse with mathematicians to brainstorm solutions to difficult problems. Human mathematicians will get obsolete once computers can judge what is worth proving, worry some researchers. Others are more sanguine: “An AI system is only as smart as we program it to be,” says computer scientist Erika Abraham.

Female mathematics, psychology and economics researchers are 3–15 times more likely to be honoured with election to one of the two most prestigious US scientific societies than are their male counterparts. The boost doesn’t seem to be due to an analogous increase in the number of potentially qualified female candidates, although the study didn’t examine accomplishments beyond publications and citations. There is evidence that women are more accomplished than men when it comes to scientific research, and this could be because of survivorship bias.


Why a 113-million-tonne iceberg is not to like: Underground hydrogen and its role in geophysics and geology

If a small, 113-million-tonne iceberg were to be towed from Antarctica to Cape Town in South Africa, it could supply 20% of the city’s water needs for a year. What’s not to like? Matthew Birkhold thinks that a lot of it is possible. Birkhold is engagingly honest about potential pitfalls of transporting water trapped in icebergs to drought-plagued regions, writes reviewer Josie Glausiusz, although he doesn’t delve much into alternatives such as recycling municipal wastewater, tapping brackish water for crop irrigation, or fog harvesting.

Female researchers face challenges participating in fieldwork in India — from trained local residents refusing to work with women to objections from family members over travel, prejudices surrounding the type of work considered appropriate for women, and a lack of role models. Although the extent of the effect is hard to measure, women in the country are under-represented in fields that require extensive fieldwork such as geology, evolutionary biology and environmental studies. Changing that image of what a scientist should look like should be the beginning of the process. Evolutionary Biologist Ashwini Mohan says let’s start there.

There might be tons of clean-burning hydrogen gas hidden underground. According to researchers at the US Geological Survey, there may be enough to meet global demand for thousands of years. An added benefit of underground hydrogen is that it’s renewable, being constantly replenished by reactions between water and rock deep below Earth’s surface. Why didn’t anyone spot it before? Proponents say that it is not similar to oil and gas in the places where it is found.

Online research in Ukraine during the first year of the Second World War I: Evading the aftermath of the 19 August 1989 Ukrainian bombing and her post-bulking career

When Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago, Minakova remained in that country. Despite the crisis, on 19 August, she was buoyed by clinching a collaboration with US scientists on solar-energy research. Disaster happened on the same night. A guard died when a missile hit her campus, and her lab was destroyed.

Despite frequent air-raid alarms and a daily power failure, Minakova is continuing her research into high-efficiency solar cells, and she hopes to go to New Orleans for training later this year. She teaches online to her students who aren’t allowed on the campus for safety reasons. In her spare time, she volunteers to help older residents find water and medicine, and helps children to embroider goodwill tokens for soldiers. “The best idea for living is to have no free time,” she says.

95 research and higher education institutions were damaged as of January, with 4 totally destroyed, according to the science ministry. Some 228 remain unharmed. The renowned Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology and the world’s largest decametre-wavelength radio telescope, which belongs to the Institute of Radio Astronomy in Kharkiv, were heavily damaged.

The destruction of the energy infrastructure of Russia has forced Ukraine to put on rolling blackouts. Water supply and heating are also subject to regular disruption. Generators and fuel are hard to come by. As a result, universities and research institutes have to plan elaborate schedules for experiments and online teaching, because students in different places don’t always have electricity at the same time.

Air-raid sirens can be used when Russia is bombing the country to give a 30 to 60 minute warning to move to safety. “Each man and woman has found a way to cope,” he says. I keep working, even if things go wrong.

Komarov, who heads a staff of 60 overseeing 500 undergraduates, says the first month of the war was particularly hard, and dominated by struggles to source even basic reagents. Russia bombed his university on New Year’s Eve, shattering hundreds of windows and causing the school to be boarded up.

He says that most of his time and that of his colleagues is spent on adjusting the working schedule to the power cut-offs and alarms. In his spare time, Komarov raises funds for the war effort and works on proposals for the construction of a new biomedical science hub when the war is over.

“I make a major effort to continue doing science. This psychological pressure is making it hard not only on the body but also on the mind. To do something creative you need a peaceful time. It became quite a challenge to write papers.

Almost every Ukrainian researcher in Ukraine is welcome to stay in the country of wartime, writes Ivan Brusak, a PhD student at Lviv Polytechnic National University

Polotska says that the grant support is perfect to allow researchers from the regions that have been badly affected by military aggression to stay in Ukraine.

In January, the Simons Foundation in New York City, which supports research in mathematics and basic science, announced more than $1.2 million of funding for 405 scientists in Ukraine, including doctoral candidates. Each will receive a $100 or $200 monthly stipend with some leaders of research teams receiving larger, lump sums.

SfU is also experimenting with a website on which more than 80 Ukrainian research institutes have posted requests to the international community. These range from fire extinguishers to internships, although Rose says responses to the requests have been disappointing so far.

Polotska says support doesn’t have to be financial. “There have been so many bottom-up initiatives, for example organizing workshops on grant management. Lack of communication, lack of access to the international community are the main psychological difficulties that people are experiencing.

Young academics, such as Ivan Brusak, a 28-year-old specialist in geodesy at Lviv Polytechnic National University in Ukraine, say they need equipment and remote international collaborations.

Brusak took months off work when the war began, helping to organize student support for the war effort. His team coordinated a giant weaving operation conducted at more than 100 venues around Lviv, turning tonnes of fabrics and threads into camouflage nets. It delivered equipment to the military that included binoculars and thermal cameras.

From 8 a.m. to 8 pm, Brusak would volunteer to write scientific papers. He says that he doesn’t know how he managed it. He volunteered less and defended his thesis in December.

He values a collaboration he has with Polish scientists that began last July. The motivation comes from the fact that we still cooperate despite the war.

Last December, Polish and Ukrainian scientists working with SfU and other institutions released a survey of more than 600 Ukrainian scientists who left their country after the invasion (see The organizers reached as many respondents as they could with the help of networks such as SfU, but say that they probably missed scientists who are not linked to these groups. Still, the results suggest that those outside Ukraine are mostly women (largely because it’s harder for men to leave: those aged 18–60 are not supposed to leave the country, although special dispensation can be granted, such as to single parents). Many have children with the senior researchers.

Ties have loosened for some. Olena Prysiazhna left Ukrainian science after her contract at the National University of Kyiv expired and she couldn’t get her contract renewed in time. She had fled with her mother, younger sister (a physics postgraduate student) and their dog, after a missile landed in their neighbour’s back garden. When Nature spoke to Prysiazhna last April (see Nature 605, 414–416; 2022), the family was in the Netherlands recovering from the ordeal, and both sisters were looking for scientific work.

Prysiazhna assumes she will eventually return to Ukraine, although her family’s home is damaged, as her mother found on a brief return visit. Prysiazhna’s mother and sister share a room together with her dog in a Dutch converted holiday camp. Her sister, who had almost finished her PhD when she left Ukraine, is trying to find a way to defend her thesis and is working for a logistics company.

The scientists in Prysiazhna’s position might never return, that is the worry of Komarov. But Rose, who studies phenomena such as brain drain, disagrees.

“Irrespective of whether people are refugees, irrespective of whether they return or not,” he says, “these fears of brain drain are not substantiated. Most people return and then they bring new ideas back. Even though they don’t come back, they pass on knowledge and insights to people who are still there. This is how there is knowledge sharing.


“We are going to need an expert in alternative energy”: A no-lose theorem on war-bounded war-zones

She says the war will end and we will need to be experts in alternative energy. “We are going to rebuild our country and our campuses and I hope the world will help us.”

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