“Chemistry Will Make a Huge Step Far Ahead” –an Interview with Professor Panayiotis Koutentis


– Please tell us about your collaboration with SUSU and future cooperative projects.

– At the moment I am a member of the Council whose goal is to help the university improve its rates in the world rankings by increasing the effectiveness of its operation. This is my second visit. We also came here in the last year’s October. Now we are still at the stage of giving recommendations without having started scientific collaboration yet.

– According to G.B. Shaw, “Science is always wrong. It never solves a problem without creating ten more”. What problems do you think are most topical today? How can the university help solving them?

– Firstly, I disagree with this statement. We often turn out to be right. The process of discovering something new, searching for solution of old problems always comes along with new questions. Nowadays the problems of humankind are concerning rapid population increase in the last 100 years. Population increase inclines for problems with resources which should be maintained or search for the new ones in order to maintain people’s health, supply them with food and water. These problems concern agriculture, power supply, control of population increase. If we keep “growing” with the same speed, soon we will face very serious problems. Neglecting their solution led to climate change, although many people today still doubt if this phenomenon is direct consequence of human activity. Still we need to make sure that we do not harm our planet even further by increasing population. What about contribution of the university to solution of these problems, it is a more difficult question to answer. Money belongs to business. Business has financial resources for efficient solutions of these problems. And universities should focus their resources on research, on training of students so that they can contribute to both business and academic environment. I don’t think that universities should take the responsibility for solving problems which require huge financial resources. This should concern companies.

– What is the future of chemistry? Will there be new discoveries in this area or is the whole chemistry is already “discovered”?

– This is an excellent question. Actually, chemistry keeps surprising with its significant discoveries. Today we start understanding biology more profoundly, and chemistry becomes its “companion”, particularly, I am talking about biochemistry. Great breakthrough discoveries can be achieved in this sphere. Besides, in the sphere of Materials Science we extent possibilities for predicting properties of molecules and materials in solid state thanks to modern calculations. Chemistry will make a huge step far ahead due to the possibility to predict; therefore progress in this science is not yet exhausted.

– You are a member of the IRC. What positive aspects in SUSU development have you noticed during your collaboration? Which aspects the university should pay attention to in order to move forward?

– If I understand correctly, the university has undertaken an essential internal transformation. This is great and this favors for efficient performance of the university, makes it possible to focus on crucial problems. For further development, a “fine adjustment” of operations inside the university and elimination of downsides are required. Prioritized areas for the university development were discussed yesterday. They require profound consideration and their implementation is not as simple. I think that our subsequent discussion at the Council meetings will be very important.

– What skills should a modern student have in order to build a successful career in the sphere of chemistry?

– A successful career in the sphere of chemistry… I wouldn’t say it’s impossible, but nowadays students are facing a huge pressure from the employer, for whom the market is the whole world where a lot of graduates and postgraduate students with a degree in the sphere of chemistry can be found. Here go the difficulties in finding a good job. Therefore a student should be exceptional. He should be determined and clearly demonstrate that he is the best candidate for the job position. This means that the student can’t graduate form university with average scores and imperfect skills. He should make it to 3-5% of the best students. Determination, competitiveness, openness to wide range of possibilities is important. Students should not consider their career path narrow-mindedly; they should be ready to “maneuver” between areas.

– How does International Scientific Community consider SUSU? How can the university attract scientists from abroad?

– I’m afraid I cannot answer the question about how the International Community considers SUSU. But I can say that there are ways for extending international cooperation and increase the university’s visibility. One of the ways is to attract international students to the university so that they could work here for a while, could cooperate with colleagues and students. Another way is to send SUSU students for international internships. If they could spend 3 or 6 months or a year in an international laboratory, this will have a great influence. Of course it is necessary to invest money for such exchanges to take place. Financial resources are necessary for attracting researches to SUSU, and also for providing student internships at the level of master’s degree programs, postgraduate or post-doctoral studies.



Oksana Kuvakina; photo by: Oleg Igoshin
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