From the beginning of the new academic year, project-based learning has been actively developing at South Ural State University. One of the key goals of project-based approach is practical application of scientific inventions. In a project entitled “Reagent-free photocatalytic water treatment by removal of oxidation-resistant pollutants”, young researchers, postgraduates and master’s degree students of the Institute of Natural Sciences and Mathematics are preparing a joint innovative project on water purification by removal of phenol, which is necessary for all regions where large metallurgical industries operate.
We talked to Vyacheslav Avdin, leader of the project-based learning direction entitled “Reagent-free (photocatalytic) water treatment by removal of oxidation-resistant pollutants”, Dean of the Faculty of Chemistry, Head of Nanotechnology Research and Education Centre, Head of the Department of Ecology and Chemical Technology, Doctor of Sciences (Chemistry), about introduction of project-based learning in master’s degree programme in the field of Materials Science, about interaction with potential employers, and about the reason that almost all master’s degree students of the Department of Ecology and Chemical Technology graduate with excellent grades.
– Please tell us more about introduction of project-based learning in master’s studies.
– Starting from September of 2018, project-based learning in the field of Reagent-free (photocatalytic) water treatment by removal of oxidant-resistant pollutants has been being implemented within master’s degree studies at the Department of Ecology and Chemical Technology of the SUSU INSM’s Faculty of Chemistry. The project-based learning includes five master’s degree students of specialisation 05.04.06 “Ecology and Management of Natural Resources” and two master’s degree students of specialisation 18.04.02 “Energy- and Resource-Saving Processes in Chemical Engineering, Petroleum Chemistry and Biotechnology”. Ordering customer of research within this project is MMK PAO.
This research area is one of the leaders in the frameworks of the scientific cluster of Materials Science: Chemistry. Scientists, conducting research within this area, demonstrate outstanding results in publishing activity. For example, within the last year, one of the project participants, my former postgraduate student, Candidate of Sciences (Chemistry) Igor Kravtsov, published several articles in journals leading in their field, for example, the edition of Applied Catalysis B: Environmental. This journal is number one in a list of 153 journals dedicated to environment protection problems. It is very prestigious among journals of the Environmental Science sphere, which, in turn, is a subsection of Materials Science.
In 2013, in the frameworks of a Candidate’s dissertation of another of my former postgraduate students, Marina Ilkaeva, we obtained a new catalyst, efficiency of which five times overcomes commercial analogous products from the USA and Germany! Results of the research were published in the form of several research articles. We obtained Russian patent for the innovative catalyst (obtainment of an international patent requires big investments).
In 2015, Marina Ilkaeva defended her Candidate’s dissertation. In the course of preparing for the defense, tight scientific connections were established with young researchers from Syktyvkar and Saint Petersburg. These connections resulted in a productive scientific development.
– Cooperation with whom out of potential employers was organised within project-based learning?
– Interaction with an employer is one of the necessary conditions of project-based learning implementation, and we aspire to comply with this requirement. In 2017, thanks to support from the Rector of SUSU Aleksandr Shestakov, we concluded an agreement with Chairman of the Executive Board and Chairman of the Committee for Strategic Planning of the Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works PAO, Viktor Rashnikov. The Head of MMK get very interested in SUSU’s inventions in the sphere of ecology. In the frameworks of a business meeting, we went to Magnitogorsk where we presented our project, took samples of water and demonstrated the effect of photocatalysts. Executives of MMK were very impressed with the result.
Ecology is a very expensive thing which is unable to recoup. The main effect of ecology-related inventions is clearer air and water. Recoup of ecology is in the fact that people live in more comfortable conditions. Nowadays, negotiations with the Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works are in the stage of considering an agreement. The project of reagent-free photocatalytic water treatment by removal of oxidation-resistant pollutants is very important for our potential partners: environmental requirements for an enterprise of such level are constantly toughening. We hope for a successful signing of the agreement and for further productive cooperation within project-based learning.
In the frameworks of project-related work, we had a successful meeting with public officer Vladimir Burmatov, who is heading the Committee for Ecology at the State Duma. He also promised us his support in the issues regarding interaction with industrial enterprises. Our project already has potential ordering customers and the customers with whom we concluded protocols on intentions.
– Please tell us more about perks of taking part in the project for master’s degree students…
– This is a real-life project which will allow master’s degree students mastering all necessary competencies, just like it happens at the University of Information Technologies, Mechanics and Optics (ITMO). Let me remind you that while developing the project-based learning technology at the Department of Ecology and Chemical technology, we looked up to a successful result of project-based learning implementation at the chemical cluster of ITMO. Within the project, relevant research targeted at environment protection are carried out, the results will be published in journals of level Top-10 and Top-25. By taking part in this project, students will acquire all necessary competencies, complete their master’s thesis on their part of the project, and have one or two publications in high-rank journals upon their completion of master’s studies, which means they are going to be in-demand for postgraduate studies in higher education institutions of Russian and abroad and they are going to be in-demand among employers. According to my experience, it is exactly during one’s master’s studies that student understands why he or she chose this sphere of study.
Within master’s degree programmes, we carry out research in collaboration with enterprises of Chelyabinsk and the region; students can see real results of their work and this is encouraging. Only a few students finish bachelor’s studies with excellent marks, although 90% of master’s degree graduates receive diplomas with honours! (smiles – ed. note).
– Where do your alumni work?
– Many of our alumni are successful and nowadays are executives of project and environmental enterprises (Ekoresheniya (Ecological Solutions) OOO, South Ural Design Bureau (YuzhUralPKB), etc.). Our alumni are in-demand in a wide range of industrial branches: petroleum chemistry, metallurgy, mechanical engineering, pharmacy, food industry, and, of course, in science. They work all around Russia, from Kaliningrad till Kamchatka, and around the world: in the USA, Italy, Spain, Germany, Finland, etc. In Chelyabinsk, they are such enterprises as ChTPZ, Chelyabinsk Zinc Plant, KONAR, Mechel, ChEMK, Metran, Materia-Medika, Rosprirodnadzor, etc.
Master’s degree students undertake internships at these enterprises and gather material for their master’s theses, and it frequently happens that they stay there for a job. By their second year of study, practically all master’s degree students are employed. We invite our alumni to exams as members of the State Examination Board. During thesis defenses, they can search for new employees not only for their own companies. They recommend our graduates to their colleagues! We are planning to transfer this experience into the project-based learning that has officially started in September of 2018.
– The project is of inter-institutional nature. How exactly are programmers of the INSM going to be involved?
– Programmers of the INSM are involved in development of software products which are necessary for successful functioning of the interdisciplinary project. For example, we need to obtain new material that will be used in industry. Manufacturer needs to know service life of the new material in various conditions: from the central part of Russia and till the High North. In order to determine service life of material, it is necessary to know kinetics of the decomposition process. It can be studied with the use of a number of experiments, for which complex mathematical processing is required. This is where chemists get help from mathematicians and physicists, who perform calculations and develop software product which allows analyzing the necessary amount of measurements as well as evaluate results of the experiments with maximum accuracy (there is already-existing commercial product for such measurements intended for manufacturers, but it can’t provide necessary quality and accuracy of calculations).
In our case, software product is necessary in order to evaluate properties and behaviour of catalysts under various conditions. Aside from photocatalysts, we also need the help of physicists and mathematicians to evaluate properties and behaviour of photovoltaic cells. This research is carried out under supervision of Doctor of Sciences (Chemistry), Oleg Rakitin, and Candidate of Sciences (Chemistry), Oleg Bolshakov. Programmers’ help will also be required during research of materials, carried out by research groups under leadership of Doctor of Sciences (Chemistry), Professor Vladimir Shaturin and under leadership of Candidate of Sciences (Chemistry), Denis Vinnik. Here I see big potential in the sphere of interdisciplinary cooperation and intensification of publishing activity.