A year after the first delegation of MIT Nuclear Science and Engineering students traveled to Russia, a second group headed off to Russia in July 2013 with the goal of strengthening connections between U.S. and Russian students in the nuclear field. This year, 5 students — Gordon Glober (UG), Alexandre Guion (G), Lauren Merriman (UG), Jude Safo (G) and the trip organizer, Katia Paramonova (UG), spent a week and a half in Russia. As Lauren Merriman put it, the trip “opened my eyes to the fact that Russians and American aren’t all that different from each other!”.
The first 3 days were spent at AtomExpo in St. Petersburg- an international conference hosted by Rosatom (the Russian federal nuclear corporation), which drew together over 4,000 people from 42 countries. Attendees listened to plenary sessions which included discussions on how to facilitate the application of university research results in industry. Katia Paramonova gave a presentation on this subject from an MIT perspective, focusing on a point that NSE faculty often mention when advising their students: establish a community that brings together different players — the industry, labs, universities — so that you have the network and can build the trust relationships needed for serious discussion of the current requirements and capabilities of the different stakeholders.
Gordon Glober’s highlight from AtomExpo was “playing with an interactive board that allowed us to explore the design of Rosatom’s reactor complex.”The 9 foot by 5 foot display monitor rotated and zoomed into areas like the spent fuel pool or the core when you gestured with your hand in front of the screen.
After an exhausting St. Petersburg “white-nights” portion of the trip, the MIT delegation headed on an overnight train to Moscow for the second week-long conference: Forsage. This was no ordinary conference.
It was held in tents in the Russian countryside with bucket showers and plenty of mosquitoes to share. It gathered together young 450+ nuclear workers and students. The schedule was as follows:
7.30am wake up and morning exercises with professional fitness instructors
8.00am breakfast with tea boiled in a kettle at the camp fire
8.30am- 4.00pm lectures from Russian industry experts, a professional car designer, and an astronaut.
4.00pm-6.00pm group work to decide how to pitch to Russian investors the idea of developing a brachytherapy cancer treatment. (This required overcoming the challenge that our international group of 16 people spoke 4 languages and came from entirely different perspectives. But we came in 2nd place!)
As Alex Guion commented, “the whole experience taught us one very important lesson: to get good advice, you need to ask the right questions. Then understanding what is unique, how to apply the advice and what the situation is.”
6.00-7.00pm dinner including our favorite “borscht” or Russian beet soup.
7.00-10.00pm cultural activities, including showing the Russians how to play ultimate Frisbee
10.00pm-11.00pm debriefing at our group’s campsite with mugs of tea and mosquito spray
11.00pm-1.00am chatting about life in the US and Russia with our newly made friends
1.00am-7.00am sleeping in the tents in Rosatom-provided sleeping bags and pillows
... and all over again for a week!
Jude Safo summed it up with two comments: “Russia has a burgeoning nuclear community I may work in in the near future”, and “Spaceeba!” (Thank you!)