Dmitry Medvedev’s meeting with Nobel Prize winners, heads of chemists’ associations and representatives of international and Russian academic organisations

The meeting took place during the 21st Mendeleev Congress on General and Applied Chemistry.

Dmitry Medvedev’s speech at the opening of the congress

Speech by Zhou Qi-Feng, President of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (China)

Speech by Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry Jean-Pierre Sauvage (France)

Speech by Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry William Moerner (USA)

Speech by President of the Russian Academy of Sciences Alexander Sergeyev

Dmitry Medvedev's closing remarks

Excerpts from the transcript:

Meeting with Nobel Prize winners, heads of chemists’ associations and representatives of international and Russian academic organisations

Dmitry Medvedev: Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues, friends,

First of all, I would like to sincerely thank all of you for your tremendous work during the International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements. On the initiative of the UN General Assembly, the entire world is marking the 150th anniversary of the brilliant discovery, made by Dmitry Mendeleev. And Russia views the 21st Mendeleev Congress on General and Applied Chemistry, due to open right after our meeting, as a landmark event.

I am delighted to have this opportunity to thank you, famous scientists, who have gathered here today, as well as academicians, professors and world-famous researchers. Your participation in the events marking this anniversary graphically confirms that the academic elite of the entire world is paying tribute to the merits of our great Russian scientist. For the past 150 years, his work has been serving as a foundation for new research, and his example inspires those who view science as their calling, and who are ready to dedicate themselves to this cause. And, perhaps, this is the most important aspect of our compatriot’s legacy.

Acting in line with the events dedicated to marking the International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements, we, the Russian Federation, contacted UNESCO and suggested instituting an international prize for outstanding achievements in the field of chemistry, physics, mathematics and biology that would be named in honour of Dmitry Mendeleev. This is the first time that Russia is submitting such a request to UNESCO. I am confident that this prize can become a good incentive for talented researchers and teams, motivating them to conquer new academic heights. And, of course, it can have special significance for young researchers. Financial support is not the only important aspect for scientists, even if such support is substantial. I hope that the Mendeleev Prize will be quite handsome; as per our proposal, its two winners will be entitled to $250,000 each. So, this prize is quite weighty. But this is not the only thing that matters.

The recognition of their merits at the highest international level and their affiliation with the global academic elite is an especially unique value. I hope that the UNESCO Secretariat will support our initiative, and that we will be able to congratulate the first winners of the Dmitry Mendeleev Prize in the near future.

I would like to once again wish all of you present here every success [during the congress], interesting discussions, conversations and a fruitful exchange of ideas.

Thank you very much for coming to the Russian Federation, to St Petersburg with its wonderful weather.

We have an opportunity to exchange various opinions. I would like to ask some of our colleagues to take the floor. Let’s start with Mr Zhou Qi-Feng,  President of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. Esteemed Mr Qi-Feng, you have the floor.

Zhou Qi-Feng (via interpreter): Mr Prime Minister, guests, ladies and gentlemen,

As president of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, I would like to say that it is a great honour for me to give a short speech on this important matter and to talk about the role of the periodic table. The periodic table of chemical elements is one of the world’s great achievements. After Mendeleev published his version of the periodic table 150 years ago, new chemical elements were discovered that confirmed the accuracy of his guesses. This contributed to efforts to further improve the table.

There are 118 elements in the table now, of which 17 were discovered by  Mendeleev’s compatriots, and the names of five elements, such as Moscovium, Oganesson, Dubnium, Mendelevium and several others, are connected with Russia.

Meeting with Nobel Prize winners, heads of chemists’ associations and representatives of international and Russian academic organisations

The Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna is one of the most important research institutes that synthesises superheavy elements. It works closely with groups from other countries in order to conduct impressive trailblazing activity in the study of superheavy nuclei and to move forward.

The history of the periodic table is, on the one hand, an excellent example of the amazing ability of the human spirit to explore new theories and to push the boundaries of the unknown. On the other hand, it is also an amazing model of combining individual genius and international research efforts.

The periodic table demonstrates the periodicity and cyclical properties of the elements, and of course, it is of great importance for other sciences, such as biology, astronomy and medicine. That is why the International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements received the tremendous support of researchers from various disciplines from all over the globe.

IUPAC is an international union. I would like to say that we are very grateful to the organising committee of this International Year for their efforts. In addition, we organised a competition on the periodic table and a high profile youth event that brought together young people from around the world. We hope that this will serve as a source of inspiration for young people, and that young people will bring their energy to promoting science in the future.

We would also like to note the critical role of chemistry and science in general in improving our world. In closing, I would like to thank the Prime Minister and all the scientists who contribute to the development of chemistry.

Dmitry Medvedev: I would like our other guest - Mr Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Nobel Prize winner who represents France – to say a few words as well.

Jean-Pierre Sauvage (via interpreter): Mr Prime Minister! Friends, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

First of all, I would like to say that I am very happy to take part in this big event in honour of the amazing scientist Dmitri Mendeleev. You can say a lot about Mendeleev, but it is very difficult to say something new. Much has already been said about his genius, about his innovation and ingenuity, and this is why I certainly cannot say anything that’s new to you. But I repeat: he was an amazing scientist, without a doubt. And, in my opinion, the classification introduced by the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements is one of the most important milestones in the development of science and humanity.

This table was the result of a combination of intuition, on one hand, and rationality, on the other. This table helped us realise that everything on this planet, both inorganic and organic matter, is a combination of various elements linked together. I believe the same applies to the entire Universe, but this still needs to be ultimately proven.

This table can also help explain the power of science to the general public, which, in my opinion, is very important – especially to people who are not focused on science. We can tell them that the smallest particles and the largest elements in our world have the same structure. They consist of the same building blocks. All of them consist of elements included in the periodic table. I think this should make people think about science and its power.

Allow me to say a few words about the genius of Dmitri Mendeleev. This genius showed in his ability to predict the properties of elements – those elements that at that time had not even been discovered. I think that is something outstanding. The predictive ability of the periodic table is one of its most impressive properties.

I think the most amazing example is gallium. Aluminum had already been discovered by then, and gallium followed. At the time Mendeleev was working on the table, gallium was not yet known. But Mendeleev cited the melting point and density of gallium – predicted them in fact while not yet being familiar with that element. That, in my opinion, was truly amazing evidence of Mendeleev’s genius and of the importance of the contribution he made.

Dmitry Medvedev: Now I will give the floor to Mr William Moerner, Nobel Prize winner from the USA. Go ahead, please.

William Moerner (via interpreter): Mr Prime Minister, distinguished guests and friends of science. I am happy and pleased to be here and to be able to participate in the celebration of the 150th anniversary of Mendeleev Periodic Table, of his great contribution to science. Thanks to him, we speak a common language, a language now used in different areas of science. It really is a monumental contribution to science. And as Professor Sauvage just said, we know the many key aspects of this table so it’s always a challenge to say something different, but I’ll try. First let me speak from the perspective of a teacher of general chemistry. When you use the periodic table to explain something to students, indeed, it is a very, very powerful tool to explain the periodic trends, but sometimes it’s not always clear what that means. But in fact, as you move across the table from one element to another, and to another, and show how there are more and more electrons (it’s one of the meanings of periodic trends – atoms capture electrons). That’s just one example of the ideas that the periodic table enhances. In addition, the reactivity – when atoms combine with one another can be predicted from their positions on the table. So this is a very powerful teaching tool.

The next perspective that I’d like to mention is that I am a physics chemist, which means that in effect we do physics at a molecular level; we use lasers and light and try to understand the physical properties of electrons, atoms, molecules. And so the Periodic Table is very important in this area of chemistry as well, because the development of quantum mechanics, the great theory that was developed in the 1920s to really explain many things about our world lies in the order and the sequence of elements that came from the Periodic Table. In fact this drove quantum mechanics to a problem – that is, in fact you have to come up with a theory that can properly explain what’s already in the Periodic Table. For example, spin: this is required to help explain the different elements going in the order in which they appear.

Finally, as a student, I remember many moments of awe, that’s beautiful, when you would learn something and how the Periodic Table, which I knew earlier, matches processes in quantum mechanics and so on.

To me it’s particularly amazing, in terms of the brilliance of Mendeleev, that he was able to understand this order even though he did not know what we call the atomic number, how many protons are around the nucleus. Only atomic weights were known at the time. And nevertheless, he was able to do this.

So once again we’re very excited to be here to help celebrate this 150th anniversary and I want to specifically thank our friends and colleagues in St Petersburg who’ve been wonderful warm hosts in this beautiful city and to Russia. Thank you again for your support of this effort.

Alexander Sergeyev: Indeed, a major event starts today as part of the International Year. It is good that we have a large number of renowned scientists with us. I think Russia is doing a good job hosting this event this year. As you may be aware, we, including Mr Medvedev, are now working on a new international Mendeleev Prize at Russia’s initiative within the framework of UNESCO. When we were opening the Year in Russia, we said that our youth are doing a great job, and our students performed very well at the Chemistry Olympics in Paris this year winning four gold medals. But time flies, and this Year will come to an end in Tokyo on the 5th of December. So, I would like to let our imagination run and see what we can do next to carry on and build on our success as we continue to move in the direction that is connected with, if you like, our great brand, Dmitry Mendeleev.

Taking advantage of the presence of our international guests, we would like to discuss the following situation. Indeed, we see that modern science is becoming increasingly international, and important projects, as a rule, are carried out by consortia that bring together researchers from many countries. We see, for example, that dozens of countries are working in Europe as part of one such project. They have the tools that make this work possible which include grants provided by the European Commission. However, due to a difficult geopolitical situation, our participation in such consortia is problematic. We, in Russia, have mechanisms that make it possible to maintain international cooperation, but on a bilateral basis. We have a well-functioning foundation for fundamental research with over 60 agreements concluded with international organisations, but these are bilateral projects, not the multilateral consortia in question. We believe Russia could initiate the creation of an international public-private foundation to support large-scale research projects that are carried out as part of a consortium uniting many countries.

Here are our proposals. First, if we were to initiate the creation of such a foundation, we would certainly have a better shot at running it. In addition, we have talked with major Russian companies, and we see that they are interested. They are willing to fill this fund with content. I am also receiving many proposals from our foreign colleagues; they are also willing to join such a project. There must be a mechanism in place in which they could contribute funds.

Second, importantly, this fund should operate and be assessed by transparent international expertise, so we can receive completely independent evaluations.

And, third, we believe we could name this foundation after our great scientist, to whom the year is dedicated.

That is, we would like to discuss with you and our colleagues the creation of, as we call it among ourselves, the Mendeleev Foundation. I hope that we will have the opportunity to discuss this initiative with our distinguished guests as part of this event. I would appreciate if you could support this idea at the outset and work with us on how it might play out in reality.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you, Mr Sergeyev.

Colleagues, friends, as I was listening to you, I recalled some bright moments of my past. Mr Zhou Qi-Feng mentioned the new elements in the periodic system, and I just remembered what this table looked like when I went to school. Of course, the things that have been done in recent years are quite inspiring. They are the result of the efforts of humanity, which, in fact, is implementing the brilliant ideas that were already articulated by Dmitry Mendeleev 150 years ago.

I am confident that young scientists will continue to be inspired by this experience and think about what it was about: scientific foresight, insight, and a profound research effort. I absolutely agree that the future of any branch of knowledge, including general chemistry, or any science for that matter, depends, no matter how trivial it may sound, on young people. The more young people listen with interest the lectures delivered by our respected colleagues here, the greater the likelihood that science will continue to make strides. We have discussed a variety of scientific matters during Government meetings, and I know that our colleagues representing science do this constantly, including the discussion on the boundaries of the laws of Mendeleev’s periodic table. I am confident that many young researchers will be inspired by this example. I am glad to hear that Tokyo is taking the baton. However, there is something that the head of our Academy of Sciences said, to which I cannot help responding. You said the political situation is difficult and we need to develop new mechanisms. The first thing I would like to state is that the difficult political situation does not cancel out Mendeleev’s periodic table. This difficult political situation will come and go, but the laws that were discovered 150 years ago by our great chemist will remain. There is no need to overestimate its impact on the scientific world or our relations with individual countries.

I would be remiss if I did not respond to your idea about creating a foundation. Overall, I think this is a beautiful initiative. It just needs to be wrapped up properly. Also, we would need to agree to have it evaluated by experts and see how this joint work can be organised, and of course, crunch the numbers in order to have an idea of how much it will cost. Well, a good thing is worth the money invested in it. Let us see what we can do.

Again, I want to thank you all for coming here and taking part in the convention dedicated to this big event.