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"For achievements that first make you smile,
and then make you think", October 2012

One of the beneficiaries of the CNCP Programme - the leader of the project "Production of nanodiamonds through ozone modification" Igor Petrov - has been awarded the IgNobel Prize. The award was made for his development of a method to convert old explosives into (nano) diamonds. The same basic values that have guided our Programme - in the spirit of converting "swords into ploughshares" - also appear to have attracted to the founders of this business to the idea of turning unused stockpiles of explosives into such a peaceful and attractive material as diamonds.

On the face of it this award ceremony is very humorous in nature, but nevertheless, in the midst of all the fun, it is a world-class event, where jokes and humor are intertwined with extraordinary and surprising scientific developments made possible only by the inventiveness of creative and talented people. In this regard, we can look at the example of our former compatriot Andrey Geim, who having received an Ignobel in 2000, went on 10 years later to become a Nobel laureate.

The award ceremony was held at Harvard University in the U.S. After the awards, winners traditionally give a lecture at the leading American science and technology centre - the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Of course, we could not ignore such an important event in the life of our colleague and so caught up with Igor to hear more:

Standard question: How did you hear the news? Where were you when you found out?

In bed - it was at night. (Igor laughs) I was woken up by a call from America. I was pretty annoyed actually because I was thinking "Who on earth is this?"! They gave me three days to decide, whether I wanted to accept the award or not.

Did you think it could be a joke, that it's not serious?

No, I didn't think that. Later I was asked to look at the website. Then I looked into how the awards were reported in Russia and after that at English-speaking coverage of them. And, in general, I didn't come across any negative views, apart from what I read in Russian media coverage from the past. There they give a distorted view of the whole thing.

And your impression of the ceremony?

Just great! The ceremony has no hard rules or set scripts. Even in the case of my speech, the organizers only had a rough idea of what I was going to say. If you look at the video, you see Mark - the founder of the ceremony - on my left. He basically did not know what I was going to say or do. That is, we had total freedom.

The people who attended included a professor from Harvard, who sings opera, and Nobel laureates, presenting the awards to us and not just sitting up on stage with us in state, but taking part in the action. Everything was easy-going, natural, pleasant and fun throughout the whole event. I loved it!

Who will you most remember from the people you met there?

Well, firstly, those who supported us. The thing is, the whole ceremony is based on the help of volunteers. Nobody is paid, but they really make huge efforts to be involved, and that's not easy to achieve. I met Elena Bodnar, who was nominated for the same award in 2009. Her husband took me to Aragon National Laboratory - which is like our Snezhinsk Federal Nuclear Centre. Lena herself is the director of a medical school in Chicago. In in all, amazing people, who live fascinating lives. In Boston, too, we met with our Russian-speaking colleagues - who also left 18 years ago. The guy is head of a biotech laboratory, and the lady runs a patent office. Not ordinary people. As for the Americans - of course, it was a bit harder to tell, but, again, everyone was lovely. Official politics just goes out of the window. You meet a huge range of people. You have to take it all in.

So, the prizewinners then went to MIT?

Yes, indeed, we gave lectures and answered questions there. I used the opportunity to move past the fun part and present the original research material. Given that the event attracts quite a lot of attention, I wanted to really show what we do, and use it for marketing purposes. And then, of course, I was happy to answer questions.

Yes, when you look into it, it becomes clear that this event is a very big deal, and to be there represents a great success, and gives global visibility, including among the international scientific community. In your opinion, how it will affect your business and your activites overall?

It's definitely had a huge effect. I am now constantly getting letters from all sorts of people, offers to publish information in the popular science journals. That's one effect. Another is the level of enquiries we're getting about the prices and characteristics of our products. I'm thinking more about some new technology development projects. That interests me more than just simply making sales.

The thing is that the prize has effectively made us permanently a member of the "club", especially with regard to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, because now at any time I can go to any presentation, get up on the platform and speak: I can present our latest developments, and give lectures. This is a great marketing tool and it's permanent.

Now of course, we raise the question of CNCP. How would you assess the role of the support from and interaction with CNCP in reaching this current success?

It was a huge leap forward. The funding, the support, and then the marketing trip to the UK. You know, for me, it was just wonderful! It was hugely useful experience, just huge.

One last question: Are you planning now to get your Nobel Prize in 10 years' time?

In 10? Why not earlier?

One of your predecessors, Gaim, got his Ignobel Prize in 2000 and, 10 years later, received the Nobel Prize in 2010 - so that's where I get the 10...

I see! (Igor laughs) In fact, it's not only Andrey that has that honour, some of the English-speaking winners have done the same.

I sincerely wish you to follow in their footsteps.

Thank you, Denis. And to you too I wish every success. We will keep following our path, and and you also will follow your path.

"Ladies, if you need diamonds, see me after the ceremony. But don't forget to bring your own explosives" - joked Igor Petrov, when he picked up he award. As you know, every joke is only partly a joke. On the serious side - the technology which the team led by Igor Petrov has created is an important, high-tech and knowledge-intensive achievement, the kind which which, like the air, our country, our economy, and those people who are not indifferent to the future of Russia, really need...

Therefore, we once again congratulate Igor and hope that he is rewarded with many "ladies who need diamonds".

Interview conducted by Denis Belous

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