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Federal Research Center 
"Krasnoyarsk Science Center of the Siberian
Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences"

 Федеральный исследовательский центр «Красноярский научный центр Сибирского отделения Российской академии наук»

Federal Research Center 
"Krasnoyarsk Science Center of the Siberian
Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences"

What the laboratories of the Academy of Sciences are hiding

2 December 2019 г. FRC KSC SB RAS

Что скрывают лаборатории Академии наук
180 days, two people and a confined space ... In the 1970s, a unique experiment was performed in Akademgorodok in Krasnoyarsk. Scientists not only constructed an autonomous system, which, in theory, should help people live on another planet, but also successfully tested it. Half a century later, this system can still be found in the basement of the Institute of Biophysics of the Krasnoyarsk Science Center of SB RAS; it aids scientists in working out more and more new hypotheses and assumptions. Anyone interested can find out what the laboratories of the KSC of the SB RAS are hiding. The staff of the institutes periodically perform free excursions. A journalist of “The City News” went on one of such excursions.

Accursed Wastes

The human life support system for new space and terrestrial settlements, which is located in Akademgorodok in Krasnoyarsk, is called "BIOS-3". A Senior research associate, Candidate of Biological Sciences, Sergey Trifonov says that the autonomous system itself is a sealed enclosure consisting of four compartments. “Two of them contained phytotrons, in another one there were micro-weed cultivators, and still in another one there were crew cabins and auxiliary equipment,”- he says - “ and in the greenhouses wheat, earth almond, and radish were grown.”

The experiment of Soviet scientists was very successful. The created installation made it possible to completely cover the oxygen demand of the system, almost one hundred percent of the demand in water (“almost” means that a part of the liquids was removed from the system for analysis and instead, about two liters of water were daily introduced into the system) and 50 percent in plant food.

“The main task which scientists had to face was the creation of such an autonomous system where people and plants could coexist and not kill each other,” explains Sergey Trifonov. - After all, it is impossible to predict in advance how organisms will behave in a stressful situation, what substances they will secrete.

The very first experimental attempt of an autonomous life showed the fears of scientists to be justified. Inside BIOS-3 people were supposed to process straw remaining from crops grown in the greenhouse. But the developed smokeless combustion system did not behave in a confined space as expected. Yes, there was no smoke, but the elements formed during straw combustion led to dizziness in the crew members. Therefore, it was decided to abandon the straw processing. Decades later, this problem was solved. But life poses new challenges.
“The main question, we and our foreign colleagues are looking for the answer to, is how to process and use human waste,” Sergey Trifonov continues. – Hardly when we find a solution to one problem, there arises another.

So, using the trial and error method, the Krasnoyarsk scientists continue to improve autonomous human life support systems. And if their application in creating colonies on the Moon or Mars is a very distant project, here on the Earth some findings are being actively introduced nowadays. For example, in Europe, biogas systems are used in the construction of private houses, their operation principles having been developed when solving space problems.

There are questions to cognac

The laboratories of the Institute of Chemistry and Chemical Technology KSC SB RAS meet the expectations of their guests by various flasks, vessels, apparatuses. Such is a common idea of the layman about the working environment of scientists. But today's researchers do not spend much time directly with the flasks; the main work is done using a computer.

According to Dmitry Zimonin, a junior research associate, he and his colleagues study various substances in laboratories. They observe how they interact with each other, which valuable components are produced during this interaction, and which elements are obtained.
“The problems we are to solve can be divided into three large groups,” - explains Viktor Verpekin, Candidate of Chemical Sciences, research associate. – “Firstly, these are fundamental questions such as the study of the structure of substances. Secondly, the study of new principles of organic synthesis. Thirdly, the solution of specific applied problems, for example, ore beneficiation and processing”.

Dmitry Zimonin gives as an example of the everyday application of his work, a recent expert examination of water and alcoholic beverages. “In wine and brandy, we checked the metal content and product compliance with the Russian standard,” he says. - By the presence and concentration of certain substances, we can say for sure whether the products are falsified or not. For example, there should not be much manganese in wine, since grapes contain this element only in small quantities. If the concentration is too high, then something went wrong during the production process. ”

It should be said that the scientists had no particular complaints about the investigated wine samples, except for the cognac tested. The content of some substances in its samples was very high. “This is because the product was not cleaned properly,” says Dmitry Zimonin.

We can refuse radiators in our flats

No less interesting experiments are also being made within the L.V. Kirensky Institute of Physics of KSC SB RAS. On self-made equipment, the laboratory staff creates and studies thin transparent materials which can be attached to windows to solve various problems. For example, if a copper mesh is embedded in such a film, then such a “sticker” can collect solar energy and heat up, and then, due to the air circulation, this heat will spread throughout the room. “Theoretically, in the future, such coatings can completely cover the need for heat, and the usual batteries will not be necessary,” the scientists emphasize.

Of course, as noted by Igor Tambasov, senior research associate, Candidate of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, not all of these seemingly promising and necessary developments will be introduced into mass production. The price of such products can be significantly higher than the current solutions for heat and energy supply, which was unexpectedly confirmed by the first question made by the visitors of the laboratory when they asked if it was possible to make such “stickers” on car windows so that the energy accumulated on the films could be used, say, to recharge the batteries. The scientist quickly stopped the flight of fancy of inexperienced listeners: “It is theoretically possible, but can you imagine how long the car must stand in the sunlight in our climatic conditions in order to get charged? It’s easier to use the existing solutions. ”

The next excursions to the laboratory of KSC SB RAS will be organized in February 2020 as part of Science Week. Follow the events on the official pages of the Krasnoyarsk Science Center on Facebook - Krasnoyarsk science center and on Instagram -  @Krasnoyarsk.science

Author: Andrey Muzhshchinsky