Vladimir Hayrapetyan, an Armenian scientist of NASA Research Laboratory (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and professor at the George Mason University of America, spends his vacation in Armenia. He has even delivered a presentation in his former workplace – Byurakan observatory. In an interview with “Aravot”, the scientist expressed hope that perhaps a closer cooperation will be established with the observatory because according to him, Byurakann has an exceptional telescope and brilliant human resource. The scientist, however, regrets that the mentality in Armenia is left a Soviet one, “People here believe that science is a science and is not “for sale.” While we cannot sit and wait whether we will get something from above, for instance, from the academy or elsewhere. We need to think of the effective use of the telescope in Byurakan, let’s say, selling the viewing hours to get benefit from it, at the same time think over the scientific cooperation. There are certain forces in Byurakan who are afraid of the word ‘sale’, they are saying, how can the science be “sold”, while the scientific product is also a product. There are international conferences and events where each one represents its institute, the academic structure and what it can offer. Maybe someone needs a telescope, for example, if a viewing night in America is suggested USD 5000, Byurakan can say, “I am suggesting for USD 2000”. It is common in the world. There is a supply and demand, both economy and governance of science are based on it. For Armenia, it is necessary to change the mentality for you can invest millions of money but it is very hard to change the approaches.”
Once, Vladimir Hayrapetyan defended his thesis in Armenia. He says that Victor Hambardzumyan was one of his scientific supervisors. He describes the renowned scientist as an extremely interesting and open-minded man who was ready for anything for the implementation of crazy ideas of the youth. Mr. Hayrapetyan has written an article in the books dedicated to the 100th anniversary of Victor Hambardzumyan, where he had presented his memories. He says that Hambardzumyan was charmed by the science at the age of 80 and was “infecting” young people too.
As Hayrapetyan said, the peculiarity of the Byurakan school is the ability to think broadly, a systematic approach to the problems, “If you want to explain a phenomenon, you must do it not by one example but viewing it in the system… For instance, in NASA, one can be a world-scale scientist but if you divert a little of its direction, he will say that he is not aware of and is not dealing with it. Lately, I have started dealing with searching a life in the space. This sector includes chemical aspect, physics, biology, astrophysics, geochemistry and atmosphere, in other words, you should be flexible and study what you do not know. I cannot say, “Oh, I do not know this, let someone else do it. You must present every phenomenon comprehensively, the Armenian school of astronomy renders its support. Once, Washington Post interviewed me when my article was published in the Nature Geoscience journal. I said that when I was a research student in Byurakan, I was dealing with young stars and the intimate life of stars. And if you’re well aware of the intimate life of the stars, you realize that the sun is a star. I was researching our sun … We know how life generates on Earth and there are nothing exceptional here, the process has commenced 4 billion years ago. Today, our sun is quiet and cannot give a new life.” According to Hayrapetyan, the mission of the science is to discover the miracle and the impossible, the mystery of life’s origin by denying the idea of a supernatural force. We asked whether being an established scientist, he has never thought of God. Our interlocutor replied that life is not a divine miracle and no divine intervention caused its existence. He adds that people irrespective of race, religion and inhabitance should have one common sense of community because the Earth is a very small planet and you do not know what will happen tomorrow. He considers himself a citizen of the planet, he says that it is not possible to make only Armenia good, the whole planet must be brought to global harmony. He believes that astrology can make people more tolerant, happy and conscious. He is also longing to see Armenia with powerful science as the thirst of science is in the genetic code of the Armenian people. During our conversation, he also addressed the problems of governance of science and the tough problems in this field.
The Armenian scientist of NASA stated that every country has a National Research Council, which is an effective structure and substitutes the National Academy of Sciences. However, at the same time, it is an advisory body, which consists of foreign scientists. “I suggest setting up a pan-Armenian Committee of Sciences in Armenia, which will include Armenian scientists and major experts from different countries of the world. These scientists should work on a voluntary basis. They need to get together from time to time and elaborate documents, for example, which direction should the science go, then it will be discussed by the scientific community and will agree with some things and disagree with other things, will write analytical articles and will send the opinion to the National Assembly and so on. I suggested this to Radik Martirosyan a few years ago, I told him how NASA is working because how the government can understand what the science needs.
It is clear that Armenia is a small country and the fundamental science is considered to be a luxury, hence, we should leave the trends which traditionally were strong,” – says Vladimir Hayrapetyan. He brings an impressive example, “For example, in Copenhagen, you see 5 people working in the observatory. Each of them has 3-4 international students. While in Byurakan, and not only there, you can see 45-50 people. Maybe there is no need to have so many scientists, maybe 20 of them is enough. Let the ones stay who can really make money, be competitive and publish articles in prestigious international journals. I know such people in Byurakan… Apropos, the state differs from banana countries with the fact that it has a fundamental science. If Armenia’s National Academy of Sciences is transformed to a National Council of Sciences, which will be managed by competitive projects, the snapshot will be different. The Academy should not be a governing structure. There is also a National Academy of America, which function by the following principle: if you’re a famous scientist, you are elected a member of the Academy, which is an honorary title and you cannot get money for it. If you are an honorable member, this does not assume money, it is a sign of respect because once you have already got money for what you have done. Unfortunately, respect and money are identified in the Academy of Sciences of Armenia. I hope that one day Armenia will get rid of it and will go the right way but it will happen when the country will truly be free and the economy too.”
The scientist is confident, “Nothing can develop in the presence of corruption, the young professionals having ideas are leaving and it does not matter for them where to implement these ideas – in the United States, Canada or Armenia.” As Vladimir Hayrapetyan mentioned, if the science does not move ahead, it is no longer a science but a swamp and the science is first and foremost advanced by the young people, and the country must make a “bet” on them.
Photo from the scientist’s Facebook page