Set on the banks of the mighty Ob River, this unusual city of scientists and technicians directs the mapping of vast natural resources of Siberia in the nation's continuing drive to make the Soviet Union the world's mightiest industrial power.
During its 20 years of existence, the city has poured out a stream of theories, plans, suggestions and findings on how best to exploit the primitive wilderness stretching from the Urals to the Pacific. In that time,calculates one of the founders, scientists here have saved the Soviet Union billions of rubles by speeding up and making more efficient the tapping of the region's hydroelectric power, minerals, coal, oil and gas.
In addition, in many of the laboratories that dot the campus-like expanse of the city, pure research into the structure of the atom, the molecular nature of solids, hydrodynamics and dozens of other advanced scientific areas goes on. This research has in turn yielded new manufacturing processes which themselves have brought economies for the nation.
Now entering its 21st year, the "science township," (the translation of Akademgorodok) has more than justified the hopes of its pioneering scientific founders. This is the view of Prof. Mikhail Zhukov, secretary of the Siberian branch of the Academy of Sciences, a huge and powerful bureaucratic and professional entity that governs much of the Soviet Union's scientific endeavors.
Zhukov speaks with authority on the subject of the city - he was one of the small group of theoreticians who in the mid-1950s convinced then premier Nikita S. Khrushchev that a whole city devoted to science should be located in Siberia to spearhead the drive for exploitation.
Khrushchev backed the idea and within two years of its founding in 1957. Akademgorodok boasted new apartments and laboratories where there had been only pine and birch forests on the Ob riverbank.
By starting from scratch, the planners were able to lay out a pleasant city of broad boulevards, wide blocks interspersed with parks and winding foot paths. Since then, the birch and pine have come back and the effect is to soften the lines of what otherwise would be standard Soviet apartment complexes and research building - drab structures of tan brick, gray concrete and cinder block.
The fact that the city population is young adds further leavening to what otherwise might be a grim grid of scientists squirreled away in obscure research institutes. The city is filled with school-age children and on a recent afternoon, it resounded with the chattering of children on their way home from school.
With the high priorities set by Khrushchev, the founders were able to build into many of their buildings the kind of comfort that is rare in the Soviet Union. There are conference halls and quiet foyers, libraries and palm-fringed lobbies with tiny reflecting ponds. In one administrative building, scientists and technicians were provided with handsome cafeterias, retreats of dark polished wood paneling and quiet luncheon alcoves.
Today, there are 17 mathematical institutes, seven chemical institutes and a number of geographic and history institutes. In all, 22,000 specialists live here among a total population of 40,000. The concept has been so successful that other concentrations of scientists have been established in new communities in other cities of Siberia, including Tomsk, Krasnoyarsk and Yakutsk.
The work continues here. In recent years, the scientists have created hardy new strains of wheat better suited to Siberia's harsh climate, and designed and laid out much of the engineering work for segments of the Baikal-to-Amur railroad, the gigantic construction project stretching across the wilderness between the shores of Lake Baikal and the important transit point of Khabarovsk in the Soviet Far East.
At the city's computation center, a combination research institute and "business," scientists help Siberian factories program their assembly lines, payrolls and parts supplies - for a fee. This helps pay for the pure research of the center, which uses a handful of large computers including the BESM 6, one of the nation's more advanced models. This machine can do up to one million computations per second, features magnetic tape drives and is connected by telephone line to computers in Moscow for timesharing, a relatively new capability within the civilian computer industry here.
The Institute of Nuclear Physics builds low-energy particle accelerators and sells them to Siberian factories to improve industrial processes. For example, particle bombardment of polyethylene film doubles its tensile strength. As at the computation center, the money supports research, much as in capitalist countries.
In the Institute of Hydrodynamics, one of the founding scientific centers, work is under way on computer drawn predictions of river floods, a subject of rival importance throughout Siberia, where the huge rivers frequently overflow their banks in the spring.
In this country of vast bureaucracies, the position of Akademgorodok is unique. It is the seat of a special Siberian branch of the prestigious Academy of Sciences and removed as it is by 1,800 miles from Moscow, it enjoys a special freedom from the more traditional centers of science, such as Kiev, Leningrad and Moscow.
To obtain new, talented researchers, the city annually conducts a competition among outstanding students across Siberia, winnowing an annual applicant list of 3,000 down to 300 candidates. The winners may attend a special boarding school where they take advanced courses and, in time, they may join the faculties of the city's institutes.
Among the projects under intensive study here is a scheme to turn the flow of some of Siberia's giant rivers from north to south to water the fertile but arid plains of Central Asia.
"Technically it is possible to change the flow," said Zhukov. "But there are special considerations. In Siberia, nature is easily offended. You have to treat her gently, like wooing a girl." He said that trees, for example, take much longer to reach maturity in Siberia than elsewhere, one of the many basic differences between the region and much of the rest of the world.
Some Western scientists familiar with Soviet programs have suggested that the original zeal and freshness of the city has beenlost and that complaceny and a protective kind of bureaucracy of aging founders has stifled new ideas.
Zhukov, precisely of the age and position of whom these Westerners speak, says it isn't so. "We are part of the future," he says.