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Interview with A.A.Fokin, prof.,Doctor of chemistry, the Head of the Department of Organic Chemistry and Technology of Organic Substances

According to the results of 2016,A.A.Fokin, Doctor of chemistry,professor,the Head of the Department of Organic Chemistry and Technology of Organic Substances(OH and TOS)  became the leader of the international recognition of the publications of our university.Our correspondent met with him.

- What are your indicators due to your victory in the competition?

- The leader of the international recognition of publications in our university is determined by the index of citation of works, which is called the Hirsch index, or the h-index and is calculated from the data of the leading science-based databases of the world of Web of Science and Scopus. The Hirsch Science Index is h, if it is the author of h publications, each of which was cited at least h times. If my h-index is 33, then this means that among my published works there are 33, each of which is quoted not less than 33 times.

The Hirsch Index was introduced in 2005. Previously, the citation index was used, which means the ratio of the total number of links to the total number of publications by the scientist. There is a significant difference between these indices. A scientist who published one work quoted 1000 times and three works referenced three times would have a 252 index, and an h-index of three. To have a high Hirsch index, you need to have many articles that have been cited many times and, in contrast, have been attracted by many scholars.

It should be noted that various sciences differ significantly in terms of the average values ​​of the Hirsch Index. This index is on average the highest in biology, lower in chemistry, is even lower in physics and is significantly lower, for example, in geology. Therefore, it is incorrect to compare the citation index of scientists who work in different sciences. Very low index of citation works in the fields of applied and technical sciences. Therefore, our Technical University, according to the index of citation of scientists in general, will always look worse than classical universities where they are engaged in fundamental research in the field of biology and physics.

I note that the scientific articles that are not only interested  by many scholars, but also belong to the branch of science that is developing rapidly and from which many works are published, are cited many times. I have a high h-index  due to the fact that I work in such industries.

The first is the chemistry of diamond-like compounds - diamondoids and their application in nanoelectronics. The second is computer chemistry. The most cited  articles contain a presentation of the results of research on computer chemistry or those that combine computer chemistry and experimental research. Such articles were cited more than 3,000 times. And there are articles of computer chemistry, which are quoted 50-60 thousand times.

- What is computer chemistry?

- This is a branch of research, in which with the help of a computer is predicted  the properties of chemical compounds and the peculiarities of the occurrence of chemical reactions.There are prediction of the energy of chemical reactions, their dynamics, mechanism , etc. The theoretical basis is quantum chemistry. By the way, the American scientist Walter Cone and John Poplu were awarded the Nobel Prize of Chemistry in 1998 for the development of computational methods used in computer chemistry .

The application of computer chemistry methods has caused a real revolution in chemistry. Previously chemists received various compounds, then their properties were investigated and, based on research results, determined where these compounds could be used. In our time, when chemists can synthesize a wide variety of compounds, such an approach requires huge time and cost. Therefore, it is desirable to know in advance the properties of the compounds which are not yet obtained and to investigate only some of them - those in which one can expect the presence of properties necessary for certain applications. Previous calculations of properties of compounds are carried out using computer chemistry methods. I note that in our time, chemical reagents and laboratory equipment are constantly rising, while computers and computer time, on the contrary, are cheaper. It also stimulates the interest of chemists in the application of computer techniques.

Today, many problems of computer chemistry can be solved even on personal computers.It is the "personals" that the students of our department carry out a workshop of computer chemistry. At the same time, they not only master the latest research methods, but also begin to better understand chemistry. When a student sees on the screen how the atoms and molecules move during a chemical reaction, much of it becomes literally obvious to him. By the way, from the initiative of our department, the program of preparation of masters in organic chemistry in Ukraine included the study of computer chemistry two years ago.

- How do the researches with using of computer chemistry occur?

- For example, I have an idea of ​​some kind of chemical reaction. Before conducting this reaction in the lab, I simulate it on a computer. There are special programs for computer chemistry. You can ask two molecules, and the program will calculate what energy barrier should be overcome, so that there is one or another reaction between them. Then we can draw conclusions: if the barrier is too high, then the reaction will not take place; but for making this, it's possible to raise the temperature or use a catalyst. I note that in order to perform such calculations, the program uses only fundamental physical constants - the Planck constant, the speed of light, and so on. Due to this, the results are really fundamental. Thus, before real experiments, we can have already known on 99% what will happen in practice. I note that the accuracy of predictions today amounts to one kilocalory per mole in the calculation of reaction energies and one hundred angstrom in predicting interatomic distances in molecules.

Using a computer, for example, you can predict how a substance will interact with light, which color will have, how it will be carried out in an electric field, or whether it can be applied to an electronic device.

- By the way, about electronic devices. Once in the conference room of the Academic Council of the University, you made a report, which, in particular, about the use of diamondoids in nanoelectronics. What can you say about it?

- Our work has been recently published in "Nature Communications", which deals with new semiconductors - hybrid materials based on diamondoids and fullerenes.Our article "Ultralow effective work function surfaces using diamondoid monolayers"was published in "Nature's Nanotechnology" last year.  It describes how, after the application of diamondoids on the surface of the metal, due to a significant reduction in the operation of the electron output, it was possible to increase the power of the electronic cannon by 13 thousand times. The theoretical work on van der Waals crystals on the basis of diamondoids appeared in the "Journal of Chemical Physics"in September . Due to the low energy of interaction between particles, such crystals can easily change the structure and electrical properties under the influence of external factors. We are engaged in syntheses on the basis of diamondoids. This year the article was published in the journal "Synthesis"  of new reactions of diamonds and new optically active compounds that can be used both as materials and as reagents for organic synthesis.

- Tell me how you became a chemist and what was your path to the current successes?

- I will start with the fact that I am a fourth-generation chemist. My grand-grandfather, Serhiy Oleksiyovych Fokin, was a professor at the KPI in 1913-1917. My grandfather, Artemii Sergiyovych, was the head of the chemistry department at the Institute of Light Industry. Mom, Zoya Artemivna, worked as head of the department at the Institute of General and Inorganic Chemistry of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. I was interested in chemistry from my childhood, and my interest was encouraged by the elders. I had a chemical laboratory in my house with a hinged cabinet on the windowsill. There, for example, I received chlorine by electrolysis. Before graduating from school I read all books of chemistry that were at home (two cabinets). I would note that at the end of school I knew inorganic chemistry better than today.

Then I studied at the Chemical and Technological faculty of the KPI. After graduation, I entered in postgraduate study, two years later defended  Ph.D. thesis under the guidance of Pavlo Oleksiyovych Krasutsky. So I quickly prepared and defended my dissertation, because the candidate's degree was a continuation of the thesis.

Then, due to the situation prevailing in the 90s of the last century, I switched completely to another topic. I was engaged in the development of new insecticides, in particular, for the fight with Colorado beetle. I developed technologies for the synthesis of active ingredients of insecticides, participated in biological tests, traveled to enterprises where I introduced technology into production.

In this semi-applied theme in 1995 I defended my doctoral dissertation; I had 30 publications, including patents, with no publications in English. Accordingly, my citation index was very low.

After defending my doctorate, I went back to fundamental research - organic synthesis, reaction mechanisms, research in computer chemistry.I began to publish articles in English. The first of this was the article in the leading journal of organic synthesis "Tetrahedron Letters".

It should be noted that every magazine in the world has a certain cost of the article published there. For example, an article in "Nature" needs grants of about $ 1 million.This is this amount   you have to spend to get experimental data that will be published in "Nature". And, let's say, in a leading journal of chemistry "Journal of the American Chemical Society", every article is 300-400 thousand dollars. Here, of course, it is impossible to do without cooperation with Western partners. Most of my articles are written in co-authorship with colleagues from the US, Nymembern, Italy, France.They receive and spend the main funds for conducting research. For example,last week we published our article "Journal of the American Chemical Society" of precision structural analysis of diamondoids dimers, where we were able to combine the efforts of chemists, physicists, theorists and spectrometers from six European universities. The cost of equipment which was used to obtain experimental results was many millions of euros. And the molecules that were the subject of research were synthesized in our department. At present in chemistry there are practically no single articles. All of my articles have at least 5-6 collaborators. One generates an idea, the second makes calculations, the third plans an experiment, the fourth conducts it, the fifth examines the properties of the resulting substances.

 - And how did you find colleagues with whom you are cooperating now?

 - I wrote letters, got acquainted with conferences, and gradually formed a circle of like-minded people, with whom I am working now.The great significance was the fact that in 1996 I received a scholarship from the Humboldt Foundation, which allowed me to work for two years in any place in Germany. I have chosen the University of Nuremberg (Erlangen), where I worked with a prominent chemist Paul Schlair. I went to the conference, and it was at that time that I had established the main contacts with foreign colleagues.

I believe that you should not be afraid to go to the West. On the contrary, I believe that only western money can save Ukrainian science today. After all, our state hasn’t allocated the funds for scientific instruments and equipment for decades, and without them organic chemistry can not exist. All of the devices in our department, almost all of the reagents are purchased from grants that we have received from western research funding funds such as the German Volkswagen Stiftung - the Volkswagen Foundation and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) - German Research community, American National Science Foundation (NSF) - National Science Foundation. We have recently received a new gas chromatograph from sponsors from Minnesota, USA. The University of Gissen (Germany) provides us with constant support.

- And what about the training of specialists at your department?

- The main advantage of our students is that they can find work in their specialty. Organic chemistry is an industry that produces substances that are needed both for physicians, pharmacists and material scientists. In Ukraine there are firms involved in the production of organic substances, and where our graduates are going to work. In addition, graduates can work in a variety of analytical laboratories - at food industry enterprises, at sanitary stations, in laboratories of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and others.

The program of training specialists at our department is not inferior to the programs of any Western University, even the leading ones, and where they prevail. I can, for example, say that such a level of teaching computer chemistry, as we have, there is nowhere other than specialized computer centers.

With developing the curriculum, we proceed from the fact that our decent graduates will compete with graduates of the leading universities of the world. And it makes implementation successfully. Our students often travel abroad for an internship, and most importantly - they often return later to Ukraine .

- What would you like to do with those who want to do science?

-  The answerto this question is simple enough. In science, as they say in the West, "in the academy", should go those people only in the case if they don’t see another way  . Then the result and overall success are guaranteed. Of course, for this you have to pay -     few scholars can attribute themselves to wealthy people. As Rutherford said: "Bread, butter, but not jam ..." But instead of that they get the most important thing - freedom of choice. What could be better than a free profession? In my opinion, there is nothing more interesting and inspiring than fundamental science.


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