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Innovation in the USSR. The story of Akademgorodok, which could become "Soviet Silicon Valley"
Material posted : Administrator Publication date: 18-04-2018

In 1958 was initiated a large-scale project — the creation of Akademgorodok near Novosibirsk. Mikhail Lavrentiev and his colleagues have created a scientific town in Siberia, in which the harmonious development of education, science and technology.

In the 60 years the campus grew rapidly, developing a more sophisticated approach to what is customary today to call to innovation, even ahead of their Western counterparts, such as Stanford or MIT.

Today we tell, what was the success of the campus and why we failed to replicate the overseas success story in the vast of Siberia.

In any modern device components and technologies of dozens of manufacturers, the development of dozens of laboratories and know-how of hundreds of engineers. Modern high-tech products are not individuals or companies, but entire innovative ecosystems such as Silicon Valley, California, USA.

In the regional ecosystems in a single area there is a critical mass of people, ideas, technologies and financial resources. In these areas occurs with accelerated rates of social and economic development, creates a fertile ground for innovation in technology and management.

In conversations concerning innovation, they often mention the successful experience of the Soviet Union. Remember the Soviet space, atoms for peace, a network of academic and industrial research institutes. The question arises: were there attempts to build innovation ecosystems in the USSR? The answer is Yes. Something like Silicon Valley could occur in the Soviet Union.

This article is the first of a series of articles on the history and philosophy of innovation, primarily in it. A special place in the series will take the topic of innovation ecosystems — places where with systematic regularity are born and reach maturity, new technologies, products and companies.

Brief contents

Akademgorodok was founded in 1957. The founders of Akademgorodok created a centre that would be jointly developed: science, production and education.
Research had become the basis for innovation. For the 60th year, the campus quickly passed the evolutionary path of successive perceptions of what innovation is and how to implement them.

  1. It all started with applied research on some technological issues.
  2. Next, attention turned to developing its own technology in several key areas. Particularly important was the process of training engineers of the enterprises new technologies.
  3. In the next step, in Akademgorodok began to cooperate with the interested companies and develop custom technology solutions for a specific order.
  4. Next, have begun to develop a replicable high-tech products.
  5. Everything was completed in the early 70's at the stage of creating new experimental industrial organizations.

70 years of innovation ecosystem development the campus has stalled, appears to be due to organizational inflexibility and bureaucracy, especially increased in the Brezhnev period.

A similar path in the 60s did and the ecosystem built around Stanford University in Palo Alto – the future of the heart of Silicon Valley, but, unlike the campus, its growth was not constrained by administrative barriers.

Details on the development of the relationship of science and industry in Akademgorodok, approaches to innovation, you can learn "first hand". The fact that the founder of Akademgorodok Mikhail Lavrentyev, shortly before his own death in 1980, the year he published his book “... will Grow with Siberia”, in which he described the history of their own offspring – Akademgorodok and the Siberian branch of the Academy of Sciences. In one of the chapters of the book Lavrent'ev describes in detail not only the organizational form of the relationship between science and industry, but also gradually considers the path of their development (further quotes from this book).

Mikhail Alekseevich Lavrentiev

The Foundation Of Akademgorodok

In 50-ies of the academicians Lavrentiev, Sobolev and Khristianovich develop the idea of establishing a science city in Siberia away from political, ideological and economic pressure.

Lavrentiev, Sobolev and Khristianovich, has earned a reputation for work in military projects, primarily nuclear, proposed the creation of scientific town near Novosibirsk, making it the centre of the new Siberian Branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences.

The project was supported by Khrushchev, familiar with Lavrentiev from my time in Ukraine, where Khrushchev in the early postwar years he held senior positions of the Communist party, and Lavrentyev, Vice-President of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR. The project of creating a new town in 1957, a year was approved in the government.

Lavrentiev and his colleagues managed also managed to convince other scholars like held and young, in the prospect of the project and to persuade many of them to move from European Russia to Siberia.

The entrance to the campus. The photo was taken at an early stage of construction

The construction was accelerated pace. By 1961-th year in Akademgorodok was built 14 different University and research institutes, covering the entire spectrum of natural Sciences and mathematics and medicine.

Unlike the USA, in the USSR a large part of scientific laboratories was not in the universities and in research institutes. The University also played an educational role. In Akademgorodok was implemented so-called "Phystech system", linking education and research. According to her, senior students and graduate students should join research groups in the Institute. In the Institute was carried out both applied and basic research.

In the 60-ies of the campus was formed as a special ecosystem, linking the original idea of science, education and production. "Science — personnel — production" — so summarised the famous "Lavrentyev's triangle".

Mikhail Lavrent'ev believed the relationship with industry is an important part of the project of Akademgorodok. However, building an effective link between science and industry in the 60 years of the twentieth century was a completely new task, as in the Soviet Union and the United States.

Campus and Industry in the 60-ies

During the late 50's-early 60's started the search of forms of effective communication applied problems and research.

The process of finding effective forms of interaction can be divided into several stages.
In his book Lawrence describes the work performed in the Institute of Hydrodynamics, the main specialization of which was the theory of explosions. It is possible to allocate some stages of development of the relations of science and industry in the 60 years of the twentieth century.

1. Initially, in the first stage, the scientists of Akademgorodok began to build relationships with industry of Siberia:

"A close relationship with the national economy was from the first days of the organization of the Siberian branch of one of its fundamental principles. When there were erected the buildings of the institutions, teams of scientists FROM the Academy have already visited the enterprises and construction sites of Siberia in Norilsk, Yakutia, the Krasnoyarsk hydroelectric power station, the factories of Omsk and Kemerovo on mines of Kuzbass. Lectured, advised, established relationships, many of which turned into years, turned into a lasting cooperation."

2. In the Institute of Hydrodynamics paid great attention to scientific research, but soon, in the second stage, query-based companies were allocated to several large almost-important things, and began to work Institute.

One of these problems was the high cost and unreliability of metal products. It was decided through the use of explosions in various technical processes: reduction of crystal lattice defects, welding, applying thin metal coatings.

"During the explosion there is a pressure, strength properties of metals are irrelevant, in a narrow zone adjacent to the contact surface, the metals behave as liquids. <...> The opening was so successful that as from a cornucopia poured new technology."

At the junction of metallurgy, hydrodynamics, chemistry, mathematical modeling was born a new direction of development of metallurgical technologies.

"Opened the opportunity to create with the explosion of new layered materials that combine mechanical strength with chemical resistance, corrosion resistance and other valuable qualities."

In 1964, was released the first test batch of new materials, bimetals, created by new technology.

Obtaining of bimetal explosion. Explosion (1) tightly presses the two different metal (2) friend-to-friend

However, in the promotion of new technologies in production were some difficulties: a new idea was incomprehensible to the engineers in the factories and met with "hostility". The introduction of new technology into production (on the scale of large factories, not workshops) took up to 15 years. The solution to the problem of introduction of new technologies lay in the people, the training of new personnel who understand the new technology. For this, specialists in new technologies of welding began to prepare in Novosibirsk centrally, which allowed already in the 80s to launch a new production in less than 3 years.

3. In the third stage, work was carried out not with respect to new technological areas, and with respect to individual products and industries potentially interested in them.

In the mid 60-ies, the work was carried out with the customers directly concerned by new technologies.

"Our active and reliable partner has become a powerful enterprise Novosibirsk aviation plant named VP Chkalov. One of the trends of modern engineering — increasing the strength of materials design of them might be of smaller cross section and weight, reducing consumption of metal. But to produce parts from such high-strength materials is becoming harder and harder. One of the effective ways — stamping with a pulsed (fast) loaded, including by explosion."

4. In the fourth stage, in the Institute of Hydrodynamics developed the first high-tech product — safe detonator.

"Application of explosion in the industry is always limited to the potential danger of the method. <...> The Institute of hydrodynamics was deciphered the structure of the mechanism of detonation of explosive in different environments <...>. Studying the processes of detonation, one of my students, L. A. Lukyanchikov, found that using some properties of this phenomenon, it is possible to create a completely safe under normal conditions, the detonator. Such a detonator can be thrown, hit with a hammer, even to connect current from the commercial power supply — it won't explode <...>. To undermine it, you need a high-voltage current from a special generator. Thus, there was the ability to safely conduct blasting operations at the factory".

Started replicated the issue of the detonator at a partner plant named after Chkalov for use in many areas of the economy. Versatile insensitive detonator was a product for the solution of many technical tasks, such as welding, cleaning of surfaces, synthesis of diamonds, and so on, and in different industries and totally different situations requiring the use of explosion.

Leonid A. Lukyanchikov and the scheme of the detonator

The interest of the Chkalov plant, its territorial proximity, the enthusiasm of the specialists of the plant, personal initiative and openness of L. A. lukianchikov and other scientists of the Institute of Hydrodynamics allowed to create a product directly on the basis of the customer's enterprise. A natural way gathered a team of enthusiasts decided the problem of the organization of activities when creating a product.

However, when the potential customer and the specialists of the customer, and scientists are actively to each other to meet for new product development for a variety of reasons relatively rare. It often takes a long time for technology development, its testing, as well as specific resources such as equipment, which is not the customer.
The solution to this problem was the second factor that led to the creation of a "zone of implementation" of the campus.

5. By the end of 60-ies, at the fifth stage, the inclusion of production directly into the system of the campus was realized Lavrent'ev and his associates. Was the proposed system KB "dual subordination", which was supposed to be "innovative belt" of Akademgorodok. The idea was the following.

"When most academic institutions are established and operate design bureaus and under the direct supervision of authors of inventions and discoveries, their "offspring" are investigated, validated and transferred to industry in the form of finished samples with the proven technology of their manufacture, suitable for mass production. <...> The scheme was as follows: the Institute gives scientific idea, the Ministry is building near the campus of the KB gives his people, we — the authors of the idea and the youth who commit the University. All together they "brought product". In these bureaus and pilot plants research idea to Mature, to grow into flesh, to become first in drawings, models, models, then prototypes, which can be transferred for further implementation."

However, the implementation of the ideas originated problems.

First, the Ministry did not always recognize the independence of KB started to use to perform its current tasks and not for new developments.

Second, also failed to create and generally accepted regulations governing the establishment and operation of a new KB too high was the bureaucratic costs of settlement which took about 10 years.

These problems severely hampers the development of CB "dual subordination" and negate the motivation of scientific workers to create a new KB for their projects. In the end, a development which could escalate into the creation of a large scientific and industrial cluster have led to the creation of a small number of KB.

There were initiatives to create new production and research teams to bypass the ministries. And if in the era of the thaw, the power neutral attitude to such experiments, the Brezhnev era, the bureaucracy no longer tolerate the experiments and demanded clarity in terms of accountability and subordination of a particular organization.

M. A. Lavrent'ev and B. V. Voitsekhovsky in the production shop size hydro-pulse technology, the first "enterprise zone implementation."

In the 70s and 80s, the campus has settled on a more simple forms of cooperation with industry and sectoral ministries, for example, "around the end of the ninth five-year plan in the Siberian branch due to active participation of academician G. I. Marchuk (then Deputy Chairman of the Department) formed the principle of "exit the industry". It is that the implementation of scientific development, the most appropriate lead on large, head the companies that master the innovation, and then with the support of the Ministry of spreading it to your industry". Did this innovation is very dependent on the ministries and bureaucracy, have reduced important for the creation and implementation of new technologies, organizational flexibility, thereby reducing the possible innovation potential.

Even in the early 1980-ies, "time for implementation" of the campus, which could become the basis of a new ecosystem, was another bold experiment, not a stable formation. "The zone implementation" of the Novosibirsk Akademgorodok, of course, not the only and today is not the most important way of transmission of the results of science to production".

To 1980-th year, Lavrentiev still was optimistic on the prospects of Akademgorodok as a centre of innovation.

"Near Novosibirsk performed the experiment a large value, the meaning of which is to grow into a major center for basic research in larger scientific-technical complex with a substantially new system of internal and external relations. The successful development of these relations in depth and breadth should increase the efficiency of scientific work that is gradually change the traditional approaches to the assessment of the development, planning and financing scientific and technological research. Fundamental research, remaining the main content consists of such complexes, can get extra pulses due to the system feedback: a quick check of theory and experiment, the direct exchange of ideas, staff and resources with industry."

However, on the other side of the ocean by this time, for the period of 60-ies – 80-ies, similar ideas have already been implemented in the ecosystem known as the "Silicon Valley".

The results

For about a decade, beginning in 1961, the campus went from understanding innovation as

1) research of applied character, to
2) the development of new technologies, to
3) develop custom solutions for specific customers,
4) create a replicable high-tech products, 5) the creation of new experimental industrial organizations (start-UPS, to speak in modern language).

A similar path at the same time has been done overseas. However, in the 70th year Silicon Valley has taken the lead in the development of other ecosystems. In the United States, thanks to the relative ease of organizing firms, opportunities to create new teams and entire industries have been much more. And if in 60 years the total number of firms in Palo Alto — the heart of the future of Silicon Valley – not have exceeded 100 units, the 70-ies their number will increase significantly, and with the development of venture capitalism in the ' 80s – an order of magnitude. In addition, it is important not only ease the creation of organizations and their internal flexibility. This flexibility of the 70-ies – 80-ies in such firms as Fairchild Semiconductors and Intel occur micro-revolution in the internal organization of firms, marketing, sales, management, relevant to high-tech business to this day.

To create new technologies and products requires the creation of new teams, bringing together representatives of different disciplines, different fields of activity. In the USSR, for example, multiple creative teams, with the patronage of the authorities, managed to find an organizational administrative form that meets the requirements of the bureaucracy, for the formation of hundreds of organizations requires an institutional mechanism.

It can be assumed that if the bureaucratic inflexibility, even in a single area have been overcome, the campus could, by analogy with Silicon Valley sample 70th year, amount to many tens of co-operating innovative enterprises. However, even in this case, Silicon Valley in the modern sense, Russia certainly would not – for the further exponential growth of the ecosystem would require new ways of attracting investment, which in the planned economy could not occur.

The evolution of Silicon Valley – from a small Technopark, working on military orders, to the global it development center, occupying tens of square kilometers – the subject of the next article.


  • Blank S. The Secret History of Silicon Valley [online]. —
  • Josephson, Paul R. New Atlantis Revisited: Akademgorodok, the Siberian City of Science [Book]. — Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997.
  • Dobretsov N. The principles of M. A. Lavrent'ev on the organization of science and education and their implementation in Siberia [Journal] // Science in Siberia. — Novosibirsk: [b.N.], 2000... — T. 47.
  • Lavrentiev M. A.... Will grow with Siberia [Book]. — Novosibirsk: Zap.-Sib. kN. publishing house, 1982. — p. 175.
  • Lukyanchikov L. A. initiation System for secondary explosives [Journal] // journal of Applied mechanics and technical physics. — Novosibirsk: so ran, 2000... — 5: vol. 41.
  • Fedorov V. S., and Stanford campus: science and industry in the innovation ecosystems of the 50's- 70-ies of XX century [Journal] // Philosophy of Science. — Novosibirsk: publishing house of the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, 2017 — vol. 1 (72). — p. 114-130.


Tags: innovation , USSR

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