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Yuri Kopatch - "For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to become a scientist"

Interview conducted in September 2022

Kopach Yury - PhD. in physics and mathematics, Head of Sector of the Department of Nuclear Physics, Sector for Research of Neutron-Nuclear Interactions

For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to become a scientist. In school essays on the topic “Who do you want to become?” I wrote - a scientist. I entered the Faculty of Physics of the Moscow State University and once Svetlana Petrovna Ivanova came to us. The JINR University Centre did not exist then, Svetlana Petrovna herself was engaged in educational activities - she told students-physicists about JINR. And she didn’t just tell, but took us to Dubna on an excursion, around the laboratories, showed them to us. I studied in the Department of Nuclear Physics of the Moscow State University and there was a branch of SINP MSU in Dubna where I had my basic studies from the second half of the fourth year. We were delivered various special courses, in particular, the theory of the atomic nucleus was taught by Svetlana Petrovna Ivanova who, in general, influenced my career. She took Walter Ilyich Furman to the branch of SINP, so that almost immediately after I had arrived here, I came to FLNP, to the group of Albert Borisovich Popov, who became the supervisor of my diploma thesis and later of my dissertation. Walter Ilyich was a higher chief - Head of the department, yet he was also involved in my education. When I graduated from Moscow State University, S. P. Ivanova and W. I. Furman came to an agreement with a German colleague, Professor Jürgen Theobald and I was sent on an exchange program to Germany, to the Technical University of Darmstadt. The trip turned out to be very fruitful, I took part in an experiment, the results of which made up half of my PhD thesis. A year later, I returned to Dubna, kept on being engaged in division here and, it should be noted, I have been engaged in it throughout all my life, only recently I have stayed away a little. When I returned, I joined the long-term experiment on the measurement of angular distributions of fission fragments at the IBR-30 reactor, which was carried out jointly with colleagues from the Obninsk IPPE. This constituted the second half of my dissertation, after defending of which I went to Germany for the second time at the invitation of colleagues from GSI, Darmstadt. This is a large German center where many foreign specialists work. There I kept practicing division, which was the continuance of the experiment in which I had participated on my first visit. I stayed at GSI for three years, after which I decided to finally return to Dubna, although I was offered to stay longer.
A few months before my return, I was elected Head of the Nuclear Physics Department of FLNP, that is, I took the same position that Walter Ilyich had held when he had first met me in the Laboratory. Today, I keep working on fission: we have carried out a few experiments on T-odd effects in Grenoble, we have as well implemented such experiments at the FRM II reactor in Garching near Munich. The range of Grenoble experiments has ended, a number of articles have been published on them and the Munich experiments are still carried out, considering the pandemic. We also implement similar experiments here - at IBR-2 and IREN. In addition, together with our Czech colleagues, we study fission using pixel detectors with very good positional resolution.
Today I am interested in something different. In 2013, the TANGRA project was developed, in which, besides our Laboratory, DLNP, VBLHEP, LIT, as well as a number of Russian and foreign institutes participate. This project is related to tagged neutrons. We use a Russian-manufactured neutron generator and with the use of it we irradiate various materials. It produces neutrons with an energy of 14 MeV, these are rather fast neutrons, such neutrons practically do not fly from the reactor. This generator possesses a compact size and the advantage of such neutrons is that they have a high penetrating power. And the method is called Tagged Neutron Method (TNM), as far as besides neutrons, an alpha particle is also produced, with the help of which these neutrons can literally be tagged – to calculate their number and to determine at what time and in what direction they flew out. Due to this, we have overall control on our neutron beams and irradiate various elements using them. This area has great applied potential, there is even a company in Dubna, "Diamant", where TNM is used to search for explosives, drugs, diamonds, elemental analysis of various rocks, raw materials in the metallurgical industry, for quality control and other purposes. Quite a lot of young people are now engaged in this project in the Laboratory, for example, Nikita Fedorov, who came to us as a student of Moscow State University, is going now to defend his dissertation. Dimitar Grozdanov is a Ph.D. student from Bulgaria who is going to defend his thesis in his home country. Every year, several graduate students prepare their graduate theses and enter postgraduate school, that is, our group, one might say, is staffed and there are young people enough.
We now try to get involved in an environmental project on the control of the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Its emission and absorption occurs in the soil - swamps, vegetation. It seems that there is an idea how to develop a technology that will allow one to control the process of emission and absorption. To test this technology, it is necessary to measure the level of carbon in the soil and TNM allows to carry out an elemental analysis quickly and at low cost. Our compact facility can be taken out into the field and immediately obtain information about the elemental composition of some object which can be quite large, unlike microsamples that are studied using Neutron Activation Analysis at the reactor. We have carried out some preliminary studies and realized that it was possible to determine the level of carbon in the soil in this way. With what accuracy we need to work further, it is not clear yet.