27 January 2021

Andrey Petukhov, Chairman of the International Advisory Board of the IKBFU, Professor of Utrecht University (Netherlands), in his article "Postcrisis University there is no way back" presents his views on the future of the universities.

Coronavirus pandemic led to an unprecedented world crisis that caused many problems in many aspects of our life. Enterprises were paused if not closed for good. International borders were closed and even the inland travel was temporarily restricted in some countries. Education at universities was also highly affected. Lectures, tutorials, and even examinations were switched to the online mode. It was not easy as most of us were not prepared for such a drastic turn and we, the university teachers, had to adjust to the new reality “on the flight”. The coronavirus crisis did not respect the country borders and problems in the education system appeared on all continents. It is not yet clear how long we have to obey the epidemiological restrictions and whether the second wave of the pandemic comes. When can we come back to the former life? I think it will never happen. The world in general and universities, in particular, will never be as they were before 2020. It sounds very pessimistic but it is not necessarily bad news.

In Russian people often say "нет худа без добра" or "не было бы счастья да несчастье помогло" meaning that bad and good are tightly connected. Similar idioms can be found in English ("a blessing in disguise"), Dutch ("elk nadeel heeft zijn voordeel"), and other languages. Economists say that economics becomes stronger after a crisis because many obsolete techniques are replaced by new and more efficient approaches, which were developed in the crisis time in order to survive. It is now difficult to predict in great detail how the postcrisis university will look like. However, the general trends are becoming visible. Contact education will come back to some extent whenever it will be possible but online technologies will remain. One of the advantages of digital education is the possibility of much easier collaboration between universities. Courses can be taught by professors from different cities. The student group following a course can be much broader geographically. This will allow us to improve the quality and efficiency of teaching. Those universities that adapt faster to the new reality and develop new concepts, will be stronger even if the coronavirus trouble dissolve. It might sound paradoxical but the closure of the international borders will promote internationalization. Because of the crisis, we came to the worldwide web. Now, in order to follow a series of lectures or to participate in a scientific seminar, one does not need to apply for a visa and to spoil your time for a long journey. Since the Internet does not know the borders, one can participate in the international scientific life from home.

By the way, I would like to invite all of you to visit my colloquium, which I shall give at the European Synchrotron ESRF in Grenoble. My lecture “Nanoparticle Self-Assembly under Synchrotron Light” will be in English and will be open to anyone interested in the topic. It will take place on Friday, July 3 at 14:00. In the lecture, I shall briefly discuss the concepts of nanomaterials and soft matter as well as what role the self-assembly plays. I shall present several examples of our studies of the self-assembly of nanoparticles using synchrotron radiation. In the end, we shall talk about the new horizons of our research, which are opened by the recent upgrade of the Grenoble synchrotron.



Figure. Schematic cartoons of A: 1D assemblies of hematite microcubes constrained by competing for shape- and dipole-induced anisotropies; B: 2D lattice of PbSe nanocubes on a liquid surface; C: self-assembly of isotropic colloidal spheres in cylindrical confinement into various structures.

These three images were selected for the covers of prestigious scientific journals Soft Matter (A), Nature Materials (B), and Angewandte Chemie (C).