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Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects (2007)

Chapter: 2 Science and Technology Priorities

« Previous: 1 Context for Science and Technology Activities in Kazakhstan
Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
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2
Science and Technology Priorities

This chapter responds to the request of the Ministry of Education and Science (MES) for the National Research Council committee to provide its views on those “areas” that encompass significant science and technology (S&T) activities that should be considered as priority areas for financial and other types of support by the Kazakhstani government.1

CRITICAL ELEMENTS OF THE S&T INFRASTRUCTURE

Before addressing specific S&T areas and fields that deserve priority status, the committee emphasizes that strong support is needed for the following types of activities that cut across all S&T programs.

Universal Broadband Access to the Internet by Members of the S&T Community

Science has long been based on theory and experimentation. In recent years, computational sciences have become an essential aspect of advances in many fields of science. The S&T community of Kazakhstan has an opportunity to draw on international developments in hardware and software in its efforts to stay abreast of and contribute to scientific achievements throughout the world.

1

The information presented in this chapter is based on discussions held with Kazakhstani officials and specialists, although the conclusions reflect the views of the committee. A few references with supplemental information are identified.

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
×

The committee gave special attention to the importance of the entire S&T community having affordable broadband Internet access. Such access is essential for carrying out research programs, for having access to information sources, and for communicating within the country and internationally. Internet access is increasingly important in educational efforts, particularly in a country as vast as Kazakhstan with schools and universities distant from qualified teachers and professors in specialized fields. And it generally elevates public awareness to the importance of using modern technologies for the benefit of the entire population. Indeed, broadband Internet access has become one of the commonly accepted measures of a nation’s international competitiveness.

Kazakhstan’s performance in this field has been uneven. On the one hand, Kazakhstan, with the help of Russia, has launched its own communications satellite, and it has developed strong information technology (IT) capabilities in connection with its programs in space science. It has developed a fiber optic network to link educational and research institutions in Almaty. It has opened a highly publicized IT techno-park in Almaty to promote commercial and public interest in IT. And it is developing impressive long-distance educational programs at both the primary and secondary levels as well as the university level.

On the other hand, results to date have been limited. Hiring qualified staff at the universities has been very difficult. Most educational institutions have inadequate computer capabilities for researchers or students. The fiber optic network connecting three university campuses in Almaty is vastly underutilized. Modern supercomputers that can provide advanced scientific computational capabilities and connect educational and research institutions internally and to external networks are not available, although Eurasia University is in the process of acquiring a 16 teraflop computer. And national information portals are only in their early stage of development. The hundreds of private firms engaged in software development have yet to demonstrate capabilities that will lead to a strong market niche on the global scene.

Kazakhstan cannot afford to continue to lag behind in this field if its S&T capabilities are to advance at a pace that will attract and retain scientists working in forefront areas of science. Furthermore, if Kazakhstan is to benefit from the rapidly expanding global information infrastructure, which should enable it to export services and assess export markets in many fields, it needs to develop and nurture a talented and flexible workforce that can play a more active role in supporting the government’s priorities within the country and internationally.

Appropriate Modern Equipment Throughout the Research Laboratories

Most of the research equipment in the universities and research institutes that committee members visited is out of date. Much is not even operating. Occasionally modern instrumentation is provided by international companies for

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
×

training purposes. But surprisingly good research is nevertheless carried out in many laboratories despite equipment problems.

Clearly the government cannot reequip every laboratory in the country. However, those laboratories that are to support priority areas of research should have modern equipment as soon as possible. Purchases of new equipment should be linked to specific projects to ensure that it will be used. Also, purchases of particularly expensive equipment should be tied to commitments by the recipients of the equipment to share it with other researchers with related needs. At the same time, the reliability of the electrical supply must be assured if the equipment is to be operational.

Maintaining the High Level of Pedagogy in Mathematics, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, and the Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

The quality of university pedagogy programs in the natural sciences has historically been high throughout the system that was established by the USSR. Kazakhstan should seek to maintain that high quality, which is in danger of declining as senior faculty members retire without younger replacements in the pipeline. As discussed in Chapter 3, special efforts are needed to encourage a greater influx of young talent into the university faculties; to this end, stronger research capabilities at the universities can play an important role.

Visits by committee members to two specialized high schools indicated that at least a few young students will be well prepared for university-level science programs. Some of the students have won first place in Olympiads and other competitions. Expanding such early focused training to more students in the country is highly desirable.

Economics Training and Research

Stronger economic analysis capabilities are needed by the government of Kazakhstan, local companies, universities, and research institutes. Wise use of the oil windfall, incentives to attract investment in Kazakhstan, and decisions concerning privatization of public-sector companies and institutions are issues laden with economic considerations that should be addressed by well-trained specialists. Many other examples could be cited.

A number of specialists trained in economics are employed by the wealthiest industrial companies. Of course, their interests are oriented to the profit lines of the companies. Also, financial institutions are able to pay the salaries necessary to attract specialists who have been trained in the West or who have otherwise gained skills oriented to market economies. At the same time, the governmental organizations that are responsible for issuing approval documents for the activities of companies should have on their staffs well-trained specialists or should be supported by organizations with such specialists. But according to

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
×

Kazakhstani officials, this usually is not the case. There is simply a shortage of well-trained specialists and a lack of financial and other incentives to attract them to government service or to education and research institutions.

Several universities and research institutes offer specialized courses in economics. Their research agendas seem impressive—for example, solving poverty and related vulnerability problems, innovation in Kazakhstan in the global context, ecologically sustainable exploitation of minerals. If their conclusions concerning developments in these topical areas are helpful to government officials, they certainly deserve additional support for related research. If their conclusions are weak, the teams need to be upgraded.2

Professional Scientific Societies, Industrial Associations, and Academies of Sciences

A variety of nongovernmental organizations that bring together members of the S&T community with common interests can provide important resources for the government and should be encouraged. Committee members were particularly interested in the efforts of the National Academy of Sciences of Kazakhstan to prepare reports on the state of science for the government and of the National Engineering Academy of Kazakhstan to encourage the business sector to begin to participate in government-supported research projects that could have implications for development of the economy. In the future the government might request that these academies prepare reports on policy issues that require careful scientific and technical analyses. Also, the IT Association of Companies seemed to offer an important mechanism for the government to improve its understanding of how the country’s IT sector can be developed in a broader and more effective manner than in the past.3

These nongovernmental organizations also provide important connections with foreign and international counterpart organizations. Such connections often enable participating scientists and engineers to establish linkages that enhance their personal capabilities and stature while providing important interinstitutional cooperation as well.

2

See, for example, Institute of Economics, brochure, Ministry of Education and Science, September 2006, and Almaty Academy of Economics and Statistics, Bastau Publishing Co., Almaty, obtained September 2006.

3

See, for example, National Engineering Academy of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Fundamental Research, 2006-2008, presentation slides, September 2006, and National Report on Science for 2005, vol. 3, National Academy of Sciences, Astana-Almaty, 2005.

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
×

Standards and Quality Assurance

Development and enforcement of national health and safety standards are important if Kazakhstani products are to be acceptable internationally. Product performance standards are essential for interchangeability of components produced or purchased by Kazakhstani organizations. Also, good laboratory practices and good manufacturing practices are essential for any country developing its technological base in any sector. More broadly, adoption of voluntary standards systems linked to international efforts is critical if Kazakhstan is to become an internationally recognized source of modern S&T products.

Publication in English-Language Journals

Kazakhstani scientists have a long tradition of publishing scientific findings in Russian-language journals. While government leaders now recognize the importance of increasing publications in English-language journals, the transition process is difficult for scientists who do not have English-language fluency. Nevertheless, this transition is essential if Kazakhstan is to play a significant role in international scientific or business circles.

The government could provide an important incentive to increasing reliance on English-language journals and databases by helping libraries increase their holdings of such journals and increase access to databases. Several approaches should be considered. The National Center for Scientific and Technical Information (NCSTI) is currently establishing an Internet portal for this purpose, and it should receive strong support. Government funds should be made available to purchase the most important journals for libraries of the universities and research institutions throughout the country. Finally, foreign colleagues should be encouraged to provide unneeded back issues of journals, which would be of interest to Kazakhstani scientists.

Ethics for S&T-Related Activities

Ethics cut across many S&T activities, such as experiments related to cloning, reporting and interpreting results of human trials for new drugs; and compliance with engineering standards in the design and construction of buildings and bridges, to name but a few examples that directly affect human lives. Ethics permeate the financial aspects of S&T activities. Ethics are important in maintaining laboratory notebooks, in calibrating instrumentation, and in selecting and rejecting data to be considered. As another dimension of ethics, objectivity is very important in presenting the results of S&T activities to decision makers at many levels—from the president to project managers.

Of particular importance is the need to ensure that scientific publications and claims of scientific discoveries are sound. Their quality influences percep-

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
×

tions as to whether research is being carried out in a manner that is consistent with internationally acceptable codes of research ethics. This topic is of considerable importance in Kazakhstan, which inherited from the USSR some inappropriate approaches to research and development (R&D) as well as some sound ones. Research managers often took excessive personal credit for important scientific findings that should have been attributed to team efforts rather than individual efforts. Sometimes inadequate attention was given to research methodologies in publications, thus raising questions about the reproducibility of research findings. Unfortunately, plagiarism was a widespread practice at some educational institutions.

Of special importance in ensuring the integrity of the research process are well-designed processes for reviewing articles and other manuscripts prior to their publication or release. Fortunately, the government is increasingly emphasizing such reviews. Also, lectures, seminars, and publications on ethics should become engrained in the activities of both educational and research institutions. Professional S&T societies can play an important role in raising sensitivities to the importance of scientific integrity.4

SIGNIFICANCE OF S&T PRIORITIES

MES has identified on a preliminary basis several priority areas (i.e., space science and information technology, nuclear and renewable energy, hydrocarbons and minerals, nanotechnology, and biotechnology). The Ministry of Industry and Trade has also identified priority industrial areas for encouraging investment, and all of these areas involve S&T (i.e., information technologies, electronics, and telecommunications; chemistry and petrochemicals; biotechnology and pharmaceuticals; machinery building and metallurgy; construction materials; and light industry, including the textile and food industries).

However, the committee had considerable freedom in developing its recommendations. It was not obliged to embrace the areas identified by the ministries as being among its priorities. The committee was not asked to organize its recommendations around the themes of the areas identified by the ministries. Indeed, the committee considered other categories of activities to be appropriate, as discussed below (e.g., Biotechnology is subsumed in Agricultural Science and Technology and in Medical Science and Technology).

The committee did not have the opportunity to review activities in all of the areas identified as priority areas by the ministries. Therefore, it is not in a position to comment on several areas identified by the ministries but not on the

4

See, for example, Bruce Alberts and Kenneth Shine, “Scientists and the Integrity of Research,” Science, December 9, 1994, pp. 1660-1661.

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
×

committee’s priority list. For example, as previously noted, the committee was asked not to address space science due to logistical difficulties in becoming adequately informed about activities in this field. MES also requested that the committee identify specific fields of particular importance (referred to by MES as “critical technologies”) within each priority area.

Technologies are critically important in enhancing economic competitiveness. But there are national objectives that can benefit from strong S&T capabilities in Kazakhstan even though the critical factors may not be technological ones (e.g., improved education curricula, land management, or urban planning). Therefore, this report does not use the term “critical technologies” in discussing priority areas or important fields within these areas.

Development of a very wide range of S&T capabilities is, of course, important for every country. The identification of specific priorities in this report does not suggest that other aspects of S&T should be ignored. However, the resources available to Kazakhstan, while generous, are limited. Thus, at this time selection of areas that offer particularly high payoff in terms of social and economic development in the not too distant future should be useful in guiding the government’s near-term investments.

The government is already investing significant financial resources in each of the areas/fields the committee has identified as deserving priority. Analyses concerning the appropriate levels of support for these areas/fields were beyond the scope of this report. They should be carried out on a continuing basis by Kazakhstani specialists. However, these areas/fields deserve strong support during the next several years, and designating them as priority areas/fields should help ensure that such support is forthcoming from the government. Also, designation of these areas/fields should attract the attention of potential nongovernmental funders, including enterprises operating in Kazakhstan.

The appropriateness of the priority areas selected by the government should be reviewed periodically, perhaps every three years. Trends in both global and local demands for S&T-based goods and services in each area should be analyzed. And, of course, the progress of the country in capitalizing on the government’s support of priority areas should be carefully examined. Based on these assessments, the government should be prepared to modify its priorities as appropriate, keeping in mind the long-term nature of developing strong and effective S&T capabilities in any area.

Committee members and American consultants associated with the study that led to this report visited more than 130 institutions as they became familiar with S&T achievements and capabilities in Kazakhstan. However, they did not have time to visit many other institutions involved in S&T activities. Therefore, the priority areas set forth below do not reflect an assessment of the totality of the nation’s S&T strengths, and they certainly do not reflect all opportunities to obtain significant returns on S&T investments. Nevertheless, the suggestions in this chapter should help the government of Kazakhstan direct its attention and its

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
×

financial resources to areas that have good possibilities of leading to positive economic and social impacts.

CRITERIA FOR SELECTING PRIORITY AREAS

MES has established preliminary criteria for selecting priority areas that embrace S&T and the associated “critical technologies” for financial and other types of support by the government. They are:

  • Promise of technical activities in the area from a global perspective.

  • Necessary and sufficient conditions for realization of technical achievements in Kazakhstan.

  • Economic soundness of pursuing technical activities in the area.

  • Patentability of S&T achievements.

  • Probability that technical activities will lead to a qualitatively new level of scientific or technological development.5

These criteria are significant, but they are also very general. They need elaboration at the outset of the process of selecting priorities, particularly the criterion concerning the feasibility of Kazakhstani institutions being able to realize meaningful S&T achievements.

In addition to their vagueness, the criteria do not call for adequate consideration of the importance of effective use of S&T in meeting a broad range of specific societal needs of Kazakhstan, except when meeting such needs is a derivative of the general contribution of S&T to economic progress. For example, the support provided on a daily basis by the S&T community for governmental health, environmental, water conservation, and social services programs may not be eligible for consideration for priority status using the MES criteria. Such support involving S&T services is particularly important, given that the general economic category “services,” which includes S&T services, accounts for more than one-half of the nation’s gross domestic product.

The following criterion for selecting priority areas and “fields” within the areas is suggested:


Within the area of interest, and the fields within the area, Kazakhstan has or could have in the next five years the technical leaders and the human and physical resources necessary to carry out R&D programs and/or provide S&T services that could contribute in a major way to the country’s social and/or economic progress. Such progress could be achieved through

5

Proposed Draft of State Program for Development of Science in the Republic of Kazakhstan from 2007 to 2012, Astana, 2006. Provided to the committee by MES on July 22, 2006.

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
×

(1) increased profits for Kazakhstani exporters of products based on R&D achievements or for Kazakhstani providers of S&T services for foreign clients, (2) attraction of new domestic and foreign investments in Kazakhstan that utilize the R&D results or S&T services of local organizations, and/or (3) improved well-being of the general population as a result of the R&D products or S&T services.


At the same time, expanded government support of the priority area of interest and specifically the fields within the area should (1) increase significantly the attractiveness of educational opportunities within the country that have the potential of leading to important S&T-oriented careers for highly talented young people and (2) enhance the prestige of Kazakhstani S&T within the country and internationally.

In principle, the level of governmental financial support of any S&T activity should be commensurate with the anticipated scientific, economic, and social benefits to be realized from such support, in both the near term and the long term. Such benefits from successful investments are very diffuse and cannot be predicted with a high degree of confidence. Despite this lack of predictability, the experiences of industrialized countries have shown that S&T development is essential not only to grow the economy but also to improve social conditions for local populations. In making judgments as to the levels of investments that are appropriate, the government should consider both (1) the likely interest within Kazakhstan and globally during the next decade in the anticipated products of S&T activities and (2) the likelihood that competitive products can be based on Kazakhstan’s S&T capabilities.

The suggested criterion, along with the criteria developed by MES, should contribute to the national debate on how best to select S&T priorities, recognizing that criteria can only provide general guidance. Criteria cannot be rigorously applied in identifying priorities among disparate areas for this report or for determining levels of financial support for specific projects. Technical uncertainties will accompany most innovative activities. Also, there will be future political and economic measures undertaken by the international community or by Kazakhstan’s leadership that will affect economic and social conditions that provide the context for the priorities to be given to S&T programs.

The national debate over the country’s development strategies may well lead to the selection of priorities other than those set forth in this report. But the report should help stimulate the discussion of the important issue of selecting S&T priorities.

PRIORITY AREAS

Recommendations concerning priority areas and priority fields within these areas for governmental support follow.

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
×

Nuclear S&T

Kazakhstan has a long history in nuclear science and technology. Soviet testing of nuclear weapons began at the Semipalatinsk test site in the late 1940s. After dissolution of the USSR and the cessation of testing, the National Nuclear Center was established. It is now a well-staffed and well-equipped institution with facilities located primarily in the city of Kurchatov near the test site and in the suburbs of Almaty.6

The center has received dozens of international contracts and grants during the past decade. Initially, international interest was focused on quickly providing funding to encourage the redirection of nuclear talent from military to peaceful nuclear applications. In recent years, increasing emphasis by international funders has been on the quality of the research activities that are carried out. The large number of international contracts and grants provides good evidence that the research is important and worthy of support.

Nuclear science and technology should be among the priority areas supported by the government. Strong support for the following three fields is recommended.

Assessment of Nuclear Power Facilities

For many years the National Nuclear Center has conducted feasibility studies of nuclear power plants to help solve residential and industrial electricity problems, particularly in the Almaty region. The world’s first breeder reactor to operate on a commercial scale was constructed by Soviet specialists in Aktau in the 1960s and was in service until 1998. As a result many Kazakhstani specialists have on-the-job training in reactor design, operations, and maintenance and in many other aspects of nuclear science and technology. In July 2006 the government reached an agreement with the Russian government to begin design and construction of the next nuclear power plant, with others to follow.7 However, Kazakhstani officials informed the committee that there has not been a final decision on the characteristics of the initial plant or the foreign partner and that the government is considering issuing an international tender in order to receive proposals from firms in other countries. But it appears that after many years of internal discussions, the government is now determined to move forward in this area.

Why should an oil-rich country pursue nuclear power? The committee is not in a position to pass judgment on the economic and environmental merits of

6

National Nuclear Center, Republic of Kazakhstan, booklet, National Nuclear Center, Kurchatov, undated. Obtained in Almaty, July 2006.

7

“Atomstroyeksport Will Build First NPP in Kazakhstan,” www.minatom.ru, July 26, 2006.

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
×

installing nuclear power stations in Kazakhstan. However, the committee observes that Kazakhstan is an unusual oil-rich country in view of its nuclear heritage. In addition to the anticipated contributions of nuclear power to the economy by supporting electrification of the country, nuclear power is to be an important symbol of national high-technology achievements that enhance the prestige of Kazakhstan S&T at home and abroad. Nuclear power will provide opportunities for hundreds of Kazakhstani engineers to hone their skills and become national scientific leaders and will ensure that Kazakhstan plays a significant role in international discussions of the future of nuclear power.

The importance of a strong S&T infrastructure that will enhance the nation’s capability to manage the development of the nuclear power industry seems obvious. Even if the country is heavily dependent on foreign technical expertise, local specialists will be continuously called on to advise the government on policies and regulatory requirements and on the appropriateness of arrangements with foreign organizations. R&D programs, particularly those linked to international efforts, will be particularly important to ensure that nuclear specialists stay abreast of worldwide developments that affect the choices and operation of nuclear power systems. Also, Kazakhstan needs strong capabilities to ensure that the siting and engineering of nuclear power plants in a tectonically active region do not create unacceptable risks.

Radioecology/Radiation Safety

Nuclear contamination from Soviet weapons testing presents serious ecological problems not only at the Semipalatinsk site but at other sites where tests were conducted (e.g., Lira, Azgir). The extent and hazards of the testing legacy will take decades to fully determine, but there is sufficient evidence to warrant immediate measures to prevent exposure of humans and animals to certain contaminated areas. Also, land reclamation is of considerable interest in some lightly contaminated areas that remain populated, and the reclamation procedures call for high-level skills in the nuclear field. Kazakhstan has a strong cadre of specialists in radioecology who are addressing not only the testing legacy but also contamination associated with uranium mining and possible health hazards associated with other naturally occurring radionuclides throughout large regions of the country.8

Another issue with potential health and ecological consequences is the need for skilled collection and disposition of ionizing radiation sources that have exceeded their useful lifetimes for applications in industry, medicine, and other fields and of other still-useful sources that are no longer needed. At present, many sources that are no longer in use are being stored at the Baikal site in

8

Artem N. Yermilov, Nuclear and Radiation Ecology at a Glance: Focus on Kazakhstan, booklet, Institute of Nuclear Physics, Almaty, 2006.

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
×

Kurchatov.9 The development and implementation of procedures for handling these sources are highly dependent on a highly skilled S&T workforce that is currently concentrated at the National Nuclear Center. While source collection and disposition activities are better described as S&T services than as R&D activities, they are very critical in Kazakhstan.

Radioecology/radiation safety is clearly a field of scientific strength for the country, with broad implications for the general public.

Uranium Mining10

Kazakhstan has an estimated 20 percent of the world’s uranium reserves and currently provides uranium concentrate for almost 10 percent of the world markets. The government has ambitious plans to increase uranium production fourfold by 2010, with a steady growth in its share of the world markets. Directly related mining capabilities support the extraction and preparation of beryllium products for 20 percent of the world markets and tantalum products for 6 percent.

Kazakhstan has been a pioneer in developing in situ leaching of uranium that permits extraction of sandstone-bedded uranium deposits by selective transfer of natural uranium ions into solution. With the use of this process, the sand and stones of the uranium ore-body remain underground, unlike conventional mining that requires significant waste management and restoration efforts on the surface. This leaching technique is believed to be suitable for about 70 percent of the uranium reserves.

A research agenda includes enhancement of borehole construction and extraction technologies, improvement of safety measures, and development of improved waste reduction techniques. In addition, a variety of services are based on this experience, including the design of construction projects of interest to both the governments of small towns and the oil industry and development of procedures to respond to mining and other emergencies.

Given the economic importance of these activities and the long experience of Kazakhstan in this field, uranium mining deserves priority status.

Biomedical S&T

Similar to its nuclear legacy, Kazakhstan inherited from the USSR a well-developed institutional and human resource base for detecting and controlling pathogens in populated areas and in the general environment. Kazakhstan was a

9

Ibid.

10

Institute of High Technologies, brochure, National Atomic Company, Almaty, 2006.

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
×

location for Soviet testing and production of biological agents that could be weaponized. It had an extensive network of well-developed research facilities, including unique antiplague stations that had dual-use capabilities and a system of sanitary epidemiology stations focused on clinical aspects of human health. These and other facilities were involved in both monitoring the occurrence of naturally occurring pathogens and carrying out research on methods to prevent and treat disease outbreaks. With a small amount of upgrading, these capabilities could be turned into an international asset for detection and control of infectious diseases.

Also, the country has long had extensive facilities to prevent, diagnose, and treat common ailments—from measles to cardiovascular disease. A large number of specialized medical research centers are in place, and much of the research that is under way is a continuation of efforts that began decades ago. But as international contacts with Western countries expand, there is growing interest in the adoption of new approaches to health care, particularly approaches based on medical research findings at home and abroad.

Most of the research laboratories in the fields of microbiology and virology that the committee observed are in poor condition and need to be replaced. Rebuilding laboratories from the ground up rather than attempting renovation has several advantages. Difficult-to-sterilize surfaces should be replaced. Designs to accommodate existing and new equipment as well as modern good laboratory practice support systems are needed. In addition, better laboratory layouts can often consolidate activities, provide office space for research managers and gathering rooms for staff, and in other ways improve laboratory efficiency.

Hundreds of talented but aging biological scientists are still in place, while the influx of young scientists into public-sector institutions has been very limited for almost 15 years. Nevertheless, current research capabilities are unique in Central Asia. Data banks contain a great deal of public health and germplasm information that is important to the international community. At the same time, the government is investing significant new resources into restoring lost capabilities.

Kazakhstan is a huge storehouse of important disease strains of many types that occur in different ecological settings. Intense international interest in the distribution and impact on public health of a wide variety of such strains will undoubtedly continue to increase for the indefinite future. Few countries have both the diversity of disease agents and the underutilized scientific workforce that exist in Kazakhstan.

At present, Kazakhstani interest in biotechnology is high—in recombinant DNA techniques, genomic analysis, bioinformatics, and related activities. While this section of the report concentrates on biomedical applications of S&T, biotechnology capabilities can also contribute to overcoming problems in other sectors of the economy, including mineral beneficiation, treatment of wastes, resto-

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
×

ration of polluted areas, plant sciences, and food processing. Research laboratories that master biotechnology techniques related to human health are in a good position to expand into other areas as well.11

In view of the foregoing, this area deserves priority status and the following fields are recommended for focusing government resources.

Disease Surveillance and Prevention

In 2004 the Ministries of Health and Agriculture, at the initiative of the U.S. government, launched an intergovernmental program to strengthen the capabilities of existing disease surveillance networks. This program involves improving diagnostic laboratories, creating central reference laboratories with state-of-the-art equipment, and installing modern communications and information technology backbones. Mobile teams are to respond to outbreaks, and selected pathogens will be consolidated at the central reference laboratories.

Anticipated benefits from this program are manifold. Early warning of emerging health problems will be improved. Upgraded capability should strengthen local competitiveness for international research funding. Talented young scientists should be attracted to modern laboratory settings. The security of significant strain collections will be strengthened.

The Kazakhstani readiness to sustain the program after external financial support terminates is a key issue. The Ministries of Health and Agriculture should ensure from the outset that the program meets the needs of local authorities and practitioners responsible for day-to-day surveillance. They should then be able to commit to supporting the program for the indefinite future.12

As to prevention, the embryonic efforts of Kazakhstani scientists to employ modern biotechnology approaches in the search for effective drugs and vaccines are already showing positive research results as evidenced by continued funding of research efforts by foreign partners as well as the government of Kazakhstan. In particular, the recently established National Center for Biotechnology has strong leadership and well-conceived research projects in fields that have attracted international support, such as genetic mapping of dangerous infections. It is also engaged in the global search for vaccines for hepatitis C at the Institute of Microbiology and Virology. In a related area, diagnostic kits for detecting a variety of diseases have been produced and marketed in Central Asia for a number of years by the M. Kimbaev Kazakh Scientific Center for Quarantine and Zoonotic Infections. As the country develops its biotechnology

11

See also National Program on Health Sector Reform and Development in Republic of Kazakhstan for 2005-2010, Decree of President No. 1438, September 13, 2004, Astana.

12

Letter report of the National Academies to the U.S. Department of Defense on the Threat Agent Detection Response System (TADR) network, July 2006, Washington, D.C.

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
×

capabilities and its analytical facilities, regional markets for kits and related services should expand.

Given the importance of controlling infectious diseases—locally, regionally, and globally—this field deserves priority. Moreover, disease surveillance capabilities can be expanded to improve surveillance of a variety of health conditions as their plans for public health evolve.

Cancer Therapy

The rate of early mortality due to cancer in Kazakhstan is comparable to the rate in other former Soviet republics and is considerably higher than the averages across Europe. Lung cancer is of special concern. While breast cancer rates have been low, they have recently been on the rise. The relationships between nutrition and cancer are becoming increasingly apparent in Kazakhstan as in other countries.13

At the same time, Kazakhstan has unusually strong capabilities to treat cancer, particularly with well-developed radiation techniques, which are attributable in large measure to its long involvement in Soviet nuclear programs. The staff members of the national cancer program that committee members met are well qualified to prescribe and conduct radiation and related therapy programs. A number of the young scientific leaders are up-to-date on international developments.

As to the development of new chemical therapies for cancer, Kazakhstan is involved in multinational trials, although further development of its national capabilities in this field is needed. Young scientists are deployed around the country, and they are providing a valuable service in obtaining new insights into detection and treatment of cancer.

Of course, the death tolls from other diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, also are of concern and may deserve priority as well. But from the committee’s observations of the country’s medical system, cancer therapy stands out as an area of particular interest. Strong support by the government should enable Kazakhstan to become a leader in the not too distant future in both R&D activities of global significance and treatment technologies and services for the entire Central Asian region.

Natural Products Chemistry

For several decades, scientists at the research and production center Phytochemistry in Karaganda have analyzed about 500 plant species indigenous to Kazakhstan. About one-half have been selected for detailed studies, and 1,000

13

Highlights of Health in Kazakhstan, World Health Organization, European Office, April 1999.

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
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promising compounds have been identified from these plants. Also, chemical modifications of about two dozen plant oils have been carried out. In short, there is a very active program that has received strong support from the government.

The committee is aware of the difficulty in discovering molecules with important medicinal qualities, particularly in laboratories that do not have the latest technologies for rapid screening of plant species. Efforts in countries with sophisticated scientific capabilities, such as China and India, have not yet had high returns after many years of effort. Indeed, skeptics sometimes characterize natural product chemistry as a low-probability effort. However, the payoffs from successful discoveries can be large, and Kazakhstani scientists have demonstrated that they have the capability to contribute significantly to the international search for high-payoff medicinal products.

Kazakhstan’s efforts have attracted broad international attention. The scientific leaders understand the hurdles from discovery of a new drug to market, the importance of disseminating findings through both the scientific literature and personal contacts, and the necessity of protecting discoveries through international patents. They recognize the need to work with foreign partners with better access to existing databases and potential customers. Indeed, major successes of their activities are more likely to be reflected in arrangements with foreign companies rather than in direct sales of their products.

Their best-known product to date is Arglabin, an antitumor drug. Phytochemistry has orders for 10 million ampules to be produced by 2009 for oncology clinics in Kazakhstan, several other Central Asian states, and Russia. Of the more than 770 patients who had been treated with Arglabin as of July 2006, reports indicate a 76 percent positive response rate.14

Other products also are being produced. They include wound-healing ointments, medicinal cosmetics, special health foods used in clinics, sweeteners, and antitoxicants. In addition, a number of products for the agricultural sector are of interest. Also, Kazakhstani researchers are just beginning to manipulate the molecular structures of naturally occurring species using modern genetic engineering techniques.

Kazakhstan has unique plant species and an inexpensive and experienced workforce. The potential payoff of success in this field is reflected in the intensive international interest in finding plant species with unusual curative powers.

Orthopedic Devices

The worldwide demand for prosthetic devices is on the rise. Maimed populations of war-torn areas will increasingly need such devices. In Kazakhstan and other countries, automobile accidents are resulting in an increase in demand.

14

Information provided by Phytochemistry, September 2006.

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
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Kazakhstani specialists have developed a network of international contacts who can help position the country to contribute its talents and products in response to this rising demand.

Kazakhstani researchers have been quite successful in drawing on the metallurgical capability of the country in the design and construction of prosthetic devices. The researchers are experienced in developing devices with unusual metallic properties that can be manufactured at low cost. For example, they have been particularly successful in designing artificial hips and knees and also with stapling devices to ensure the proper functioning of the prosthetic devices. Of course, greater international awareness of their capabilities is important, and the young staff members of key institutions recognize the need to reach foreign customers. At the same time, the government has been providing substantial financial support for their efforts. The enthusiasm of the research teams in response to this support is infectious.

Given the likely payoff from establishing a market niche in orthopedic devices, this field should be given priority status.

Agricultural S&T

Agriculture follows hydrocarbons and mining as the third most important economic sector of the country. Almost three-quarters of the country’s extensive land area is suitable for agricultural production. Most of this area is available for livestock grazing, while about 10 percent of the total land area is arable. Cereal grains and livestock are the most important commodities. Cotton, rice, and vegetables also are important, although they require extensive irrigation.

The fertile black soils of the plains and steppes in the northern part of the country coupled with adequate rainfall are the basis for rain-fed wheat production on a large scale. Consequently, Kazakhstan is the sixth-largest producer and the sixth-leading exporter of wheat. Wheat, in particular, is likely to become more important as countries with insufficient water supplies seek to import more cereal grains.

As to livestock, many rural dwellers, who represent a disproportionately large share of the country’s poor, are engaged in livestock production. In many cases, this is one of the few economic activities available to them.15

Turning to broader issues, many senior researchers will soon be retiring. There is only a limited cadre of midcareer scientists to take their places and an inadequate number of younger scientists in the pipeline. For maintaining their scientific strengths, the best institutions clearly depend on good ties with international groups, including the Consultative Group on International Agricultural

15

For additional information, see Analysis of the Tendencies in the Development of Agrarian Science in the World, Conditions and Perspectives for Its Development in Kazakhstan, Kazakhstan National Academy of Sciences, Department of Agrarian Science, Almaty, 2005.

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
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Research, United Nations agencies, and universities and research institutes in a number of countries. Most research is of a highly applied nature, and greater attention should be given in the years ahead to a stronger basic research agenda. The newly established National Center for Biotechnology is leading the effort in this regard, but its existing facilities need substantial renovation—both at the headquarters in Astana and elsewhere. It also needs upgraded laboratory equipment and higher salary levels to attract high-quality talent.

Priority status for agriculture is important to ensure that the required talent will be attracted to the field and that both exports and food products available for local consumption will continue to rise in quality and availability.

Cereal Grains

Kazakhstan has unique patterns of precipitation, drought, temperatures, and soil moisture conditions. Therefore, extensive research has long been under way to assess new varieties in test plots by examining both production and environmental variables. Committee members observed a number of test plots where varieties from many regions, extending from Siberia to Canada, had been crossed in the search for the most productive wheat varieties. Among the related research topics of interest are rotation schemes, fertilization approaches, plant protection methods, implications of minimum till, and soil restoration techniques. Researchers are pleased with their interactions with international research centers in all of these areas, and they correctly believe that the centers contribute a great deal to international science.

Laboratories are reasonably well equipped, although as previously noted there is an obvious absence of young talent working in the institutions. The National Center for Biotechnology is playing an important role in genetic engineering of different varieties of grains. This focus on basic science is a welcome complement to the applied nature of most research activities.

The income potential of grain exports and the importance of these crops to ensuring the livelihood of large segments of the population are strong reasons why the national research effort should continue to emphasize this field of activity.

Livestock Productivity

The livestock sector in Kazakhstan has several important advantages for increased income, more rapid growth, and expanded exports. They include underutilized pasture land, well-developed and inexpensive small farm production capacity, and inexpensive feed. Among the steps needed to develop the sector should be an emphasis on ensuring that the animals are healthy and that their meat and dairy products are of high quality. Diseases such as tuberculosis, brucellosis, and foot and mouth disease must be controlled, particularly if the export

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
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market is to develop. Also, factories that produce feed at international quality levels are needed. Greater attention to maintenance and improvement of pasturelands, including rotational grazing, and to breeding of strains of cattle and other livestock that are best suited to the pastureland are also research challenges.16

Kazakhstani research institutions have over many years developed a variety of diagnostic tests, vaccines, and drugs for use with livestock. For example, committee members observed significant work on antibody-based diagnostic assays (ELISA) for animal pathogens at the Agriculture University in Astana. Such research activities should continue, but they should be coupled with affordable veterinary services, particularly for the small private farmers who are increasingly important in this sector. Such services include field observations, laboratory testing, and recommendations as to vaccines and drugs that should be administered or developed.

Two arguments for improving livestock production—export potential and a direct linkage to alleviating poverty in rural areas—are strong. When coupled with the existing cadre of experienced specialists in the field of animal science, they call for priority status for this field.

Nutrition

Throughout the former Soviet Union, increases in cases of infectious and noninfectious diseases have been clearly linked to deterioration in the quality of nutrition. The linkages of these nutritional deficiencies to morbidity and mortality in Kazakhstan seem clear. For example, two-thirds of the population has a high risk of iodine deficiency, and the frequency of registered cases of endemic goiter in some regions of the country has reached levels between 60 and 90 percent. Almost one-half of women suffer from iron-deficiency anemia, and Kazakhstani epidemiologists have conducted many studies documenting the linkages between cancer and poor nutrition. Much of the attention over diets focuses on the health of children. Lack of vitamin A, particularly in the countryside, is a major concern.17

In addressing these issues, scientists support and facilitate breast feeding. They encourage dietary diversification. And they participate in public education programs. Nutritionists are particularly effective in engaging highly qualified medical personnel in their programs and advocacy efforts.

For several decades, improved nutrition has been high on the research agen-

16

Livestock of Kazakhstan, Joint Program of Government of Kazakhstan and World Bank, June 2004, Washington, D.C., provided by World Bank, July 2006. Also, Scientific Developments, Scientific-Production Center of Livestock and Veterinary Sciences, Almaty, 2006.

17

See, for example, Kazakh Academy of Nutrition, booklet, Kazakh Academy of Nutrition, Almaty, undated, obtained September 2006.

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
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da in Kazakhstan. A strong staff capability was inherited from the USSR, and capable researchers are carrying out well-conceived research tasks. Often, these tasks are coordinated with the United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Health Organization, and the research programs seem to be consistent with global priorities set by these organizations.

The importance of improved nutrition is clear, and the eating habits of the country’s population, particularly the youth, need considerable improvement. Researchers have had significant impact in working with mothers and infants, for which they have received many well-deserved commendations. Now the challenge is the broader population. Fortunately, Kazakhstan has the capability to continue to make research contributions of international scientific significance and of importance to the general population of the country.

Hydrocarbon Resources

According to Kazakhstani officials, investments in oil extraction in Kazakhstan since the mid-1990s are expected to exceed $80 billion within a decade. Opportunities to connect local S&T programs and the development of the human resource base of Kazakhstan with business activities that enable the country to become more economically competitive clearly exist in the hydrocarbon sector. These opportunities range from the assessment of reserves to the production of value-added products.

For example, due to its limited petrochemical capabilities, Kazakhstan imports gasoline, and the country has little capability to add value to its oil exports. The three operating refineries are reported to be “outdated and inefficient,”18 although modernization of at least one refinery is under way. Given the nation’s large hydrocarbon reserves, expansion of refining capabilities deserves much greater emphasis. Also, there are no facilities to transform hydrocarbon fractions into higher-value, lower-volume products close to the source of the oil reserves; this too is an area for emphasis. While upgrading and expanding the petrochemical infrastructure of the country will continue to involve international companies, local specialists and entrepreneurs can play an increasingly important role in the country’s efforts to guide the industry in directions that are consistent with national objectives.

As to other challenges, huge quantities of natural gas remain untouched in the ground. Large amounts are being flared at oil extraction sites. If this resource could be recovered in an economically feasible way, the payoff could be substantial.

The geological service of the country was disbanded during the 1990s, and

18

Oil and Gas Journal, July 10, 2006, p. 32.

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
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the government has very limited scientific capability to manage the nation’s hydrocarbon supplies. All detailed assessments are now in the hands of the international companies and government contractors that are engaged only for short-term projects (see recommendation for resource assessment unit on page 100).

The economic stakes are so large, the interests of Kazakhstan in effectively managing and participating in the development of its most valuable resources so important, and the S&T challenges so daunting that the development of hydrocarbon resources clearly deserves priority status.

Chemical Engineering

Stronger capabilities in chemical engineering are a key to increasing the value of the country’s oil and gas resources. An important opportunity is to modernize and expand oil refining capacity for gasoline, diesel, and fuel oil to meet domestic needs and for export, perhaps initially to other Central Asian countries. The existing chemical engineering courses at the universities should be upgraded to provide technical specialists for the industry and to develop strong R&D programs that in the long term can be of importance in addressing unique problems of the country. Hard-core chemical engineering (e.g., process design and unit operations) should be considered as an area of specialization at one or more selected universities.

Gas reserves that are not being utilized may present a special opportunity. The gas can be dehydrogenated to ethylene, which is the starting point for many plastics. Western chemical companies are already partnering with Middle East producers of vinyl chloride, polyethylene, and other products, and they would probably be interested in new opportunities in Kazakhstan, where raw material prices are low. Also, most natural gas is methane, which can be converted to methanol and higher molecular weight products through a gas-to-liquid process. Exports of these products to India and China might be feasible since pipeline initiatives are being considered in Kazakhstan. Of course, the quality of the available workforce and the related educational institutions as well as the reliability of existing analytical laboratories are significant determinants as to whether international companies will invest in Kazakhstan or in any country.

In view of the importance of the oil and gas sector and the near total reliance of Kazakhstan at present on imported technologies to develop and utilize petroleum resources, this field clearly deserves priority status.

Catalysis

A key to the yield and specificity of gas to liquid and of polymer processes is chemical catalysis. Research programs at the Institute of Catalysis, the Institute of Chemical Synthesis, and perhaps other institutions are relevant to these processes. Improving the instrumentation at these institutes (e.g., high-field nu-

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
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clear magnetic resonance, mass spectrometry) and providing incentives for students to pursue studies in catalysis, synthetic organic chemistry, and polymer science are important. In this regard, new technology for large-scale combinatorial testing of catalytic formulations that is being promoted by at least one U.S. firm is directly related to a focus on catalysis.

The petroleum industry would not be the only beneficiary of an emphasis on catalysis. Kazakhstan’s embryonic interests in nanotechnology could be linked to catalysis research efforts. The efficiency and specificity of some catalysts, for example, are strongly dependent on the catalyst’s particle size, morphology, and interaction with the support structure. For some processes, optimum sizes may be in the range of 100 nm. Nanoinstrumentation and methods could be used in catalysis applications. Also, improved catalyst formulations could be high-value, high-technology export products.

Catalysis has long been a strength of the Kazakhstani research community and deserves new impetus as the oil and gas sector continues to expand.

Assessments of Reserves

The importance of strong government scientific capabilities to assess the extent and quality of Kazakhstan’s hydrocarbon resources is increasing as new fields are opened and developed. While the government will not have the capabilities of the oil and gas companies in this regard, it needs to have internal capabilities to be able to confirm the reliability of data provided to it by the companies and to assess the significance of the data. The research agenda of the government should include the following topics: estimates of reserves of oil, gas, gas condensate, and associated components; seismic data interpretation and modeling; logging data interpretation; analysis of lithological and stratigraphical thickness formations and of local structures and fields; and geochemical analysis and characterization of oil and natural gas.19

The geological maps and related data produced by the academic and research institutions are useful, and their efforts should continue. But such products are not sufficiently detailed to help ensure the soundness of the government’s daily decisions concerning management of the nation’s most valuable natural resources. The priority that should be given to this field seems obvious.

Environmental Protection

Even a casual visitor to the Caspian region of the country quickly becomes aware of the ever-expanding environmental problems associated with the rapidly growing industrial activities linked to extraction and processing of oil and gas

19

Kaznigra, brochure, Kazakhstan Scientific Research Geological Survey Oil Institute, Atyrau, no date, obtained September 2006.

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
×

resources. Not only is the contamination directly attributable to the hydrocarbon processes, but large-scale construction projects and rapid urbanization are having significant side effects. The booming hydrocarbon and associated service companies have the financial resources to use modern technologies and environmentally sensitive approaches that will limit environmental damage. Kazakhstan has an opportunity to demonstrate to the world in a highly visible manner that it will not jeopardize its human and biological resources in a quest for greater national income.

Of course, capping the discharge of pollutants must be at the top of the list, and sophisticated technologies are needed in the assessment and reduction of effluents from construction, drilling, and processing activities. Already there are severe air pollution problems involving heavy metals; radionuclides; nitrogen, carbon, and sulfur oxides; and paraffin and unsaturated hydrocarbons. There are contamination threats of organic pollutants and heavy metals to ground and surface water, and heavy metals are being spread over large segments of the soil.

On a broader basis, detailed environmental impact assessments are needed to ensure that future investments do not cause serious problems. Disposal of waste products appears to be a serious problem. The possibilities for productive use of more than 10 million tons of sulfur that has accumulated from oil extraction activities is currently under active investigation.

According to Kazakhstani officials, appropriate environmental pollution standards have been established. But these officials readily admit that effective enforcement is lacking. According to local environmental officials, fines are levied when appropriate. However, as in many countries, it may be cheaper for companies to pay the fines than to take corrective actions. Also, committee members were informed that there are very limited laboratory capabilities, particularly in various regions of the country, to analyze the severity of pollution.

The importance of balanced and sustainable development of oil-rich regions of the country and of areas where the petrochemical industry is emerging are clear. The S&T community must play a central role in helping to ensure such responsible development. There are comparable environmental concerns in other areas as well, as discussed in the following section on minerals.

Minerals

Minerals have long been at the backbone of the economy. Copper, lead, and zinc have been important for many years; more recently aluminum, titanium, and manganese have emerged as important commodities. Unprocessed minerals currently account for 40 percent of the country’s exports (including uranium and related minerals discussed above). Seven percent of the nation’s industrial output is based on ferrous metallurgy and 13 percent on nonferrous metallurgy.

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
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Coal and lignite account for 2 percent of industrial production, and they serve as the backbone of the electricity-generating sector.20

A large number of research and educational institutions have long been in place to support the minerals industry. During Soviet times, they were reportedly very tightly linked to the state manufacturing enterprises. In recent years these linkages have weakened, but nevertheless there seems to be considerable synergy among the education, research, and production activities. At the same time, many of the production facilities are old, and the interests of scientists in developing advanced processes often do not match well with manufacturing realities.

Modernization of the minerals sector seems essential. As such efforts are undertaken, the S&T community should be in a position to contribute in a variety of ways.

Metallurgy

There are interesting aspects of the metallurgical complex in Kazakhstan. First, the country is a world leader in the analysis of new metals and alloys from rare-earth metals. Also, Kazakhstan manufactures very heavy duty metals and alloys. New kinds of hardware designs are of interest. Recycling and industrial processing of waste products are important.

Committee members visited several research laboratories that were engaged in both research and testing of materials and quality control activities for industry. Some of these services are provided to the state-owned companies free of charge, continuing the tradition that developed during the Soviet era.

Among the many research areas of interest are the following:

  • Ore beneficiation: gravity methods, ecologically clean flotation, magnetic separation.

  • Hydrometallurgy: leaching, ionic exchange, electrolysis, hydrothermal deposition.

  • Vacuum processes: pyro-selection, distillation, crystallography, continuous process equipment design.

  • Pyrometallurgy: chlorination, magnesium reduction, titanium alloys, agglomeration of materials, and magnetic separation.21

Assessment of Ore Deposits

Analogous to the discussion in a previous section on assessment of hydrocarbon reserves, the government of Kazakhstan should have strong internal ca-

20

Information provided by Kazakh National Technical University, September 2006.

21

For additional details, see The Institute of Metallurgy and Beneficiation, brochure, undated, Almaty, obtained July 2006.

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
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pabilities to assess the nation’s mineral ore deposits as a basis for developing policies concerning permissions for private companies to carry out exploration and extraction activities. These resources are important to the economy, and their wise development is a central issue for the government. Regrettably, the government does not have an internal capability to carry out detailed investigations of ore reserves or to confirm the findings of the private-sector companies. Also of critical importance is the ecological dimension of mining activities, and expertise on this topic should be readily available within the government.

Skills in carrying out gravity, magnetic, and electrical prospecting are essential components of geophysical investigations. The use of hydrogeology methods and reliance on nuclear geophysics are also important. In short, a strong institutional S&T capability that is always available to advise the government on its development policies is needed. This field deserves a new priority within the government of Kazakhstan.

Environmental Protection

The belching smoke from a metallurgical complex near Karaganda highlighted for committee members a pressing need to protect the health of the residents of areas of the country where mining and metallurgical activities are concentrated. Stringent enforcement of environmental regulations is needed in order to control activities throughout the process of extracting ore deposits and manufacturing metallic products. This need was a constant topic of conversation during the visit to Karaganda on a day when air pollution was high. According to Kazkhstani colleagues, a Soviet legacy of outmoded and heavy polluting production facilities has been compounded by construction of new large facilities since 2005 that also add to environmental problems.

Of special concern are the 8 billion tons of toxic industrial waste and secondary products that have accumulated over many decades from ore mining and processing activities. While the government contends that environmental management has become a national priority and that cleanup efforts are under way, the effects of this policy will take many years to substantially reduce the environmental hazards. Still, the S&T community should play an important role in helping to reduce the problems as quickly as possible. Among the areas where S&T efforts are essential are the following:

  • Water: purification, decontamination, remote monitoring and control of pollutant discharges, improved filters and pumps, and sludge control.

  • Air: reduction of air emissions (including particulates, SOx, NOx, and heavy metals), waste gas treatment and disposal, and protection of respiratory tracts.

  • Soil: treatment, rehabilitation, and reclamation.

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
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  • Waste: storage, sorting, and disposal technologies; processing and purification; and waste utilization.

  • Recycling: waste oil regeneration and waste as alternative energy sources.22

The problems are so severe that limiting them and cleaning up the problems of the past clearly deserve priority. As discussed in the section on environmental protection in the hydrocarbon sector, environmental protection is an urgent imperative for the country.

Water S&T

Adequate water—for human consumption, for household use, and for agricultural and industrial activities—is a critical commodity throughout the country. Four rivers flow into the country from Russia, and they provide much of the available water. In some areas, snow and rain fill important reservoirs, and groundwater is present in some regions.

Of course, the Aral Sea symbolizes how ecological catastrophes can result from poor water management programs. Lake Balkash is also receding. Unfortunately, the committee did not have the opportunity to investigate these two developments. However, many other organizations have documented the problems that are attendant to these ecological tragedies and have provided many recommendations to the government and international organizations concerning remedial actions.

Eighty percent of water consumption is devoted to irrigation. The major irrigated crops are fodder (primarily alfalfa), cereals, cotton, and sugar beets. Seventeen percent is devoted to industry and only 2 percent to household usage. About 85 percent of the water that is used is from surface water and 15 percent is from groundwater. A minor amount is from reuse. There are both regional and seasonal freshwater deficits that are often very serious. At the same time, the quality of water for consumption is highly questionable in some areas of the country, and an estimated 50 percent of the population uses drinking water that does not meet international standards of salinity and hardness. At times the population consumes water that does not meet bacteriological standards.23

There is no national research agenda for the development, conservation, and protection of water resources nor are there regional agendas. Many ministries are

22

For additional details, see Ecotech, www.ecotech.kz/en/2005/desc/#2, accessed September 20, 2006.

23

Kazakhstan: Antoine Blua, U.N. Report Highlights Poor State of Water Resources, www.refrl.org/featuresarticle/2004/01/710469a0, 8/16/2006, accessed September 3, 2006.

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
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involved, and many research organizations have their own agendas, which are often influenced by the availability of international funding. This lack of effective integration of research activities limits the effectiveness of the findings of individual projects. Indeed, international projects may be pointing in different directions from national projects. Of particular concern, the use of groundwater and the use of surface water are often considered separate problems even when they service the same areas, and little attention is given to conjunctive use of these resources.

The relationships among water, agricultural, and environmental issues are manifold. Thus, appropriate use of S&T in the assessment and management of water resources can have broad impacts on many sectors of the economy, and this area deserves priority status.

Irrigation Systems

Irrigated acreage is concentrated in several basins, particularly the Syr-Darya Basin. Seventy percent of the water available for irrigation is from transboundary water sources. Possible diversion of water by upstream users is understandably a constant concern. The origins of irrigation water are primarily river diversion, reservoir sources, and pumping from rivers. Small amounts of irrigation water come from drainage water and groundwater, although groundwater resources are usually too deep or too saline. There is no fully private irrigation, with various levels of government involved in the irrigation schemes depending on the size of the irrigation project.

During the past several decades, Kazakhstani specialists have developed a wide array of irrigation systems designed to reduce excessive water usage while improving water quality through reducing salt levels and cleansing out harmful pollutants. Among the technologies that have been developed and introduced into practice are finely dispersed overhead sprinkling equipment, low-pressure drip irrigation devices, hydro-automated water distribution systems, furrow hatchways, and water-lifting devices using hydro power. Management of water and salt content of soils is an area of interest. Also of interest are integrated water management approaches that involve such technologies as purification of water from suspended salt, flushing of mountain water intake units, and computer-based systems for water distribution on the basis of GIS (geographic information system) capabilities.24

Given the heavy population concentrations in areas where the people have become dependent on irrigation as the basis for their livelihoods, improvement of the efficiency of irrigation systems deserves high priority. Water is a com-

24

Scientific Research Institute for Water Resources, booklet, Taraz, 2006, www.kazIWR.isd.kz, accessed September 20, 2006.

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
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modity of ever-increasing importance, and it needs careful management and control.

Monitoring and Assessments of Water Quantity and Quality

Kazakhstani specialists are increasingly frustrated by the absence of reliable information on the state of the nation’s water resources. As the country continues to develop economically and as neighboring countries such as China require increasing amounts of water for their own consumption, it is essential that the government have improved information on the trends and future prospects for meeting the water needs of the population. The drinking water needs are of critical concern along with household, agricultural, and industrial needs.

Given the large size of the country, monitoring the conditions of the many sources of water is not an easy task. However, the scientific community recognizes the importance of GPS (global positioning system) and remote sensing technologies to assist in monitoring snowmelt, river levels, flooding conditions, and other parameters that are important in water quantity estimates. As to water quality in urban, industrial, and agricultural areas, a wide variety of measuring strategies are needed. Of course, the difficulty of assessing groundwater resources must be addressed. They are not subject to the whims of neighboring countries that seek a greater share of surface water resources, and this resource needs to be protected and used appropriately.

Good assessments of water quantity and quality are fundamental to management of one of the nation’s most important assets. The government needs an internal scientific capability to carry out such assessments. It simply cannot afford to rely on limited and disconnected projects of various research organizations to perform a task that requires continuous attention and close coupling to governmental decisions at all levels.

Protection and Remediation of Water Quality

The quality of water in many areas of Kazakhstan is on the decline. In some urban areas, the aging drinking water systems are becoming infiltrated with contaminants from sewage systems and other sources, and bottled water has become a best-selling item. The heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides has saturated large agricultural areas with runoff into groundwater resources and seepage into the groundwater. Industrial discharges and mine runoff have not been regulated as strictly as needed, with attendant pollution in streams and rivers.

In all of these areas, modern technologies can play a role in maintaining water purification and distribution systems that have been installed to ensure the quality of water and to prevent incursions of undesirable materials into water supplies. The starting point is water quality standards, and officials have stated

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
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that such standards are in place. Enforcement is, of course, critical if the standards are to be meaningful.

Past investments in water systems have been substantial. Maintaining and improving those systems deserve priority. While reducing environmental problems often seems to be of secondary importance to the rapid development of Kazakhstan’s technological capabilities, highly visible steps to ensure the safety of drinking water can be a stimulus for giving more attention to environmental problems that directly affect human lives.

Construction

The construction industry accounts for 6 percent of national income, and the industry’s growth rate has been over 20 percent in recent years. Thus, the importance of activities in this sector is clear. Most of these activities are dependent on S&T—a project’s design, the materials used, construction techniques, establishment of building codes, and quality control of the construction activities.

Construction takes many forms—buildings, houses, highways, tunnels, mines, power stations, dams, production complexes. It involves many materials—wood, metal, plastics, glass, and concrete, for example. In many areas there are opportunities for innovation to cut costs and improve performance. In short, Kazakhstan’s architects and engineers have an unprecedented opportunity to contribute to rapid development of the country while local investors and builders have the challenge of weighing the costs and benefits of using local goods and services in competition with or in conjunction with imported goods and services.

Given the importance of this sector and the opportunities to use local S&T capabilities more extensively, construction deserves priority status.

Seismic-Resistant Structures

About 1.5 million people live in the Almaty area. The city is a hub for most business activities in the country and for many governmental activities. Key institutions of all types are located in the area. Yet this city is in a highly seismic-active region. If a large earthquake were to occur, the death toll could be substantial and the disruption massive. Predictions indicate that earthquakes will continue to take place in and near the city.

The danger of seismic activity exists in other regions as well, particularly southwest of Almaty, where a serious earthquake occurred in 2003, killing several dozen residents and seriously damaging structures in rural areas. In short, the likelihood of major earthquake damage in the future is high.25 While build-

25

See, for example, Lessons from Lugovsky Earthquake of May 2003, for Kazakhstan, United Nations Development Programme, Almaty, 2004.

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
×

ing codes have been developed and seismic-resistant designs are being introduced as new structures are built, the problems of retrofitting existing facilities to reduce earthquake damage are particularly daunting.

Among the S&T challenges are the following:

  • Evaluations of earthquake-resistant capabilities of existing buildings in urban areas, including strength and lifetimes of materials, joining of beams and pilings, adequacy of anchor bolting, and stairwell designs.

  • Strengthening transportation facilities, including bridges and overpasses.

  • Analysis of soil and foundation conditions and adapting designs of new buildings accordingly.

  • Upgrading earthquake resistance of schools, hospitals, government buildings, and low-cost housing in rural areas, particularly unreinforced masonry structures.

  • Assessing the capabilities of buildings to support roofing material in earthquake conditions.

  • Construction in regions where mining activities have penetrated foundation areas.

  • Protection of lifelines that are important in the aftermath of earthquakes, including power, communication, and water systems as well as fire suppression and other first-responder facilities.

An impressive national seismic network is in place that provides important information on earthquake trends and past episodes. The seismic data that have been collected have been used to prepare vulnerability maps in regions throughout the country and in microregions in urban areas, particularly Almaty. In the event of an earthquake in a populated region, real-time seismic data will be important in anticipating aftershocks and in identifying affected areas of particular concern. Thus, seismic research and monitoring capability remains important, but a new emphasis is needed on seismic-resistant engineering activities.

Given the threat to life and property involving more than 10 percent of the nation’s population and the opportunities for Kazakhstani specialists to be important participants in worldwide efforts to reduce damage from earthquakes, priority support should be given to the S&T community, which is responsible for upgrading the capabilities of the nation to reduce damages from future earthquakes.

Construction Materials

At present a large percentage of construction material is imported. One estimate is that less than one-half of needed materials are available locally. This orientation toward foreign suppliers has been particularly important in the oil and gas sectors where enormous construction works have been under way.

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
×

Often local materials are not considered to be up to international standards. Thus, many materials have been imported from China, Turkey, and Germany. Even as the government presses for import substitution, there is frequently a reluctance to rely on the quality of local products.

At the same time, there are significant stocks of raw materials available locally for manufacture of building materials. For example, concrete, high-quality cement, brick, and slate can readily be obtained from local raw materials. Many types of woods and metals are available locally. Polymer materials must still be imported, but there are opportunities for processing these materials locally in ways that meet the needs of the building industry. Thus, it is not surprising that new products are emerging, such as fiberglass insulation material, roofing and waterproofing products, energy-efficient glass, aluminum extrusion, and engineering equipment. In a sense, imports have greatly contributed to stimulation of the domestic construction industry.26

Upgrading of a broad range of civil engineering activities is warranted. Of particular importance are research and design programs targeted on growth areas in the construction field, such as transportation systems, development of management and contracting skills, exploration of innovative approaches to foundation engineering, and application of new techniques for mining construction. Quality is key. Scientists and engineers are essential in raising the quality of products.

AREAS THAT DESERVE MORE DETAILED ASSESSMENTS

The committee had the opportunity to visit a few energy-related research facilities and to discuss with colleagues a variety of approaches to improve the application of S&T resources in addressing important energy issues. Four S&T-related areas stood out as deserving more detailed attention. Successful applications of S&T in these areas should facilitate economic progress and improve the health and safety of the general population.


1. The engineering research community seems to have good linkages with the power generation companies, and a number of investigations at the universities and research institutes are under way to improve the efficiency of the electrical power system. For example, university-based chemistry studies of corrosion of boilers and development of methods to combat corrosion seem important. Also, studies of the advantages and costs of installing higher voltage electrification grids build on the extensive experience of the USSR in this area. Given the increasing demands for electricity-generating and distribution capabilities and the apparent technological stagnation in this sector during the past 15 years, the

26

“Architecture/Construction/Engineering Services,” U.S. Commercial Service, Kazakhstan, 2005, www.butusa/kazakhstan/en/architecture.html, accessed September 30, 2006.

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
×

payoff from expanded R&D efforts in these and other fields should be carefully considered.

2. Committee members were in Karaganda the day following a deep underground methane explosion that killed about 50 coal miners near the city. This accident was a tragic reminder of the importance of using the latest technologies to ensure the safety of miners in a country that is heavily dependent on coal to fuel its power plants. The committee is unaware of the specific technologies that are currently used in the coal mines of Kazakhstan. But given the dangers associated with coal mining and the economic importance of coal, coal mining safety should be carefully evaluated to determine whether sufficient priority is being given to ensuring that available technologies and well-demonstrated methods are being adequately used to reduce the likelihood of accidents. These approaches include not only technologies directly linked to the mining process (e.g., limestone dusting of walls, spraying of mine faces to reduce coal dust) but also techniques to ensure continuous and sufficient airflow, clearly marked and available exit routes, and the availability of safety equipment underground.

3. From the geographical and meteorological points of view, Kazakhstan seems to be an appropriate country to develop wind power in some regions. Wind power cannot compete economically with power from coal that feeds into large electrical grids, even though there would be environmental advantages. In some circumstances wind power may have economic advantages in serving small local markets. Kazakhstani specialists have proposed that former defense-oriented machine plants in the country that are no longer being used to capacity may be able to produce components of wind turbines, perhaps in cooperation with Western companies, at relatively low cost. A few Kazakhstani specialists and their international partners that are currently supported through the World Bank’s Global Environmental Facility have ambitious plans to develop wind power. The costs and technical feasibility of their plans should be carefully examined. A few economic success stories could certainly increase interest in wind energy—in Kazakhstan and elsewhere.27

4. Energy conservation apparently has not been high on the government’s agenda. However, as has been shown in the United States and elsewhere, easy-to-implement steps—whether required by regulation or adopted by consumers simply to save money—might have significant impacts in reducing energy usage. On the technological front, improved insulation in buildings, standards that require efficient heating and air-conditioning systems, and glass that transmits light but reduces transmission of heat are examples of energy-saving approaches that are proving effective. While the relevant financial, organizational, and social conditions are undoubtedly unique in Kazakhstan, this topic deserves greater attention by both the policy and technical communities.

27

Project document: Kazakhstan Windpower Market Development Initiative, United Nations Development Programme and Global Environmental Facility, KAZ/02, 2003-2006, obtained from the World Bank, July 2006.

Suggested Citation:"2 Science and Technology Priorities." National Research Council. 2007. Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11808.
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