TPU most cited scientist talks about secrets of molecular spectroscopy and publication activity

In 2019, Oleg Ulenekov, professor of the TPU Research School of High-Energy Physics, became the scientist with the highest Hirsch index (40) at TPU. His team is engaged in the field of molecular spectroscopy. Prof. Ulenekov presented the most important scientific achievements of his group in 2019, the secrets of a successful research paper, and the ways spectroscopy provides in space exploration.

Photo: Prof. Ulenekov research team presented the Tomsk school of spectroscopy at the Colloquium on High-Resolution Molecular Spectroscopy in France

— Oleg Nikolaevich, tell us what is your current research challenge?

 Photo: Prof. Oleg Ulenekov

— We are focused at two main areas. The first is the study of the fundamental properties of substances by spectroscopy methods. The second one is the development of spectroscopy methods for astrophysics, planetology, and search for exoplanets. In fact, spectroscopy methods are the only way to obtain information about other planets for current science. The spectra are like fingerprints for molecules. Analyzing their characteristics we can find out, for example, the composition of the atmosphere on a planet and other facts. We do not study other planets, it is business of astrophysicists, astrochemists and other researchers. We provide spectral data to international databases so others can use it to make their discoveries.

We are especially interested in isotopologues, it is molecules that differ only in isotopic composition. For example, isotopologues of sulfur oxide, hydrogen sulfide, and ethylene. Each of these parent molecules has about a dozen isotopic modifications. For now, I can say with confidence that our team is a world leader in these three molecules. We have significantly upgraded international databases with the information on a number of their isotopologists.

What were the most important scientific achievements for your team this year?

— Currently, our team consists of three professors, two associate professors, and several PhD students. Over the year, we published 16 articles in international journals, and I am talking only about the Q1 journals. The most important publications dealt with our new method to determine the concentration and partial pressure of isotopologues of a gas mixture. The spectral lines have three key characteristics: position, intensity, and halfwidth of the line. The intensity, the second one, is almost the most important. It is intensity that helped to find information about the temperature on Neptune or pressure on Venus. It is challenging when it comes to high-precision measurement of this characteristic in a gas sample, where there is a whole mixture of isotopologists. There has not been an accurate method available. We offered our tools, published works, and already managed to conduct several experiments using it. Researchers in USA, Germany, and France have already applied our method.

Is there any team you align with or with whom would you especially like to collaborate?

—  The global community of molecular spectroscopists is not very large. For now, we areperhaps at the level when others want to align with us. Speaking of teams we would like to collaborate with,there are such groups at the Technical University of Braunschweig (Germany) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich and we already collaborate with them.

— What is the secret ingredient of a good scientific article for a good journal?

— I am afraid my answer will disappoint you. There is no specific instruction that ensures your publication in Science. There is no magic button. The level of scientific results is still the core element. If you discover something truly new and interesting for the world scientific community or significantly improve what you already have, you will be published in a good journal. On another hand, if the result is mediocre, then the publication will hardly be impressive.

— There is no secret at all? Do you believe that academic writing is a learnable skill?

— Yes, there is no secret. The main thing in a young researcher's career is to find a promising team.

— How to find this very team? It sounds like this is a real life-changing moment ...

— Yes, it is. This is both fate and luck. However, this does not mean that you just have to sit and wait. I believe that students should visit different groups during their studies, look around, work a little to understand what they want and make a conscious choice.

— What is the most respectful journal in your scientific field now? Frankly speaking, would you like to publish in Science?

— For now, our journal with the highest impact factor is the Journal of Quantitative Spectroscopy & Radiative Transfer. Speaking of Science… Of course, it would be great. However, I recall only one publication in Science on molecular spectroscopy. Let me explain, to build a tank we need steel and we produce it. However, a prize for the tank development will be awarded to its designers. Nevertheless, it does not detract from the significance of our work. We understand that other researchers need us.