Participants at the Royal Society-Russian Academy of Sciences workshop on black holes, 10 April 2017

Relations between the UK and Russia have come under strain recently. At the same time, both countries are among the world’s leading scientific nations, and their combined expertise is crucial in order to answer fundamental questions about the nature of our universe.

Earlier this week, a highly distinguished line-up of leading scientists, including Stephen Hawking, Professor Lev Zelenyi, Director of the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Lord Rees, Astronomer Royal and former President of the Royal Society, came together at the Kavli Royal Society International Centre at Chicheley Hall for a high level discussion on “100 years of black holes”.

The discussion commemorated the centenary of Karl Schwarzchild’s solution to Einstein’s field equations, which first predicted the existence of black holes. It was convened by the Royal Society and the Russian Academy of Sciences and co-chaired by Professor Andrew Fabian OBE FRS, Acting Director of the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge, and Professor Gennady Bisnovatyi-Kogan, Space Research Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences. It was the second meeting under an ongoing partnership which brings together scientists from both countries to explore opportunities for scientific collaboration and exchange, and was one of a number of events taking place under the UK-Russia Year of Science and Education.

The partnership continues a long tradition of good relations between the Royal Society and its Russian counterparts, which dates back to the time of Peter the Great and has endured throughout difficult times in the overall bilateral relationship. During the Cold War, for example, the Society hosted a high profile visit by Yuri Gagarin and maintained good links with the Soviet Academy of Sciences.

This all forms part of a wider history of ‘science diplomacy’, a concept which recognizes the positive role scientific collaboration can play in helping to build and maintain relations between countries during times of political tension. Examples of this range from Humphrey Davy FRS visiting France to continue studying new elements and electricity during the Napoleonic Wars, the role of scientific expertise in the recent Iran nuclear deal, and the Society’s collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and partners in North Korea to support a groundbreaking research collaboration there.

The Society’s next engagement with Russia will explore this in more depth. From 18-19 May, the Society and the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (RFBR) will hold a high-level roundtable on science diplomacy in Moscow. Sir Peter Gluckman FRS, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Chair of the International Network of Government Science Advice (INGSA), and winner of the 2015 AAAS award for science diplomacy, will lead the Society delegation, with the Russian side co-chaired by Anatoly Torkunov, Rector of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO-University). The aims of the meeting are to promote mutual learning on the relationships between science and policy in leading scientific nations, to explore how science can enhance national, regional and international interests, and to bring together leading UK and international scientists and science advisers with their Russian counterparts.

The Royal Society and RFBR are also currently inviting applications from scientists looking to stimulate new collaborations through their international exchanges scheme.