Scientists from Russia Invigorate U.S. Work Fresh Approaches, Talent Pour from Ex-Soviet `Brain Drain'

By Suzanne Possehl 1995, National Geographic News Service | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), January 21, 1995 | Go to article overview

Scientists from Russia Invigorate U.S. Work Fresh Approaches, Talent Pour from Ex-Soviet `Brain Drain'


Suzanne Possehl 1995, National Geographic News Service, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


CAREER COUNSELOR Stephen Rosen's class rosters read more like a Who's Who in Science than a list of newly arrived Russian immigrants.

Among his students are physicians, lawyers, engineers, physicists, computer programmers and mathematicians.

They're just a sampling of the talent that has poured into the United States in the last few years through the Russian "brain drain."

Rosen, a theoretical physicist, says, "There is a great tradition of innovation and accomplishment that comes from the former Soviet Union."

Through his Scientific Career Transitions Program at the Workmen's Circle, a Jewish fraternal group, Rosen has helped more than 500 professionals, most of them Russian Jews, find jobs.

Across the United States, highly educated Russian immigrants are moving into top positions at prestigious universities and laboratories. They are revitalizing research and helping solve some problems that have stumped American scientists for years.

According to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 218,561 citizens of the former Soviet Union legally immigrated to the United States between 1983 and 1993. The INS estimates that an additional 9,000 entered illegally.

Ronald Graham, adjunct director of research at AT&T Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J., says, "If you go around the Harvard campus, Russian is the second language. The same is true for the University of California at Berkeley and some other universities."

Adrian Parsegian of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., says, "You can't go to a science meeting without hearing Russian being spoken in many corners." Parsegian has recruited several Russians whose backgrounds in physics and chemistry have helped American biologists better understand the forces that control living cells.

Russians make up the fastest-growing legal immigrant population in the United States. Since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, more new arrivals have come from Russia than from anywhere else except China, the Philippines and Vietnam.

In New York City, 90 percent of all refugees receiving welfare are Russian, says Marjorie Valleau of the Office of Human Resources.

Most of the former Soviet citizens are professionals, says Roald Hoffmann, a Nobel laureate and chemistry professor at Cornell University. "Many of them have entered the mainstream of science. Their children have become some of our best graduate students."

But many others, he adds, are driving taxis in New York.

Harley Balzer of Georgetown University, an authority on Russian science and technology, says, "If a scientist emigrates to America and keeps working in his field, he is not a loss. But if a scientist leaves his job and starts selling ice cream in a kiosk, he is a loss."

Alexander Kaplan's loss was brief. When he left Moscow 15 years ago, Kaplan worked nights in a book bindery in Boston for $4 an hour so that he could do unpaid research during the day at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. …

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