Have you had a close friendly relationship since childhood?
In general, yes. Apart from three broken fingers, that I broke on several occasions thanks to this young man (laughs). As is typical for twins, we have always competed, fought for a place under the sun. But this does not mean that we were far from each other, on the contrary – always together, and all our achievements are formed by complementing each other. At the same time, our activities and systematic approach are different, we are very different from each other – in terms of character, as well.
How long have you been keen on chemistry?
We've been in love with chemistry all our life. But, funnily enough, the only С in our academic transcript from university that we both have is for colloid chemistry. Although it is chemistry that we have been doing all our life.
Our parents were against us choosing to become scientists. So we used to secretly participate in the “young chemists club”. When it came to applying to university and we firmly decided that we want to do science, our elder brother Vasily helped us convince our parents that it was the right choice for us. In the end, our parents supported our decision.
How did being together help you study?
When we were studying at university, we were actively making money. For example, we received our first income from the sale of cheat sheets. There was also a lot of other work, so we shared responsibilities. I worked, and Volodya was responsible for studying.
Have you ever taken exams for each other?
Yes, and there is an amusing story. Our teacher for crystal chemistry was very strict when it came to taking exams and it was impossible to cheat. Volodya passed and got a B. According to the teacher, my brother should have studied harder. Then, after changing his clothes and hairstyle, Volodya went to take the exams as me and got an A. The teacher openly said that this was one of the best answers he had heard in his life and asked a fair question: Why did Volodya prepare so poorly if you, Alexander, know everything perfectly? We often remember this story.
How did your international activity start?
The funny thing is that before entering graduate school we had never been abroad, and our first trip was funded with money from a grant we won in the competition of young scientists, held by the Russian Foundation for Fundamental Research. We both applied for participation in a conference in Brazil and received approval. After defending PhD theses, we left to work outside of Russia.
Why did you decide to return in 2014?
Frankly speaking, we did not plan to return. I had a good position in Germany and Volodya, in Israel. And although we have always loved Russia and continued to do so, going back did not interest us, but at the same time, we really wanted to make a joint laboratory in Europe.
Why did you decide to open a laboratory specifically at ITMO University?
While abroad, I suddenly received an email from Nikolay Toivonen (Vice-Rector of ITMO University in 2008-2014 – Ed.) with a request to contact him. Through mutual friends, he was told that there are two guys who work abroad, have good publications, and so on. But we were not going to return and did not react to the letter at all for two months. Who and why will I call while in Germany? We were confident that in Russia, in principle, there was no possibility of direct communication with Rectors and Vice Rectors. Nevertheless when we arrived home, some time later, we got in touch with Nikolai Rudolfovich. He invited us to participate in the competition to create a laboratory within the walls of the university. And since we love Russia very much and sincerely believe that this is the best place for young scientists in the world, we decided not to refuse such a chance. In the end, a joint laboratory has always been our dream. So we ended up at ITMO University. Now we are in third place in chemistry and chemical technology in Russia, according to "Expert RA".
Why did you divide the spheres of activity within the cluster?
A year ago in this office Volodya sat right in front of me. We saw each other every day. Now his office is very far away, and we severely lack communication. We started working on the laboratory together. Right after it began to fully function, we went into the areas of research that are most interesting to each of us. Our scientific work is different, but we have always used almost the same materials. I understand very well what Volodya does, and he understands what I do, but now we find out about each others research only when we run into each other.
Is being related to someone at work an advantage or is it more of an inconvenience?
For us, personal relationships have never been an interference. Since birth, our parents said: you won’t have anyone closer than your brother. Of course, there were quarrels, but we never fell out for more than two weeks and always found a solution. It's important to have someone you fully trust around. And I will never doubt that I can count on my brother for something and nothing will go wrong.
Do you often spend time together outside of SCAMT?
We have the “Golden rule of the three brothers”. Every 2-3 months for a few days we leave the walls of the cluster and spend time with our third brother. What's more is that we have to meet in places different to where we are living, usually outside Russia, and no other family members come, only us. However, often the trip is accompanied by some other kind of work. We also love mushroom hunting and love children. But our main home is unquestionably still SCAMT.
This interview was taken originally in Russian by Daria Lampadova for Megabyte Media.
Translated and adapted by David Prowse.