A son of celebrity parents who was a musician in his youth, a successful scientist and Secretary General of the World Academy of Art and Science – the only global institution of its kind – and President of the Serbian Chapter of the Club of Rome, Nebojša Nešković, speaks about his family, his job and the possibility of the Vinča Institute of Nuclear Sciences to be placed on a healthy footing
His family represents a great historical lineage, the likes of which are tough to recognise in Serbia today. His father, Blagoje Nešković, was a fighter in the Spanish Civil War and World War II, Prime Minister of Serbia and later Deputy Prime Minister of Yugoslavia as well as the founder of the Communist Party of Serbia, who spent the longest time working as a physician and scientist. Nebojša’s mother, Branislava Brana Perović Nešković, also fought in World War II, and then had a professional career as a top researcher in the field of atomic physics, working at the Vinča Institute of Nuclear Sciences and serving as its director. Interestingly, Brana’s great-grandfather Andrija Perović, a Montenegrin from the Cuce clan, married the sister of Petar II Petrović Njegoš, Marija, after which Njegoš named him as a member of his Senate. Brana’s sister, Lepa, was the life partner of Koča Popović.
Nebojša’s wife, Vesna Vučinić Nešković, is the daughter of Mihailo Vučinić, a physician who was among the founders of modern cardiovascular surgery in Serbia and who performed more than 5,000 open-heart surgeries. She is a professor at the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Belgrade. The son of Vesna and Nebojša, Mihailo (who carries his paternal grandfather’s partisan name and that of his maternal grandfather), is a successful young vascular surgeon who works at the Dedinje Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases, of which his maternal grandfather was one of the founders. Their daughter, Marta, graduated with a degree in physics with mathematics from Paris’s Sorbonne, France, while she enrolled to complete her doctoral studies at the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade. She has spent the last two years living at China’s Shaolin Monastery, preparing her doctoral dissertation on the connection between mind and body in Chinese Buddhism today – through kung fu.
Nebojša Nešković (70) was born in Belgrade’s Užička Street, where Josip Broz Tito and most of the top state and party leaders of his time lived. He was three years old when his father went from holding the high-level post of Deputy Prime Minister of Yugoslavia to fall into political oblivion. Josip Broz was very soft on him if we consider how others who came into conflict with him faired. After leaving politics, Blagoje Nešković returned to medicine, which he had abandoned upon his departure to Spain. He became a top scientist in the field of the molecular biology of tumours. He was also director of the Oncological Institute of Serbia:
“I remember my parents as scientists. My father returned to medicine at the age of 45, completed two residencies, dedicated himself to oncology and earned his PhD degree. I remember the large table in the living room, where father sat at one end with his papers and mother sat at the other end with hers. We kids, my two sisters and I, were raised at that table. It was only sometimes, very rarely, that they would talk about politics, and I was catching that on the fly. I later began looking through numerous documents that I found at home in order to form my own picture of my father’s political career.”
In high school I played in three rock bands. During that period I performed organ music publicly, mainly the works of Johann Sebastian Bach. At the end of high school, I abandoned music and devoted myself to my studies. My goal of dealing with science existed in my life plans since primary school
In parallel with primary school and high school, Nebojša also completed primary and high music schools – playing the piano: “In high school, I played in three rock bands. During that period I performed organ music publicly, mainly the works of Johann Sebastian Bach. At the end of high school, it was clear to me that I would have to abandon music and seriously devote myself to my studies. My goal of devoting myself to science existed in my life plans since primary school while dealing with music, as I believed, could have prevented me from achieving that goal.”
He opted to study electrical engineering whilst still in high school. At the end of the fourth year of his studies, he spent about two months of practice at the Culham Laboratory, near Oxford, UK, which is one of the world’s largest laboratories for research of plasma and controlled thermonuclear fusion. During those two months, he participated in the final part of an experiment which simulated the interaction of solar wind with the Moon. And after that experience he definitively opted to deal with physics:
“In late 1982, I went for my postdoctoral studies at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in Tennessee, USA, which is one of the largest and most powerful scientific institutions in the world. I spent around a year and a half there, in a desire to see the extent to which I would be able to deal with basic research on my own. The goal – following the basic determination of Milutin Milanković – was to “find an uninhabited scientific landscape and acquire my own humble scientific estate.”
The main result of that stay was the theoretical, and then experimental, the discovery of the effect of crystal rainbow, which is analogous to the effect of the meteorological rainbow. A meteorological rainbow occurs when light, or photons, are scattered by droplets of water in the atmosphere, while a crystal rainbow occurs when charged particles are transmitted through channels of crystals. Otherwise, rainbows also occur in the scattering of atoms by atoms and molecules, nuclei by nuclei, and atoms from crystal surfaces. We found that the appearance of a crystal rainbow is a typical complex phenomenon – it clearly shows that a crystal is more than a simple sum of the atomic serials of which it is composed. These results opened up an area of research that we dubbed physics of thin crystals. I’m still dealing with problems in that area today.”
Following the basic commitment of Milutin Milanković, my next basic determination was to “find an uninhabited scientific landscape and acquire my own humble scientific estate.” The main result of that was the theoretical, and then experimental, discovery of the effect of crystal rainbow, which is analogous to the effect of meteorological rainbow
In the first half of 1990, CorD’s interlocutor spent three months at the Institute for Advanced Scientific Research, in Bures-sur-Yvette, near Paris. He was invited by mathematician René Thom, the founder of catastrophe theory and a holder of the Fields Medal, the world’s highest award in mathematics (equivalent to a Nobel Prize in other fields). The purpose of the stay was to apply catastrophe theory, which is a global theory models, to the crystal rainbows:
“We showed that it was a typical catastrophic phenomenon, which means that the abrupt change of the intensity of transmitted charged particles in transitioning from the light to the dark side of the rainbow is described in a simple, accurate and universal way. René Thom considered that result to represent one of the best examples of the applicability of catastrophe theory in the microcosm.”
In August 1989, immediately after the closure of the second Yugoslav nuclear programme, the Government of Serbia decided to build the TESLA Accelerator Installation in Vinča. The main planned programme of use of TESLA was a production of radiopharmaceuticals for diagnostics and therapy in medical centres in Serbia. In January 1991, Nebojša took over the leadership of the project of construction and preparations for use of the facility, which was named the TESLA Project:
“The control of the construction of TESLA was conducted by a top international committee headed by Günther Plass, from the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), in Geneva, Switzerland, while the control of preparations for its use was performed by a top international committee headed by Yuri Oganessian, from the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR), in Dubna, Russia. An active role in the work of both bodies was also played by Alexander Zucker, from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. However, despite this, the construction of TESLA progressed with frequent and long delays due to irregular and insufficient funding, mainly due to the enduring serious political and economic crisis in the country.
In November 2007, the Government of Serbia decided to suspend financing of the construction from the budget and to continue it on the basis of Russia’s clearing debt to Serbia. That decision was made on the basis of a report of a committee whose members were completely incompetent for the field of construction and use of accelerators, and who deliberately and completely ignored numerous reports of the two international bodies that were officially responsible for controlling the construction and preparations for use of the facility. That was a real magnum crimen in Serbian science, which – in my opinion – was done at the behest of a strong interest group from the country or abroad. By that time, spending on the construction of TESLA had reached 14.77 million euros. More than 75% of those funds went to the Serbian companies that participated in the construction. Following that Government decision, Vinča focused on upgrading the low-energy part of TESLA, which we named FAMA, on the basis of the clearing debt.
“I think that the completion of construction of TESLA as a whole, with a programme of research, development and education linked to the fourth industrial revolution, should be one of the main goals of Serbian science.”
In June 2014, the European Commission established the Central European Research Infrastructure Consortium (CERIC). It encompassed four large facilities, in Trieste, Krakow, Budapest and Zagreb, and four specialised laboratories, in Graz, Prague, Bucharest and Ljubljana. CERIK functions by each country involved providing the necessary resources to operate and maintain its infrastructure or laboratory, while the European Commission provides funds for the travel and stay of each user group of that infrastructure or laboratory during the experiment. User groups come from included countries and others, while their experiments are approved on the basis of applications to calls prescribed by CERIC:
“In October 2017, CERIC included FAMA too, the low-energy part of TESLA, but only on condition that its upgrading is completed within two years, based on the clearing debt. This requirement should have been jointly fulfilled by Vinča and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development, the Ministry of Finance and the Government of Serbia. Unfortunately, despite Vinča’s continued insistence, this has not been fulfilled, even despite the fact that the inclusion of FAMA in CERIC represents one of the greatest institutional successes of Serbian science to date. I think that a strong interest group from the country or abroad is preventing the utilising of this extraordinary opportunity for Serbia’s long-term institutional integration into the European Research Area. I hope that, in the end, FAMA will permanently join CERIC, and that long-term interest of Serbian science will thus prevail.”
Serbia became an associate member of CERN (in Geneva, Switzerland) in March 2012 and a full member in March 2019. As a result, since 2019, it has been obliged to pay around CHF three million a year to the organisation’s budget as a membership fee. On the basis of this, Serbian enterprises have the right to apply to public calls published by CERN for the offers for delivery of goods and provision of services.
However, the value of jobs thus obtained is currently significantly less than the membership fee paid. And Nebojša Nešković also reacted to this:
“In May 2017, within the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia, based on our initiative, the Group for Accelerator Technology was founded. It is currently composed of 24 Serbian companies that are interested in the development and application of accelerator technologies. The Group’s goals are to contribute significantly to increasing Serbia’s industrial returns from CERN and to link this cooperation to the country’s technological development. The group also focused on obtaining accelerator construction jobs at JINR (in Dubna, Russia), and within CERIC, also on the basis of Serbia’s membership in these organisations. This means that it has linked itself to three major high-tech institutions in which works are typically acquired by enterprises from member countries, with the aim of those links becoming entrance tickets to the global market. However, the experience of developed European countries shows that works in the field of accelerator technologies on foreign markets can only be obtained in the long term if these technologies are developed and applied domestically. In the case of Serbia, this can be provided with the completion of construction and the efficient use of TESLA, which would also enable the transformation and survival of Vinča.”
I think that the completion of construction of TESLA as a whole, with a programme of research, development and education linked to the fourth industrial revolution, should be one of the main goals of Serbian science
The public is well aware that Vinča, the largest scientific institution in Serbia, has spent the last about ten years in a programming and organisational crisis. In July 2009, the Public Company ‘Nuclear Facilities of Serbia’ (NFS) was separated from the Institute. Vinča’s main problem is the completion of construction of TESLA, while the main problems for NFS is the decommissioning of the RA and RB Reactors and the removal of the radioactive waste stored on the site to a (permanent) depository somewhere in Serbia. In response to all of this, Nebojša suggests:
“The initial step that needs to be taken to begin solving the noted problems of Vinča and NFS is their transformation through the establishment of the Vinča Science and Business Park, which would be a business associate of institutes, public companies and private enterprises for basic and applied research, development of methods and technologies, production, and provision of services in the fields of natural and technical sciences, radiation research, and science with accelerators from the country and abroad. The founder of the Park should be the National Assembly of Serbia, at the proposal of the Government of Serbia, and that should be done according to a special law that would include a series of measures for encouraging its swift expansion, involving primarily small and medium-sized enterprises interested in the development of advanced technologies.
“The proposal to form the Vinča Science and Business Park was provided in September 2012 by myself and Ilija Plećaš, a former Vinča Director. I hope that the current management of Vinča will have the strength to include it in its long-term programme and to propose it to the Government of Serbia as soon as possible.”
Nešković’s successful activities are also reflected in the World Academy of Art and Science, which is the only global institution of its kind. Composed of about 700 individuals from all over the world, who have been selected on the basis of their outstanding contributions to natural, social and humanistic sciences, and arts. The Academy was founded by prominent individuals in 1960, on the initiative of Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer, and is a global forum for scientists and artists to freely discuss the vital problems of humanity, regardless of political boundaries and constraints. Nebojša has been a member of the Academy since 2006, and he has been serving as a member of its Board of Trustees and as its Secretary-General since 2013:
“From the broad programme of the Academy, I would single out the project for creating a new paradigm of human development, which is in the initial stage of realisation. It is linked to the main challenges facing humanity today, which are: income inequality, unemployment, economic, political and military interventions, forced migrations, intercultural conflicts, depletion of natural resources and climate change. The project includes analyses of these problems at the global, regional and local levels, as well as their primary causes and consequences, with the aim of finding appropriate, effective and sustainable solutions.”
Finally, another item from the biography of this scientist. When the Serbian Chapter of the Club of Rome was established in Belgrade, in July 2015, Nebojša Nešković was selected as its President, and he still holds that position. The mission of the Chapter is to participate, in cooperation with the Club of Rome, in solving problems of sustainable growth and inclusive development of Serbia. It currently has 23 members, while it should be recalled that the Club of Rome was founded in April 1968 in Rome, Italy, as an association of independent prominent individuals from the world of science, economy and politics who are concerned about the future of humanity and the planet, and who are interested in contributing to building a better world in a multidisciplinary, systemic and holistic way. The Club has about 100 full members and 36 national chapters.
The Serbian Chapter of the Club of Rome has to date organised eight lectures and presented two monographs. A special success was the holding of the Fourth International Conference on Future Education, in Belgrade in November 2019. Also participating in the organisation of this global event were the World Academy of Art and Science, the World University Consortium, the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, the University of Belgrade, and the Serbian Association of Economists.