Galina Riznichenko

Country of birth: 
Russia
Country of studies: 
Russia
Country of residence: 
Russia

From EWM Newsletter n°22 (2013/1)

Professor Riznichenko graduated from Moscow State Lomonosov University, Faculty of Physics, in 1972. She achieved the degrees of PhD in 1978 and Doctor of Science in 1990. From 1996 until present she has been Professor of the dept. of Biophysics, Biological Faculty, MSU.
Prof Riznichenko is chairwoman of the Russian Interregional Public Organization “Women in Science and Education”. (Their website can be found here: www.awse.ru.) She is also in charge of the Organizing Committee for the annual interdisciplinary conference ‘Mathematics.Computing.Education’(MCE), which this year was held in Puschino, near Moscow.
EWM: Everyone I have spoken to at the conference MCE about the organisation AWSE has mentioned your name as an important organiser. What gives you the motivation and drive to be so actively involved?
GR: The motivation appeared about 20 years ago, during the period of transition in Russia from Soviet Russia to the market economy. This transformation was accompanied by a drop in the meaning of education and science in Russia. The people working in these fields felt really bad, not only from the very low salary, but also due to low opinion of young people. Example: in 1990, I defended my Doctor of Science degree, which is a very high position in our society. But my son, who was around 10, asked me, “Mother, why don't you go to work somewhere selling things, since you can count?” So the position of a professor in Moscow State University was much lower than the position of a shop assistant in some small store! This was a widespread viewpoint. A lot of men left science and education. The women stayed, however.
Then the occasion occurred that one woman who was the wife of a famous mathematician went with him to a meeting of the European Mathematical Society. She was also trying to earn some money in Russia and decided to make a touristic film from this trip. Part of the idea of the film was to collect women from various maths departments and organise a society of women mathematicians. At this moment, there were possibilities to get some funding support from different foundations to organise scientific meetings, so this was done and a meeting was organised. About 50 or 60 women came together in Suzdal from different cities. Some of these women are still in the organisation, others have emigrated or even become politicians. The women got together with the intent of discussing problems for women, I even had prepared a report on problems for women including childcare and that sort of thing, but when we started to discuss at the meeting, the pressing problems for science and education in our country seemed to us to be more important than the problems of women. That's why we tried to discuss what to do. Since some of us had experience in organising conferences, we decided that the best thing to do would be to start organising scientific meetings, bringing people together from lots of different cities to discuss the problems and find solutions. I was a Doctor of Science, which is why I was put in charge of finding funding and organising the next meeting.
My motivation comes from the fact that I see that these conferences are important for people. Most of the organisers are volunteers at other places too, such as olympiads, childrens' camps and so on, some for over 40 years! People need more than just an individual professional career, they also need to do things for other people.
EWM: What do you find most satisfying about your role in AWSE?
GR: The most satisfying thing is that people really come here, not because they have some demands or some money for this, but they come from their own feeling. They feel here that it is important for them. Not only because of meeting colleagues and they can organise publishing papers or defending degrees or such like, but because of the atmosphere. They feel among friends. One new participant asked me why we organise such a conference, as it is not at such a high professional level, but I say there are a great number of very highly professional international conferences, here people meet others with common profession, but not only that, common values and morals. Our world is quite different, in our mass media they say, “do everything for you, you are an individual!”, but many people in Russia, especially older people, they don't feel that getting the most money in the world is the first value in the world. They don't feel this, really! That's why when they come here and meet the people who think the same, it is very pleasant for them that they are not so strange.
EWM: What do you feel are the biggest challenges facing your organisation?
GR: Fundraising. But, you see, really from the beginning of organising these conferences we had some unofficial support from various institutes, but it depends on individual heads of organisations and laboratories. We have sometimes had events where we had absolutely no money. I remember in the 90s, there was a conference “Mathematics and Art”. One person brought to me a big bag full of money that he had borrowed from a friend! It was funny, but we were younger then.
EWM: Have you always been interested in science from a young age?
GR: I grew up in a family of scientists. My mother and father were geophysicists. My father was a member of the Academy of Sciences, he was rather a famous scientists. They were both associated with many international scientists. Geophysics was connected with abroad much earlier than a lot of other disciplines in Russia. So it was normal for me and I completed the mathematical school and then entered the Physics faculty at Moscow State University. I was interested in the problems of Biophysics, and the Biological faculty invited some physicists to do some work there, so it occurred that I worked in this faculty for all my life.
EWM: Can you tell us a little about your scientific interests?
GR: My scientific interests are connected with mathematical modelling. Mostly what I am interested in is how physical laws and physical principles and physical processes are connected and how they occur in very complex organelles and biological organs and work in very sophisticated ways to produce some biological processes. For instance, many of my works are devoted to photosynthesis, because this is a very important system and it has been very thoroughly investigated. In this system we can do mathematical models which have parameters whose values are registered in some experiments, which is why maybe our models are more closely related to the real systems than others in biological modelling. Now, for many years, we have written some differential equations and used qualitative analysis, parametric analysis and all these things, but now for the last few years we have used computer models. We put in the model only physical processes, so Brownian dynamics, electrostatics and others for each protein, they move in the reaction volume which we reproduce also from experimental data and we see in such multi-particle model these processes which we put in the model only for interactions between pairs of elements and we observe the behaviour of the whole system. We then compare this results with experimental results from ensembles of, for instance, algae cells. We reproduce the process how we imagine it, compare different levels of complexity, it is really very interesting.
EWM: Did you have any strong female role models in your life, scientific or otherwise?
GR: Yes, I had my teacher in the faculty of Physics, the supervisor of my final course work. We were friends after that in our lives. She was one of the founders of mathematical modelling for Biology in Russia and also the author of very famous text books and monographs in this field. There are many Russian women who are good scientists. I didn't work with all of them on some common problems, but I knew them and discussed sometimes with them. I also discussed with and had a lot of respect for my mother and her colleagues in geophysics. They were three friends, three women of the same age. You know, in the second world war, many men were away at the war and it was a time when sometimes women could get high positions in science, (not only in science, also in other disciplines). Geophysics was very important for Russia, since it is this huge territory only fully explored in the 20th century. All this oil was discovered in 50s, 60s. My mother worked in Sakhalin, then in Caspian Sea, she was also a member of the project Challenger in the 80s when they drilled very deep under the sea. So, I have a lot of good women scientist role models. There was another woman, a head of a magnetics laboratory in my childhood. She was a very beautiful hausfrau! She cooked, she sewed, not only dresses but even coats... So I never separated science from the home.