Science and technology in Bulgaria

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The headquarters of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences in Sofia

Since the beginning of the 20th century, Bulgaria has started to actively develop its own scientific and technological basis. The Liberation of the country in 1878 ended a nearly 500-year period of Ottoman rule, under which Bulgarian science was virtually nonexistent. Despite the political instability in the period between World wars, scientific research expanded with a steady pace until the early 1990s. In the mid-1990s, it came to an almost complete halt, but since the early 2000s Bulgarian science is slowly regaining its growth. Bulgaria has strong traditions in mathematics, computer sciences, aeronautics, aerospace research and medicine.

Overview

As of 2009, 47 universities operate within Bulgaria's small territory, fostering its scientific and technological know-how. The country has a strong tradition in mathematics, astronomy, physics, nuclear technology and sciences-oriented education, and has significant experience in medical and pharmaceutical research. The Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (BAS), the leading scientific institution in the country, employs most of Bulgaria's researchers working in its numerous branches. As of 2009 some of its most significant equipment remains non-operational due to severe mismanagement in the Ministry of Education and Science (responsible for funding scientific projects), such as an electrostatic accelerator, a research reactor and a neutron generator. The most powerful supercomputer in Eastern Europe (one of the top 100 in the world as of 2009), an IBM Blue Gene/P, entered service in September 2008 at the State Agency of Information Technology. Scientists from Sofia University and the BAS operate the machine.1 According to MENSA International, Bulgaria ranks 2nd in the world in Mensa IQ test-scores and its students rate second in the world in SAT scores.23 Also, international MENSA IQ testing completed in 2004 identified as the world's smartest woman (and one of the smartest people in the world) Daniela Simidchieva of Bulgaria, who has an IQ of 200.45

In January 2009, the Bulgarian government approved a 10-year plan for funding three main areas of scientific development - Innovative potential sciences (biotechnology, healthcare technology, alternative energy sources, nanotechnology and communications); Sustainable development sciences (ecology) and Scientific studies for the support of industry. Although the BSP government planned an increase of scientific spending for 2010 (from 0.4 to 0.6% of GDP),6 the financial crisis has caused a decrease of funding in 2009.

Bulgarian scientists have made several notable discoveries and inventions, such as the prototype of the digital watch (Peter Petroff); galantamine (Dimitar Paskov);78 the molecular-kinetic theory of crystal formation and growth (formulated by Ivan Stranski) and the space greenhouse (SRI-BAS).910

Bulgaria conducts frequent Antarctic exploration missions by means of an artificial satellite and a permanent research base, which are used to conduct research on the impact of climate change and biodiversity on the continent.11

Computer technology and robotics

Computer technology is among Bulgaria's most advanced scientific branches.

Bulgaria, once known as the Silicon Valley of the Eastern Bloc, has started to regain its position as a leading centre of high-technology research and development, particularly in information-technology (IT) and nanotechnology research, development, production and distribution. Bulgaria became one of the first European countries to develop serial production of personal computers (Pravetz series 8) in the beginning of the 1980s. According to the Brainbench Global IT IQ report, Bulgaria ranks first in Europe in terms of IT-certified specialists per capita12 and 8th in the world in total ICT specialists, out-performing countries with far larger populations.2

In 2009 Bulgaria became the first country in Central and Eastern Europe (excluding Russia) to develop a national nanotechnology R&D centre. The Bulgarian government has signed a partership and cooperation agreement with IBM in order to benefit from IBM's experience in this field and to foster the development of new technologies and registered patents at the centre. This represents the first time in IBM's history that the company has signed such a comprehensive agreement with a nation-state and its leading scientific institutions. A nanotechnological components factory was planned, but due to the financial crisis of 2009, the project was cancelled.

Leading multinational companies, such as Apple Inc. and HP have set up regional technology development centres, offices and headquarters in Bulgaria. As an example of an existing establishment, Hewlett-Packard built its Global Service Centre for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) in Sofia in 2006.13 In 2005 SAP built its leading R&D laboratories for the development of Java application server, Composite Application Framework and NetWeaver platforms in Bulgaria.

The country is also involved in developing automobiles. Bulgaria has built a car - Univers,14 and is busy developing others (by the company 12B) - the Raven R1, the Reus15 and the Wildcat1617 The first digital computer was invented by John Vincent Atanasoff, who, through his father, was a half Bulgarian (his mother being American). A Bulgarian, Koycho Mitev, is at work inventing a new unique translation method, involving a chip, which he says could be inserted into any phone and will translate a given language into another. Mitev said: “the invention is based on an in-depth analysis of the structure of human speech. We succeeded in creating a tool which records human speech by means of the digits from decimal system regardless of the speaker’s mother tongue. The same 10 digits are used to record all articulate sounds uttered by homo sapiens.” He went on to note: “the program will automatically convert digital codes from one system to another, thus reproducing the text in the recipient’s language. You can speak Bulgarian, while at the other end — in Norway you’ll be heard in Norwegian with your own voice.” Important questions being asked thus far are: what does it do for disambiguation?, can the parser understand intonations that can change the meaning? and so on.18

Space exploration and aerospace research

"Sokol"-type space suit, developed by the Bulgarian Space Agency and used by cosmonauts Georgi Ivanov and Aleksandur Aleksandrov
The 200 cm (79 in) telescope at the Rozhen Observatory

Bulgaria is the 6th country in the world to send a man in space: Georgi Ivanov flew on Soyuz 33 in 1979. In 1988 Aleksandar Aleksandrov became the first Bulgarian to conduct experiments on a space station.19 Bulgaria also supplied many scientific and research instruments for the Soviet space program. Currently the country participates in India's lunar exploration mission, Chandrayaan-1. In 1981 Bulgaria designed and constructed its first artificial satellite: Bulgaria 1300, which a Soviet Vostok-2M rocket inserted into polar orbit. The satellite had a launch weight of 1,500 kilograms, and as of 2009, it continues in operation, gathering information for BAS.20 The Bulgarian Space Agency also plans to create and send in space a new light-weight satellite — Balkansat — by 2010.20

Bulgaria hosts two major astronomical observatories: the Rozhen Observatory, the largest in Southeastern Europe, and the Belogradchik Observatory with three telescopes; as well as several "public astronomical observatories" with planetaria, focused on educational and outreach activities. Astronomer Georgi Mandushev headed the team of scientists, which discovered TrES-4b — the largest known planet to date (next to WASP-17b, and that was in 1 May 2009).2122

Asen Yordanov (1896–1967), the founder of aeronautical engineering in Bulgaria, worked as an aviator, engineer and inventor; he also contributed to the development of aviation in the United States. He played a significant role in U.S. aircraft development (mostly bomber and carrier-based aircraft) and took part in many other projects. Yordanov created the first Bulgarian airplane, the "Diplan Yordanov-1", in 1915.23

Another Bulgarian-American inventor and scientist, Peter Petroff, became best known for his work in NASA. Petroff also invented the first digital watch (1970).24 Although there is a claim by Yoshiro Nakamatsu to have invented a digital watch in 1953.25

Captain Simeon Petrov of the Bulgarian Air Force invented the world's first purpose-built air-to-surface bomb, which included innovations such as an aerodynamically stabilizing x-tail and an impact detonator. To this day the majority of aircraft bombs in the world follow Petrov's 1912 design. The Bulgarian Air Force deployed the original prototype, thus becoming the first military force in the world to conduct tactical airplane bombing sorties during a full-scale war (in 1912).26

Mathematics and physics

The country also has a strong tradition in mathematics. At the Tokyo International Mathematics Olympiad in 2003 Bulgaria finished in first place from a total of 82 participating countries. Bulgaria beat China (2nd place finish), the USA (3rd place finish) and Russia (4th place finish), countries that have respectively 184, 39 and 18 times its population. Bulgaria also became one of only four countries in the history of the International Mathematics Olympiad to win that competition by having all six of its team members finish with gold medals. It also set a new record by becoming by far the smallest country in the world to have accomplished this. (The other countries that have done this have populations significantly over 100 million, as opposed to Bulgaria's mere 7.6 million.)

Ivan Stranski (1897–1979) developed the molecular-kinetic theory of crystal formation and crystal growth. The results of his work on crystal structure and behaviour have had wide application in the areas of physical chemistry, metallurgy and mining. Georgi Nadjakov was among Bulgaria's top physicists, and became known for his experiments on the photoelectric effect and most notably, the discovery of photoelectrets. Nadjakov's discoveries are now widely employed in photocopier machines.

As of 2007 CERN employed more than 90 Bulgarian scientists, and about 30 of them will actively participate in the Large Hadron Collider experiments.27

Antarctic exploration

Since the 1980s, Bulgaria maintains an active exploration program of the Antarctic region. Following an unsuccessful landing attempt at Cape Vostok on the northwestern extremity of Alexander Island, two prefabricated huts were assembled on Livingston Island between 26 and 29 April 1988 by a four-member Bulgarian party supported logistically by the Soviet Research Ship Mikhail Somov. The facilities were later refurbished and inaugurated as a permanent base on 11 December 1993. An expansion programme at St. Kliment Ohridski including the construction of a new multi-purpose building was carried out between 1996 and 1998 and subsequently.

Some of the expeditions resulted in the publishing in 2009 of a comprehensive topographic map, including Greenwich, Snow, Robert and Smith islands.

References

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