LENINGRAD--Dimitry Filotov is an unlikely scientific pioneer. The 30-year-old physicist, who wears a windbreaker and blue jeans in his lab and sports a shaggy head of hair, is not a member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, the prestigious organization that dominates the country's scientific enterprise through its network of some 350,000 scientists and technicians at about 500 research institutes. Nor does he drive a Mercedes Benz, the Soviet Union's most visible status symbol. In fact, at the Science and Technology Corporation of Leningrad, where he works, he is only one of a half-dozen ordinary researchers in the institute's high-vacuum physics laboratory.

Filotov, however, belongs to an elite group of Soviet scientists who are riding high on a new wave of applied research. His future prosperity is linked closely to efforts in the Soviet Union to realign the country's massive research enterprise along the lines of a market economy. This...

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