One of your main professional topics is nanotechnology. How is this field important for today’s society and what personally attracts you to it?
It’s an adventure that we can afford because today we already have instruments to penetrate molecular structures – to make them visible, to conduct targeted manipulation at the moleculor level and to have them under control. This is the way to new materials with desireable new properties, whether we are discussing new forms of medication, nanostructural materials for biomedical applications (used for tissue engineering or the wounds dressing), through nanomaterials used as chemical sensors, biosensors, self-cleaning and other functional surfaces, to new optoelectronic components. The scale of use is wide, and today it is already not about purely academic affairs because nanotechnology has penetrated into a range of industries.
“Today’s science is all about teamwork. I am trying to lead our students in that direction.”
You have accomplished many successful projects, applied research and professional publications. If you had to cite one specific and most important step in your career, what would it be?
My original expertise is in determining the structures of substances using X-ray diffraction. In my work at the University of Amsterdam, I was a member of a team that worked on the development of methods determining crystal structures from powder samples. Up to that time it had only been possible from monocrystals. I was then responsible for solving a specific problem which was how to deal with the fact that no powder sample was ideally polycrystalline which distorts the data obtained from X-ray diffraction. The problem was perhaps more mathematical – it was not obvious how to describe it. Finally, though, success was achieved. Determining structures from powder samples is common today, even if it is not a routine task, and is especially used in the pharaceutical industry where structural certification is a compulsory part of placing medicines on the market.
Over time my cooperation with chemists led to the fact that new materials were increasingly difficult to determine with X-ray diffraction because it produced a large degree of disorder in crystal structures. At that time a new method appeared – molecular modeling for the computer design of nanomaterials. This method, which I first became acquainted with in Amsterdam, I brought back to my workplace at my alma mater, the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics at Charles University in Prague, at the beginning of the nineties. With the funds from the project I established and equipped a laboratory there for molecular simulations. A combination of X-ray and computer modeling proved to be the perfect tool for determining structures in the development of nanomaterials. From this field come my most cited publications on the topic of modeling biomembranes and their behavior in the presence of various kinds of organic molecules.
During my work at VŠB-TU in Ostrava, I also built a laboratory for nanomaterial computer design there, in the Center for Nanotechnology, which was a great aid in the development of new nanomaterials. At that time, we tested a group of projects for the development of new nanocomposites based on phyllosilicates. From that time also come the two major results patented at the Industrial Property Office: 1) a photocatalytic nanocomposite for self-cleaning coatings and building materials, and 2) a conductive nanocomposite graphene-layered silicate as a two-dimensional conductor.
It’s necessary to add, and that emphatically, that nanotechnology is a multidisciplinary field and all results are the success of a team. Today’s science is all about teamwork, and I am trying to lead our students in that direction.
In contrast to this, what is in front of you and what are you working on currently?
Our research team at the Faculty of Natural Science at UJEP is currently working on the development of nanomaterials – polymeric nanofiber textiles for use in nanofiltration. We are developing a new generation of filtration media in cooperation with the company Nanovia Litvínov. Other applications we are targeting with our nanofibrous textiles are tissue engineering and the dressing of wounds.
In Ústí nad Labem you have built a laboratory for X-ray structural analyses. Can you describe what it is for?
The X-ray laboratory serves to determine the structures of crystalline materials with the aid of X-ray diffraction. And because structure and chemical bonding determine the properties of substances, it is thus obvious that this method is an indispensable part of the development of new materials with new, previously given, properties.
One of the first graduates of the Nanotechnology major, Antonín Čajka, received the Prize of the Ministry of Education in 2014 for his bachelor’s thesis in the field of studies on the structures of nanofibers in nanofibrous textiles. You supervised his work. How do you regard the similar successes of your students?
My students have already picked up several awards, let’s name them:
Twice – the Prize of the Ministry of Education: Antonín Čajka from UJEP (2014) and Miroslav Pospíšil from MFF UK (2003)
Once – the Prize of the Ministry of the Environment in the competition Clever Solutions for the Environment in 2011: Jonáš Tokarský from VŠB-TU Ostrava
Once – a prize in the international competition Green Talents sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) in Berlin in 2012: Adam Schröfel from VŠB-TU Ostrava
I am, of course, delighted by all of the successes of my students and also those in further national and international competitions. But I must also try not to succumb to that professional deformation of teachers who, when fate deals them a talented student, foolishly think that this is due to their own merit.
In your free time are you able to just turn off and leave the scientific world behind you?
I can’t. I can confirm the words of Professor Kochanovská, who founded the field of X-ray structural analysis in Czechoslovakia before the nineties: “It’s impossible to live normally with science.”