How would you define the subject of your research for the layman?
The most difficult question at the beginning? So, we try to treat the surfaces of various materials in such a way that they have better properties than they did before treatment, and in order to extend the possibilities of their use. Like when you want to improve your bathroom at home or an old kitchen unit and do it simply – on the surface of the old formica or an already unsightly cupboard door you glue nice new tiles, wallpaper, decorative mouldings, or as a short cut you just lacquer them. Basically everything stays the same, the original properties and the benefit also, but you like it more.
We do something similar, only at the nanoscale. We try with various techniques to treat the surfaces of materials and thereby provide for their new properties, for example, to ensure that cells grow better on them, for which the treated space will be even more attractive, or the opposite, so that the cells would have an antimicrobial activity. On the modified surfaces we bind new chemical substances which later serve, for example, as drug vehicles, or so that metal nanoparticles can chemically hold onto them.
How large are the surfaces you treat?
We only treat surfaces with a thickness of nanometers; everything under the treated surface then stays the same and is also left with its original properties. And since we are talking about such small scales we have to develop new approaches and technology which can do this.
“UJEP? Those are four letters that are connected with the whole
of my professional life.”
What led you into physical chemistry and nanomaterials?
I am very happy to mention it and I hope that my colleague reads it and enjoys it. Dr. Václav Synek led me into physical chemistry. At that time, it’s already been 30 years, he taught at the Chemical Technical High School in Ústí and I think that I am not the only one whom he literally made crazy for “physchem”. I tell him often, he is now working at our FŽP and during the last academic year we even started teaching a course together. Probably every physical chemist gradually slips into nanomaterials because it is precisely physical chemistry which offers a whole range of tools with which to describe nanomaterials, characterize them, or estimate their properties.
Do you feel better wearing the hat of a university professor or a scientist?
I still enjoy both. When I am in the laboratory I am probably more the absent-minded scientist running back and forth from apparatus to apparatus. And I hope that then when I enter the classroom with students I become a teacher. But the students themselves should probably judge this.
What does the Rector’s Prize, which you won again in December of 2015, mean to you?
For me it was a very nice, friendly, pre-Christmas meeting with people whom I am always very happy to meet. Each year flies by fast and furiously, we pass each other in the halls and quickly greet each other. At least at events such as that one we all stop for a while. When we realize with horror that Christmas is in 14 days, it hits us how we don’t yet have everything prepared at home, and what we still have left to do on projects and write in various reports. But for a while we only take note of the presence of colleagues whom we haven’t properly seen for maybe a year and we finally have time to talk for a while and to say more than only: “Hi, how’s it going?”
Here I have to digress, and for myself I must say that in this regard a lot has been changed by the new 50bar at PF UJEP. After 20 years it has taught me to go again to lunch, and not only to drive away hunger, but really to meet terrific folks from all around UJEP.
Getting the Rector’s Prize is, of course, a very nice feeling – and that means that someone has noticed what you do, that someone has suggested you for the prize and so is a fan of your work and supports you. It’s also a nice event for the families of the winners, who at that moment see that the research of their descendants is appreciated by somebody, and that when they are sometimes at work more often than at home, it may make some sense. All of this playing with science wouldn’t work without a great, tolerant family. I would personally like to thank my family, the leadership of the Faculty of Natural Science at UJEP, and all of my colleagues and students, in particular those at the Department of Physics.
What do the four letters UJEP evoke for you?
The whole of my professional life is connected with these four letters. It was founded in the year and the month when I first started work, that is the 1st of September, 1991, at the Faculty of Education. What’s more, a couple of weeks later, on the important date of the 28th of September, I got married. At least I remember both anniversaries very well. So this year we are celebrating at home and at UJEP a successful and beautiful quarter of a century. Recently a colleague totally threw me off because he introduced the acronym JEPU on the English version of a project. In English it may be correct, but I suddenly had the feeling that someone had mixed up the rooms in my apartment.