News from UP

Rector Martin Procházka elected President of the Aurora university network

News: Faculty of Science - Wed, 29/05/2024 - 08:00

Martin Procházka, Rector of Palacký University Olomouc, will lead the European university network Aurora as of the new academic year. He was elected its president by the Aurora General Council during the Aurora Spring Biannual 2024, which is currently underway in Naples, Italy. More than 170 representatives from 19 participating institutions are attending the meeting to discuss the development of international education, stakeholder engagement, and technology transfer.

The four-day meeting where members of the Aurora European university network are meeting together right now is called Aurora Spring Biannual 2024. Palacký University Olomouc joined the network as an associate member in 2020 and became a full member of the Aurora Network global university consortium in May 2022. After another term of intensive cooperation, UP Rector Martin Procházka was nominated for the position of President-Elect at the beginning of this year.

In yesterday’s election, he received full support from the members of the Aurora General Council, and thus will replace the current president, University of Iceland Rector Jón Atli Benediktsson, in September. During the ceremony, Rector Procházka presented him with a vase made of Bohemian glass to thank him for his service. “Jón Atli, this gift is not only a token of our friendship, but also a symbol of your excellent work for Aurora. Bohemian crystal, renowned for its exquisite craftsmanship, shines with the combination of tradition and innovation that we strive for at Aurora and reflects our commitment to excellence in education and research,” said Procházka.

In his acceptance speech, he emphasised that in his role as President, he wants to give the universities and all members of the community space for expression and the opportunity to shape the future of both Aurora and European higher education together. "My mission is to build bridges – between cultures, institutions, and even the whole of the world. Our commitment is to grow together within this connection, to develop Aurora, and to expand our ambitions with other global partners."

A key element of Aurora are students. One of its executive bodies is the Student Council, whose president is Hanuš Patera who studies psychology at the UP Faculty of Arts. “The students’ enthusiasm and their ideas are a great inspiration to us all. As President, I will aim to continue working to create a student-oriented and inclusive environment,” underlined Procházka.

The Aurora Spring Biannual 2024 was commenced Monday evening with a welcome reception in the historic premises of the University of Naples Federico II, which celebrates 800 years of its existence this year. In addition to the election of a new president, Tuesday’s programme included a roundtable discussion on the development of joint international study programmes, and lectures on participatory democracy and citizen science. UP Vice-Rector for Strategy and Regional Affairs Michal Malacka was a guest speaker at the Stakeholder Engagement and Social Entrepreneurship in European Alliances roundtable.

In addition to the handover of the presidency, another festive moment of yesterday’s programme was the signing of the Aurora Sustainable Development Plan, which was designed thanks to the work of the Sustainable Campus team led by Palacký University.

The programme of today and tomorrow will be dedicated to a plenary session led by students. This will be followed by breakout sessions of the vice-rectors, executive committees, and individual working groups. These will focus on education, science, and research, as well as other shared themes such as IT development, health and wellbeing, sustainability, and communication. In addition to the members of the Aurora Student Council, there are other student ambassadors at each university who will be able to get to know each other during a special workshop.

Categories: News from UP

Three Czech maps from the Faculty of Science succeeded in Best Map Award

News: Faculty of Science - Thu, 23/05/2024 - 10:30

Three Czech maps developed by experts from the Departments of Geoinformatics, Geography, and Development & Environmental Studies of the UP Faculty of Science have been awarded “runner-up” status in the international competition Best Map Award 2023. The prizes are awarded annually by the prestigious Journal of Maps published by Taylor and Francis.

The highest runner-up position for Czech maps was given to the map Quality of Life Indices: How Robust Are the Results Considering Different Aggregation Techniques? by Karel Macků and Radek Barvíř from the Department of Geoinformatics.

“Despite long-term research, there are no unified opinions on which specific indicators to use in assessing quality of life and how to aggregate them into indices. In our article, we focus on the latter issue. Based on a literature review, we compiled a set of indicators that could describe how well people live in a particular place. We investigated whether we would obtain significantly different results if we simply changed the mathematical procedure to construct a synthetic quality of life index from these indicators. Individual approaches to the calculation confirm the partial similarity of the results. However, it is the remaining dissimilarity that points to the fact that by combining different methods, authors of similar papers always reveal more interesting details about the processed data that would remain hidden using one simple approach. Maps have been used to present the results, thanks to which the reader can quickly, simply, and correctly perceive the differences between the individual methods,” said Macků.

The maps Geoparticipation in the Czech Municipalities: Index Based Quantitative Approach and Astronomically Determined Localities, the Core Part of Ptolemy’s Geography were also shortlisted for the Best Map Award 2023. The first is the work of the collective of Jaroslav Burian, Radek Barvíř, Daniel Pavlačka and Vít Pászto from the Department of Geoinformatics, and Jiří Pánek and Jiří Chovaneček from the Department of Development and Environmental Studies. The second was created by Aleš Létal from the Department of Geography and Jan Martínek from the Transport Research Centre.

The Best Map Award has been awarded since 2008 and entries are judged on both academic content and cartographic quality. The winning entry for 2023 was the Geological Map of South America in Google Earth, which unified geological maps across individual countries and published them online in a freely accessible format.

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Department of Analytical Chemistry scientists developed new method for tracking nanoparticles

News: Faculty of Science - Tue, 21/05/2024 - 12:00

A new unique method that allows scientists to monitor the behaviour of nanoparticles in an environment simulating natural conditions has been developed by scientists from the Department of Analytical Chemistry at the UP Faculty of Science. Experts have been focussing on the movement and interactions of nanoparticles in solutions that mimic natural conditions in organisms or the environment. Their approach will help shed light on the fate of nanoparticles in, for example, the human body or wastewater, about which there are still many unknowns. The results of the Olomouc scientists’ work have been published in the renowned journal of the American Chemical Society, Analytical Chemistry.

“We focused on developing a method that would allow us to monitor nanoparticles in the environment of other nanoparticles, even in solutions or complex mixtures that correspond to the situation in living organisms or the environment. Such a method may not only lead to a better understanding of the behaviour of nanoparticles, for example inside cells or in wastewater, but may also lead to a more detailed recognition of their mutual interaction and other possible effects arising between the nanoparticles themselves,” said one of the authors of the study, Jan Petr from the Department of Analytical Chemistry.

The method developed by the Olomouc scientists enables, among other things, a closer study of the circulation of nanoparticles in the environment. The nanoparticles used in the study enter wastewater and subsequently rivers, seas and oceans. “Here, they meet other nanoparticles and can interact with each other, which can ultimately multiply their negative properties, such as toxicity. Until now, it has not been possible to study these effects in detail, but thanks to our method we can now observe and describe them in detail. We believe that our method can help to prevent these undesirable effects in the future,” said Petr.

The scientists used a unique combination of capillary electrophoresis and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (CE-ICP-MS) for their work. “We developed and constructed the interface to connect the two devices at our workplace about five years ago. It represents an advanced analytical technique with enormous potential. Capillary electrophoresis is an efficient separation tool and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry serves as a highly sensitive detector for the determination of trace element concentrations, or even of organic substances containing a suitable element in their structure,” described Tomáš Pluháček, one of its authors and winner of the J.M. Marci Spectroscopic Society award.

To observe the behaviour of the nanoparticles, the scientists used Taylor dispersion analysis, a mathematical procedure for analysing experimentally obtained data, which, under certain conditions, makes it possible to accurately determine the diffusion coefficient and thus the hydrodynamic size of nanoparticles. “The use of this instrumentation technique also allows us to obtain information on the elemental or isotopic composition of nanoparticles, which can be used, for example, to monitor the fate of isotopically labelled nanoparticles,” added co-author Daniel Baron from the Department of Analytical Chemistry.

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University launches centre to support research and education on Myanmar

News: Faculty of Science - Tue, 21/05/2024 - 08:00

The Department of Asian Studies at the Palacký University Faculty of Arts has launched the Myanmar Studies Center. The Center was established thanks to the support of the prestigious European Union framework programme for research and innovation, Horizon Europe. The Center will offer, among other things, public lectures and academic courses on various topics related to the region.

Myanmar, officially the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (also known as Burma), one of the countries of Southeast Asia, is the main research and educational interest of the new Myanmar Studies Center (MSC@UP, Třída Svobody 26), established in order to support interdisciplinary research and education in the field, and is unique in the context of both the Czech Republic and Central Europe.

“So far, this region has not received much professional attention. We are committed to filling this gap by supporting interdisciplinary research and education focused on Myanmar. We will offer diverse perspectives and approaches to stimulate a deeper understanding of this vibrant nation. At the same time, we want to spread awareness about Myanmar’s rich cultural heritage, the dynamics of its social development, and its political environment,” said Kristina Kironská, its director.

The Myanmar Studies Center’s activities will include public lectures and academic courses in which experts and students will address topics such as human rights in Asia and politics in the Indo-Pacific region. Its website, www.msc.upol.cz, will feature blog posts by students from Myanmar who will be coming to Olomouc for a semester-long stay under the Erasmus+ programme.

“In June, there will also be a summer school for PhD students and advanced master students on Navigating Geostrategic Dynamics in the IndoPacific: Focus on Southeast Asia and Myanmar. This will be followed by the Interdisciplinary Conference on Myanmar 2024 with the theme Myanmar’s International Role: More Than a Buffer State, which is expected to bring to Olomouc distinguished experts from all over the world,” added Kironská.

The establishment of the Myanmar Studies Center was made possible thanks to the support of Horizon Europe, the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation, awarded to the EUVIP project “The EU in the Volatile Indo-Pacific Region” (HORIZON-WIDERA-2021-ACCESS-03-01). More about the EUVIP project can be found here. 

Categories: News from UP

Faculty of Physical Culture took part in developing a system for local muscle load evaluation

News: Faculty of Science - Mon, 13/05/2024 - 08:00

Experts from five Czech universities and one private company have joined forces to develop a system for monitoring and evaluating selected risk factors of physical workload in the context of Industry 4.0. The project supported by the Technology Agency of the Czech Republic in the Trend programme also involved the Palacký University Faculty of Physical Culture (UP FPC), which extended the spectrum of target groups of the new technology to athletes, and even to administrative professions.

The result of the applied research is the development of a new technology and equipment for the evaluation of local muscle load during work operations by means of electromyography, including software, which is more user-friendly than the solutions used to date. Physical load is one of the risk factors considered in the categorisation of work from the perspective of public health protection.

“We’ve managed to develop a device that is lighter in terms of weight, has a higher scanning frequency and, among other things, uses Bluetooth technology so that the employee can move around during the measurement and the data is wirelessly transmitted to a mobile phone or tablet, where the evaluator can immediately see the feedback,” explained the main investigator for the UP FPC, David Prycl from the BALUO Application Centre. He added that the proposed solutions are already protected as a utility model and a patent application has been filed.

In addition to Prycl, Amr Zaatar from the Department of Physiotherapy and Michal Vorlíček from the Institute of Active Lifestyle were also involved in the project, and devices from the digital innovation hub DIGI2Health associated with the UP Science and Technology Park were used in the testing.

With regard to the orientation of the UP Faculty of Physical Culture, the Olomouc experts also looked for the possibility of using the new technology with athletes as a potential additional target group. “The use in sports is possible for monitoring and comparing data from maximum stress tests and training. We tested the new device, the sensors of which can be placed on virtually any muscle, in cooperation with the climbing team which comes to our centre regularly,” said Prycl.

The third target group selected by Olomouc researchers was administrative staff. The conclusion of this study included in the project, however, was to recommend a longer-term intervention. “We monitored local muscle load and number of strokes while typing on a computer in three positions – uncorrected sitting, sitting corrected by a physiotherapist, and corrected standing. We also measured the tested persons for as much as five minutes, having in mind possible future commercialisation, but did not find that the load had any effect on the measured position in such a short period of time. Nevertheless, there was higher muscle activity during corrected sitting compared to uncorrected sitting, because during correction we are already concentrating and spending energy to maintain the position. However, it would be interesting to see if longer intervention and repeated measurements would confirm our initial hypotheses,” summarised Prycl.

The device for monitoring and evaluating local muscle load was developed as part of a three-year project, whose principal investigator was the Icontio company, which focuses on advanced solutions in Industry 4.0 and telemedicine. In addition to UP, the applied research and development also involved the Czech Technical University in Prague, Tomas Bata University, VSB – Technical University of Ostrava, and the University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague. The project was funded by the Technology Agency of the Czech Republic in the Trend programme aimed at supporting industrial research and development of new products, production technologies, and services.

Categories: News from UP

Gala evening in Washington attended by Milada Horáková’s daughter and President Beneš’s great-grandniece

News: Faculty of Science - Fri, 03/05/2024 - 08:00

Among the guests at the Palacký University Gala Evening at the Czech Embassy in Washington, D.C., were also relatives of some great figures of 20th century Czech history. During the evening, UP Rector Martin Procházka met Jana Kánská, daughter of Milada Horáková, the most famous victim of the communist show-trial murders, and Andrea Pohl, great-grandniece of the second Czechoslovak president Edvard Beneš.

Olomouc’s university had a unique opportunity, together with the Olomouc Region and the City of Olomouc, to present themselves to the U.S. public. More than 200 invited guests came to the gala evening held at the end of April at the premises of the Embassy of the Czech Republic, among them were also UP alumni living in the USA, representatives of partner American universities, American scientists, businessmen, and financiers.

“We presented our university as an institution with a history of more than four hundred and fifty years, but also one that is lively, modern, successful, and active in the field of international cooperation. We are working on developing relationships with our existing partners in the USA, however it is also vital for us to look for other opportunities for support and fundraising, so that we can open the door for gaining international experience to as many of our students and faculty as possible,” noted Martin Procházka, who thanked the Czech Embassy and the American guests for their warm welcome.

Together with Vice-Rector for Internationalisation Jiří Stavovčík, he also discussed further cooperation and support with representatives of Moravian University and the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library.

During the gala event in Washington, D.C., in addition to Rector Procházka and Vice Rector Stavovčík, the Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the USA Miloslav Stašek, the Director of the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids Cecilie Rokusek, and UP alumnus Adam Matěj, who is currently a post-doctoral student at Georgetown University, also spoke to the gala guests. The artistic accompaniment was provided by Katelyn Bouska, a pianist with Czech roots, who played pieces by Czech composers such as Leoš Janáček, Marek Keprt, Miloslav Ištvan, and Vítězslava Kaprálová.

Categories: News from UP

UP launches online swap market for university and private property

News: Faculty of Science - Mon, 29/04/2024 - 08:00

Just as at home, where there are always items no longer needed but would be a shame to toss out, so too at the university. The new online UP Marketplace should help find new owners for such items, exchanging university property between workplaces and private property between students and employees. Its aim is to reduce waste, rubbish, and needless purchasing of new items by offering a safe environment in its own application connected to university accounts.

You have too many file folders in your office for your filing cabinet – or vice versa? During spring cleaning you’ve decided to get rid of a set of coffee cups, but don’t know what to do with them? These are just the sort of cases that Sustainable University, together with the UP Computing Centre and the UP Communications Office, had in mind when they developed the UP Marketplace swap.

“We often hear from workplaces when for example they are taking over a classroom or moving to a new space and the old furniture is in good order and they do not want to throw it away, asking if we might know someone who would want it. One of the goals of the UP Sustainable Development Strategy is to transition to a circular economy, which is why we decided to develop an internal application which should help us trade items internally at UP. At the same time, we decided that this application could also serve for private property, in order for people to offer things from their household which they no longer use,” said UP’s Sustainability Officer Zuzana Huňková.

The swap environment is divided into two main sections. The first is university property, available to all UP workers after log-in. Anyone can browse and request items – though only those who are authorised to transfer property can advertise items. Free property includes items which are either inventoried or not.

The second section is private property, which is accessible to UP students and employees and the public offering private property for free. Anyone with a university account can list items; the public can browse items and request them. All items in the pilot programme are offered for free; eventually people will be able contact the seller to negotiate – for example if the item is free to pick up.

The application looks like an internet portal, so its use is intuitive; at the same time further improvements are planned. “We believe that a swap operating within the UP community will be more trustworthy so people will be happier to offer and buy things here than on public internet portals. This innovation supplements the Freeshop, UP’s re-use centre, which has been operating since 2017 under the auspices of the student organisation Sustainable Palacký,” Huňková added. In September and May (at this year’s Majáles May Student Celebrations), Sustainable University is organising a physical swap meet in order to let students exchange items, so they won’t have to needlessly transport old items or purchase new ones.

“Transitioning our economy to a circular-oriented system represents a challenge for society as a whole, and is one which can be resolved holistically, in an interdisciplinary manner. To get the most use out of products makes sense for all participants, and it make sense for the environment. Thanks to extending items’ use, there is less waste. And then there is no need to manufacture so many new products, saving valuable resources. Why throw away items which are in perfectly good shape, just because they’re used? Furniture, clothing, toys, prams, and other items – there are always people who need such things, and can re-use them,” added Michal Malacka, Vice-Rector for Strategy and External Relations.

The UP Marketplace is accessible at bazar.upol.cz and also has its own “tile” at the UP Portal in the section “Add an application to the desktop”, which you can place wherever you want on your profile page.

Categories: News from UP

UP is shaping a new international study programme

News: Faculty of Science - Thu, 25/04/2024 - 08:00

A Master’s programme which will equip students with digital competences, legal knowledge, and related societal knowledge is being created thanks to cooperation between UP and universities from Naples, Innsbruck, and Amsterdam, as well as other institutions in the Euridice project (European Inclusive Education for Digital Society, Social Innovation and Global Citizenship). Euridice representatives met at the UP Faculty of Law, the guarantor of the new joint study programme, in order to give it a specific form and content.

“Our goal is for its graduates – who will occupy leading positions in business, politics, and society – to understand the digital society in a complex way. They should understand for example what artificial intelligence is and how it works, and at the same time, they should be able to perceive its impact on society,” explained Anna Bon of Amsterdam’s Vrije Universiteit, the project’s main co-ordinator.

The English-language version of the course will be taught in hybrid form. This will allow students to gain knowledge from top experts at several universities; other institutions and even small- and medium-sized businesses which will offer internships are also connected to the programme. “Most universities have specific orientations, so it might be difficult for them to prepare ((and be accredited for)) an interdisciplinary study programme with multi-faceted orientation. Connecting more institutions allows a single study programme to acquire top experts from areas such as information technologies, law, and philosophy at the same time,” said Hans Akkermans of AKMC, a company connected to the Euridice project. “Our university will engage for example experts in statistics and data science as well as sociology,” said Emiliano Grimaldi, Euridice project co-ordinator at the University of Naples Federico II.

One of the key themes of the three-day meeting at Palacký University was therefore to put together an interdisciplinary teaching team. “Together, we also defined the themes that we’ll be discussing, our ultimate goals, and the competences which programme graduates should have,” Bon added.

The Euridice project was officially launched on 1 January 2024 and is set to last until December 2027. To a great extent, it comes out of existing ties in the Aurora European universities network, specifically the latter’s Digital Society and Global Citizenship thematic community. “One could say that the new programme is a spin-off of the Aurora 2030 consortium and epitomises the basis of which such cooperation should bring: to transform universities and society through education,” said Thomas Baumgartner of the University of Innsbruck.

The Euridice project originally began as a joint-educational module, but gradually evolved into a complex Master’s programme, which brings increased demands on technological support and also on the accreditation processes. “We have partly made use of the European Commission’s Digital Europe plan to come up with the financing. In the future, we will try to connect all the universities in the Aurora partnership,” said Michal Malacka, UP Vice-Rector for Strategy and External Relations.

“We’re very proud that Palacký University can be a part of this project and is involved in preparing this prestigious study programme, in which such hard-working academics and experts are taking part. Our team is made up of academics from the Faculties of Law and Science, and is supported administratively by the Aurora Office at the UP Rector’s Office. International educational activities do not only benefit UP, its reputation and prestige, but especially multicultural exchange, the development of intercultural professional and personal competences and inspirations, and is a benefit which is mutual, enriching all parties,” said Markéta Šemberová, the coordinator of the Euridice project and Aurora Education Developer at UP.

Maxim Tomoszek, UP FL Vice-Rector for Bachelor’s and Master’s programmes, added, “For the Faculty of Law, this is both a synergetic activity of our accredited doctoral programme Law and Digital Technologies, and at the same time a unique opportunity to work together with top workplaces abroad. Our shared work on the structure of the programme, the aims of individual modules, and the profile of what a graduate should have has been very inspiring.”

Categories: News from UP

Botanists described emergence of cyanobacteria species which long predate humankind

News: Faculty of Science - Tue, 23/04/2024 - 15:30

Scientists from the UP Faculty of Science (FS UP), together with colleagues from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, the Natural History Museum in London, and the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, have succeeded in using DNA analysis to describe the factors leading to the emergence of Microcoleus species and cyanobacteria adaptation to environmental conditions. According to the results of their joint research, these ancient cyanobacteria already inhabited the Earth some 30 million years ago. The six-year research by the international team of scientists has resulted in two publications in the prestigious scientific journals Nature Communications and iScience.

Scientists have been studying the development of species and the evolution of the cyanobacterium Microcoleus on the global scale. They have focused their attention on cyanobacteria that inhabit terrestrial habitats. Although Microcoleus cyanobacteria are microscopic, their colonies are of considerable size to the extent that they are commonly visible in nature. They are seen as green coatings on the soil in every garden, and form the typical green layers on puddles that can be found after rain on every dirt road. “In deserts, they cover entire square kilometres in the form of soil crusts,” said Petr Dvořák from the UP FS Department of Botany.

Scientists examined samples of cyanobacteria from Olomouc, the nearby Jeseníky Mountains, Greece, Scandinavia, Antarctica, Svalbard, deserts in the United States, and from the dry high mountain valleys of the Himalayas. They gradually obtained individual strains of Microcoleus from the samples in the laboratory, exhaustively mapping its nearly 300 genomes. Among the samples examined were dry herbarium examples of cyanobacteria up to 200 years-old. “We have been analysing this gigantic dataset for more than two years, which has led to some ground‑breaking findings. We dated the origin of the entire Microcoleus group of cyanobacteria to around 30 million years ago, with twelve species in total, making it is a very ancient group. Much older than humans,” said Dvořák.

Scientists then sought to describe what factors led to the emergence of these cyanobacteria species. This issue has fascinated biologists since the time of Darwin, who was the first to provide a coherent idea of the mechanism of the evolutionary process. “However, microorganisms, including cyanobacteria, have long been neglected. Mainly because it is necessary to get to the level of the DNA sequence. Our analyses have shown that the origin of species in our cyanobacteria was influenced by the geographical separation of populations, although all microorganisms were previously assumed to be able to spread unrestrictedly,” Dvořák described.

According to him, it is also interesting to find out how the emergence of soil cyanobacteria species was influenced by the conditions in which they occur. Soil cyanobacteria have to cope not only with drought in the deserts, but also with the intense UV radiation they face in Antarctica. “Using several methods, we have identified more than two dozen genes and several sequences of the genome by which the cyanobacteria have been able to adapt to these very inhospitable conditions and have therefore played an important role in the evolution of this group,” he pointed out.

Experts were also interested in the role of gene flow on the evolution of the cyanobacterial genome. This is because a reduction in gene flow between populations leads to separation and genetic diversification, and thus the emergence of species. “However, cyanobacteria are bacteria and they reproduce only clonally. It was therefore assumed that gene flow played no role in its evolution. Nevertheless, we observed different levels of gene flow in cyanobacterial species, ranging from intense gene flow to complete separation of species, where gene flow does not occur. This is the first speciation continuum to be observed in microorganisms,” said Dvořák.

Microcoleus has tapering fibres similar to plant roots. The fibres move and often burrow into the soil. “We noticed that the shape and length of the constriction varies between species. Some ends are thinner and others are more robust,” said Dvořák. The fibres are topped with a protective cap. Scientists have long speculated that the tip shape has an adaptive function, but no one had tested the hypothesis. “We investigated the relationship between the shape of the tip and various environmental factors – the amount of precipitation, light levels, and soil particle size composition. It turned out that all these variables have an influence on species diversification and therefore played a role in the evolution of our cyanobacteria,” said Dvořák.

The research was conducted at the Department of Botany under Petr Dvořák by doctoral students Aleksandar Stanojković (now a graduate) and Svatopluk Skoupý in the main role. Students of Bachelor’s and Maste;sr study programmes at UP FS also participated in the research. The research was supported by the Czech Science Foundation (grants 19‑12994Y and 23-06507S).

Blog: https://communities.springernature.com/posts/the-speciation-continuum-below-your-feet

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Palacký University showcased at a gala evening in Washington

News: Faculty of Science - Tue, 23/04/2024 - 11:31

Plans are being finalised at the Czech Embassy in Washington, D.C., for Wednesday’s gala evening featuring Palacký University. The event will help acquaint the American public with an institution whose history dates back to the 15th century. It will also be an opportunity for Rector Martin Procházka to meet with VIPs. The musical programme will be provided by Katelyn Bouska, a pianist, musicologist, and teacher with Czech heritage.

“We’ve been planning our showcase in Washington for some time; it is certainly a wonderful opportunity to strengthen our cooperation with American partners and develop new contacts,” Rector Martin Procházka said. He will be accompanied by Vice-Rector for Internationalisation Jiří Stavovčík. “The gala evening will be attended by representatives of the Czech Embassy, to whom we are very grateful for their help and hospitality. We’ve also invited our alumni living in the USA, representatives of American universities, and political and business leaders. At the same time, we are looking for new possibilities of partnerships, and in cooperation with foreign supporters and firms, we are also looking for financial support for the Josef Jařab Scholarship fund,“ the rector added.

The 450th jubilee of the founding of Olomouc’s university was commemorated by the school via a number of events in the past year. The university also celebrated its jubilee across the pond with a gala evening in the Bohemian National Hall in New York and with an exhibition in the National Czech and Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Wednesday’s gala evening in the American capital starts at 6 pm local time, and the City of Olomouc and the Olomouc Region will also be represented in the programme.

Categories: News from UP

Law and Digital Technologies: UP Faculty of Law opens new doctoral programme in Czech and English

News: Faculty of Science - Thu, 18/04/2024 - 14:30

A doctoral programme with an interdisciplinary foundation and further possibility of individual choices in narrower concentrations. One oriented on research, with strong support of top results, and of an international character. These are not the only advantages characterising the doctoral programme Právo a digitální technologie/Law and Digital Technologies which the Palacký University Olomouc Faculty of Law (UP FL) is offering for the first time. The application process will open on 30 April.

The programme was accredited in both languages last autumn. The guarantors are the UP Faculty of Law in cooperation with the Department of Computer Science at the UP Faculty of Science (UP FS). Its first students will matriculate in September.

“Our goal in creating the programme was to fill the gap in Czech university education with an interdisciplinary doctoral programme specially profiled on the complex questions regarding the interaction of law and digital technologies. In doing so, Palacký University is joining a general global trend,” said Ondrej Hamuľák, UP FS Vice-Dean for Science and Research, who significantly contributed to the creation of the programme and who will also be one of its teachers. “The need for a programme which will educate highly specialised experts on the question of law in digital technologies and innovations is justified especially due to the rapid development of modern technologies, where legal reactions often significantly lag behind innovative technological solutions,” the vice-dean added.

Anyone with a Master’s degree may apply; one does not have to have a degree in Law. “Applicants with Master’s degree can apply, and students will be accepted who have successfully passed the entrance exam, during which their study prerequisites, levels of knowledge in law and digital technologies and their mutual ties will be examined, as well as whether applicants are prepared for their academic and creative duties in the field,” summarised Michael Kohajda, Vice-Dean for Doctoral Studies, Qualification Proceedings, and Finances, who prepared the programme’s accreditation and who will also teach.

Online informational meetings

For international students

7 May | 10:00 am | Zoom, registration HERE

For Czech students – intended for all interested in doctoral studies at UP FL, regardless of specialisation or programme

9 May | 2 pm | link to be announced

The programme, either in Czech or English, is a standard 4-year study, and students can choose either in-person or combined in-person/online study. The application process is online and will be open from 30 April to 31 May. Entrance exams will take place in mid-July in the form of oral interviews.

Graduates of the Právo a digitální technologie/Law and Digital Technologies programme will be qualified for opportunities as legal experts in the area of digital technologies in public institutions, in the national and international contexts, and also in the private sector as researchers and analysists, as lecturers, and as specialised course leaders.

The programme has a bilingual website.

Categories: News from UP

Scientists clarified key step in transport of important plant hormones

News: Faculty of Science - Thu, 18/04/2024 - 12:15

Miroslav Kvasnica from the Laboratory of Growth Regulators, a joint workplace of the Palacký University Faculty of Science and the Institute of Experimental Botany of the Czech Academy of Sciences (CAS), was involved in the discovery of the protein “transporter” of brassinosteroids from the inside of the plant cell to the outside. The discovery is a breakthrough in the previously quite incomplete knowledge of the movement of these phytohormones through the plant. In the future, this may be of practical importance for breeding more profitable and resistant crops. The research results were published in the prestigious journal Science.

Just like animals and humans, plants also have hormones – substances that, even in low concentrations, regulate the growth and development of the organism and its physiological responses to various stimuli.

Brassinosteroids are an important group of these phytohormones. They influence many fundamental processes: cell division and elongation, stem and root bending in response to light or gravity, development of conductive tissues, sexual reproduction, and responses to adverse environmental conditions such as heat, cold and drought.

From this list, it is already clear that brassinosteroid research is of great practical importance. Information gained on their effects on plants could be used in the future to breed new varieties of crops that will grow better or be more resistant to stress. Since the discovery of brassinosteroids in the 1970s, scientists have accumulated much knowledge about them. Their physiological effects and the biochemical reactions by which they are produced in plants are now relatively well-known. The molecular processes they trigger in cells have been mapped. However, the transport of these hormones – i.e., how they move through the plant – has remained a mystery.

Only recently have scientists begun to unravel that mystery. Much credit for this goes to the Laboratory of Growth Regulators team led by Miroslav Kvasnica and Jana Okleštková, who have long been involved in the physiology, chemistry, and analysis of brassinosteroids.

How do brassinosteroids get from the cells where they originate to the intercellular spaces where they act? The answer was provided by a study published in Science. Experts from China, Belgium, and the Czech Republic were the first in the world to identify a protein located on the cell surface that transports brassinosteroid molecules outwards. “As part of this research, it was also necessary to determine whether the transport protein selectively transports only the hormonally active brassinosteroid, or also the compounds from which the hormone is formed in the cells (precursors) or other plant steroids. The substances that I prepared with my team have helped to confirm that the transport is indeed selective,” Kvasnica explained.

The discovery of the first ever brassinosteroid “transporter” is a major achievement. However, its identity is surprising: the protein, ABCB19, has long been known to transport another important plant hormone – auxin. Figuratively speaking, scientist do not yet know how ABCB19 decides which hormone to transport. It is clear that we can look forward to further interesting findings in brassinosteroid research.

Categories: News from UP

Memory is its theme, and AFO59 will definitely be memorable

News: Faculty of Science - Thu, 18/04/2024 - 08:00

The start of the international festival of popular science films Academia Film Olomouc is only a few days away. Its jam-packed programme includes 250 events – film screenings, concerts, talks, lectures, workshops, walks, and art exhibitions. In addition to the core component of the festival – film competitions in three categories (International, Czecho-Slovak, and Short Film) – it will also feature the Camp4Science platform for creators and film professionals, where important guests from all over the world will meet.

AFO59 has Memory as its theme this year, and from 23–28 April it will offer a number of novelties sure to attract those who are still on the fence about registering for the free festival. For example, there will be a sound installation by Jonáš Gruska in a civil defence bunker, and in Galerie XZ the exhibition by Julie Dítětová: “Machine Learning: Programming Patterns”. The latter is an experimental project using a neural network to generate new visual data based on motifs of clerical fabric patterns from the 18th century.

The Olomouc Research Library’s Red Church will be a portal for visitors to a different world, the VR Zone. “An interactive audio walking tour should also be of interest. It is meant to stimulate those taking part to be aware of their environment in both the present and the geological time period in order to orient their attention to how the landscape can change due to climate collapse,” said AFO programmer Dominik Vontor in his invitation. He also recommends a lecture on the fascinating abilities of fungi by Peter McCoy, co-founder of the worldwide Radical Mycology movement. And Prof Jiří Horáček will return to the Olomouc Regional Museum to speak on the pharmacological properties of psychedelics and their uses in therapy.

What’s it really like to be a palaeontologist?

Connecting a computer game with popular science can mask a lot of mistakes. This is why two seasoned palaeontologists, Jingmai O’Connor and Daniel Madzia, will get to play Dinosaur Fossil Hunter in order to set the record straight. Jindřich Matoušek’s lecture “Speech Synthesis Supported by AI – Creating a Digital Acoustic Fingerprint of Singer Karel Gott” will acquaint festival goers with contemporary trends in the area of computer voice synthesis. Lenka Hamošová’s workshop “How to Create the Incommunicable with AI?” is about transferring subjective experiences into an AI perspective. The workshop will aim at co-creating possible new ways of working with AI which will go beyond the ordinary text formats to search for new methods of expression.

Music is also science!

The programme Music is Science, featuring two dozen music projects, will take place in the Geodome on the UP Arts Centre (Convictorium) town bailey. “Fans can look forward to low-frequency sub-bass, cinematic synthesised surfaces, effect-weaving guitars, rhythmic precision, and lyrical intensity. Other attractions include the electronic music producer Oblaka, the dada rap duo Laokoon, and artist Klara Wodehn, who won this year’s Vinyl award for new discovery of the year,” said the music programmer, Jiří Bejček.

And the German-Algerian composer and DJ Acidfinky will also be on hand in her Czech debut, premiering an original live set in Olomouc. Plus the Czech shoegaze group Manon Meurt will perform songs from their new album, which will be released two days later. After live performances, the music stage will give way to late night dance sessions.

Get inspired by stories from professionals

In another section, Science Matters, the scientific community will encounter professionals from various disciplines and the private sector. Audiences can look forward to a colourful mix of formats and inspiring presentations from scientific talents both young and old.

“Were it not for popularising science, the public would not know what scientists are working on nor what their results serve. Without transfer technologies, without their connection to the non-academic world – especially to the business world – no ideas would ever be put into practice. Film is also a transfer technology – the transfer of ideas from the silver screen into the souls of viewers. This is why we, the leading Czech technology transfer office, are glad to contribute to the promotion and explanation of science by supporting the fine AFO film festival,” said Martin Fusek, Director of IOCB Tech.

The Czech Advanced Technology and Research Institute (CATRIN) at UP will host presentations with the title Science Connects and Divides. “Top scientists from all over the world connect in order to bring those discoveries which transform our lives. Yet society does not always welcome these innovations with open arms. There are many examples when fundamental technologies and discoveries have divided society – from nuclear physics to medicine, pharmaceuticals, and energy. Even nanotechnology has aroused quite negative reactions in the not-so-distant past. The public and the scientific community alike are divided, for example, on the subjects of the European Green Deal strategy, electromobility, and many applications in medicine,” said Radek Zbořil, Scientific Director of CATRIN-RCPTM, who will introduce some of the innovations CATRIN has brought to the scientific world.

Loud and clear! The festival will entertain children, too

The AFO team invites the youngest participants to the new JáSám (IMyself) playroom. The town centre will also come alive. On the Upper Square, audiences can enjoy experiments conducted by teachers from the Czech Association of Science Centres (ČASC), the Innovation Centre of the Olomouc Region (ICOK) will keep children’s brains and hands busy with unique knitting books, and the Hella Forvia company will introduce their innovations which are causing excitement in the world of technology. The latter’s team of constructors, opticians, and technicians will let those interested take a look under the hood of the development and production of headlamps.

Dialogues with scientists and filmmakers

The programme section Science on Czech Television is dedicated to the latest domestic popular science achievements. In addition to other subjects, filmmakers will touch on art and public space in the form of Czech national identity in the graphic design and architecture from the communist era. Visitors will get to meet Czech TV’s science moderator Dan Stach. The independent daily newspaper Deník N will host a talk. And Czech Radio will broadcast a live version of their podcast Leonardo Plus on the mystery of the microbiome in primates and people, their “Jaws” show, and their Radio Wave Mycelium podcast from AFO. The weekly news magazine Respekt will conduct a debate on the theme “The Code of Life Written by AI”, and the magazine Heroine will host a discussion on whether a mother can be a good “scientist”.

Palacký University Olomouc has hosted the Academia Film Olomouc International Festival of Popular Science Films (AFO) since 1966. Since its inception, AFO’s aim is to actively connect cinematography and science, and explore their mutual interactions. Festival accreditation is free.

 

Categories: News from UP

American students cooperating with UP students to help firms and institutions with marketing

News: Faculty of Science - Wed, 17/04/2024 - 11:00

Students of the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) work on marketing plans for firms and institutions as part of their studies. Students of the Department of Economic and Managerial Studies at the Palacký University Faculty of Arts (UP FA) have given them a large hand in this as part of one of their option courses. And because it is an option course, other UP students also have the chance to learn marketing in cooperation with UNK.

The marketing plans for the course are tailored to a specific organisation, institution, or firm, including those in the Czech Republic. “The subject is officially called International Academic Exchange Workshop. I chose it because I’m interested in the theme of marketing, as well as having an opportunity to cooperate with American university students. I was also attracted by the American perspective on the development of marketing skills plus the chance to practice conversation in English,” said Tatiana Hantáková, a second-year student in the Economic and Managerial Studies department. She spent a full day with students from UNK during their recent week-long stay in Olomouc and took part in a presentation by two firms and one organisation which expressed interest in students creating marketing plans.

“Nebraska students worked for example on SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analyses, and a marketing plan for a real project of the Brazzale company, which would like to broaden their portfolio of global activities. We helped them fulfil this goal. Together we discussed market research and target groups, and because the American students are strangers to the Czech market, we familiarised them with it and its regional connections,” she added. In addition to the Brazzale dairy firm, American students this semester worked on plans for the apiculture start-up Apis Innovation, which focusses on innovative approaches in the battle against honeybee pests via its Thermosolar Hives, and for the Olomouc Regional Museum.

“I think the subject which the department offered is excellent for practising marketing abilities. American students have a different mentality: they’re more hands-on, and they bring a different perspective on marketing to Olomouc. I would like to recommend this course to all students, even those from other majors, if they are thinking of going into business. Or even if they would like to just improve their English, broaden their horizons, and encounter different thinking and perspectives, this is an excellent opportunity,” she added.

The guarantor of the course, David Kosina, agrees. “Students learn to think conceptually in this course. It is offered in a hybrid in-person and online form and the idea is to develop students’ practical marketing skills through cooperation with specific clients. UP and UNK students work together to create marketing plans – one of the key elements of a business plan – for the participating companies. The course results can then be put into practice by those companies to realise their marketing goals,” he said, and added that the department would like to expand the project.

“We’re trying to get students away from PowerPoint slides and educate them in the real world. Thanks to cooperation with the College of Business and Technology (CBT UNK), the endeavour has huge crossover,” said Kosina.

The broader conception of the option course was emphasised by the department head, Ondřej Kročil: “It comes out of years of cooperation with CBT UNK. The principle of the course, where our students and selected companies meet students from abroad – both in-person and online – is something we’d like to expand. We’re also preparing other projects of this ilk, to which we’d like to connect other partners, for example from Slovenia, Slovakia, and Italy. We expect it to bring benefits to all parties,” he said.

This is the second time American students from UNK have come to Olomouc for the course. Last year, they visited Oracle, one of the biggest corporations in the Czech Republic, as well as local firms such as the Šufan nut processors and the Chomout brewery. The rest of this year’s course will be completed online via Zoom by students of both countries. Their results will be put to the test under Prof Tim Burkink of CBT UNK in their final presentations in May.

Categories: News from UP

War crimes investigator shared experiences with students

News: Faculty of Science - Wed, 17/04/2024 - 08:00

A unique look into the investigation of war crimes was given to students and the public by the Olomouc Faculty of Law’s Centre for International Humanitarian and Operational Law (CIHOL). A film screening of The Investigator: Demons of the Balkan War and follow-up discussion with Vladimír Dzuro, the main protagonist of the film, attracted an audience of over two hundred at the faculty.

Vladimír Dzuro took an active part in UN peacekeeping in the former Yugoslavia starting in April 1995, and then spent more than nine years in the post of Chief of the Office of Internal Oversight Services at the UN in New York. In the documentary The Investigator: Demons of the Balkan War, which is inspired by the book of the same name, he returns to the places of his investigations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Serbia. At the screening, Petr Stejskal of CIHOL, the main coordinator of the event, explained the legal aspects of arresting Slavko Dokmanović, the mayor of Vukovar.

The organisers were able to invite another VIP guest to the programme – Michal Vývoda, Senior Advisor OSINT (Open Source Intelligence Tools), European Union Advisory Mission (EUAM) Ukraine – who shared his fresh experiences on investigating war crimes in the era of modern technologies. He also explained the intersections of international humanitarian law, in-country prosecution, and war crimes. 

This was Vladimír Dzuro’s second invitation to Olomouc by CIHOL. In 2011, he gave the lecture “Deadly Propaganda: Fake news in the post-conflict environment”, which is still available on the faculty’s YouTube channel (in Czech).

Categories: News from UP

Botanical Garden will open new modern building with lecture hall and winter garden

News: Faculty of Science - Wed, 10/04/2024 - 12:00

A new multi-purpose building in the Botanical Garden of the Palacký University Olomouc Faculty of Science, which will be inaugurated Wednesday 24 April 2024, will offer a lecture hall, a conservatory, and high-quality sanitary and technical facilities to the academic community and the public. The preparation of the project for a modern, low-energy building started three years ago. The construction alone required an investment of €1.2 million.

The Botanical Garden is located near Smetana Park and is the oldest area managed by the Faculty of Science. The original building on the garden grounds was built more than a hundred years ago, so its technical condition did not meet current needs. The management of the Faculty of Science therefore considered whether to renovate the old building expensively or to build a new building.

“The most economical solution turned out to be the construction of a new building in the front part of the garden. The new building will not only provide space for administrative facilities, but also a hall in which classes and public events can be held. This should not only expand the possibilities for practical teaching using the valuable botanical collections we care for, but also provide a platform for public events in an interesting environment,” said Martin Kubala, Dean of the Faculty of Science.

Josef Otruba Lecture Hall

The core of the new building is a lecture hall named after Josef Otruba, an important Moravian botanist of the first half of the 20th century. “We decided to name the hall after Josef Otruba for several reasons. Firstly, he managed the garden for thirty years, and thanks to his care, the plant collections survived the difficult period of the Second World War. In addition, he was a great field botanist who discovered a number of new and rare plant species, and not only in Central Moravia. He also contributed to the declaration of several small protected areas in Haná,” said Václav Dvořák, Director of the Botanical Garden.

The modern hall has a capacity of 50 seats and is equipped with audio-visual equipment facilitating the organisation of conferences, lectures and screenings. It will be used not only for teaching students, but also for public events such as talks or exhibitions. “We would like to hold exhibitions in the hall in six-month cycles with natural history themes, either professional or artistic. We believe that the Olomouc cultural scene will soon adopt the unusual format as its own,” said Dvořák.

Low-energy building with conservatory and rooftop view

The new building includes a conservatory with tropical and subtropical plants from the collection of the Department of Botany of the Faculty of Science, among which there are the mango tree, the Malabar plum, and the Canary Islands Rumex lunaria L. Thanks to the new building, the garden has also acquired state-of-the-art sanitary and technical facilities and, fortunately, an unconventional rooftop observation deck, which will be accessible on tours.

The new building was designed in a passive standard to ensure that its operation was not demanding as regards energy and water consumption. “We have adapted the technologies used for this, such as photovoltaic roof panels, a heat pump, and heat recovery. Nor did we omit a green roof, a rainwater retention tank, and a trellis system on the façades for climbing plants,” added Dvořák.

Categories: News from UP

UP’s recommendations for the use of generative AI models

News: Faculty of Science - Thu, 28/03/2024 - 08:00

At this time of rapid technological development and the ever-expanding possibilities of artificial intelligence (AI), it is imperative that Palacký University Olomouc is at the forefront of innovation while maintaining ethical standards and integrity. This document reflects a commitment to balance the potential of AI to improve teaching, research, and administrative processes with the need to protect personal data, intellectual property, and academic honesty.

The following recommendations should serve as a guide for all members of the UP academic community and contribute to the development of a safe, transparent, and innovative environment in which AI can support our academic goals and missions.

This text should be perceived as a work in progress, i.e. it will be updated periodically to reflect the latest developments in AI and to ensure that our work practice remains consistent with the latest knowledge and best practices. The text is in line with the conclusions of the UP Pedagogical Committee on the use of AI in teaching.

All AI systems (generative or otherwise) at UP must be used in such a way as to comply with the ethical principles of UP as defined by the Code of Ethics for UP staff and students, as follows:

(a) Artificial intelligence must be used in a meaningful and responsible manner – so that it serves as a tool to improve our knowledge and skills and to make our teaching and research activities at UP more effective. This means using AI as a learning, managerial, administrative, and editorial tool, not as a full replacement for creative activity. Therefore, it is not recommended to use generative AI tools to formulate the text itself, i.e. the author’s own claims, conclusions, arguments, etc.

(b) AI must not be misused for plagiarism. The use of generative AI in professional texts and other creative work, including artistic output, must be declared.

(c) Neither staff nor students may claim to be the authors of texts and other creative outputs generated using AI.

(d) AI must not be used to deliberately misrepresent the results of science and research (e.g. purposeful modification and falsification of data).

(e) AI must not be misused to create and disseminate misinformation.

(f) All AI-generated outputs must be verified.

(g) Liability always falls upon the human being who misuses AI in this way.

When using AI, personal data and other sensitive information (such as potential UP intellectual property) that is fed into AI systems must be handled responsibly. It should be understood that such data is usually made available to a third party and that the owner then loses control over it. It is therefore important to ensure that there is no breach of privacy, no leakage of sensitive information outside the organisation, no discrimination, etc.

Meanwhile, it is also necessary to be mindful of possible leakage of intellectual property and the protection of third-party rights. This concerns e.g. patents, research datasets, project plans, as well as foreign language translations of materials containing sensitive data mentioned above. In the case we want to work with data requiring special protection within AI systems, specific licences must be used to ensure that the data entered into the systems is not leaked outside the organisation/institution.

The use of AI systems in research and education requires a responsible approach. Particularly, the potential ethical, security, and legal issues associated with the creation and dissemination of AI-generated content must be taken into consideration. AI systems may produce compelling but potentially false or misleading content, which may affect the integrity of research results and educational materials. There is also a risk of misuse of technology to create misinformation and manipulative content.

Therefore, it is essential to integrate ethical standards and rules into all phases of the research and educational process, thereby ensuring that the eventual application of AI is transparent, justified, and in accordance with UP’s ethical principles and standards.

When using new (especially generative) forms of AI, one must anticipate that these tools are still flawed and may provide information that is false and misleading. Therefore, AI outputs should always be verified. The quality of AI-generated outputs depends heavily on the way educators/students enter their specifications (requests, commands) into these systems – i.e. the prompts. In the educational process, it is necessary to distinguish situations in which the use of AI is effective and expedient from situations in which the use of AI is ineffective or directly undesirable (e.g. when testing students’ factual knowledge and skills). Similarly, it is necessary to choose appropriate and effective pedagogical methods in educational activities that include the deployment/use of AI.

AI can be used to create tools for testing students’ knowledge and skills, e.g. to create series of test questions and tests of different types. Again, however, the potential for error in these systems needs to be taken into account, and human oversight is therefore essential. Thus, generative AI can be used for self-testing, generating test questions for specific learning materials, as well as for analysing student work at different levels (e.g. based on criteria defined by the educator).

When supervising theses, it should be anticipated that some students may actively use advanced AI tools when writing their theses. Therefore, the use of AI within these types of works must be in line with the principles defined in this recommendation. However, detecting whether students are using AI tools in writing their theses is difficult.

It is thus necessary to introduce a gradual change in the verification of the authorship of the thesis in those fields that require it. This may take the form of ongoing consultations reviewing the text and verifying the student’s knowledge of the topic during the thesis defence.

At the same time, it should also be pointed out that each and every one of us has the fundamental right not to be subjected to a decision that has a significant impact on them when it is be based solely on automated processing. Thus, if an educator decides to use AI in any form of assessment of students’ activities (e.g. evaluation of their written works), it should always include the educator’s own assessment, not one made solely by AI.

Generative AI (and other tools using elements of AI) can be used as an aid to improve the quality of the text, especially stylistically, but not creatively (e.g. not in the formulation of conclusions or arguments based on the results of scientific research, etc.). If generative AI is used so as to directly influence the content of the text (diagrams, graphical abstracts, flowcharts, as well as the structure of the text), this should always be acknowledged. If generative AI is used to modify the form of the text, it is not necessary to acknowledge its use (similarly, we do not mention the use of automatic spell-checkers and reference citation systems).

doc. Mgr. Lucie Plíhalová, Ph.D.
(guarantor, Vice-rector for Science and Research)

Prof. Mgr. Kamil Kopecký, Ph.D.
(for the UP RO AI Committee)

Examples of AI tools use acknowledgement:

  • Perplexity AI was used in writing this text when compiling a reference list of academic resources on the subject.
  • ChatGPT (GPT4) was used in writing this text, specifically chapters 1–2.

For more information on generative artificial intelligence, please visit our website www.ai.upol.cz.

 

Categories: News from UP

CATRIN enters a European project to develop batteries of a new generation

News: Faculty of Science - Wed, 27/03/2024 - 08:00

The international project LESIA: Laser Engineered Surfaces/Interfaces for Advanced Batteries convened its first meeting to gather representatives of the research teams. The four-year project from the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) programme started officially on 1 March and, under the leadership of Aarhus University, will involve European partners from Denmark, Germany, Spain, Italy or Great Britain, as well as colleagues from Hong Kong and China acting as associate partners. The principal investigator for Palacký University is Radek Zbořil from CATRIN.

The aim of the project is to respond to one of the most important societal challenges, which is to find new green sources of sustainable energy. The LESIA project’s research team will be devoted to developing new generation batteries that will store green energy. Existing battery systems still suffer from low stored energy capacity, low recyclability rates and safety problems. The use of new electrode materials is therefore considered to be a necessary step for the development of a new generation of batteries. LESIA aims to create an innovative approach to battery development by laser and chemical treatment of electrode surfaces. On one hand, CATRIN’s researchers have years of experience in this area, on the other, the materials may face various limitations in practical applications.

“Our task will be to test the possibilities of graphene derivatives for electrode modification. In the past, we have demonstrated high efficiency of chemically modified graphene in many energy storage systems including supercapacitors, lithium batteries, but also in modern Li-S batteries. In cooperation with foreign partners, we want to combine new chemical and physical approaches to improve the properties of battery systems. With the help of a number of unique instrumental techniques available in various workplaces, we will study the phenomena on the phase interface between the electrode and the electrolyte, the understanding of which is crucial for the development of new generation batteries,” said the CATRIN-RCPTM Scientific Director Radek Zbořil.

The European Commission estimates that the value of the battery industry may reach €250 billion by 2025. The project, with a total funding of €358,800 and lasting until the end of February 2028, will therefore involve both academic institutions and private companies. In addition to the two universities mentioned above, other project partners are the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, the University of Trieste, the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and CemeCon Scandinavia A/S. Tianjin University, the University of Warwick and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology are associated partners who will also participate in research and exchanges of scientists.

Categories: News from UP

Three days of Majáles plus singers Bára Poláková and Michal Horák

News: Faculty of Science - Wed, 20/03/2024 - 13:30

One of the highlights of spring celebrations in the town is the traditional Olomouc Majáles of Palacký University, this year taking place from 6 to 8 May. Majáles offers more than music, film, and theatre programmes: it is also the largest showcase of student and non-profit organisations, accompanied with contests, workshops, and other events for all. This year its motto is Without Borders – to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Czech Republic’s accession to the European Union.

“On Monday 6 May, Majáles will occupy the premises of the Convictorium, where visitors can look forward to open art studios and workshops, an exhibition, a swing dance hall, slam poetry, theatrical performances, the popular impro show performed by O.LI.V.Y., and a talk show with singer and songwriter Michal Horák. The legendary circus tent will also host the announcement of the results of the university literary competition and an afterparty,” said Ondřej Martínek, the event coordinator and head of the UP Marketing Office. Visitors to the Convictorium will enjoy even buskers and a dulcimer band. Travel fans will be pleased by a series of travel talks in the theatre hall.

The Monday programme does not end there. Jazz Tibet Club will host a special Majáles episode of Pub Quiz on the theme Without Borders, and UPoint will host another talk from its Point series, this time on Europe and the European elections.

On the next day, the programme will move to the Armoury courtyard and Biskupské Square, and also to Republiky Square and Mariánská Street, where the university and the city will together commemorate 20 years since the Czech Republic joined the European Union. Republiky Square will belong mainly to Olomouc secondary schools and presentations by EU member countries, while Biskupské Square and Mariánská Street will be filled with six dozen stands of student clubs, non-profit organisations, and university departments, which will provide information about their activities along with thematic workshops and contests. “Visitors young and old will have the opportunity to get a Majáles passport, and after completing a given task at each stand, they’ll get stamps and compete for valuable prizes,” Martínek adds. The programme in the streets will be complemented by workshops in pole dancing, juggling, aerial silks, fencing, and an open-air tearoom. Lovers of street performers can look forward to a dozen buskers.

The main musical programme in the UP Armoury courtyard will feature artists such as Barbora Poláková and Pam Rabbit, both nominated for the Anděl Awards in the category of female singer of the year, singer and songwriter Michal Horák, and the Slovak DJ duo Malalata. “UP’s MedicBand and the Czech band Celest & Charles will take over the stage with their mix of funk and disco. We are also having light and acrobatic shows and, inevitably, the coronation of this year’s King or Queen of May,” Martínek explained. The ground floor of the library will host a Handmade Zone, an exhibition, and tattoo artists; local restaurants will try to appeal to gourmets with delicacies in their stands, while a swap library and exhibitions will please all art-loving souls.

On day three, Majáles will move a few hundred metres further to the premises of the Open-Air Cinema Olomouc (Letní kino), where smaller concerts by local bands, workshops, and a film screening will be held. “The open-air cinema belongs inseparably to student life in Olomouc, which is why we’ve decided to join forces with the university under the banner of Majáles and thus launch the summer season in our venue,” added Radka Rennerová, its production manager.

 

Since 2009, the Olomouc Majáles has been organised by Palacký University as one of the last traditional student May celebrations in the country. It is organised by the UP Marketing Office and two dozen students from across the faculties, for whom it is a unique opportunity to gain practical experience in organising a large cultural event. For more information, please visit www.olomouckymajales.cz.

Categories: News from UP

AMADEUS to accelerate drug discovery

News: Faculty of Science - Fri, 15/03/2024 - 08:00

AMADEUS, a breakthrough technological platform developed by the renowned chemist Alexander Dömling at Palacký University Olomouc thanks to a prestigious grant funded by the European Research Council (ERC) with a budget of €3.4 million, is intended to make drug discovery more sustainable, cost-effective and time efficient. The AMADEUS platform aims to revolutionize the process of drug discovery and optimization by enabling autonomous, AI-driven, highly miniaturized automation for compound identification.

The five-year project entitled Automated, Miniaturized and Accelerated Pharmaceutical Discovery (AMADEUS) aims to accelerate the development of new drugs, reduce the financial costs and environmental burden of the process and increase its safety. The use of miniaturization and automation is proving to be the right approach.

“Using current tools, such as artificial intelligence or miniaturization, brings new possibilities to research. I am glad that we are among the universities that, thanks to cutting-edge research, are helping to find ways to save time and money in such important processes as the development of new drugs. Success in this area will have a clear societal impact,” said Martin Procházka, Rector of Palacký University.

Unlike the current industry practices that rely on larger-scale synthesis, researchers will operate at 100,000 times smaller scales.

“We will design and validate a comprehensive AMADEUS technology platform, which will be capable of synthesizing thousands of small molecules per day in nano- or picolitre-scale volumes based on hundreds of chemical reactions that we can effectively investigate and improve their properties using artificial intelligence. Thanks to this reduction, we will also significantly reduce the amount of toxic waste, hence the increase in sustainability, and speed up the whole drug discovery process. My ambition is to fundamentally change the early phase of drug discovery, which has been used in pharmaceutical companies around the world for more than half a century,” said Dömling, who works at the Czech Advanced Technology and Research Institute (CATRIN) of Palacký University.

The idea of the AMADEUS project dates back more than 30 years ago when Dömling, as a then postdoc, initiated his first start-up company. In the forefront of technology development is the integration of chemistry automation, high throughput screening and compound optimization using artificial intelligence aimed to dramatically accelerate early drug discovery. In the new version of AMADEUS, highly miniaturization and automation of synthetic chemistry through acoustic droplet ejection technology is a key point, which was introduced by Dömling and his group in 2019.

AMADEUS (Automated, MiniAturizeD, and acceleratEd drUg diScovery) can find application in not only medical chemistry, but also catalysis and the tuning of materials or plants properties.

The issue of miniaturisation and automation, which lead to sustainable chemistry and at the same time contribute to more efficient development of new pharmaceuticals, nanomaterials or for example plant protection substances, is also addressed by Professor Dömling at CATRIN within the European ERA Chair ACCELERATOR project. The main pillar of his research is multi-component organic reactions, which allow preparation and testing of tens of thousands of chemicals in a highly economical and diverse fashion.

“The two projects are complementary and will enable me to accelerate my research. I believe AMADEUS will represent a significant step towards achieving sustainability in research and development and will support innovation and progress in various scientific fields,” added Dömling.

Professor Dömling is the first recipient of the prestigious ERC Advanced grant at Palacký University. This grant focus on supporting internationally recognized experts who have already established themselves in the field and have demonstrably influenced it. Besides, the physical chemist Michal Otyepka has been successful in the stiff ERC competition in the past, even four times (three of them in the Proof-of-Concept category, which supports successful ERC grant awardees in the earliest phase of commercialization of the outputs of their research activities). Both scientists work at CATRIN.

Prof. Alexander Dömling, Ph.D.
In the first decade of his professional life, he studied chemistry and biology at the Technical University of Munich. He received his doctorate under the supervision of the world-famous scientist Ivar Ugi. Then he spent his postdoctoral period with the two-time Nobel laureate K. Barry Sharpless at the Scripps Research Institute in California.

In the next period, he worked at the University of Pittsburgh, where he received several large project grants and gained experience in computational and structural biology, which he used, for example, in drug design. Subsequently, he worked as head of the Department of Drug Design at the University of Groningen, where he assembled a team of about 30 students and co-workers.

Professor Dömling has extensive experience in the commercialization of research results. He has obtained more than 70 patents and co-founded six biotechnology companies.

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