The nanofibre ArgeCure material suitable for protective face masks, respirators and, in the future, even for water filtration or wound dressing, was developed by scientists from Palacký University (UP) in collaboration with the Science and Technology Park (VTP) of UP and commercial partners thanks to the support of the Technology Agency of the Czech Republic (TACR). To anchor silver nanoparticles, which are effective in the fight against dangerous bacteria as well as viruses, including a new type of coronavirus, researchers have used innovative technology, greatly simplifying the future production of these materials and facilitating their way into practice. Several industrial partners, including a major Czech producer of nanofibres, have already expressed interest in ArgeCure active filters.
“We have a polyurethane-based material at our disposal. The pores between nanofibres are so small that pathogenic organisms can’t get through. In addition, nanofibres are engineered so that we can bind silver nanoparticles to them quite easily, thus preventing the multiplication of trapped viruses and bacteria. If the material is used for a nonofibre face mask or a replaceable respirator cartridge, it will protect the user from the penetration of unwanted microorganisms from the external environment into the airways,” said the grant’s principal investigator Jana Soukupová from the Regional Centre of Advanced Technologies and Materials (RCPTM).
The material not only destroys pathogens from the external environment, but also prevents the growth of bacteria and fungi when used longer. It also combats skin problems caused by these pathogens, which can arise in sensitive individuals when wearing protective equipment. At the same time, the material exhibits a long lifespan.
Scientists have been working on the development of these materials since the middle of last year thanks to the COVID project from the TACR Gama 2 programme. This was one of the reactions to the spring wave of the covid-19 pandemic. Thanks to previous years of research, RCPTM scientists had extensive experience with a similar material, patent-protected in both Europe and the US (R. Zbořil, J. Soukupová, Method of immobilization of silver nanoparticles on solid substrates, patents: US 9505027, EP2701515). The coronavirus crisis has only accelerated the development of a technology that allows scientists to anchor active nanosilver onto the material in a really strong and long-term way. Cooperation with commercial partners involved in the project has also contributed significantly.Not all masks are the same
Since there are a number of nonofibre face masks currently available on the market, their parameters really matter. “If you want to harness the antimicrobial effects of nanosilver while ensuring that these nanoparticles are safe for the human organism, they need to be covalently anchored and should be in the range of 10 to 50 nanometres. Silver nanoparticles must be bonded by strong chemical bonds so that individual nanoparticles are not released from the material, ending up in the lungs, for example. Our fibre-modification process does just that, which is why we believe that we meet both parameters to the full. To prove this, we are planning a study on a lung model,” said Soukupová, who believes that the safety issue needs close attention.The material can enhance wound healing as well as improving water filtration
Scientists and their industrial partners still face a three-month testing phase, when they will need to tailor the material to specific applications. There are various possibilities ranging from the use in the textile industry to wound dressing including burns. The material has great potential as part of water filtration systems since its properties make it able to prevent algae and other microorganisms from growing over the filters. For example, tests showed a 99.98 percent effectiveness against Escherichia coli or a 99.68 percent effectiveness against so-called golden staphylococcus. The aim of the current testing will be to confirm outside the laboratory that the individual particles remain in place and perform their function. A number of nanofibres have not been performed such tests on.
The technology protected by both European and American patents, which allows silver nanoparticles to be anchored by strong chemical bonds to various materials including plastics, metals or textiles, have been continuously improved by RCPTM scientists since about 2014. Such antimicrobial coating prevents the growth of bacterial films, and many companies in Europe have already expressed interest in using it. Firm anchoring prevents nanoparticles from being released into the body or the environment.
This project, called PoC2-06 Nano face masks, will end this June, when it is ready to be put into practice. TACR in the Gama 2 programme supported the research of the TP01010015 project under the COVID-19 call with the amount of CZK 2 033 371. The UP Science and Technology Park has already managed to start collaborations with industrial partners. “By linking excellent research to practical needs, you can get more efficient and safer products to customers much faster. Each of us can then get first-hand experience with the benefits Czech science can bring to us in our daily lives,” added the business developer involved in the project Filip Auinger from VTP UP.
With regards to rapid developments and new, updated government measures and procedures, we have summarised the most basic information relating to the organisation of work and student life at UP. In case of any questions or if something is not clear, do not hesitate to write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.Vaccinations for academic workers
Within the scope of category 1.B., under which university academic workers have been included, registration is currently underway for vaccinations of teachers and non-teaching employees in regional education (grammar schools, middle schools, trade high schools). At present, academic workers at universities have been placed at the bottom of the list of priority groups within the category 1.B., and the entire process and strategy of vaccination of said workers is still being elaborated. The Czech Rectors Conference is taking its own active steps to negotiate the implementation of a vaccination strategy.
Thus we are kindly asking for your patience. As soon UP receives any details regarding registration for vaccinating academic university workers, we will inform our employees immediately.Working from home (home office)
With respect to the development of the epidemic situation and the new government measures going into effect as of 1 March, the UP Rector is asking deans, managers, and department heads to urge workers to work from home wherever possible, and whenever their agendas and workloads allow it.Travelling to work and studies during county-specific lockdown
On Monday, 1 March, new anti-epidemic measures limiting the movement of persons between Czech counties go into effect (valid until 21 March). There are exceptions allowing travel to work and studies; when crossing county lines for this purpose it will be necessary to show the proper completed form. Details (in Czech).
Exceptions to the lockdown also apply to students travelling from Slovakia, who regularly cross the Czech border at least once a week. These students are still allowed to travel to Olomouc for absolutely necessary study requirements under the government measures if they satisfy certain conditions. DetailsRespirators mandatory as of 1 March
From Monday, 1 March, on the basis of the new government measure, wearing a respirator or similar personal protection equipment will be mandatory inside UP spaces. Please follow this rule and respect your colleagues.Teaching regime at UP
The announcement of a new State of Emergency (valid until 28 March) and the updated measures in no way change the teaching regime at Palacký University. The summer semester will continue to be held for the most part on-line. Details and the current measures in place for universities can be found in this overview.UP Library
University library operations at the Zbrojnice/Armoury and all its branches will continue from 1 March in the non-contact “lending window” regime. Details are available on the library webpages.
Students of the Faculty of Health Sciences came up with the idea for a competition between Palacký University’s faculties. The competition was about voluntary donation of blood and with the slogan “Roll up your sleeves!”. And now we know the winner. With a total of 199 litres of donated blood, the Faculty of Sciences won first place in the “Volume” category. But when it came to the percentage of students who donated from a given faculty, the Faculty of Health Sciences came in far ahead of all other contestants.
The competition began on 5 October. It peaked last week, when the traditional event called “Donate Blood with the Rector” took place. To be able to compete, you had to fill in a form and deposit it into a special box right after the donation. Each faculty had its own box, and there was an additional box at the Transfusion Department in University Hospital Olomouc. “A total of 207 students and 27 employees participated, and 101 donated blood for the first time. Twenty-five of those managed to donate twice in the given time,” stated Simona Konečná, a student of Radiology and one of the organisers.
PŘF = FS
FIF = FA
FZV = FHS
LF = FMD
PDF = FE
FTK = FPC
PFA = FL
CMF = CMFT
The trophy for the “volume” category was won by students of the Faculty of Science, who donated almost 23.5 litres of blood. “I am very proud of our students and employees who decided to donate their blood, considering the current situation. For patients, it is immaterial whether it is quarantine or a state of emergency, they still need their treatment. I therefore really appreciate the solidarity of all those who donated, because it can save other people’s lives,” said Faculty of Sciences Dean Martin Kubala.
The results of the “volume” category however were very close. Only two more donations would have been enough for the Faculty of Arts to seize the victory for themselves. The Faculty of Health Sciences finished third in the “volume” category. However, UP’s newest faculty won in the second category: thirty-seven FHS students participated in the competition, which is more than 3.5% of all of the students of the Faculty of Health Sciences. Second place went to the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, from which 1.4% of students participated. Third place in the volume category went to the Faculty of Science.
PŘF = FS
FIF = FA
FZV = FHS
LF = FMD
PDF = FE
FTK = FPC
PFA = FL
CMF = CMFT
The winners of the first and second categories have already received their glass trophies. The organisers meanwhile randomly drew from the participants to choose those lucky individuals who will be rewarded with prizes from the sponsors. “We are very thankful to all donors and organisers. And even though this competition is over, hopefully, students will continue to donate blood. It takes less than fifteen minutes, but the gratitude of those in need of blood is incalculable. After all, your blood can save someone else’s life!” added Konečná.
This competition, organised by the of the Faculty of Health Sciences Student Association, took place during the winter semester. It was supported by the Faculty of Health Sciences in cooperation with the Department of communication of UP and the Transfusion Department of University Hospital Olomouc.
More information, photos, donor messages, and the names of winners can be found here.
Martin Kudláček from the Faculty of Physical Culture, Jiří Lach from the Faculty of Arts, Tomáš Opatrný from the Faculty of Science, and Martin Procházka from the Faculty of Health Sciences: this is the quartet of candidates vying to become the next rector of Palacký University.
“The special election commission of the Palacký University Academic Senate (AS UP) for elections for UP rector, at its meeting on 23 February 2021, verified the candidate nominations received to date for rector of UP. In conjunction with the resolution on announcing elections, it compiled this official list of candidates for UP rector (listed alphabetically), said senator Jiří Langer, head of the commission.
Alphabetical list of candidates for UP rector
Prof Mgr. Martin Kudláček, Ph.D.
Prof PhDr. Jiří Lach, M.A., Ph.D.
Prof. RNDr. Tomáš Opatrný, Dr.
Prof Martin Procházka, MD, Ph.D.
Source: AS UP
All information relating to elections for Palacký University rector for the period 2021–2025 is available on a special webpage.
How could universities strengthen their positive influence on the public space and help society in a world full of rapid changes and challenges? By close cooperation on the international level and directing the results of their research into praxis. And this is why UP has become an associate member of the Aurora Alliance. Together with its eight university partners from the Netherlands, Great Britain, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Iceland, Spain, and Italy, in the years to come UP and the Aurora Alliance will focus on the hot topics of the day, such as societal responsibility, sustainability, climate changes, and digitalisation.
Why is the Aurora Alliance so important for Palacký University? What does our prestigious membership in the Alliance bring to the university? What possibilities and challenges will membership open up? How will students, academics, and other employees benefit from Aurora in their personal and professional growth? And how does it tie in with the future success of universities? Rector Jaroslav Miller answers these questions – and much more – in this interview.
Palacký University has significantly been “opened up to the world” under your tutelage and has begun to deepen its internationalisation. Regarding this important strategic partnership within the aegis of the EU, what are UP’s visions and plans? Primarily, how will the EU contribute to UP’s development?
If we refrain from vulgarly reducing that question solely to one of finances, then of course by its very nature the European Union already supports international cooperation and interconnection in all forms and areas. The strategic partnership of universities in my opinion is important in at least two aspects. Primarily, it helps all partners toward qualitative growth; and secondly, it allows them to take part in truly grand consortia projects which will resolve a number of contemporary challenges. Digitalisation, sustainable development, top interdisciplinary research – these are all areas which transcend one institution and the confines of national borders.
The EU also supports the international Aurora Alliance of universities of which UP has now become an official part. Aurora has the reputation of one of the most important projects which UP has joined since 1989. What do you think is ground-breaking about our membership in Aurora?
Our membership in the international Aurora Alliance has the potential to structurally transform Palacký University and make it much more competitive in comparison to the best European and world universities – in other words, it can lead to the highest qualitative phase of development in the modern history of UP. But, of course, that depends on us: whether we take advantage of this historic chance to transform, and whether we have the motivation to become better and aim higher. This is truly a chance without precedent, because the European Commission has already demonstrated that it wants to give long-term support to the existing university alliances. That means that if we will have the determination to work on ourselves, metaphorically we are buying a transfer ticket from the local train to the bullet train. My job has been to open the doors: we either get on board, or they will slam shut in our face, to our detriment.
The historian in me adds that Palacký University Olomouc, with respect to its ambitions and a history longer than 450 years, simply should not be content with the role of a “national university”, which in my opinion is an oxymoron. On the contrary, it must transcend the narrow confines of the Czech Republic and strive for a more prominent position – among the academies of Europe and the whole world. I’m firmly convinced that resting on our laurels due to the fact that we are a prestigious university within the Czech Republic is delusive, and actually causes harm to UP.
What will the Aurora Alliance bring to our university, and what will we bring to it? What opportunities will Aurora open up for our employees and students?
Personally, I’m in favour of the idea of “symbiotic growth”, which can bring significant, mutual synergistic effects. I’m referring to connecting study programmes and curricula between the individual members, an eventual harmonisation of the systems of quality and evaluation, a shared policy of sustainability, a much higher extent of academic and student mobility than we are accustomed to at present, the use of a shared study and research infrastructure, and shared participation in grand consortia projects. By the way, we are already successful in this area, because as part of the Alliance we were granted a large EU project just last week. And I am sure that this is only the first of many. If we talk about specifics, in the future I can easily imagine, for example, a student studying their field in Olomouc, Amsterdam, and Innsbruck, and then getting a shared degree from these three universities or from the Alliance as a whole.
I’ll mention one area in which UP plays an absolutely key role within Aurora. Our university was entrusted with the coordination of partner relationships with associated universities from Eastern and Southeast Europe. This is an important part of the entire project and Olomouc has been given great leeway within it, as well as great responsibility.
Will the Aurora Alliance have a positive impact on student and employee stays and internships abroad? Will it expand opportunities for international mobilities?
Yes, indeed. Let me give you just one example. At present we are finetuning the first call for “microprojects”. The idea is to financially support trips by academics and doctoral students to any institution within the Alliance, with the goal of discussing cooperation on an academic project or in teaching. At the same time, we’re counting on foreign stays within the framework of shared praxis in management and academic administration.
Will Aurora help expand and improve academic and scientific research at UP?
The European Commission has given a clear and explicit signal that it is committed to supporting university consortia which can prove their meaningfulness, and to support them both financially and politically in the long-term – not just for the three years of existing European projects. The goal is to create closely connected university clusters which will be able to compete with American and now also Chinese universities, both in science and in modern approaches to teaching. Inside Aurora will we create tools (grants, shared infrastructures, co-projects, academic mobilities) which should lead to increased academic effectiveness for both the Alliance as a whole as well as individual universities.
Will membership in the Aurora Alliance help internal development at UP? Will it deepen cooperation between faculties, support modernisation of our infrastructure, and the like?
That depends on each one of us, on university management, faculty management, academics, and students. To take it slightly technocratically, universities in the Aurora Alliance all place somewhat higher in the global rankings than UP. That means that we have something to learn from our partners, and then to implement that within the context of Palacký University. The modernisation potential of our membership in the Aurora Alliance starts with teaching and continues through to research all the way to say, communications with the public. At the same time, it also means that our partners could learn something from us.
The universities in the Aurora Alliance are aiming their activities toward the themes of the environment, health, digitalisation, and cultural diversity. Why these themes, and how can universities help put them into practice?
I’m going to answer you a bit broadly: Universities must generally fulfil the role of the avantgarde, as institutions actively operating in the public space: articulating key themes and indicating direction. All of the areas you’ve mentioned are among the greatest challenges we face at present, and universities are institutions which have the potential to contribute to their solutions. As recognised think tanks, they have to announce their responsibilities to the world. In addition, themes like sustainability of the environment or health have long been our own at Palacký University and form a significant part of our scientific and study portfolios. The area of health is one that has been really well integrated with digitalisation here because Olomouc is one of the national centres for the development of telemedicine, and sharing good praxis forms one of the pillars of cooperation within the Aurora Alliance.
Civic responsibility and sustainability are one of the main themes of the Aurora Alliance, and UP has recently been devoting itself more and more to that topic. In your opinion, how can UP benefit the region in this respect, and how can it help on the European level?
The theme of sustainability is integral to UP. For example, the Department of Development and Environmental Studies led by Assoc Prof Pavel Nováček at the Faculty of Science is one of the leading expert workplaces working on long-term sustainability from various angles. The expert potential of that department is one that I predict Aurora will make a lot of use of.
Civic responsibility is being expressed in many ways at UP. From providing stipends to persecuted academics from Turkey and Belarus, to the UniON Civic University, to the recent establishment of a Sustainability Commissioner at Palacký University Olomouc. In the course of my tenure as rector, I’ve endeavoured to make UP more active in this area than in the past, because I am convinced that civic responsibility is genetically coded in a university’s mission. And I think we’ve been able to achieve that.
One of the main visions of Aurora is to also operate outside the university, in society…
You’re absolutely right. Aurora is based on the goal of open communications with society and articulating global challenges such as sustainability, digitalisation, and health in the context of an ageing populace. We want to conduct intensive debate on these themes in the public space and show that how we resolve these challenges will determine our future. Universities, no matter how rich and strong intellectually, are not capable of resolving these challenges on their own. Society must make itself aware of their severity and become mentally mature enough to arrive at the awareness that we are all responsible, every one of us. Universities can point the way in this respect and set the agenda.
Aurora is one of the European university alliances which the EU supports. Other Czech universities are interested in joining other alliances. At the same time, you are initiating mutual, deeper cooperation with these Czech universities. Why?
If I’m not mistaken, the EU has supported 41 consortia in total and is counting on the fact that between twenty to thirty of these (ca 150 European universities) will remain within the aegis of the EU. The European Commission will continue to support them in the long-term financially. Our goal of course is that Aurora remains one of them.
In the Czech Republic, the members of these consortia are Charles University, Masaryk University, and Czech Technical University in Prague. Recently, I initiated a joint meeting of the representatives of these universities with management at the Ministry of Education, the National Accreditation Office, and representatives from industry. We would like to reach the point where the Czech government would unambiguously declare its systemic support for these consortia, because membership in them has obvious potential to increase the quality of the entire third sector in the Czech Republic. Together with the National Accreditation Office we are going to resolve even purely practical problems: such as joint study programmes within the consortia, certifications called “microcredentials”, requalification courses which are key to flexibility in the labour market, etc. What I’m saying is that membership of four Czech universities in these consortia is important for the entire country, because it could initiate a number of fundamental structural changes even outside the academy. This is why we want to communicate with our partners and earn their support.
In conjunction with the announcement of UP entering the Aurora Alliance, you presented your visions of “global universities” – a kind of cluster of several closely connected European universities. What do you think would be beneficial about combining universities into a “superuniversity”? And won’t universities lose a part of “themselves” in this vision of fusion with European universities?
UP will always remain an authentic and hallowed Central European university. As I’ve said, I believe at the same time in integration, cooperation, in synergetic effects. Basically, I think these are the same impulses which led to the creation of the European Union. A number of fundamental contemporary challenges (climate, weaning ourselves off fossil fuels, the ageing populace, etc.) cannot be resolved by nations themselves, so they must unite, cooperate, and remove obstacles barring this synergy – whether they be languages, customs controls, or even national borders. And universities should not be ivory towers standing alone and indifferent, dotting the countryside here and there. If we’re talking about university clusters in connection with Aurora, I would personally welcome the process which I call mutual growth. This comprises joint study programmes, compatibility of a system of quality and evaluation, sharing expertise, sharing research infrastructures, etc. I know it seems a bit visionary, but future development in the third sector can go in this direction, and 15 years from now in Europe we could have maybe two dozen similar university clusters which will be leaders both in research and in technological innovations, because they will be able to mobilise much greater intellectual and financial capital than individual institutions. And I am proud that Palacký University is part of this story.
What do you think the future strategy of internationalisation should look like at UP?
Palacký University should continue to remain a university open to all forms of cooperation with both our traditional and new partners. We have truly excelled in this area over the past seven years, and I can truly say that today’s UP is an extraordinarily internationalised university, making use of a dense network of partnerships. In this respect UP even has the ambition to play the role of leader in excellence in internationalisation and among institutions providing systematic help to other universities in the region.
Our membership in the Aurora Alliance is another logical step in this direction. In the future we ought to aim for a qualitatively higher form of versatile connection with universities in the alliance. Additionally, UP should develop the tools of virtual mobility, which will certainly remain in some form here even after the pandemic subsides. And I also consider as welcome the expansion of another idea – the campus in Erbil (Iraq), if the conditions allow it. We are successfully teaching one accredited study programme there already, and I know of several other departments which are interested in operating in Erbil and are ready to do so. UP in this respect is quite exceptional as regards the Czech Republic.
On Sunday February 21, Palacký University Olomouc will celebrate 75 years since its reinstatement after World War II. To honour this event, the bells of the churches of St Moritz, St Michael, and St Wenceslas will ring out – as they did in February 1946. In addition, several other events will take place during the Academic Week – the tenth year of Donate Blood with the Rector, a lecture by alumna Kateřina Pešatová, and the announcement of the Rector’s Awards.
Some traditional events of the UP Academic Week, such as the Palacký University Ball, cannot take place this year due to the current epidemic. However, the organisers have prepared at least some parts of the programme in their online versions. “Despite the pandemic, we have decided to run the Academic Week in a limited online form, at least,” said Gabriela Sýkorová Dvorníková, the university spokeswoman.
The only traditional event that will take place physically – and under strict hygienic measures, of course – will be the tenth year of Donate Blood with the Rector. About sixty students and university staff will take part during four working days. “Normally, we would have almost three times as many participants, but we must respect the existing measures in place at the Olomouc Transfusion Department. Nevertheless, we are pleased that almost one half of those registered are first-time donors,” added Ondřej Martínek, the university coordinator of the event. In the last three years alone, the number of blood donors from among UP students and staff has almost tripled. More here.
The programme and information on the UP Academic Week is available at www.akademickytyden.upol.cz (in Czech).
More efficient gene transfer from wild species to wheat and acquisition of new varieties with unique properties will be enabled by the identification of an important Ph2 wheat gene. Apart from French and Australian researchers, experts from the Olomouc Laboratory of the Institute of Experimental Botany of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic (IEB AS CR) have significantly contributed to the discovery published in Nature Communications.
The genetic information of wheat contains 124 thousand genes, which is almost six times more than in humans. Most of them have not yet been described and their function is unknown. This was also the case with the so-called Ph2 gene, which scientists have not yet been able to identify. After almost seven years of "detective" efforts, the success was celebrated by an international research team, which together with Olomouc scientists consisted of experts from the INRAE Research Center in Clermont-Ferrand and the University of Adelaide. The newly identified Ph2 gene is extremely important because it is responsible for the proper functioning of chromosomes during germ cell formation.
"This gene ensures stability of the whole genome. Wheat was formed by crossing three species of grasses, and therefore contains three sets of very similar chromosomes. If the chromosomes do not pair properly during the formation of germ cells, this would have adverse consequences for the plant. Therefore, we consider the identification of Ph2 gene to be a great success, which will lead to a much easier transfer of genes from related wild species to wheat," said geneticist Jan Bartoš, leader of the research group at the IEB AS CR.
The identification of the gene was preceded by rigorous work
Finding and describing the Ph2 gene has been complicated because it is difficult to observe. The scientist literally had to go through rigorous work.
"We had to cross each plant with a related species, in our case rye. We had to wait for the hybrid to grow, and then examine its anthers in the developing flowers under a microscope. This is the only way to find out if the chromosomes pair correctly or not. This phase alone took us about three years. It was also difficult that we were not sure whether we would be able to find the desired gene at all," said Radim Svačina from the Olomouc laboratory of the IEB AS CR. The full article is available here.
The discovery will be used by breeders in practice
Researchers anticipate that the properties of Ph2 gene will soon be used by breeding companies, which will be able to breed rare cultivars with extraordinary properties much faster and easier.
"Modern varieties have lost important characteristics over many years of breeding, which we can now return to them. Wild relatives of wheat have a huge storehouse of genes that affect, for example, the plant's resistance to disease, drought or soil salinity. Other genes are responsible for the content of healthy substances, such as fiber, betaglucans and antioxidants. This is extremely important at this time, when it is necessary to increase yields and quality of cultivated crops and thus ensure sufficient food for the growing world population," explained Jaroslav Doležel, plant geneticist and head of the Olomouc laboratory of the IEB AS CR. According to him, a big advantage is also that genes with the desired properties can be transferred to wheat in a natural way, i.e. by conventional crossing.
Researchers have been studying hereditary plant information for a long time
The Olomouc Center for Structural and Functional Plant Genomics of the Institute of Experimental Botany of the ASCR is a partner of the Centre of the Region Haná for Biotechnological and Agricultural Research (CRH) and focuses on studying the structure and function of hereditary plant information, especially cereals, bananas and grasses. It uses the latest methods of cytogenetics, molecular biology and genomics and participates in international projects aimed at reading genetic information of important crops and the isolation of important genes. It is a globally recognized workplace under the leadership of plant geneticist Professor Jaroslav Doležel, holder of the highest Czech scientific award Česká hlava and scientific director of CRH, who has developed unique methods and procedures and whose results contribute to the breeding of new varieties of agricultural crops with required properties.
The ice-hockey club HC Palacký University has one big story among its players. Martin Žižlavský lost his leg below the knee in 2017 – but he returned to ice hockey and became a valuable member of the team. In this exclusive interview for HC Palacký University and hokej.cz, he talks about his return after the injury, curious moments with his prosthesis, how he views life, and how he enjoys his studies in Olomouc.
Martin has been into many sports since he was a child. He lived for ice hockey and sidecar motocross. However, his sports career came to an abrupt end for some time after an injury at school ski training. “I remember everything. It happened on the bobsled track…” says Martin Žižlavský about his painful accident that involved his classmates.
“We made it through together. We got over it, things are normal now, we stayed friends. Maybe it even brought some of us closer together,” he admits.
The Šumperk native had a premonition for a time before the accident. “A few months before, I had a bad feeling something was going to happen,” he says.
“When it did happen, I realised things didn’t turn out all that bad. I still could get out of it somehow. So I recovered and started my fight to become an athlete again,” says the current player of HC Palacký University and the Šumperk Dragons junior team when he reminiscences his battle four years ago.
How did you cope during the first days after the surgery in the hospital?
For the first three or four days I was in an induced sleep. When I woke up… For the next week or so I was spaced out because of all the medication. It was kind of interesting. Then I had to get out of it. I stayed in the hospital for three weeks, maybe a month.
Did you let in depression and dark thoughts?
It happens at such moments. Even later, when I was out of hospital, at home. At times, I felt even worse. But you have to pull yourself together and keep fighting.
I need sport, I must be active
How did you handle it after you returned home from the hospital?
I didn’t go anywhere for two or three weeks, being still without the prosthesis. That was still in the works at that time. Then I went to school a few times using crutches. After all, I didn’t see my classmates and teachers for a long time, so I was looking forward to seeing them.
What was your greatest motivation – to play sports again?
I guess so. (He smiles.) I can’t be without sports. I didn’t play ice hockey for three years and I wasn’t sure I’d still be able to. I only played the amateur league. There was more time for volleyball, football, and floorball. I need to do some sport all the time, I just have to be active. I can’t live without it…. (He laughs.)
How long did it take to get used to the prosthesis?
When I tried it on for the first time, they told me that some people would learn to walk with it after a week or two. After five minutes of testing, I jumped down from the parallel bars and we went home. (He laughs.) I was able to walk right away… I don’t know, it’s probably individual. I have to thank my prosthetist, Mr. Miklic, for his well-made prostheses. I have to go all the way to Uherské Hradiště to see him, but it’s worth it!
And when did you get back on the ice?
Well, I don’t know exactly…. After some time, I tried to go with the guys to a practice in Uničov. I skated aside. I joined them only a few times, but it wasn’t so hot. I gave up….
You probably went there because of your teammates.
Totally. You miss those guys a lot… I was so happy when I came back to the teams of guys from HC Palacký University and the Šumperk Dragons. It’s great, this is what I’m used to.
I didn’t skate that well before
You even returned to ice hockey this year. Well, before the league was interrupted…
My comeback is due to having adjusted the weight on my foot. I didn’t skate that well before. Last year I got a new prosthesis for a higher weight category, and it’s so much better. It turned out I can get back onto the rink… Well, I’m trying!
You have also started playing matches since the summer. How would you compare it to your last matches before the injury?
It was completely different. (He smiles.) Completely! The university league is better quality. In addition, all the guys grew bigger in the meantime. It’s not so easy to score against a big goalkeeper…. The game is faster, there’s more body checking today. I actually played the first match for the junior team in Šumperk. It was a friendly.
Were you nervous?
A lot. The first shifts were pretty tough. It made my head spin a little, it was so fast. After all, three years is a long time, so I wasn’t used to it. I’ve been training with the guys from Šumperk since last Christmas, but a real match is something else. It was dynamite, and it took me some time before I got used to it.
So have you been preparing more since Christmas 2019?
Yes. I started training with them during the Christmas holidays. The idea was to get going at least until New Year’s Eve, because I needed to improve my condition. I told myself: No worries, it’s just a few workouts. Next thing I know I’m enjoying it again, I’m doing well, also learning to skate better. I got hooked and joined their training sessions until the end of the season.
What did it mean for you? Did you prove to yourself that anything is possible?
Yeah, I guess. I’ve played ice hockey since I was a kid, and getting into a match? That was nothing special. I don’t even realise I’m so handicapped anymore. Of course, you have to deal with problems. I have to take care of the leg, go for check-ups, deal with the prostheses…
Is there any change in how you look at life now?
I have probably changed. One has to take things as they are. What is supposed to happen, happens. You have to go on. You just can’t lose hope. You have to keep fighting!
Did you believe that you would return to ice hockey right after the accident?
Not really. I didn’t think it was possible. But I learned that Craig Cunningham (a former NHL player – Editor’s note) also lost his leg just like me. I watched videos where he was learning to skate again. He had a conventional prosthesis with a skate blade. I wear regular skates. But I didn’t like the way he was skating. I didn’t think it was good enough, he wasn’t doing well. It’s probably a lot about the specific prosthesis.
There is a limit. I use the other foot for braking more
Do any of the spectators know that you are playing with a prosthesis?
I don’t think so. Maybe at those times I stumble easily and so on. It’s not a real leg, it’s made of some carbon, and from time to time it seizes up, and I stumble or even fall. But you can’t see a thing, it’s hidden under my pads.
Does it limit you in any way?
There is a limit. Maybe in acceleration I don’t lag behind some guys, but I don’t have such stability in the curves. Even when it comes to sidecar motocross… It’s not perfect but you have to learn how to deal with it.
So you brake mainly with the other foot?
Exactly. Putting more weight onto the right prosthetic leg is not ideal. After all, you never know exactly what’s going to happen and where it might take you. I try to use the left one as much as possible. It’s probably not ideal, because it becomes overstrained, but there’s no other way.…
Why did you start playing in the University League?
I have been following the University League for a few years. And some guys who used to play for Šumperk – Dominik Hajšman, Pavel Skopal, and Michal Dohnal – joined the Olomouc team. I know them, so I thought I’d give it a try when I got back to ice hockey.
What did your new teammates say about your handicap?
(He smiles.) Everyone reacts differently. Some people are quite surprised, others accept it pretty much right away, and we have fun. We joke about it a lot. You have to take things easy. When something happens, you have two options: either you will deal with it somehow, and you’ll be able to live with it and make fun of yourself sometimes – or you will fall apart. I didn’t want that. I wanted to be a cheerful and happy. And keep doing sports!
It puts you back on track. It gives you joy, the desire to go on, and extra motivation
In the first league match for HC Palacký University, you even scored…
It was a very emotional experience because when you score after such a long time… It feels good. (He smiles.) After three and a half years… My teammate Zdeněk Formánek brought me the puck – as a trophy to keep.
Was it the most important goal in your career?
I don’t know… It was rather the most pleasant one. It puts you back on track. It gives you joy again, the desire to go on, and extra motivation.
What are your goals now?
I don’t know if I have any goals in hockey. I’m trying to have fun. I don’t know how far I can get with that leg… Everything is worse after that long pause. My hands don’t work the right way, my head has to get used to it. It’s difficult from every angle. In the meantime, I want to have fun and then I’ll see what’s next. I hope I’ll study many more years at the university and still play here.
We’ll get to school later. You first returned to sidecar motocross after your injury. What is it actually?
It’s a motorcycle with a sidecar. So we ride in pairs. One drives and the other balances it so that you can make turns and such. It’s about the interaction between the two people. I actually got into it through my dad, who was a motocross racer. Many people don’t even know that such a sport exists. But it is popular in the Czech Republic. Quite a few people are active in this sport, but it’s not for the general public. It’s not a glory sport.
I’ve seen some videos, and it doesn’t look like very safe.
There are tumbles. But we haven’t had any this season. We had a few falls last year, but they turned out well. And that it’s not safe? What’s safe today? You can go to a bobsled track and you never know how it might turn out… (He smiles.)
And has it happened to you that you fell off?
Certainly. Sometimes it’s so comical. Once we fell over and my leg came off. I had to crawl on all fours, and there was a meadow full of people above the track. They saw me pulling a leg behind me, one metre longer than the other, as it was stuck in my pants. Paramedics came running over to me, everyone was in shock… I told them, “I’m fine, it’s just that my leg came off and I need to put it back on.” Such moments are hilarious.
So you never give in to fear?
Fear must be overcome. Even in ice hockey, it’s never good to get on the rink with fear.
But you did miss some races…
We did, last year and this year. Sometimes there are technical problems that prevent us from racing. Money is a big issue in sports. If you don’t have any, you can’t buy a second engine, for example. So money was the reason, because sometimes the races took place far away. During those two seasons, we only managed to attend about half the races.
Every helping hand matters. Luckily, we have a few sponsors who help us out
Are you looking for sponsors?
Yes. It’s all about money. Without it, you can’t go to all the races, you can’t compete with others. You are riding an old motorcycle because you don’t have a new one. It’s tough. We’re not at a level where we can move forward.
So every help is good.
Absolutely, we appreciate any kind of help. Every helping hand is good. Luckily, we have a few sponsors who help us out. Thanks to them we can go on somehow.
Is it possible to get into the national team? Would you be interested?
There’s the European Team Championship. Every country is represented by three crews. So it is possible to represent Czechia…. Sure, I’d be very interested. But I think it would take us quite a lot of time to get to that level, if ever.
If you did well in both sports, which would you choose if you had to?
Probably the sidecar motocross. There’s no way I could make a living in ice hockey. I do it for fun. As long as I’m enjoying it, I’d love to do both.
I assume that apart from ice hockey and sidecar motocross, you also love other sports.
I enjoy playing tennis, volleyball, football, and basketball. And I often go cross-country skiing and hiking. Everything is possible, but there is not much time for it because of school and everything else.
I wonder if you’re at all limited …
I think you could find some limits. However, there has always been a way to do what I want to do.
What about swimming?
I can swim without the prosthesis…. At the beginning of this school year we did the breaststroke with legs…. (He laughs.) I was so good at it I almost drowned. (He laughs.) Other than that, it’s okay. Strangers are probably little shocked, but when we become friends, they don’t even see it anymore and just take it as normal.
Would you like to motivate other physically challenged people with your active lifestyle?
Absolutely! And not only them but also people without disabilities. They could be motivated by this motto: If he can do it, so can I.
What are you studying at Palacký University? And why?
Gymnastics and geography. All my life I have loved playing sports, being active. But it’s good to combine physical education with another field. I enjoyed geography at secondary school, we had a good teacher.
Would you like to become a teacher?
I’d rather be an ice hockey coach one day. Working with young people, I’d love that. I think I’d like to be licensed one day, but I don’t know how I’ll be able to manage it timewise. And teaching? I don’t know. If there were no other option, I’d probably go for it.
You have returned to ice hockey and motorcycling, you’re studying at the university… Are you living your dream?
I guess so. (He smiles.) You could describe it that way.
AUTHOR: Josef Prášek, student of the UP Department of Media and Cultural Studies and Journalism
PHOTO: Alena Zapletalová, student of the UP Department of Sociology, Andragogy and Cultural Anthropology
In extreme cases, old and damaged proteins can cause problems in the human body, leading to the development of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases or cancer. Researchers from Palacký University Olomouc and Masaryk Memorial Cancer Institute in Brno have now come up with a revolutionary method that allows monitoring and investigating the processes in these proteins, by means of targeted damage using silver nanoparticles and a laser. The discovery was also acknowledged by the journal Nature Communications, which published the results of the study in January.
Proteins are the essential building blocks of living organisms. They are formed in cells in a strictly controlled way during a process called translation, when information from individual genes is read, transcribed, and translated into long chains of amino acids. The resulting compounds are protein structures with various properties – from oxygen-binding blood pigment to the solid horn of the rhino. Proteins are not immortal, they only have a temporary lifespan, and the cell may not always be able to produce them.
Old, damaged, and defective proteins can cause problems; in extreme cases, they can even be life-threatening. If the cells cannot get rid of such proteins or at least neutralise their harmful effects, it results in the development of diseases called proteopathies. Some examples may be the accumulation of toxic amyloid beta proteins, the tau proteins, and other problematic proteins causing cellular stress and complete tissue degeneration. That can result in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other degenerative diseases, including cancer.
Targeted protein damage
The study of protein stress at the cellular level is an important part of research into the above-mentioned diseases. Researchers investigate the factors that cause or exacerbate cellular stress and that have potential use in the treatment of diseases such as cancer. They are also interested in how the cell copes with defective proteins, and how to influence these processes pharmacologically. Surprisingly, there is still a limited number of techniques to target damaged proteins in the cell.
On the other hand, DNA can be damaged very precisely in the cell; scientists can monitor in real time how the repair mechanisms cope with the damage. With/ proteins, this has not been practically possible until now. Scientists had no choice but to expose cell cultures to elevated temperatures and various toxins, and then measure the resulting effects on the entire cell population with the use of indirect biochemical methods.
Silver nanoparticles and a laser beam
Under the leadership of Martin Mistrík, a team of scientists from the Institute of Molecular and Translational Medicine at the UP Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry in cooperation with the Regional Centre for Advanced Technologies and Materials at the UP Faculty of Science and Masaryk Memorial Cancer Institute in Brno, and also with the support of Czech BioImaging, have been able to develop a breakthrough method combining targeted protein damage inside single cells and simultaneous microscopic analysis. The method uses special silver nanoparticles, known as plasmonic nanoparticles, which function as miniature, yet very powerful heat sources that can be activated by a targeted laser beam.
“After the irradiation, plasmonic nanoparticles absorb the laser light and then emit intense heat, which damages proteins in the immediate proximity at the micrometre scale,” says a co-author of the study, Aleš Panáček from the Department of Physical Chemistry, UP Faculty of Science, who specialises in the study of nanoparticles.
Significance for the treatment of neurodegenerative and oncological diseases
The thermal damage, similar to natural protein degeneration, triggers corresponding cellular processes. Thanks to the new method, scientists can select a specific part of the cell, aim the laser beam, and literally burn this area in order to map the subsequent processes. In the study, whose contribution to the scientific community was acknowledged by the prestigious journal Nature Communications on January 29, the researchers presented this new method – and even more.
“With the help of this method, we have also revealed previously unexpected connections between the ways in which the cell deals with damaged proteins, and we’ve also discovered a new factor that significantly contributes to their elimination. In the future, pharmacological targeting of such factors will help us make anticancer thermotherapy more effective or lead to the prevention or treatment of the above-mentioned degenerative diseases,” says the study’s leading author Martin Mistrík from IMTM, concerning its importance.
Tens of millions-years-old beetle lines have been discovered by international teams of scientists, one whose member was Robin Kundrata from the Department of Zoology, UP Faculty of Science, while studying fossils hidden in amber. In the laboratories, experts managed to reconstruct the appearance of a unique click beetle from Baltic amber and describe a completely new family of luminous beetles inhabiting the Earth alongside prehistoric dinosaurs.
The results of the studies were published in the prestigious scientific journals Scientific Reports and Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
An unknown click beetle hidden in Baltic amber
In the first study, an international team of scientists led by Robin Kundrata dealt with a morphologically unique representative of the Elateridae (click beetles) family, preserved in Baltic amber. The age of this amber from northern Europe is estimated at 30 to 40 million years. “Our results show that this is a completely new genus and species belonging to a group whose current representatives occur mainly in southern South America, New Zealand, Australia and the eastern and southeastern parts of Asia. Thus, this discovery not only greatly modifies our knowledge of the biogeography of this systematically interesting group of click beetles, but also emphasises the importance of Baltic amber for our understanding of the composition of long-extinct forest ecosystems,” said Kundrata.
Beetles embedded in millions-year-old resin play a very important role among fossils. These are usually well-preserved individuals and thanks to their 3D structure, they can be compared relatively well with contemporary lines. However, a large number of amber fossils are in poor condition, and not all morphological features can be observed in some beetles. Cracks or bubbles of air in amber or inappropriate body position can make them difficult to study.
“Problems with suboptimally deposited fossil specimens can be solved using modern non-destructive technology – X-ray computational microtomography, which allows effective reconstruction of 3D morphology using specialised software,” said Kundrata. This was the method used in his study to reconstruct the morphology of the beetle from the family of Elateridae, hidden in Baltic amber for millions of years. “It is unbelievable how much can be read from a single fossil,” said Johana Hoffmann, a student of Kundrata’s, who also participated in the study with colleagues from Latvia and Russia.
A beetle “older” than Tyrannosaurus rex
In the second study, together with Robin Kundrata, scientists from China and Great Britain studied a unique luminous beetle. It was deposited in approximately 99 million-year-old Burmese amber, which is currently mined in northern Myanmar. This beetle, which lived during the dinosaur era and was even more than 30 million years “older” than the famous Tyrannosaurus rex, did not belong to any known family, so scientists have described for it a separate family: Cretophengodidae.
Unlike in the previous study, Cretophengodes, the scientific genus name of the newly discovered beetle, was extremely well preserved. As a result, the researchers better recognised many morphological details, including the bioluminescent organ on the abdomen. This new Mesolithic beetle belonged to the family Elateroidea, which includes e.g. strongly sclerotised click beetles or, conversely, soft-bodied fireflies. Closely related to Cretophengodes were fireflies and other small luminescent families Phengodidae and Rhagophthalmidae, but Cretophengodes was also characterised by a unique morphological structure. Its body was much more sclerotised. He thus represented a transitional form between these two extremes and also an important link for understanding the evolution of soft body formation in this group of beetles.
“Bioluminescence is thought to have arisen in the evolution of beetles in larvae as an antipredation strategy. It was only later that adults began to use it for gender communication. The discovery of a luminous adult male beetle in almost 100 million-year-old amber therefore significantly contributes to our knowledge of the early evolution of this phenomenon,” explained Kundrata.
Researchers speculate that the newly discovered beetle used fluorescence as a defence against insectivorous predators that experienced development during the Cretaceous period. The forms of larvae and adult females of this group remain unknown. However, since the females of today’s representatives of related families remain largely similar to larvae even in adulthood, are wingless and live a hidden way of life, the same is assumed for their extinct relatives.
Winter School Central Europe 2021, which has started this week, offers two thematic programmes to foreign students. The first, Central Europe and European Integration, was prepared by the UP Faculty of Law, while the other programme, Central European History and Culture, was set up by the Department of History at the UP Faculty of Arts. This year the winter school is online and will last two weeks. Two dozen students are taking part.
Winter School Central Europe 2021 is coordinated and organised by the UP International Relations Office. “Each of the programmes has its own students and its own lectures. Accompanying activities are shared by both groups. Due to the epidemic, we had to move everything to the online environment, so they are meeting on the MS Teams platform,” said Niels Hexspoor from the International Relations Office, adding that the Faculty of Law has been organising this programme for the fourth time. “The Central European History and Culture programme reflects the contents of the popular summer school, which has been running since 2017. This year, for the first time, we opened this course in the winter, too.”
The Faculty of Law organised the previous years of the winter school only for Chinese students of various faculties and disciplines. “This year we opened it on-line to our partner universities. As a result, law students prevail among our participants. So we have adjusted the content of our lectures, as this allowed us to go deeper from the academic point of view,” said Martin Faix, Vice-Dean for Foreign Relations at the UP Faculty of Law. The largest numbers of enrolled students are from universities in Zurich and Copenhagen.
Students in the Central Europe and European Integration programme will be taught, for instance, by Petra Měšťánková, Ondřej Filipec, and Lucie Tungul from the Department of Political and Social Sciences, and by Václav Stehlík from the Department of International and European Law, the current dean of the Faculty of Law. Individual programme blocks will be dedicated to themes such as the history of European integration, the bodies and institutions of the European Union, and the EU’s foreign policy and trade.
Activities such as the winter school are of high importance to the Faculty of Law. “It is an opportunity for the first direct contact with foreign students – we’re getting a chance to convince them of the qualities of our faculty and the uniqueness of Olomouc. The winter school may inspire them to apply one day to study in one of our programmes in English,” added Faix.
Those interested in the Central European History and Culture programme include students from Switzerland, Turkey, Romania, and China. The two weeks of online education will make them acquainted with the historical development and culture of Central Europe, with an emphasis on the Czech context, from early Christianity to modern history of the 20th century. They will also be provided with insight into the totalitarian era. Five members of the Department of History prepared their presentations for the winter school – Martin Elbel, Antonín Kalous, Jitka Kohoutová, Lukáš Perutka, and Jan Stejskal. All of them have abundant international experience. “As in our summer schools, we have based the selection and content of our lectures on our Master’s degree programme Euroculture, one of the Erasmus Mundus programmes,” added Kalous, head of the Department of History.
Winter School Central Europe 2021 will run until 5 February. International students will receive four internationally recognised ECTS credits after successful completion of the Central Europe and European Integration programme, and five credits for the Central European History and Culture programme.
In conjunction with the worsening epidemiological situation in the Czech Republic and ongoing preventive measures defined in category 5 of the PES anti-epidemic system, the regime at UP follows the current government measures listed in the actual official government decree which has been prolonged until 14 February 2021. Adaptations to the PES anti-epidemic system table for schools (including universities) are listed here (in Czech).These rules regarding classes at UP and the regime at the dormitories are currently in place:
As for the UP Library and its branches, it remains in force that from 21 December until further notice, the libraries are closed. However, as of 11 January 2021 borrowing books from the library is possible once again. Details and up-to-date information can be found on the UP Library webpage.
The Government of the Czech Republic in its resolution of 14 December 2020 made the decision to completely end the assigned work duty for students as of 16 December 2020.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Palacký University Olomouc is being operated in accordance with government measures and Ministry of Education instructions. Assessment of individual decrees, with the participation of representatives of the directors of the Regional Public Health Authority, University Hospital Olomouc, and other experts, is ongoing, and the final strategy for the teaching and examination regime is being determined according to the interpretation of government resolutions and upon the original request of individual faculties with respect to their specifics. Generally valid information is centralised and continually updated on the webpage upol.cz/en/covid-19, and it is of course necessary to also monitor the individual webpages of your faculties and departments (the links page can be found on the above-mentioned „Corona Web“), where you can read the details and explanations of said measures.
This individualised system will also be valid in the period to follow, respectiving the quite diverse needs of individual study programmes and reacting to the legislatively determined decisions of government agencies.UP management asks for maximal use of on-line methods for examinations
University management is striving for the most detailed informing of the academic community and all employees via webpage, social networks, newsletters, and smartphone apps. At the same time, it is again calling for maximal possible use of on-line regimes for examining and for taking into consideration the current situation and limited possibilities of students, who in addition to studies are resolving other extraordinary life situations.Summer semester, dormitories, Erasmus
At this time, it is assumed that the current on-line teaching regime will continue at the start of the summer semester. UP will make the details public by the end of January, after consultations with its faculties, other Czech universities, and the Ministry of Education.
Palacký University Olomouc management at the same time is asking international Erasmus programme students to reconsider their physical presence in Olomouc during the summer 2021 semester and recommend they instead postpone their study stay to a later date.
The regime of operations at the dormitories and dining halls is directly subordinate to government restrictions, and you will be immediately notified of any and all changes on both the Accommodation and Dining Service webpage, and via the UP communication channels. ADS management, with respect to the continuing situation, has decided to extend dormitory students the possibility to leave their room keys in the dormitory key safe and then only pay 50% of the dormitory fee (in Czech).Czech Rectors’ Conference presses for prioritising vaccinating university teachers
At present, the Czech Rectors’ Conference is urging the following:
The entire statement of the CRC, including that of Rector Jaroslav Miller, can be found in the UP Žurnál (in Czech).
Let us not forget that the crisis situation has not only been hugely stressful upon students, but also upon university employees. For this reason, UP is offering the option of discreet psychological and spiritual help (in Czech). First and foremost, this is a task for our entire community: that we strive for mutual respect, and considerate, constructive resolution of the crisis.
Aurora Alliance Capacity Development Support Programme (CDS) is an Activity of Work package 4 (Engaging Communities) which aims at reducing disparities between the research-leading and research-emerging countries in Europe by assisting universities in Central-Eastern Europe and Neighbouring Countries to develop their institutional capacity for academic excellence and societal relevance. It focuses on Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation and is primarily aimed at cooperation with Associate Partners to Aurora Alliance which involve the following universities: Pavol Jozef Šafárik University in Košice (Slovakia), V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University (Ukraine), South-West University" Neofit Rilski" (Bulgaria) and University of Tetova (North Macedonia).
The activity is led by Palacký University Olomouc and co-led by Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Other Aurora members that participate are University Duisburg-Essen (Germany), University of Naples Federico II (Italy), Copenhagen Business school (Denmark), and University of Innsbruck (Austria).
In this long-term strategic partnership, the cooperation and network-building, headed by UP Aurora Central Team and the International Division, will act as a role model of advancement in internationalization and support the increase in international cooperation of higher education institutions chiefly at the universities of the Central and Eastern Europe (including post-Soviet states) and South-Eastern Europe (post-Yugoslav states), but also open up more opportunities for wider global engagement.
The programme builds on the results of the three main work packages of Aurora Alliance (WP 3. Learning for Societal impact, WP 4 Co-engaging Communities, and WP 5. Sustainably Pioneers) and is interlinked with dissemination in the work package 6. Sustainability and Dissemination.
The outputs expected from this regional collaboration include:
The expected outcomes are to spread the Aurora principles, values, skills, working models, and practical learning beyond the Aurora partners to the four Associate Partner Universities, and then further, reaching some 30 target universities in CEE Europe and beyond. The programme is an important part of the Aurora Alliance's long-term sustainability and further supports the UP’s strategic plan for internationalization.
It is worth noting that some of the main tenets of the Capacity Development Support Programme correspond to United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals 2030 Agenda (SDGs), and in particular, the SDGs 4 (Quality Education) and 16 (Peace, justice and strong institutions). An important overall approach of the activity is 'the education for development approach', which aims at supporting the CEE’s transitional societies and digital development programmes. The priority is given to socio-technical innovation and social entrepreneurship activities that particularly involve Digital (In)Equality, Digital Inclusion, and Digital Humanism and Diversity/Inclusion issues (Aurora Domains 3 & 4 - Digitalization and Global citizenship and Culture, Identity and Diversity).
Furthermore, it was agreed to partner up (learn from each other's experiences) through equal knowledge-sharing between all university participants in the CDS programme, and to reach out to both formal and informal higher education actors in the associate partners’ countries in order to engage more cooperation during the 3-pilot years initiated by Aurora Alliance. By informal, we particularly stress the engagement of the civil society organizations, diaspora organizations, innovation hubs, NGOs, and think-tanks, depending on the local contexts.
The CDS programme was officially launched during the Aurora Alliance Kick-off Meeting Online on November 4th, 2020.
South-West University “Neofit Rilski”
Pavol Jozef Šafárik University in Košice
V. N. Karazin Kharkiv National University
University of Tetova
Tetova, Northern Macedonia
The withdrawal of Great Britain from the European Union also entails changes that affect universities – for example, those involved in the EU’s Erasmus+ programme. How will Palacký University Olomouc, which currently has nineteen partner schools in the United Kingdom, deal with this situation?
According to the Czech National Agency for International Education and Research – a state-funded organisation of the Czech Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports – the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union means it has also left the Erasmus+ programme. The new EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement does not cover participation in the EU’s Erasmus+ programme.
Palacký University has nineteen partner universities in the United Kingdom at present, and according to Yvona Vyhnánková from the International Relations Office at the UP Rector’s Office, the United Kingdom has been and still is a popular destination for study and work stays for students as well as short teaching stays and training for staff. Under standard circumstances, twenty to twenty-five students travelled to the UK every year for study purposes. At the same time, UP received about ten British students. Ten to fifteen students also went to the UK each year for internships.
“Following the withdrawal of Great Britain from the European Union, British universities can continue the activities of Erasmus projects that have already been approved. However, they cannot enter into new projects. Both Palacký University and most of our British partners took advantage of this opportunity and extended the ongoing projects from the 2020 Call for Proposals to their maximum length. This will enable us to carry out student and staff exchanges until the summer of 2023,” said Vyhnánková.
According to her, the regime of entry and residence between the two countries still allows for study stays and short employee exchanges. These include stays of up to six months, for which a visa is not required. “Longer stays would be problematic. A long-term visa to Great Britain is relatively expensive, costing about ten thousand crowns. However, I want to emphasise that most study stays are only for one semester, or a trimester at maximum, so the limit is usually adequate,” she added.
According to information published on the Czech National Agency for International Education and Research website, higher education institutions will have the opportunity to establish cooperation with their British counterparts even after the completion of the projects from the 2020 Call for Proposals, and will thus be able to continue their student and staff exchanges. Cooperation will still be possible, either in the form of bilateral agreements or in accordance with the Erasmus+ rules concerning the support of cooperation with third countries. A new Turing programme is also to be launched in the United Kingdom, which should enable British students to study and work abroad. Thus, student and staff exchanges with Great Britain will not end with Brexit.
"The biggest complication at the moment, I think, lies in the Covid-19 pandemic and related restrictions. That involves the current British lockdown as well as restrictions on in-person teaching at universities in both the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic. We all hope that the academic year 2021/2022 will return things to normal, at least to a certain extent, and we can continue our cooperation,” added Vyhnánková.
The United Kingdom has long been one of the most sought-after destinations for Czech students and staff within the Erasmus+ programme. In the last funding period (2014–2020), thanks to Erasmus, more than ten thousand Czechs travelled to the UK in all sectors of education.
The Czech National Agency for International Education and Research is a state-funded organisation under the auspices of the Czech Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports. Its main objective is to administer programmes focussed on international education and the promotion of Czech education abroad. More information HERE.
The Erasmus+ programme supports cooperation and mobility in the fields of Education, Training, Youth, and Sport. The programme is open to individuals (students, teachers, volunteers) as well as organisations such as schools, youth associations, and NGOs.
The Highly Cited Researchers 2020 list of the 6,200 most cited scientists from more than 60 countries also includes the name of plant hormone analysis expert Ondřej Novák from the Laboratory of Growth Regulators – a joint workplace of the UP Faculty of Science and the Institute of Experimental Botany of the Czech Academy of Sciences.
Together with his colleagues, Ondřej Novák tries to clarify the irreplaceable role of phytohormones in the functioning of plants. The results of joint research by Olomouc scientists are finding applications in agriculture, cosmetics, and in the research of anticancer substances.
How do you feel about being ranked on the list of the world’s most cited researchers?
I feel much obliged to be placed in the list of highly cited researchers for the third time and at the same time, very pleased. This is a list of the most cited scientists, pioneers in their fields over the last decade, who represent over 1250 institutions. But it’s not just my personal success – it is also an appreciation of the work of my students, colleagues and collaborators from our university and the Czech Academy of Sciences.
What do you do in the Laboratory of Growth Regulators?
We focus on plant hormones, which are small signalling molecules that are responsible for how a plant will respond to various external stimuli and how it will develop. Plant hormones are responsible, for example, as to whether a plant is growing correctly in the light or its roots are spread out enough to effectively draw water and nutrients from the soil. To put it simply – in our team we try to determine the plant hormones in plant tissue to better understand how plants work internally. At our workplace, we focus on plant hormones from the point of view of analytical chemistry, because I am an analytical chemistry graduate although I specialise in biology (my doctorate is in botany).
What results can be achieved by studying phytohormones and their function in plants?
Thanks to the study of plant hormones, it is possible e.g. to map the mechanisms by which plants respond to external stress stimuli. For example, how they cope with higher salinity of the surrounding environment, drought or, conversely, excessive moisture. We can find out how the organism of the plant identifies the situation when e.g. there is a drought for five days. Thanks to phytohormones, the plant responds to this by stopping its growth in order to reduce its moisture requirements. All these processes are controlled at the level of signalling pathways. The plant hormone elicits a response whether the plant establishes another leaf, or prefers to form another lateral root to obtain more moisture.
What is the role of the plant hormones in this complex system?
Through phytohormones, information is shared that the plant lacks nutrients and must find some other way to their source. For example, a group of phytohormones called auxins is responsible for establishing a new root. But we do not know yet what the signal is that initiates this complex process. We only know that the plant will establish the root and which cells will be divided during this process. We also don’t know why the root of the plant is being established in a specific place, and not e.g. five centimetres lower. In our research, we therefore try to fit these individual fragments of the mosaic together to understand the functioning of the entire system.
What methods do you use to study these complex processes inside plants?
To do this, we need the tools of molecular biology. So we use different transgenic plants and mutants. We work at the level of genes and DNA, we cut out different parts of DNA. We also perform classical biochemical analysis, which we use to determine events at the level of metabolism. We focused our attention on a narrow group of very important molecules – plant hormones, which, however, are very few. Just to give you an idea – there are millions of molecules in one cell, but in our research we study only one percent of that number. These signalling molecules, called phytohormones, play a key role in how a plant will grow.
What is the most common practical use of your knowledge?
We are developing methods for the determination of small signalling molecules, i.e. phytohormones. Subsequently, we use these methods in collaboration with plant biologists in basic research. The acquired knowledge can later be applied, for example, in agriculture and biotechnology, which has been a huge trend recently. Thanks to the research into phytohormones, it is possible to reduce the amount of chemicals used in agriculture, such as pesticides and herbicides. Our aim is to reduce the burden on the environment by means of special preparations that function at the level of plant signalling molecules, by regulating their concentration or influencing their biological effect. For example, we often analyse products that are used in agriculture. We monitor whether they contain signalling molecules – phytohormones – which they should contain, if we expect that the plants will have, for example, greener leaves due to the application of the product. We determine phytohormones in biostimulants, which are now very popular in organic farming. Or we try to understand why the given product supports the formation of the root system. We also often examine the result of what the plants produce after application of the product and whether the product in question really promotes the biosynthesis of the desired signalling molecules.
What other applications do phytohormones have in the field of plant cultivation?
They have wide applications. Virtually everyone will encounter plant hormones, because we all buy flowers from time to time. In flower growing, the widely used method is biotechnology, where phytohormones are important in cloning. Thanks to this, the flowers sold are the same in Olomouc, Prague, or Paris. This applies not only to roses, but also to cuttings and houseplants. In addition, in this way are multiplied not only economically important, but also endangered medicinal plant species.
How do flower achieve this effect?
It all starts in the something called a “flowbox” with a nutrient medium, to which, in addition to sugars, vitamins, macro- and microelements, phytohormones are added at a certain stage. First to be mixed in is cytokinin, which is responsible for the formation of stems and leaves. Thus, the above-ground part of the plant will grow, especially a large number of new shoots, and therefore also seedlings. Then auxin, which is in charge of rooting, is added. As a result, the plant creates enough roots and grows to the desired shape. This is how it works in biotechnology as standard. Despite it sounding very simple, these are complicated protocols that are difficult to finetune for individual plant species.
What will be the direction of your further research?
The Laboratory of Growth Regulators is a workplace that is an example of multidisciplinarity. This means that we are somewhere in the middle of the intersection between plant physiology and applied chemistry, and between medical research and biotechnology. My colleagues celebrate successes in the field of chemical biology. This is the interconnection of organic chemistry, which is the basis of all methods or applications that are used in the field of drugs, cosmetics, or biostimulants. In our team, we study phytohormones in depth. We are not only interested in the signalling molecules themselves, but in the complex metabolism of plant hormones and the way they work. I think that as one of the few workplaces in the world, we can analyse all the fragments that make up a complex metabolism for each of the eight hormonal groups. In the past 20 years, we have managed to put together individual methodological approaches that are functional and interconnected. At present, we are trying to focus more on the plant cell itself and the events hidden in it. In the field of plant hormones, we can relatively easily see how the metabolism of these substances works at the level of the whole plant. However, the processes inside the cell are a huge unknown, something we still don’t know that much about yet. Therefore, we are gradually moving to the level of the cell to observe what happens there with phytohormones. It’s a huge challenge, because the cell is very small. It could be compared to the head of a pin, looked down upon from a cosmic height. But we are already working on it and we know the direction to go. It is not only an interdisciplinary connection, but also cooperation with other scientific teams at the top international level. And so we’re back to the Highly Cited Researchers ranking, where my name could never have been found without cooperation with other colleagues.
The Highly Cited Researchers 2020 list includes approximately 6,200 researchers from more than 60 countries working in or across 21 research areas. These are personalities whose work has had a great impact on the scientific community and have been extraordinarily cited. The prestigious list also includes 26 Nobel Prize winners. The ranking includes a total of four scientists associated with Palacký University. In addition to Ondřej Novák, chemists Rajender Varma, Radek Zbořil, and Patrik Schmuki are also there. The list for 2020 was based on an analysis of publications from 2009 to 2019 according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science database.
The new Eco-Zoo-Corner, built in Olomouc-Holice on the premises of the Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, UP Faculty of Science, will be open to students and the public. Visitors will see vivariums with domestic and exotic animal species, which include approximately sixty species of invertebrates and seventy species of vertebrates, from molluscs to mammals.
The Eco-Zoo-Corner originated from the initiative of Martin Rulík, Ivan Hadrián Tuf, and Lukáš Weber from the Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, who gradually built aquariums and terrariums for various species of animals. “The Eco-Zoo-Corner can enrich the teaching of students and could also attract primary and secondary school students. Should they be interested, we can also set up a Young Scientists Club. There, children would learn interesting things from the fields of biology, ecology, and environmental protection,” said Bořivoj Šarapatka, head of the Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences.
In the Eco-Zoo-Corner, you can see, for example, African tree lizards of the genus Gastropholis, a Western hognose snake, or a Peters’ elephantnose fish, which uses electrical signals for orientation. You can also see the Western Tiger Salamander, which is one of the largest types of mole salamanders, a relative of the axolotl which owes its name to the Aztecs. The word āxōlōtl is composed of the word ātl (water) and the name of the god of deformities Xolotl. “Visitors will certainly be interested in the South American opossum, which has the ability to heal its spinal cord when damaged, seventeen species of cockroaches, or a Yellow-bellied slider, a turtle capable of surviving winter even in our conditions,” said Tuf.
In the future, the Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences is considering expanding the Eco-Zoo-Corner. “Next year, the collection could be enriched with our species of arthropods, molluscs, worm lizards, amphibians, and reptiles. We are glad that such a place has been created where not only students, but also children, teachers, and other people interested in nature and ecology can meet,” added Weber, according to whom students can get acquainted with representatives of many groups of animals discussed in lectures and exercises thanks to the Eco-Zoo-Corner.
The establishment of the Eco-Zoo-Corner was also supported by the project “Innovation of Teaching Zoological Subjects” of the Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, which enabled the purchase of the necessary equipment. The animals come mainly from private collections of the members of the department or were donated or lent by partners such as the Olomouc Zoo, Ornis Přerov, Insect Farm in Olomouc, and NaturaServis in Hradec Králové. “Cooperation also works on several other levels. Students of Ecology and Environmental Protection help as volunteers in the Olomouc Zoo, where they can work on their Bachelor’s and Master’s theses. They also take part in the popularisation of science and research in various events. We firmly hope that we will continue and develop the cooperation set up in this way,” added Pavel Javůrek from the Olomouc Zoo.
Austria, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, Spain, Romania, Finland, Russia, Taiwan, and of course, Czechia. There, wherever foreigners are learning advanced Czech, it’s from the Czech it UP textbooks published by Palacký University Press at the C1 level in February. These were the first of a series of a new concept in textbooks teaching Czech to foreigners. UP Press has now added other volume to the series – at the B2 level.
“The first textbooks for C1 quickly became favourites of students and teachers alike. We worked with them ourselves at this year’s Summer School of Slavonic Languages in Olomouc and also during the semester at the UP Faculty of Arts, and the feedback was very positive. We believe that these new textbooks at the B2 level in the new concept will also meet with success. This time we put a large emphasis on getting to know foreigners through spoken Czech and with different varieties of our national language, which for non-native speakers is useful, attractive, but at the same time a quite difficult theme,” revealed Darina Hradilová from the Department of Czech Studies at the UP Faculty of Arts, head of the group of authors responsible for both textbooks.
Czech it UP Volume 4 makes use of the Oxford style of language learning textbooks, where each theme is dealt with “magazine style”, on facing pages. Students working with the book will learn to communicate not only on traditional themes, but also on modern trends, where the textbook attempts to accommodate the younger generation. Students can discuss for example the equal rights of men and women, cultural differences in perceiving and spending free time, questions of faith, and what different cultures perceive as politeness.
“One of our visions, among others, is also the attempt to strengthen the role of Palacký University in the area of teaching Czech to foreigners, which already has a long tradition in Olomouc. The publication of an additional volume in the Czech it UP textbook series is but another step on the path to fulfilling our goals. I believe that Czech it UP will find its way throughout the world, and also after the unfortunate pandemic times subside, it will be able to further expand our activities for foreign students,” said Martin Kudláček, UP Vice-Rector for Foreign Relations.
Before 2020, hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, UP had experienced increasing interest every year on the part of foreign students to study in Olomouc. Hopefully the university will soon be able to capitalise upon that again to realise its further plans, reflected among others by its acceptance into the prestigious Aurora Alliance of universities.
Just like the C1 level textbook, the new B2 level textbook is connected to the webpages czechitup.eu, on which students and teachers will find supplemental audio-visual materials. The creative team has maintained its tried and true philosophy and again made their own video and audio recordings for each chapter. Also guaranteed are new photography and the vibrant and catchy design of graphic visual aids.
“We’re very happy with the Czech it UP series. The textbooks satisfy the most demanding criteria in terms of form and content and at the same time provide interesting new flair to textbooks of Czech for foreigners. I believe that we’ll complete the entire series in the coming year, and it will become a favourite on the Czech market,” added Aleš Prstek, UP Press Director.
The entire Czech it UP series should be finished in 2021, according to plan. In addition to the C1 and B2 levels, the other end of the spectrum will be covered in February 2021 with a textbook for complete beginners (A1). The remaining two textbooks (A2 and B1 levels) will complete the series.
More information is available at czechitup.eu.
For the first time, Palacký University Olomouc has made it into the Top 10 Percent in the international QS Emerging Europe & Central Asia Rankings 2021 (QS EECA). The British educational company Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) has included 400 institutions in its rankings. Palacký University ranks 37th and has improved by its position by seven places compared to last year.
“The position of Palacký University in this ranking, the only one among the top five Czech universities, has been constantly improving, and I am very happy for this trend. Within five years, we have risen by almost 30 positions in the overall evaluation,” commented UP Rector Jaroslav Miller on the results.
The oldest Moravian university has improved or maintained its position in more than half of the monitored criteria year-on-year. As last year, UP achieved its best result in the Citation per Faculty indicator, being eighth.
“It is also gratifying to learn that criteria such as Academic Reputation and Employer Reputation have a significant share in our improvement in this ranking, which shows that we are succeeding in raising the level of awareness about our university in Europe and Asia. In recent years, we have focussed on gathering feedback from our partners in education and research, both nationally and internationally. This approach seems to be bearing fruit,” added Hana Marešová, UP Vice-Rector for Strategic Planning and Quality.
UP jumped 13 places year-on-year even in the Web Impact category, ranking 21st this year. In Academic Reputation, UP is 48th, which is ten places better than a year ago. UP made a similar advancement in Employer Reputation, where it now holds the 56th place. There was also an improvement in Citations per Faculty by five places, to the 80th position.
QS EECA University Rankings utilises data from Elsevier’s Scopus database. In this year’s edition of the rankings, 18 universities from the Czech Republic were evaluated, out of which five were in the Top 50. The best results were achieved by Charles University in Prague, Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Technical University in Prague, and Brno University of Technology. UP occupies fifth place in the domestic comparison. In the international rankings, the first three places were taken by Lomonosov Moscow State University, the University of Tartu, and Saint Petersburg State University.
The QS EECA 2021 University Rankings are available here.
The Jaroslav Heyrovský Endowment Fund Prize for excellence in high school science was given this year to Anna Hýsková and Hana Berhardová. Both students assisted Martin Fellner from the UP Faculty of Science Laboratory of Growth Regulators.
Anna Hýsková impressed the jury by her high school work dealing with the interaction of blue light and auxins (hormones, or plant growth regulators) in plant growth and development, which she worked on within the Badatel (Researcher) project at the Faculty of Science. Hana Bernhardová was successful in her dealing with the role of light in reactions of plants to abiotic stress within the Otevřená věda (Open Science) project of the Czech Academy of Sciences. Both students carried out their experimental work in the Laboratory of Growth Regulators at the Faculty of Science, Palacký University Olomouc.
“In my work I explored how plants react to stress due to salinization and in conjunction with whether they are exposed to red or blue light, or remain in the dark. I was also interested how these responses influence mutation in blue light receptors – cryptochromes,” said Bernhardová, describing her research on stress reactions in the common tomato and thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana).
In her prize-winning work, Anna Hýsková determined how light influences plant growth via the auxin plant hormone. “I was interested in how this mechanism in some way is connected to red light photoreceptors – phytochromes.”
Both students had praise for their cooperation with the Faculty of Science and Prof Martin Fellner. “The lab work was fantastic. Even if at first not everything went as planned, thanks to the help of Prof Fellner and the lab assistants I was able to carry out various laboratory methods and gained valuable skills and knowledge,” Hýsková observed. “I made use of them at the Science Olympics, science competitions, and I’ve benefitted from them during my university studies. I also got to meet loads of inspirational people who have really pushed me further in life, for which I am most grateful,” added the student, who attended the J.A. Komenský Gymnazium in Uherský Brod.
According to Berhardová, the UP Faculty of Science offers high school students inviting and high-quality facilities. “Everyone was super nice and willing to show me everything and even explain things to me, again and again. I could plan my experiments according to my needs and my school workload, which really helped me to manage everything. Prof Fellner even helped me afterwards with preparing my competition work and presentations,” she said. Berhardová, who studied at František Palacký Gymnazium in Valašské Meziříčí, gained experience which she later put to use in high school science competitions, other scientific projects, and at her entrance exams to the University of Oxford. “I’m now studying biochemistry there,” she added.
The Jaroslav Heyrovský Endowment Fund gives prizes for high school science competitions and academic Olympics. It also gives awards to teachers and consultants for their help with high school science projects. This year Prof Martin Fellner was also awarded. “The successes of students in various competitions always gives me enormous pleasure. I believe that the fundamentals of experimental work and the experience which I have been able to provide to students is something they can use in their future work – and that they will also give to their own students, further on down the line,” said Prof Fellner of the Laboratory of Growth Regulators.