From nanometers to megaparsecs...
Dear colleagues and students
As there are but a few days left in the calendar year, allow me to cordially wish you a wonderful Christmas holiday, and much joy and health in the New Year. To all that is lovely at this time of year, we can also add another word, which in its own way is synonymous with Christmas: meeting. That is why I would like to wish you all, in what can be an especially difficult period, time to meet with your friends and family, and share joyful moments together with those who make us feel good. That is the greatest gift of all – to both give and receive.
At the same time, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you. Palacký University will celebrate its 450th anniversary in the coming year and the festivities will offer a number of occasions for meeting. They will also be an expression of gratitude for all that you do for the university. That you further its good name, that you help to fulfil its mission in education, academics, science, and society, and that you share a role in its creation. Each of these is important for the present and future of our alma mater and I sincerely thank you for your part in it.
Looking forward to our meeting in 2023.
Martin Procházka, UP Rector
In Prague’s Carolinum, new professors of Czech universities received their appointment decrees from the Czech Minister of Education, Vladimír Balaš. Out of the seventy personalities whose appointments were confirmed by President Miloš Zeman’s signature at the end of November, six are employed at Palacký University Olomouc: Beatrice Mohelníková Duchoňová and David Friedecký from the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry; Vilém Pechanec, Ondřej Novák, and Michal Bíla from the Faculty of Science; and Milan Klement from the Faculty of Education.
Marek Otisk from the University of Ostrava, who was nominated by Palacký University, was also appointed a professor. Let us briefly introduce all the newly appointed professors.
Beatrice Mohelníková Duchoňová, UP FMD
Beatrice Mohelníková Duchoňová, deputy head for teaching, science and research at the Department of Oncology, UP Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry and University Hospital Olomouc, feels a great responsibility in receiving the professorship. “I firmly believe that I will continue my clinical and research work and will be able to motivate and guide my younger colleagues to further advance the possibilities and our abilities in treatment of oncological diseases,” said the renowned expert on pancreatic cancer, one of the most difficult oncological diseases to treat. However, she also focuses on other types of cancer.
The current highest goal of the newly appointed professor in Oncology is to successfully combine her professional career and raising her two children. “In the coming year, my activities are mainly focused on developing national and international collaborations on the study of risk, predictive and prognostic factors for pancreatic cancer. Our greatest challenges are finding the optimal screening programme to detect pancreatic cancer in its earlier stages and individualising its therapy,” she explained.
Mohelníková Duchoňová is a graduate of the First Faculty of Medicine at Charles University, where she later was also board certified in clinical oncology. She worked, among other places, at the Fourth Internal Clinic of General University Hospital in Prague, and since 2011 she has been working at the Department of Oncology at the Palacký University Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry and University Hospital Olomouc, where she has managed to build her own research base, which in cooperation with other departments, especially the Department of Surgery I, produces a number of valuable publications every year and also significantly contributes to several grant projects; the project on predictive and prognostic markers of pancreatic cancer was nominated for the Czech Minister of Health Award for Medical Research.
David Friedecký, UP FMD
Newly appointed professor David Friedecký, who has been part of the team of the Laboratory of Metabolic Disorders at the UP Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry and University Hospital Olomouc for over twenty years, also has created his own scientific group full of enthusiastic students. He is involved in teaching not only at the Faculty of Medicine, but also at the Faculty of Science, where he studied Analytical Chemistry and was made associate professor in 2017. His professorship was held in Medicinal Chemistry and Biochemistry at UP FMD.
“We deal with the use of mass spectrometry in medicine, specifically clinical metabolomics and lipidomics. We develop advanced high-throughput methods for effective diagnosis of rare diseases in young children. In Olomouc, we have been conducting newborn screening for more than 10 years, which was made possible thanks to mass spectrometry. Correct statistical methods to analyse data and interpret results are another of my scientific passions, and I try to pass that passion on to my undergraduate students and colleagues,” said Friedecký, who has collaborated internationally with experts in Europe and the US.
For him, acquired professorship is not only a recognition of his many years of work but also a commitment to improving the understanding of science and the knowledge of his students. “In recent years, it has appeared to me that there are more questions than answers. But that is the beauty of scientific research. What makes us advance further is the collaboration with clinical departments, and I believe that in the near future we will be able to apply clinical lipidomics to the diagnosis of diseases such as inflammation and cancer. One of my wishes is to continue building a high-quality multidisciplinary scientific team made up of doctoral students and specialists, which I have been very lucky to engage in recent years. An integral part of this is the popularisation of the field, where we all still have a great deal of work to do,” he added.
Vilém Pechanec, UP FS
Another appointed professor, Vilém Pechanec from the Department of Geoinformatics at the UP Faculty of Science, also graduated from UP FS, namely in Environmental Protection and Creation. In his professional and practical work, Pechanec has long focused on the use of geoinformation technology in modelling ecosystem functions of the landscape, especially its water-retention capacity. In his research he combines data generated by field observations, sensor measurements, and non-contact monitoring via satellite systems. He is the author or co-author of more than 250 domestic and international articles, book chapters, and conference papers, as well as several datasets for the Czech Republic, specialised maps and software solutions, five certified methodologies, and three utility models.
He is a long-term member of the Board of the Czech Association for Geoinformation and a member of the Czech Society for Landscape Ecology. He represents UP in the National Secretariat of Copernicus, the EU’s Earth observation programme. He is a member of the Scholarly Board of the UP FS and the Doctoral Programme Boards at UP FS and the Faculty of Forestry and Wood Technology at Mendel University in Brno. He has been a supervisor of more than 28 successful graduates of Bachelor’s studies, 35 Master’s studies, and 6 doctoral graduates; he is a member of examination committees in Geoinformatics and Applied Ecology at several departments in the Czech Republic.
“Being appointed a professor is such a great honour. I take it as a recognition of the work of our entire workgroup. Obtaining the professorship is a great commitment for the years to come. I want to be able to apply the acquired knowledge and experience to an even greater extent, especially for the benefit of my alma mater department. I want to continue my scientific and research work at the department, keep enhancing its reputation in the professional community, and continue to actively participate in the education of students in both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes,” said Pechanec.
Ondřej Novák, UP FS
On the proposal of the Scientific Board of the Mendel University in Brno, another personality of the UP Faculty of Science, Ondřej Novák, was appointed professor. He is an expert in the analysis of plant hormones and was included in the 2022 list of the world’s Highly Cited Researchers (more here).
“My professional life has been closely related to Olomouc and the UP Faculty of Science since its beginning. First as an inexperienced student, later as a young postdoctoral fellow, and today the head of a great scientific team. Based on the technologies developed at our university, we have managed to integrate into the European network of laboratories studying various aspects of phytohormonal research. In the last decade, interdisciplinary collaborations with developmental biologists, biochemists, and plant physiologists from prominent European biological centres have been promoted,” he said, looking back on his career.
Novák graduated from UP FS and specialises in the biosynthesis and metabolism of plant hormones using modern mass spectrometry. He also studies the relationships between the chemical structure and biological activity of plant hormones. He has long been involved in the use of cutting-edge bioanalytical methods and simplification of extraction methods for the isolation of biologically active substances from complex biological matrices.
Michal Bíl, UP FS
The third new professor employed at the UP Faculty of Science is Michal Bíl, from the Department of Geology. He was appointed on the proposal of the Scientific Board of the University of Ostrava, in the field of Environmental Geography. Bíl studied Geography at Masaryk University in Brno, and worked at the Czech Geological Survey and the UP FS Department of Geoinformatics. Since 2009, he has been working at the Transport Research Centre, where he deals with the relationship between the natural environment and transport, and develops methods to assess the impact of natural extremes on transport infrastructure. He also works on mitigating the conflict between wildlife and traffic.
He has authored or co-authored more than 50 publications listed on WOS. As part of his research, he has initiated the establishment of several unique spatial databases, e.g. CHILDA, RUPOK, SRAZENAZVER. He is a co-author of globally distributed geographic analysis tools (e.g. KDE+, ROCA) used to detect weak points in transport infrastructure. During his career, he has worked closely with the UP Department of Applied Mathematics to develop network analysis methods applicable to traffic research.
Bíl has supervised final theses of students in the departments of geoinformatics, geography, and development studies, as well as at other universities in the Czech Republic. “As a supervisor and mentor, I have been lucky to have capable and motivated students. Many of them have done well in the academic environment as well as in professional practice. I am delighted that I am still in contact with some of them, working on joint projects.”
Milan Klement, UP FE
Milan Klement from the Department of Technical and Information Education at the UP Faculty of Education has become professor on the proposal of the Scientific Board of the University of Hradec Králové, in Information and Communication Technologies in Education. He graduated from the UP FE and then enhanced his education and practical experience during his doctoral studies at the same faculty, where he also was made associate professor. His specialty and expertise were furthered during internships at universities and research institutes in a number of European countries. He has been employed at UP FE since 1999 where he also is the head of the Information Communication Technologies Centre. In 2006–2018 he held the post of Vice-Dean for Information and Educational Technologies. He is a member of the UP Information Technology Committee.
“Obtaining the title professor entails great commitment and responsibility but also joy and gratitude. I would like to thank the University of Hradec Králové for the opportunity to be nominated in the field that has been close to me throughout my professional life and which I consider my life’s mission. I would also like to thank those from whom I had the opportunity to learn, those who shaped me professionally and personally, who accompanied me through my successes and failures. They brought me to deeper knowledge and understanding of the order of things in my field. So I thank my teachers, mentors, advisors, and colleagues. It is my commitment to fully utilise their help, and just as they helped me, I must now help others and pass on what I have learned to my students and younger colleagues with the same selflessness and dedication,” said Klement.
His scientific research focuses on three main areas. The first one is the use of modern information technologies in education, with a particular focus on longitudinal comparisons of their impact on the educational process. Another area is the issue of virtualisation technologies and the possibilities of their use in education. The third main area is distance education by means of e-learning with a special focus on electronic learning materials and their evaluation. Klement is the author or co-author of more than a hundred scientific papers and a successful investigator in more than a dozen major grants and projects.
Marek Otisk, University of Ostrava
Marek Otisk from the University of Ostrava, who was appointed professor in Philosophy on the proposal of the UP Scholarly Board, also received his appointment decree in Carolinum. Otisk, who is employed at the Department of Philosophy, Ostrava University Faculty of Arts, has also worked as a researcher at the Institute of Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences. He specialises in the history of medieval philosophy, particularly the 10th and 11th centuries. Some of his most important activities are related to the Centre for Research in Medieval Society and Culture – Vivarium at the University of Ostrava. Otisk not only successfully completed his professorship at Palacký University but also was made associate professor here in 2013.
“You have gone through a challenging process to the very top of the scientific and educational pyramid. Thanks to your will and determination, you have managed to overcome many professional and personal obstacles on this long journey. I believe that your productive potential has not been exhausted by now; on the contrary, new doors of research and teaching opportunities are opening for you. Both as university professors and as guarantors of study programmes, you will be both pioneers and creators of inevitable structural changes in the educational process. I believe passionately in your ability to take on new challenges, change established practices, and innovate teaching. From the bottom of my heart, I wish you much strength, determination, and success in fulfilling your mission,” said Czech Minister of Education Vladimír Balaš to the new professors during the presentation of their appointment decrees in Prague’s Carolinum.
The University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) awarded honorary doctorates to academics from the Palacký University Faculty of Arts. Two colleagues from the Department of History, Associate Professors Jan Stejskal (Dean of the Faculty of Arts) and Martin Elbel personally received the degree in honour of their twenty-five years of cooperation with the U.S. university.
The two received the honorary degree at a ceremony at UNK, attended by the newly elected Nebraska Governor, representatives of the University of Nebraska including its alumni, and UP Vice-Rector Jiří Stavovčík.
“An honorary doctorate is the highest honour any academic can receive from their colleagues. There is nothing greater in academia. My colleague Martin Elbel and I both accept it with enormous respect. The University of Nebraska has awarded honorary doctorates to Presidents Roosevelt, Clinton, and Gorbachev. I therefore delivered the ceremonial speech with great esteem and gratitude,” said Stejskal.
The two received the award primarily for the Nebraska Semester Abroad programme, which they have been running for twenty-five years and thanks to which Nebraska students can study at the UP Faculty of Arts Department of History. The programme has now more than seven hundred graduates and has gradually become the basis for further cooperation; both honoured academics also lecture in the programme.
“Our programme is the oldest existing international study programme at Palacký University. I am very glad that it continues to thrive and that UP Rector Martin Procházka promotes its development. Thanks to this, students from UNK will be able to study at our Faculty of Health Sciences, too, in January, while in March they will arrive at the Faculty of Arts,” said Stejskal.
Doctor honoris causa is an honorary academic title awarded to individuals who have made a significant international contribution to the development of science and culture or the benefit of humanity.
“For me as well as for Associate Professor Elbel, I believe, this honour from the University of Nebraska means a great deal. I think it is also an acknowledgement of all those who have been involved in the programme. At this point, I must also pay tribute to Rector Emeritus Josef Jařab, who opened the path for this collaboration twenty-five years ago. It appears his faith was not misplaced,” added the dean.
Seventy representatives of universities from EU countries met in Olomouc at the beginning of December. Palacký University hosted a two-day forum on the future of higher education. The aim of the meeting, which was held under the European Universities Initiative, was to exchange the experience of partner schools and discuss how to improve the quality of the participating universities in order to compete internationally.
A stimulating programme of lectures and discussions in the UP Faculty of Law auditorium was launched with opening words by the Deputy Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, Radka Wildová, and the UP Rector, Martin Procházka. “I would like to thank Palacký University for its role as the organiser of this meeting under the auspices of the Czech Presidency of the Council of the European Union with the aim to strengthen the role of Czech universities within the Aurora European Universities Alliance. The forum has become an opportunity to discuss and share practical knowledge, to network and seek synergies for future cooperation. Contemporary Europe faces many challenges, from the Russian invasion of Ukraine to climate change. This conference is further evidence that European countries need to work closely together and build a shared European higher education. In this joint venture across Europe, our universities must play a central role in addressing those challenges by bringing up the next generation of scientists and equipping them with the tools to tackle all societal challenges at the national, European, as well as global level,” said Minister Wildová.
Director of the Brussels-based Association of European Universities Thomas Estermann, University of Innsbruck Rector Tilmann Märk, and University of Rijeka Rector Snježana Prijić-Samaržija spoke about the importance and support of the European University Initiative, about activities related to the Czech Presidency of the Council of the European Union, and the ambitions and challenges of pioneering European university alliances. Many others, including University of Kharkiv Rector Tetyana Kaganovska, participated in the forum via an online platform. The Czech Republic was represented at the two-day forum by leading representatives of Palacký University Olomouc as well as by representatives of Charles University in Prague, Masaryk University in Brno, and Czech Technical University in Prague, institutions that are also part of the prestigious international Aurora Alliance.
The participants enthusiastically participated in workshops that formed the main part of the second day’s programme. One of the themes discussed in the interactive museum Fort Science was the current connection of students and academics with entrepreneurs. The University of Iceland, headed by moderator Halldór Jónsson, played an active role at the workshops. During the two days, the foreign guests had the opportunity to experience not only the lecture halls but the whole university town of Olomouc, thanks to a guided city tour and a visit to the Archbishop’s Palace.
“We have met the high demands for the organisation of the European University Forum, and our work on the preparation and execution of the meeting was appreciated by all the participants. I’m very pleased that we have stood up to this challenge, as evidenced by the positive feedback from the representatives of partner universities in the Aurora Alliance, Coimbra Group Universities, and the management of the European University Association. It has also been essential to establish cooperation and exchange of information with other Czech universities involved in other international alliances and to interconnect them with the activities of the Czech National Agency for International Education and Research,” emphasised Michal Malacka, UP Vice-Rector for Strategy and Regional Affairs.
The international forum has been in its way a preparation for the prestigious meeting of European universities, which will be hosted by Palacký University Olomouc under the auspices of the Aurora Alliance in autumn 2023. “The collaboration of universities across Europe and other partners from non-European countries is crucial for the development of our activities aiming for higher internationalisation. I am delighted that Palacký University has managed to strongly support the activities of the European University Association and the joint action of universities associated in university alliances. Our students, scientists, and academics can greatly benefit from this cooperation, bringing new opportunities for their professional growth,” concluded Rector Procházka.
A highly effective plant growth stimulator has been developed by scientists from the Laboratory of Growth Regulators, a joint workplace of the Institute of Experimental Botany of the Czech Academy of Sciences and the Faculty of Science of Palacký University Olomouc. The biostimulant can increase the yields of agricultural crops and their ability to absorb nutrients supplied by fertilisers from the soil, reducing the burden on the environment. Under licence with a British partner, the new product containing a patented Czech substance called MTU is already being sold to farmers in the UK. It will be available to farmers in other European countries, including the Czech Republic, next year.
The plant growth stimulator MTU, an abbreviation of its chemical name, significantly increases the resistance and yields of agricultural crops, while having a positive impact on the environment. In fact, plants treated with MTU have increased ability to utilise nitrogen fertilisers, which is another reason why they grow faster and produce more. The plants are able to absorb more nutrients from the applied fertiliser into their organs, thus reducing nutrient leaching from the field into the surrounding ecosystem.
“According to our research, the new substance increases the uptake of nitrogen nutrients by up to a quarter, which means that it will probably be possible to apply less of it to the field. For example, in a field trial in Hungary with corn, 15% less nitrogen was used without any yield loss. This is important both for meeting Green Deal objectives and due to the current skyrocketing of fertiliser prices. At present, these are one-year field trials that will need to be further confirmed,” said Jaroslav Nisler of the scientific team that developed the compound ten years ago.
MTU prevents the breakdown of chlorophyll, increasing its content in the leaves. “Treated crops can then better absorb carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, creating more energy-rich substances (sugars) that are used for faster root and stem growth. Plants are then better able to absorb water and the nutrients dissolved in it,” said Miroslav Strnad from the Laboratory of Growth Regulators.
Thanks to these properties, MTU mitigates the effects of drought, heat and other adverse conditions on plants. “This is particularly useful nowadays, when growers are more often faced with the consequences of extreme weather events due to global climate change,” adds Nisler. However, the product also stimulates plants in normal field conditions and significantly increases their yield. “For example, in field experiments with wheat in the Czech Republic in 2015-2017, MTU increased the average grain yield by 7 percent,” noted Nisler. Any only a very small amount of the product needs to be used. Half a gram of MTU per hectare in a 200-litre spray solution with water is sufficient.
The exclusive owner of the patents for the new biostimulant is the Institute of Experimental Botany of the Czech Academy of Sciences, which signed a licence agreement with the British company Intracrop in February of this year. The product is now manufactured in Germany, sold in the UK, and will be on the market in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary from 2023. The plan is to expand future sales to all EU countries, Ukraine, Turkey, Canada, and the USA.
British licensee Intracrop now sells MTU in the product Status, in which the company has combined MTU with a natural biostimulant, pidolic acid, to enhance its effect. “We recommend applying Status in the spring; from our experience, it increases yields in wheat, corn, rapeseed, and sunflower by 5% to 15%. Feedback from UK growers who have used it in this year’s dry spring has been exceptionally positive,” says Mark Palmer, Intracrop director. “We are really excited: we see this biostimulant with such an effective single ingredient as the Holy Grail of the future,” added Palmer.
For its potential environmental benefits in reducing fertilizer use, the new biostimulant MTU won an award in February 2022 in the US Next Gen Fertilizer Innovations Challenge, which focuses on innovations in the field of fertilization. The main organisers of the competition are two US government agencies: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).