The European Commission has published a groundbreaking study on new genome editing techniques (NGT). Among other things, it states that the use of new plant mutagenesis and cisgenesis techniques in NGT is as safe as traditional breeding techniques and that it is therefore appropriate to adapt existing European legislation to the latest scientific knowledge and technological progress.
The study (questions and answers at https://ec.europa.eu/food/plant/gmo/modern_biotech/q-and-a) also states that NGTs have a huge potential to contribute to sustainable agriculture and food industry and are in accordance with the objectives of the European Green Deal and Farm to Fork Strategy. According to experts it could provide a new perspective on the issue.
“It’s very promising news that could bring a big breakthrough. Our efforts within the European Federation of Biotechnology and the European Initiative for Sustainable Agriculture through Genome Editing (EU-SAGE) seem to have helped. Together with a number of European scientists, we have repeatedly criticized the ruling of the European Court of Justice of July 25, 2018, which interprets the current legislation in a way that all organisms prepared by modern genome editing procedures fall into the GMO category and are therefore subject to very strict regulation. This has negative effects not only on science, but especially on the economy and environment in EU countries and it needs to be changed,” said Ivo Frébort from the Czech Institute of Research and Advanced Technologies (CATRIN) Palacký University Olomouc, who as a vice president of EFB attended a meeting in Brussels last year, and together with Carsten Hjort from the Danish biotechnology company Novozymes, participated in the preparation of an expert opinion in a questionnaire survey commissioned by the Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety – DG SANTE. He has also drawn attention to the negative consequences of existing legislation on GMOs in a recently published article in the EFB Bioeconomy Journal.
According to scientists, genome modifications leading to changes that may also occur spontaneously in nature and that do not introduce foreign DNA should be excluded from GMO legislation. The current situation significantly reduces the competitiveness of EU countries and hinders them in breeding of economically important crops with the necessary characteristics, such as higher resistance to drought or pests and diseases. “In my opinion, the European Commission is beginning to realize that meeting the agricultural and food objectives supported by the new Horizon Europe framework program will not be possible without the use of the latest technologies. Non-European countries such as the USA, Canada, Australia, some countries in South America and Asia have already amended or are adjusting their legislation, and the United Kingdom has taken this path after Brexit. I look forward to further cooperation with DG SANTE, we have another meeting next week, this time through a video conference,” added Frébort.
Targeted genome editing is considered by researchers to be a suitable tool for breeding crops with sufficient yields that will be resistant to climate change, be less dependent on pesticides and fertilizers, and can have health benefits for consumers. The benefits of targeted genome editing are already described in the literature. New breeding technologies have contributed, for example, to the development of powdery mildew-resistant wheat, vine resistant to fungal diseases, breeding of low-gluten or high-fiber wheat and many other applications.
The latest editions of two international university rankings are good news for Palacký University Olomouc. According to the Centre for World University Rankings (CWUR) 2021/2022, UP has repeated its best ranking to date, taking 572nd place. UP has also maintained its position in the THE University Impact Rankings 2021 despite the increased number of ranked universities.
In the CWUR rankings, Olomouc’s university ranked in the top 2.9% in competition with almost 20,000 universities. Compared to other domestic universities – there are 12 of them in this year’s ranking – UP is second best, just as last year, after Charles University. Only Masaryk University and Czech Technical University made it into the top one thousand in addition to the two oldest Czech universities.
“CWUR is another global ranking which documents the swift rise of Palacký University Olomouc in recent years. The fact that UP, despite the growing number of universities ranked, has defended its dominant position and ranked ahead of all other universities in the Czech Republic except for Charles University obligates us for the future. I believe that the new management will do their best to make a further qualitative shift towards first place,” said Rector Jaroslav Miller about the CWUR results.
Second place nationally in research performance
CWUR adjusted its methodology in 2019–2020 to place equal emphasis on the educational environment and on research. It ranks universities based on four metrics: quality of education (25%), employability of graduates (25%), quality of staff (10%), and research performance (40%), which includes research, high-quality publications, the number of research papers in influential journals, and citations. The assessment is based primarily on Thomson Reuters databases and tracks data up to ten years back. It works only with available data, excluding the reputation of the university, which is a substantial part of other prestigious rankings. In research performance, UP has maintained its 535th position as in the previous year, which means second place in the national standings after Charles University (173rd), with Masaryk University in third (549th). Detailed results are available here.
THE: University Impact Rankings 2021
The third annual Times Higher Education (THE) rankings, focussing on selected sustainable development goals, rank 1115 universities from 94 countries. This is almost 350 more educational institutions than a year ago. UP has nevertheless maintained its position in the ranking and once again has been ranked between 401st and 600th places. Together with Charles University, Masaryk University in Brno, and the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague, UP dominates in the national comparison. The Czech Republic is represented by a total of seven universities.
“The global rankings assess the contribution of universities to sustainable development, and I am delighted that Palacký University is one of the most progressive universities in the Czech Republic in this aspect,” commented Miller.
To be ranked in the overall ranking, universities had to provide information for at least four goals. If they provided more than that, the three best scores, plus the mandatory Goal 17 (Partnerships for the Goals), determined their overall ranking. UP achieved its best scores in Good Health and Well-Being (score 65.5), Sustainable Cities and Communities (57.9), and Decent Work and Economic Growth (55.1).
In the overall ranking, UP ranks highest (201st to 300th in the world) in these goals: Good Health and Well-Being, Sustainable Cities and Communities, and Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure.
On the right track
“The societal impact of individual universities and their activities in terms of sustainability development is a theme that has resonated at our university in recent years. In order to develop a concept for sustainable development at UP, we had an external evaluation carried out by the Ministry of Industry and Trade in 2019 with the focus on social responsibility. This helped us realise that as a university we quite naturally carry out many outstanding activities in this area; however, we have reserves regarding their systematic documentation as well as the promotion of our results. We have therefore focussed on these aspects in the following years, and the results of the latest ranking have proven we’re on the right track,” said Hana Marešová, Vice-Rector for Strategic Planning and Quality.
The ranking is available here.
Is it possible to transform data into art? The answer is being provided by the 56th International Festival of Science Documentary Films Academia Film Olomouc, starting this week. One section, called Imagine the Facts, is focussed on data visualisation and interconnected with the “Universum” exhibition at the Triennial of Contemporary Central European Art, this year’s largest event at the Olomouc Museum of Art.
Once again, this year’s AFO is taking place on-line. Until 11 May, about a hundred of the best popular science documentaries can be viewed on the platform www.watchandknow.cz. The festival programme is divided into two lines. The first one is dedicated to film; therein compete the best science popularisation documentaries from the last two years. The second one consists of non-competitive sections, where AFO tries to present and scientifically explain urgent social phenomena through films and lectures as well as video games, literature, and exhibitions. “This year we are focussing on the theme of data visualisation and its use in science and art, which is featured in the Imagine the Facts thematic section,” explains AFO Director Jakub Ráliš.
The visualisation of raw data in graphs, maps, and art projects does not just stop at transcription. “It’s the process of searching for information, combining it, interpreting it, and visually processing it. Even the artists experience an exciting creative story full of uncertainty because they never know in advance what information they will be able to obtain and what its final shape will be,” says Barbora Kundračíková, the main curator of the Triennial. “We explore visualisation as a useful tool, but we also perceive its negatives – secondary phenomena such as visual noise or even smog.”
Four documentaries are featured for those interested in this festival section. For example, Eva Szasz’s Cosmic Zoom from 1968 or Unknown Fields: Madagascar – A Treasured Island. In addition, three video performances connected by an interview with Australian digital artist Andy Thomas, the author of Visual Sounds of Amazon, will be presented. Another part of the programme is a crash course in creating graphs and visualisations from raw data with data journalist Kristina Zákopčanová.
Although this year’s AFO is virtual again, thanks to collaboration with the Olomouc Museum of Art, the Imagine the Facts section will partly enter the real world and partly augment reality. The meeting place for debates and the fusion of reality and virtuality will be the 30-metre fence by the Museum of Art – the location of the planned Central European Forum Olomouc (SEFO) – in the city centre.
The wooden fence features an interactive installation on the boundary of science and art, created by AFO graphic designer Matěj Vázal. Only one half of the visual experience is accessible to the naked eye; the entire content can be viewed only by means of augmented reality (AR). The viewers have to download Artivive, a free app, on their phones and then point the camera lens at the bubbles on the fence. This will enable them to see a selection of science projects and artworks on the theme of visualisation. They include isotypes by Otto Neurath, land art projects by Agnes Deneés, and futuristic installations by Stano Filko. One of the highlights is an original installation by Attila Csor̈gő, which is being created virtually for the spot and will be transferred from the virtual environment into the real one in May.
The fence will thus cease to fulfil its original function as an advertising space and become an entrance to a new world – of data, information and experience, scientific and artistic projects, and exhibitions. The result will be the AFO-SEFO outdoor gallery, open 24/7. “AFO will be immediately followed by a programme that is a direct part of the Triennial of Central European Contemporary Art, which starts on 24 June 2021,” says Barbora Kundračíková. This is when the fence will become a gate open to visitors. “The breaking of the iconic fence is a crucial moment of the Triennial – the empty lot will be used to create a summer SEFO scene dedicated to the formation of public space, in which, in addition to AFO, many other cultural entities operating in Olomouc, including the city itself, will participate. This will be followed by Dan Gregor’s intervention called Silent Scream. Owing to all these activities, this place will hopefully turn into a genuine forum,” says Kundračíková.
A product based on iron nanoparticles, intended mainly for environmental accidents and remediation of contaminated waters, was developed by scientists from the Czech Advanced Technology and Research Institute (CATRIN). Effervescent tablets can remove hexavalent chromium, arsenic, herbicides, pesticides and other pollutants from the aqueous environment very quickly. This research result is already protected by the European patent, which came into force in April this year.
“These tablets contain iron nanoparticles, which are stable in this form. But, once in water, they disperse very quickly into a large volume of aqueous environment. The tablets contain a mixture of acids and hydroxides, which cause effervescence and simultaneously activate the nanoparticles very quickly, allowing a very rapid reaction between their surface and the pollutant,” said the main author of the patent Eleni Petala from CATRIN.
The material was produced as part of the Security Research Programme of the Czech Republic funded by the Ministry of the Interior of the Czech Republic. Scientists from Palacký University collaborated with Dekonta, a.s., and the Military Research Institute. The project entitled ‘advanced nanotechnologies to minimize the impact of escaped hazardous chemical substances endangering population’ focused on applied research and implementation of technologies using state-of-the-art, highly reactive nanomaterials for effective decontamination of hazardous chemicals (including chemical warfare agents) escaping for example in industrial or military accidents.
“In the project, the main focus was placed on maximizing the effect of new (nano)technologies and the high effectiveness of this method, along with minimising the threat to water resources and the population and avoiding the further spread of hazardous chemicals into the environment. We have completely fulfilled these requirements. Our solution is easy, quick and relatively cheap, as it does not require applying large amounts of nanoparticles of iron or other reagents,” explained the co-author of the patent Jan Filip.
The innovativeness of the approach is confirmed by the European patent covering both the way the product is created and the way it is used to achieve an extremely high effect. This has been proved, in particular, by the reduction of hexavalent chromium, the leakage of which may be from galvanic plants, for example, but the product also works with a wide range of other inorganic substances (metals and semi-metals, such as arsenic), halogenated chemicals, endocrine disruptors, pesticides or herbicides. For example, the tablets could be also used, according to scientists, to clean wells contaminated during floods, swimming pools, or surface waters during environmental accidents.
Lectures, debates, workshops, summer schools, Japanese language courses, festivals, and exhibitions will be among the activities provided by the new Japan Centre in Olomouc, launched now by Palacký University with the aim to contribute to deeper knowledge of contemporary Japan and the everyday life of common Japanese men and women. The ceremonial opening will take place on 28 April at 5 pm, with the participation of Hideo Suzuki, Ambassador of Japan to the Czech Republic. With respect to the ongoing epidemic situation, the event can be followed on-line.
Events organised by the UP Japan Centre will be open to the greater public. The first one is planned immediately after the opening on 28 April. It will be a talk called “Hanami: Spring Holidays in Japan”. The word “hanami” literally means “flower viewing”. Shinobu Chinju, a Japanese woman who has lived in Olomouc for some time now, will explain which tree blossoms people like to view and how they enjoy this ancient custom all over Japan.
According to Martin Kudláček, UP Vice-Rector for International Relations and the initiator of the idea, the foundation of the Japan Centre has been fuelled by UP’s long-term interest in building a strategic partnership with Japanese universities, organisations, and the Japanese Embassy in the Czech Republic.
“Several cultural centres have been established at UP already. They help us become more familiar with the cultures of their respective countries, introduce foreign languages to our academic community, schools, and the public from greater Olomouc, and support language education at primary and secondary schools. In addition to the British and French Centres, we also have the Korean King Sejong Institute and the Chinese Confucius Institute at our university. Teaching Japanese has a long tradition here, and the Japan Centre will greatly complement the above-mentioned centres in accordance with the university’s strategic plan. It will enable Palacký University Olomouc to intensify the cooperation with our Japanese partners, while introducing traditional as well as modern Japanese culture to the general public,” he said.
The educational activities by the UP Japan Centre will rely primarily on Czech experts in Japanese culture and society as well as on Japanese citizens living in the Czech Republic. However, the Centre will also happily accept proposals for events and activities from the public.
“We are always interested in people who would like to give a lecture or lead a workshop. We are thus looking forward to any suggestions for cooperation. Any feedback is welcome, too,” said Halina Zawiszová, the Japan Centre coordinator.
She added that the UP Japan Centre would focus primarily on topics that would give the audience an idea about life in contemporary Japan. “During the year, we will try to choose topics corresponding to the seasons and related seasonal events. We’d like to focus on Japanese food and drink culture, celebrations of annual holidays and life events, the study and work life of contemporary Japanese people, as well as travel, art, sports, and clothing. Our workshops will be dedicated not only to cooking Japanese food and to typical Japanese exercises, but also more traditional aspects of Japanese culture, such as the tea ceremony, calligraphy, kimono dressing, and fabric gift wrapping (furoshiki),” Zawiszová commented.
Although the epidemic situation does not yet allow any other opening of the centre but on-line, all interested parties are nonetheless invited. The virtual opening ceremony will be held in English and will include a short concert and the announcement of a competition in haiku, a very short poetic form from Japan, popular worldwide.
“We believe that the epidemic situation will improve. For the time being, however, we suppose that our events and activities will take place on-line, at least until the autumn. In the summer, we plan to organise a summer school focussed on Japanese language and cuisine. We are planning Japanese courses for the public in the autumn; in addition, a weekend cultural festival (matsuri) should also take place. Apart from offering cultural programmes, food stands, and workshops at the festival, we also want to organise a sports day (undókai), where both the young and old will have a lot of fun at traditional Japanese games and competitions,” said the coordinator. Information on upcoming events is available on the UP Japan Centre’s website and Facebook page.
Why is there a need to change European legislation on GMOs? How do severe restrictions on genome editing of economically important crops affect the European economy? These questions are among others answered in the first article of the new EFB Bioeconomy Journal, founded in collaboration with Elsevier by the European Biotechnology Federation (EFB).
“The main mission of the article was to point out to the obsolescence of the European legislation of 2001 in the field of new breeding technologies, which limits the development of applied research using these technologies and their application in practice across the EU. New techniques, in particular genome editing, make it possible to make small changes in the DNA sequence that in the wilderness occur spontaneously in a targeted and gentle manner, thus creating new crop varieties with better characteristics, such as higher yields, resistance to pests and climate change, and higher content of substances beneficial for health,” said Ivo Frébort from the Czech Institute of Research and Advanced Technologies (CATRIN) of Palacký University, who is also the vice-president of EFB. EFB President Jeff Cole and another EFB representative, Carsten Hjort from Novozymes, also contributed to the article.
What matters is the product, not the process
According to the authors, the ruling of the European Court of Justice of 35 July 2018 interprets the current legislation in a way that all organisms prepared by modern genome editing procedures fall into the category of GMOs, and are therefore subject to very strict regulation. “At the same time, however, the European Court of Justice has stated that aggressive techniques of chemical and radiation mutagenesis, which produce completely random and uncontrollable changes in genetic information in the organism, are safe due to their long history of use. EU legislation therefore regulates products on the basis of the process by which they were created, not the products themselves,” Frébort explained.
Conversely, in a number of other countries that have been able to operatively adapt their legislation (USA, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Japan, Israel, Australia – and after leaving the EU, changes are planned in the United Kingdom), restrictions on genome editing are purposefully set for a specific type of genetic change in the organism. It is therefore about the regulation of the product that is released into the environment and launched onto the market, not about the process used for its creation.
Large companies outside the EU benefit from European restrictions
The current situation leads to a loss of competitiveness of EU countries in breeding new crops. Consequences must be taken into account not only in agriculture, but also in other areas of the economy. Last but not least, scientists fear a “brain drain” in related disciplines.
“The European Union will be more dependent on imports of products developed and manufactured outside the EU, which will have a negative impact on the economy as well as the environment,” the authors of the article appeal. According to them, the effects will be felt, for example, by smaller and local producers, who will not be able to face competition from large companies. European agriculture without the possibility of growing crops using modern breeding methods will not be able to reduce the consumption of water, fertilisers, or pesticides and herbicides. Failure to develop pathogen-resistant varieties can lead to reduced biodiversity.
New magazine for bioeconomy
The current situation is at odds with the principles of bioeconomy, or circular economy, which is based on the use of renewable biological resources and the conversion of these resources, including waste, into value-added products such as food, feed, biological products, and energy. All of this using environmentally-friendly methods, without further burdening the environment and disturbing biodiversity. Bioeconomy is one of the clusters supported within the Horizon Europe programme.
Due to the use of a wide range of biotechnological processes in the bioeconomy, EFB has established a new journal that will focus attention on this area.
A new material designed for lithium battery cathodes was developed by scientists from the Czech Advanced Technology and Research Institute (CATRIN) of Palacký University. By combining the properties of modified fluorographene and sodium polysulfides, they have obtained a relatively cheap composite that gives high performance along with high stability and long life, which makes it a very promising candidate for practical applications. The results were published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials and the material has already been submitted to the European Patent Office.
Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries have been used in electronics since the 1990s. The rapid development of mobile devices, electric vehicles, but also the development of mobile information technology are increasing the demand for higher-performance, durable and low-cost batteries. Lithium-sulfur batteries are proving to be a promising alternative for energy storage.
“Sulfur has great potential for storing energy in lithium batteries, and is also a cheap and environmentally friendly material. However, its practical use has been hampered so far by its low conductivity and dissolution during repeated charges/discharges. This led to a decline in capacity. It was this bottleneck that we shifted our focus onto. We relied on our extensive expertise in fluorographene chemistry and used it to prepare a completely new type of electrode with covalently bonded sulfur atom-chains on the conductive graphene,” said one of the authors Aristides Bakandritsos.
Scientists used a simple method. They removed the fluorine atoms from fluorographene, and then tightly bonded polysulfides to the defluorinated reactive sites. In addition, the properties of polysulfides allowed the different layers of graphene to be linked together.
“The direct reaction of sodium polysulfide with fluorographene has proven to be a unique pathway that is chemically easy to implement. We have formed strong covalent bonds between the carbon backbone of graphene and sulfur. This prevents the gradual release of sulfur during the charging and discharging cycles of batteries,” explained the first author of the paper Iosif Tantis. According to him, the material shows excellent performance, contains only small amounts of electrochemically inactive additives, has high capacity as well as great stability during cycling.
“This simple method could be a very efficient way to produce lithium-sulfur batteries with higher performance, durability and lower costs. The properties of the developed material are very attractive for potential commercialisation. It is the easy and scalable synthesis that makes the materials obtained through fluorographene chemistry suitable for practical applications, as the feedstock has been on the market for four decades and is used as an industrial lubricant,” added Michal Otyepka, another author of the work.
Development of novel coordination compounds bearing anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects represents the main goals of two research projects solved by the team of Zdeněk Trávníček from the Czech Advanced Technology Research Institute (CATRIN), which were granted by the Grant Agency of the Czech Republic. The aim of one of them is also associated with the promotion of collaboration between Czech and Austrian researchers.
The first project entitled Anticancer active coordination compounds with multimodal effect, financially supported by ca 7.2 million CZK (» 277 000 Euros), will be solvedduring the next three years starting on April 2021.
„Project is focused on the development of novel coordination compounds of copper, zinc and iron, which contain a combination of at least two cytotoxic components in one molecule. This strategy can lead to discovery of safer and more effective anticancer drugs. In the physiological environment, these compounds can transform into at least two cytotoxic species, affecting diverse cellular targets and thereby efficiently support the processes leading to programmed cell death. “Moreover, a negative impact of such cytotoxic species on healthy cells should be negligible”, as clarified by Zdeněk Trávníček, the principal investigator of the project and head of the Davison of biologically active complexes and molecular magnets of CATRIN. The obtained results should significantly expand the current knowledge crucial for design and development of new and highly efficient anticancer metallotherapeutics.
Whilst the employees of CATRIN will participate exclusively in the above specified grant project, the second one, a Czech-Austrian project, entitled Complexes of selected transition metals with plant-derived compounds with anti-NF-kB and pro-PPAR dual activities, is also focused, among others, on strengthening national and international collaborations. In this project, the researchers from Faculty of Pharmacy, Masaryk University in Brno under the lead of professor Karel Šmejkal and from Institute of Vascular Biology and Thrombosis Research, Centre for Physiology and Pharmacology, Medical University of Vienna under supervision of professor Pavel Uhrín are also included.
„The development of new transition metal complexes (zinc, copper, gold) with secondary metabolites of medicinal plants, namely prenylated plant polyphenols, will be one of the main tasks within this international and multidisciplinary project. Our object is to prepare complexes with dual anti-inflammatory activity, i.e. the compounds which will inhibit the activity of pro-inflammatory NF-κB transcription factor and simultaneously stimulate the anti-inflammatory PPAR nuclear receptors” as commented by Zdeněk Trávníček.
The project solving started in January 2021 and should be finished by the end of 2023. The financial support going to Palacký University is ca 6.8 million CZK (» 261 000 Euros).
Diagram showing the essence of the project. (Author J. Vančo)
The Annual International Edwin Ziegfeld Award was granted to Petra Šobáňová, Vice-Dean for development and external relations at the Palacký University Faculty of Education. This prestigious award is given out by the United States Society for Education Through Art (USSEA) to distinguished leaders for merit in art education.
The Edwin Ziegfeld Award honours personalities who have made a significant international contribution to the development of art education. “It’s a great honour for me. At the virtual awards ceremony, I thanked not only the International Ziegfeld Award committee but also my colleague Jana Jiroutová, who closely collaborated with me recently in organising an international conference aimed at professional and didactic reflection on the functioning of art education during the pandemic. I was nominated and awarded, among other things, for organising this conference. I believe the award also belongs to my faculty and the Czech Section of InSEA,” said Šobáňová. In the wake of the award, she also received an invitation to be an invited speaker at a conference of the American (USSEA) Society, which is to take place in July.
The only other person in the Czech Republic who has won the Edwin Ziegfeld Award was Jaromír Uždil, a legend of Czech art pedagogy. “Prof Uždil is my unequalled role model. He founded the Czech section of InSEA, an association for art education, which celebrated half a century of existence a few years ago,” added Šobáňová. She personally made efforts to ensure that the tradition founded by Prof Uždil continued. After a several-year hiatus, in 2015 she organised its re-founding conference, where she was elected the society’s chair.
“We have done a great deal of work over the past period. We are preparing educational events for teachers, organising prominent conferences focussed on art education in the Czech Republic, and publishing a periodical as well as specialised literature. We are also actively protesting against the insensitive revisions of the Framework Education Programmes. Last year, we organised an international art educational conference, described by the president of the ʻbig’ InSEA – the International Society for Education through Art – as the event of the year. We managed to attract more than a thousand visitors from all over the world to virtual Olomouc,” added Šobáňová.
According to Ryan Shin, president of the American Society for Education through Art (USSEA), who nominated Šobáňová for the Annual International Edwin Ziegfeld Award, this prestigious award is in good hands. In the nomination letter, he described her internationally acknowledged activities in the field. “Petra Šobáňová’s research spotlights the intersection of theoretical and practical knowledge in the field of art education. As evidenced by many articles, monographs, and book chapters, her research has influenced the development of art education not only in the Czech Republic but also in other countries. Šobáňová’s work is dedicated to art teachers in schools, museums, and community facilities; she has provided both teachers and students with excellent educational models and tools. She collaborates with many art teachers and has contributed to the development of museum pedagogy in the Czech Republic. In the face of the Covid-19 crisis, she also created a website of digital educational resources, www.nedatovano.cz. One of her latest and most remarkable contributions to art education on the global scale was the creation and organisation of an international virtual conference Art Education in the Time of Coronavirus. At the last year’s conference, approved by InSEA in collaboration with the USSEA, she manifested strong leadership and the vision necessary to gather the voices and experiences of art educators around the world to address the current crisis in the arts. The virtual conference of hers was one of the best organised and structured conferences ever and has become a model for other virtual conferences. Petra Šobáňová’s strong commitment to art education through international collaboration and research projects is of great benefit to our field,” wrote Shin, among others. More information about the award is available here.
Edwin Ziegfeld – The founder of the International Society for Education through Art and the first president of the National Arts Education Association. His activities were associated with UNESCO since the 1950s. In the 1930s, he was one of the authors of the legendary art education experiment, the Owatonna Art Education Project. In this project, Edwin Ziegfeld decided to change the world and lives of the people of Owatonna, MN, by providing them with art activities that he tried to connect with the everyday life of the community. He thus entered the history of educational reform.
Jaromír Uždil – Czech teacher, poet, and painter. He was one of the leading figures in Czech art education and in the Czech Section of the InSEA (International Society for Education through Art), which he founded and then also led from 1967–1984. The foundation of the then Czechoslovak InSEA Committee was preceded by an exhibition of worldwide children’s art in Prague (U Hybernů gallery), which was prepared in 1964 by Uždil and had great international reception. After this success, he organised the InSEA World Congress (1966) in Prague, at the time an unrivalled event in the field of art education. In 1990, Jaromír Uždil received the USSEA’s International Edwin Ziegfeld Award for his contribution to art education. In memoriam, Jaromír Uždil was awarded The Sir Herbert Read Award, which is given by the global InSEA to acknowledge individuals with the most significant lifetime contributions to art education.
A unique overview of the global diversity of fossil click beetles, which will help to clarify the origin and evolution of this diverse and globally widespread group of beetles, has been published by scientists led by Robin Kundrata of the Department of Zoology at the Faculty of Science. Their comprehensive work will serve as a basic source of information for further studies focused on click beetles. The resulting publication was published in the international professional journal Insects.
The Elateridae family currently contains over 10,000 described species from around the world. However, insufficient knowledge of the fossil record has so far prevented scientists from understanding the origin, evolution, and paleodiversity of this interesting group of beetles. Therefore, Robin Kundrata, together with his two students and a colleague from Moscow, decided to summarise and publish all available information about all the world’s fossil click beetles, which covers the entire period of their evolution. The researchers found that the diversity of fossil click beetles described so far includes 261 species classified into 99 genera from nine subfamilies.
“The available data clearly show that the vast majority of the species described urgently need a detailed revision of their systematic classification, with many compression fossils in particular not providing enough important morphological features to be properly classified,” said Kundrata.
The oldest fossil click beetles date back to the Triassic period, but since in most of these cases only the elytra or their fragments have been preserved, it cannot be said with certainty that in all cases they are really click beetles. “Over 100 species of click beetles are already known from the Jurassic period, but even here it is possible that a large percentage of them belong to other, morphologically similar families. On the other hand, we have many undescribed species, not only from the Mesozoic, so there is still plenty of work ahead of us,” said Kundrata.
Students of teacher training in biology Gabriela Pačková and Johana Hoffmannová are also taking part in the research of the fossil record of click beetles under the guidance of Robin Kundrata. “It’s a great feeling when you work on something for a long time and then you see the result of your work, especially the reception of the professional public,” said Pačková, who chose extinct click beetles as the topic of her Bachelor’s thesis. “In addition, it’s amazing to work on researching millions of year-old beetles, many of whom inhabited the planet along with the dinosaurs,” said Hoffmannová. Earlier, she already participated in the description of a unique click beetle embedded in Baltic amber.
“It is a pleasure for me to work with such motivated students. Although I already consider Johana and Gabriela as my colleagues rather than students. Maybe it’s also because we are all in almost daily contact because of many projects, even though we have now been forced to limit personal meetings due to covid,” said Kundrata.
Both students are not focused only on fossils, but also study the current diversity of click beetles. Gabriela Pačková was the first author of a study in which she named a new species of soft-bodied click beetle from Sri Lanka in honour of her late mother. Johana Hoffmannová won the Rector’s Award for the best student scientific work this year. She made an impression with her first-author publication on two systematically interesting Australian families of click beetles.
The new rector of Palacký University Olomouc will be Prof Martin Procházka, M.D., the current dean of the UP Faculty of Health Sciences. The UP Academic Senate made this decision on the last day of March. Once the President of the Czech Republic signs his appointment decree, Prof Martin Procházka will lead the university for the next four years, from May 2021 to April 2025.
Four academics vied to receive the votes of twenty-four senators: Martin Kudláček from the Faculty of Physical Education, Jiří Lach from the Faculty of Arts, Tomáš Opatrný from the Faculty of Science, and Martin Procházka. Before the election itself, the candidates introduced their visions concerning the direction of UP in the years to come and answered the questions of the senators. The senators then voted in a secret ballot.
The new rector of Palacký University was elected in the second round, when the senators decided between Martin Procházka and Tomáš Opatrný. Martin Procházka received fourteen votes, Tomáš Opatrný eight votes. A minimum of thirteen votes were required for election.
“I cannot remember a more solemn moment in my professional life, perhaps my graduation at the Faculty of Medicine. I would like to thank my three opponents. I think we have shown, through factual discussion, that our university is a cultivated environment and that we can communicate with each other even when we have opposing views and different goals. Many thanks also to the senators for the election, which ran smoothly, without tension or invectives. I would like to express gratitude to the current rector Jaroslav Miller and his administration for all the work they have done for the university. I’d also like to thank the entire academic community for participating in the event and related debates at the university. And last but not least, I must thank my family for their support,” said Martin Procházka in his thank-you speech after the result of the secret ballot was announced.
“I can promise to be the rector not only of the two faculties where I have worked, but also of the entire university. I promise to abide by everything that has been said in the election debates – my door will be always open to you; I offer free discussion forums, transparency, and communication. Starting tomorrow, I will be working for the university with my team and together with the UP Academic Senate I believe that four years from now I could hand it over to a successor, confident that I have done a good job,” Procházka added.
“I believe that during this tough election campaign our university has shown that it is worth fighting for; I also believe that our Academic Senate has shown during its term of office that it will fight for the university, and I believe that not only the newly elected rector, but we, all of us, will fight for it together,” said the chair of the UP Academic Senate, Michal Malacka, after the election. Malacka also pointed out that the Senate’s decision only proposes the future rector for appointment to be decided by the president of the country. The result of the election and the proceedings from the election of the candidate for the office of UP Rector, including materials required for the appointment, will be submitted by the UP Academic Senate chair to the Minister of Education by 7 April.
“Congratulations to the future rector for his successful election and great personal success! I know Prof Procházka as a prudent colleague; the university will undoubtedly continue to thrive under his leadership. In recent years, UP has dynamically developed in all areas, which had a positive effect on the international rating of our university. I am sure that UP will maintain this dynamic course and continue to take this path of success,” stated current rector Jaroslav Miller to his successor.
In the modern era after its reinstatement in 1946, Palacký University has been headed by fourteen rectors, two of which were female. Martin Procházka will be number fifteen. Currently, UP has more than 22,000 students at eight faculties and almost 4,000 employees. This oldest Moravian university elected a new rector after Jaroslav Miller submitted his resignation at the end of the year.
Prof. Martin Procházka, M.D., Ph.D. (b. 1970)
A graduate of the Palacký University Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, Professor of Gynaecology and Obstetrics. Since 1994 he has worked at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the UP Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry and University Hospital Olomouc. Previously, he also headed the Department of Midwifery at the UP Faculty of Health Sciences. In his professional work he has focussed on perinatology, maternal-foetal medicine, and medical genetics, especially on serious complications during pregnancy or inherited disorders of blood clotting. As a physician, he specialises in high-risk pregnancies, thrombophilic conditions, outpatient gynaecology, prenatal care, infertility, and endometriosis. He gained professional experience during study stays and internships in Belgium, Sweden, and the Netherlands. According to the Web of Science database, he has authored 119 works with more than 500 citations. He is a member of the committee of the Czech Gynecological and Obstetrical Society, and a member of the Czech Society of Medical Genetics and Genomics and several other European and international professional associations.
An international team of scientists, led by researchers from the Czech Advanced Technology and Research Institute (CATRIN), Palacký University Olomouc, has developed, in collaboration with American, German and Italian colleagues, ultra-small and highly efficient solar furnaces used for removing toxic gases, desalination, or as steam generators and chemical reactors for the production of nanomaterials. These nanofurnaces feature a size of several tens of nanometres in diameter and can be made in the form of thin films or panels transforming the solar energy into heat, thus reaching temperatures of up to 600 degrees Celsius. The results of the unique technology, which the author team protects with an international patent application, were published in Nano Letters and Nano Energy.
Researchers used the ability of some metallic nanoparticles to generate large amounts of thermal energy after being irradiated with light of a suitable wavelength. The pioneer work in the field of so-called thermoplasmonics dates back only to the beginning of this millennium and is mainly related to the use of specific optical properties of gold nanoparticles and their testing in biomedicine, particularly in photothermal cancer therapy.
“The essence of our technology is titanium nitride nanotubes, which have similar thermoplasmonic properties to gold nanoparticles, but are approximately forty times cheaper. In addition, they show great temperature stability and have a cylindrical shape suitable for use as nanofurnaces or chemical reactors. The developed technology enables rapid conversion to industrial scale and production of films or panels seeded with billions of densely arranged nanofurnaces,” said the project’s main author Alberto Naldoni from CATRIN, who is also an ERC-CZ grantee.
Low production costs as well as technological requirements, high efficiency and temperature
Inside the nanofurnace, the team of scientists from Olomouc was able to experimentally demonstrate a temperature of up to 600 degrees Celsius. These results confirmed the relatively low losses in converting solar energy into thermal energy, as evidenced by theoretical simulations by co-authors from Purdue University in the US and the Polytechnic University of Milan, Italy.
“Compared to commercial systems for light-to-heat conversion, such as solar towers, our approach allows reaching extremely high temperatures for utilizing solar radiation under favourable conditions, which is an important technological and economic aspect. Moreover, existing commercial technologies require one to two orders of magnitude higher radiation energy. These are the main reasons why we decided to patent the technology,” added Štěpán Kment, Head of the Photoelectrochemistry group at CATRIN, who is also active at the Technical University of Ostrava (VŠB-TUO).
Applications in green energy, ecology and chemistry
Thanks to high solar energy conversion efficiency (68%), low production costs as well as energy demands, solar nanofurnaces may be used in the area of renewable electricity and advanced solar energy materials. However, Czech researchers are also studying other applications.
“It’s relatively easy to place catalysts on the inner walls of nanofurnaces—a kind of chemical reaction accelerator. For example, we have demonstrated the high efficiency of solar thermal conversion of toxic carbon monoxide deploying rhodium nanoparticles. Moreover, nanofurnaces can serve as a unique chemical nanoreactor, where solar-induced chemical reactions can be performed with unique temperature distribution and control, thus enabling to prepare completely new materials,” evaluates the application potential of solar nanofurnaces Radek Zbořil from CATRIN and the VŠB-TUO.
In a recent paper in the journal Nano Energy, the author team also demonstrated the extraordinary efficiency of nanofurnaces as solar steam generators. “This allows testing the developed nanosystems in desalination technologies, for example. The high efficiency and evaporation rate in such a solar reactor, combined with the subsequent steam condensation, can be also used in low-cost technologies for water remediation and for the removal of dissolved toxic substances. It may open the door to removing a greater variety of pollutants,” concluded the first author of the paper Luca Mascaretti from CATRIN.
In addition to scientists from CATRIN and VŠB-TUO, researchers from Purdue University and Rice University in the US; universities in Trieste and Milan, Italy; and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany, participated in this multi-year project.
L. Mascaretti, A. Schirato, R. Zbořil, Š. Kment, P. Schmuki, A. Alabastri and A. Naldoni, Solar steam generation on scalable ultrathin thermoplasmonic TiN nanocavity arrays, NANO ENERGY, vol. 83, pp. 105828, 2021.
A. Naldoni, Z. A. Kudyshev, L. Mascaretti, S. P. Sarmah, S. Rej, J. P. Froning, O. Tomanec, J. E. Yoo, D. Wang, S. Kment, T. Montini, P. Fornasiero, V. M. Shalaev, P. Schmuki, A. Boltasseva and R. Zbořil, Solar Thermoplasmonic Nanofurnace for High-Temperature Heterogeneous Catalysis, NANO LETTERS, vol. 20, pp. 3663–3672, 2020.
Four yours ago, the UP Archives approached Professor Emeritus Jaroslav Peprník with a request to enrich the living memory of Palacký University by adding his own recollections. After more than six months of work, Vzpomínky anglisty [Memoirs of an English Studies Scholar] has now been published by UP Press, making it the ninth volume of the Palacký University Memory series.
Jaroslav Peprník, Czech philologist and linguist, is one of the founders of English Studies in Olomouc. One of the striking aspects of his professional activity is his extensive, far-ranging knowledge of the literatures and cultures of English-speaking countries. For a long time, English classes at Czech universities and secondary schools could not do without his textbooks. And due to his work in the field of lexicology, Prof Peprník is one of the leading Czech experts in this linguistic discipline.
Considering the date when Memoirs of an English studies scholar was published, it could be said that the book was a birthday present of the author to the academic community. Unfortunately, a proper book launch of this fascinating work is not possible, due to the epidemic situation. However, anyone who is familiar with Prof Peprník knows that he would appreciate it if, when reading his memoirs, they join him with a toast of absinthe, which Oscar Wilde favoured.
The reader learns in the book that the author had two motives to write his memoirs. The first was based on his belief that two thirds of his life were more dramatic than the lives of the acclaimed English studies scholars Mathesius, Trnka, Vachek, and Poldauf. In addition, his aim is to entertain his readers, rather than educate them in the fields of lexicology, lexicography, English teaching methodology, and the history of contacts with the English-speaking world. He visited Britain seventy years ago and the United States fifty years ago, so readers can compare his experiences with their own, made in happier times. The second motive, according to Prof Peprník, is that he plans to read the memoirs when his memory ceases to be reliable. Moreover, he secretly hopes that his grandchildren will read it when they’re old. He believes that oral histories rarely survive three generations.
According to Aleš Prstek, director of UP Press, the book is being published now for yet another reason. “The publication was made possible thanks to the personal efforts of Prof Lubomír Machala, who negotiated financial support not only with UP Rector, as is customary in this series, but also with the UP Faculty of Arts Dean,” explains Prstek, adding that the publication was prioritised thanks to this support.
The memoirs of Jaroslav Peprník were published nearly without any photographs, at his firm request. “Apart from the introductory photo, the reader will not find another before the very end of the book. It perfectly illustrates the author’s dry - and sometimes even black – humour, for which he is well-known among his colleagues and students,” explains Háta Kreisinger Komňacká from UP Press, where they have been working on the memoirs since autumn 2020.
As she recalls, during the preparations of Memoirs of an English Studies Scholar, Prof Peprník only paid a few brief visits to the university publishing house, however, his presence at the Department of English and American Studies has been always steady. This is confirmed by the author in the book: “My classmates, now retired for thirty years, never understand that some people want to go to work even if they don’t have to. I keep telling them: ‘You can hardly look forward to having a free weekend because you’re on a permanent weekend. (…) And so after a sound night’s sleep, I walk to our beautifully renovated faculty, where there is a garden now instead of the previous asphalt yard, I ignore the elevator and climb two flights up to my office, chosen by the head of our department, Assoc Prof Lída Veselovská, and I take delight in the view from my window, overlooking the park under the city rampart walls, and then I turn on the computer.”
With the UP Memory series, Palacký University expands knowledge of its own history with the memories of its teachers and researchers. This more than 150-page work by Prof Peprník has become another colourful piece in this important mosaic.
“Readers of my Memoirs of an English Studies Scholar, as I hesitantly called my manuscript as a tribute to the work of my teacher and benefactor Prof Vachek, are hereby warned: they will not find encounters with prominent linguists, let alone public celebrities, or descriptions of visits to numerous universities and appearances at notable conferences. They will have to settle for my stories about what I had experienced before I became an expert in English Studies, and what happened later in my life. A more accurate title of this manuscript would be The Adventures of a Moravian English Studies Scholar on Two Continents in Two Centuries,” writes Jaroslav Peprník in the foreword.
The impulse to launch the UP Memory series came from the director of the university archives, Pavel Urbášek. Since then, UP Archives have been proposing a new author every year. The first title in the series was an annotated book of memoirs by classical philologist Julie Nováková, followed by the memoirs of physicist Jan Peřina, Russian literature scholar Miroslav Zahrádka, historian and former Faculty of Arts dean Josef Bieberle, and Prof Emeritus Miloš Trapl. Other additions were the memoirs of sculptor Bohumil Teplý, and linguist and scholar in Hispanic and Portuguese studies Jiří Černý, and last but not least, the memoirs of Josef Jařab, former UP rector and one of the key figures of the 1989 Velvet Revolution in Olomouc, which were also published as an audiobook, recorded by the author himself. The memoirs of English studies scholar Peprník are volume number nine. Next in line should be the memoirs of Prof Miloslav Duda of the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, and Prof Zdeněk Kučera, former head of the Department of Art Education. UP Press is trying to give the unique edition a proper look. “The autobiographies of important personalities from our university deserve to look impressive. I believe that Memoirs of an English Studies Scholar will find its readers immediately,” adds Kreisinger Komňacká.
Jaroslav Peprník (b. 1927)
He graduated in English and History at the Philosophical Faculty, Masaryk University in Brno. His dissertation (1950) was entitled “Nominal Tendencies in Modern English Prose”. Since 1954 he has been working at the UP Faculty of Arts in Olomouc. At the Department of English and American Studies, he specialises in contemporary English, particularly lexicology. Peprník’s first university textbook Angličtina pro lékaře [English for Physicians], reviewed by Prof Pavel Lukl and published in 1966, was republished several times and used also at the Faculty of Medicine, Charles University in Prague. This was followed by the textbook Angličtina pro filology I–II [English for Philologists I–II] (1984, 1987). Thanks to his work on the Slovník amerikanismů [Dictionary of Americanisms], he was the only Czech professor to receive a Fulbright scholarship in 1969, with a six-month stay in the USA. Another successful textbook was Angličtina pro jazykové školy [English for Language Schools]. He was allowed to obtain the academic degree of “candidate of philological sciences” only in 1986, on the basis of his candidate dissertation Sémantika pojmenování barev v angličtině a češtině [The Semantics of Naming Colours in English and Czech]. He only could become an associate professor after the fall of the communist regime in 1989. His professional work has focussed on research of the contacts between the Czech lands and the English-speaking world, culminating in the publications Anglie očima české literatury [England through the Eyes of Czech Literature] (2001), Amerika očima české literatury [America through the Eyes of Czech Literature] (2002), Češi a anglofonní svět: kontakty a percepce [The Czechs and the English-speaking World: Contacts and Perception] (2012), and Anglofonní svět a Češi [The English-speaking World and the Czechs] (2016). His works for the general public include the history book Británie a USA: Ilustrované reálie [Great Britain and the United States: Illustrated Facts] (2004) and an anthology of short texts from The Times, called Journalistic English (2005). After 1990, he devoted great efforts to the revision of English passages in Oldřich Švarný’s textbook Hovorová čínština v příkladech [Conversational Chinese via Examples] and a revision of Velký česko-anglický slovník [Great Czech-English Dictionary] by Josef Fronek.
After four years of research, scientists have succeeded in sequencing the genetic information of Europe’s third most important cereal grain – rye. Olomouc researchers from the Institute of Experimental Botany at the Czech Academy of Sciences (IEB), whose department is a partner of the Centre of the Region Haná for Biotechnological and Agricultural Research (CRH), also participated in the research.
The international research team, led by the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research, Germany, has obtained the exact reference sequence of the rye genome. This discovery, reported by Nature Genetics, will be made use of by scientists and breeders, who will be able to speed up breeding of rye varieties with better properties. After wheat and barley, rye is the last of the three most important European crops to have its genome sequenced. The objective set by the international team of scientists from 13 countries was very challenging. The genetic information of rye consists of eight billion bases, or “letters”, nearly three times more than humans. At the same time, this information is mostly made of repetitive sequences, which occur in many copies at different places in the genome, therefore it is difficult to determine their positions and assemble them into larger units. Olomouc scientists helped to overcome this problem by designing an “optical map”.
“Thanks to optical genome mapping, we were able to assemble complex elements, verify the correctness of created sequences, and correct any errors. We are one of the best in the world in the development and application of this method on plants,” said Hana Šimková, head of the research group at the IEB laboratory in Olomouc.
Olomouc researchers also contributed to the achievement of the project’s objectives by obtaining sequences of isolated rye chromosomes. They confirmed the completeness of the sequences they assembled by independently determining the genome size of the sequenced segment. This achievement has been a follow-up on their work from 2013, when they played a key role in obtaining the first draft of the rye genome.
Sequencing the rye genome will make it possible to clarify the function of individual segments of its hereditary information and to understand how they influence the growth and development of this crop. This new scientific discovery will also find applications in practice, as it will allow breeders to faster identify the genes responsible for yield, grain quality, resistance to diseases and pests, as well as the genes allowing it to overcome periods of drought. The results from the rye research can also be used in the cultivation of another crop – wheat. Key resistance genes from rye could be transferred to wheat, thus increasing its resistance. The knowledge gained will also help accelerate the breeding of man-made crop called triticale, which is a cross of wheat and rye.
In the past, rye used to be a sought-after cereal in the Czech lands. Due to the change of eating habits and increased consumption of white bread made from wheat flour, however, its growing area diminished. At present, it is grown on a mere 30,000 hectares (75,000 acres) in the Czech Republic, which is only two percent of its growing area in the 1920s and 1930s. Nevertheless, rye has received more attention in recent years.
“Indisputably, rye has a great importance and an irreplaceable role in the baking industry, especially in baking bread. In addition, it has great nutritional properties, contains high levels of soluble fibre, so it can satisfy hunger for a long time. However, rye is also grown for pharmaceutical purposes. Its fields are artificially infected with Claviceps purpurea, an ergot fungus, which forms mycelium on the rye ears and turns it into a dark hardened mass, the ergot. It contains substances used for the production of important drugs,” explains Jaroslav Doležel, who is the head of the Olomouc IEB workplace and the coordinator of the research programme of the Czech Academy of Sciences “Food for the Future of the AV21 Strategy”.
Centre of Structural and Functional Plant Genomics, Institute of Experimental Botany, Czech Academy of Sciences
The Olomouc Centre of Structural and Functional Plant Genomics, part of the Institute of Experimental Botany at the Czech Academy of Sciences, is a partner of the Centre of the Region Haná for Biotechnological and Agricultural Research. The centre focusses primarily on the study of the structure and function of hereditary information of agricultural crops, especially cereals, bananas, and grasses. The most up-to-date methods of cytogenetics, molecular biology, and genomics are used. The centre participates in international projects aimed at decoding the hereditary information of important crops and the isolation of important genes. It is a world-renowned workplace, which under the leadership of plant geneticist Prof Jaroslav Doležel (interviewed in the UP Žurnál here, in Czech), laureate of the highest Czech scientific award Czech Mind, has developed unique methods and procedures, contributing to the cultivation of new varieties of agricultural crops with required properties.
People who are visually impaired, in order to find their way and orient themselves in their surroundings, can today rely on 3D tactile maps created with modern 3D printing tools. This unique aid has resulted from research conducted by scientists from the Institute of Special Education Studies at the UP Faculty of Education and the Department of Geoinformatics at the UP Faculty of Science.
Although the concept of geospatial data and information communication is the subject of much ongoing research in the field of cognitive cartography, Palacký University scientists were the first to use modern technology and knowledge acquired in the education of visually impaired people, including training in the use of tactile-auditory tools. The results of this research open up new possibilities for acquainting visually impaired persons with modern technologies in groups//classes. A group of visually impaired people thus gains the opportunity to move independently in space, which is a very important aspect of their life in society.
On the basis of the acquired knowledge and the specification of the required functionality, a beta version of the TactileMapTalk mobile application was developed in 2018 for Android. The application underwent a significant upgrade in 2019 and the final version 10.5 has been placed on the project’s website, where it is available for public download.
“Tactile maps, in our conception, are maps printed with a 3D printer. They are used for spatial orientation – mostly during training, anchoring, and rehearsing the route. They are typically used after training with a guide so that the person with visual impairment can anchor the route, remember it, and so on. Our main goal was to achieve such a level of detail in the map that it makes it possible to distinguish individual 3D structures in the form of orientation points by touch. These serve as trigger points for the audio component. Based on acquired knowledge, new prototypes of typhlomaps (maps for the visually impaired) were continuously created for user testing and now also in work with the target group when practicing movement in space,” said Veronika Růžičková, main investigator of the project “The development of independent movement through tactile-auditory means”, supported by the Technology Agency of the Czech Republic (TACR). Researchers from the Institute of Special Education Studies and the Department of Geoinformatics, as well as students of doctoral study programmes and independent experts, took part in the project.
The actual implementation of the project was preceded by professional research and discussed publicly with experts, with focus on didactic approaches, the needs of the target group, and how to work with the group, as well as on technological approaches, user aspects of tactile maps, and modern approaches in typhlocartography.
The original design of tactile maps intended for user testing was created by UP researchers in 2018 and was based on acquired knowledge and the Touchlt3D technology developed at the Department of Geoinformatics. After that, the first typhlomaps in sizes corresponding to smart phones and tablets were created for three locations chosen by experts, in the town centres of Ostrava, Opava, and Nový Jičín. During 2019, the process of map production and accompanying technologies was optimised several times.
Within this TACR-supported project, the Olomouc town centre was also mapped, as well as a new typhlomap depicting the relief of the Czech Republic. Olomouc scientists also enhanced the functionality of their maps during 2020 – thus the third-generation typhlomaps were developed, with an improved option of switching between voice modes. All the original maps of the second generation as well as the newly created maps of the biggest Czech cities Brno and Prague were subsequently fitted with new buttons enabling this option.
As Růžičková notes, user testing has shown that valid standards for typhographic imaging, when applied to 3D space, must be innovated to be perceptible by touch. “Similarly, individual testing has proved that the connection of 3D maps and voice output leads to a faster understanding of space and easier memorising as well as recalling. In addition to all these interactive maps, tentative non-interactive maps were also created, which were important especially in terms of methodology and didactics, due to the feedback we have received on them. We know now that this method of communicating the content of the map is appreciated as a suitable tool for teaching how to work with typhlomaps,” she added.
Individual presentations and conclusions from the testing are presented in the publication Typhlomaps–Typhlography–Typhlocartography. More information is available here.
Mgr. Veronika Růžičková, Ph.D., lecturer at the Institute of Special Education Studies, Faculty of Education, Palacký University Olomouc, focusses on the issue of persons with visual impairments. This specialisation includes a broad range of areas from the special education of visually impaired children and youths, lifelong learning, and education of seniors with visual impairments. In her practice, she works as a visual therapist and spatial orientation instructor for the visually impaired. She conducts research in the field of special education of visually impaired people and focusses mainly on the issues of rehabilitation and compensation for the loss of visual perception (typhlography, spatial orientation, tactile perception, visual therapy, etc.). She is the author and co-author of several monographs, including the book Tactile Maps Based on 3D Printing Technology and dozens of articles in conference proceedings and journals.
On Wednesday, 31 March, the Palacký University Olomouc Academic Senate will meet to decide who will be the head representative of Olomouc’s university for the next four years. Twenty-four senators will choose the new rector from four candidates: 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. The candidates for rector will present themselves to the academic community and the public on 24 March in an online meeting, where they will outline their campaign platforms and visions for the future.
The new rector will take over the helm of Palacký University for the period of May 2021 to April 2025 from Jaroslav Miller, UP Rector from 2014–2021, who decided to step down from his post prematurely in December.
UP Academic Senate to choose the new rector; the election can be followed online
The election of the rector will be decided by the UP Academic Senate when it meets at 1 pm on 31 March in the Faculty of Education Assembly Hall. With respect to the strict measures in force in conjunction with the Covid-19 pandemic, only senators and the candidates for rector will be physically present. All those interested will be able to follow the entire session via live stream on the webpage avp.upol.cz/stream.
To be elected rector, one of the candidates will have to receive a majority of more than half the votes of all senators (i.e. at least 13 votes). Voting can take place for a maximum of three rounds. If no candidate succeeds after the third round of voting, new elections will be announced.
Public presentation of the candidates for rector on ZOOM and YouTube
All four candidates will present themselves to the academic community and the public in a public presentation starting at 1 pm on 24 March. Due to the anti-epidemic measures, this will also take place online. In conjunction, a “rector’s holiday” starting at noon of that day will be announced.
Those interested in the meeting can take part in two ways: – as an active part of the discussion, or simply as viewers. Those employees and students who want to take part in the debate actively via their questions can connect via ZOOM. Those who wish to register for the active video conference need to fill-in an online form. Employees, students, and the greater public who wish to “merely” watch can follow it on YouTube via the avp.upol.cz/stream page.
Candidates’ platforms and visions
The candidates for rector have already presented their platforms on the election webpage, where you can read about their visions and ideas of in which directions Palacký University should move and what its goals should be.
All details on the timing, course, and organisation of the elections for UP Rector can be found on the webpage upol.cz/elections.
What is the link between the participation of children and adolescents in organised leisure-time activities and their health? And how are they influenced by the environment in which they live? These were the questions investigated by an international study, the main authors of which work at the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies, UP Faculty of Physical Education. The results of the research were published in the prestigious Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.
“This is the first ever international study to assess the relationship between engagement in organised leisure activities and the health and well-being of children and adolescents in the context of their social and socio-economic background. In addition to the Czech Republic, we used data from nine countries, including Canada, Armenia, and Russia,” said Zdeněk Hamřík, head of the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies.
More than 55,000 schoolchildren aged 11, 13, and 15 took part in the research. Almost 38,000 of them came from nuclear families; children living with one parent or stepparents were also represented. Experts were trying to find out, among other things, whether they participated in organised leisure-time activities (and if so, which) – including team or individual sports, artistic activities, and memberships in youth organisations.
“The good news is that more than 80% of children and adolescents from the participating countries have at least one organised activity in their extracurricular schedule. In this indicator, Czech respondents had the best scores in our study. As expected, the level of involvement in these activities decreases with age. For boys, team sports are dominant, for girls it’s artistic activities,” explained Petr Baďura, the lead author of the study.
The text of the study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health is available here.
Although the countries involved in the study differ significantly in sociocultural factors and in economic performance, experts have detected very similar patterns of participation in organised leisure-time activities. Children from better-off families had more organised activities than those from more impoverished families, similarly as children from nuclear families compared to those from stepfamilies or single-parent families.
“However, the key finding – one that we find very positive – is that children involved in organised leisure-time activities report better physical and mental health than their peers who do not engage in such activities, regardless of the environment from which they came. In other words: children involved in organised activities perceive their health more positively, regardless of their socioeconomic status, family structure, or country,” added Baďura.
The team of authors, comprised of experts from six countries, assessed the information obtained in 2018 during the last data collection for the international study Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC), which has been developed in collaboration with the World Health Organization and comprehensively deals with the lifestyle of the young generation. The Czech research institute involved as guarantor is the UP Faculty of Physical Education.
“Our study involved countries that, at the last data collection in 2018, also focussed on the issue of organised leisure-time activities, which is not among the obligatory modules used by all member states of the HBSC study. We consider the fact that we have succeeded in promoting our theme of recreation in eight other countries to be a success; it is a testimony to the fact that research focussed on leisure-time activities is vital for many countries,” concluded Hamřík.
In addition to professional publications, the staff of the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies aims to present the results of the aforementioned HBSC study to the general public. On the website www.zdravagenerace.cz, visitors can acquaint themselves with the key conclusions of the study in thematic areas such as physical activities, risky behaviour, social networks, obesity, and sleep.
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.
Up to seventeen pupils, children of emergency workers, regularly attend a "substitute school" provided by volunteers from the UP Faculty of Education. As in the autumn of 2020, they are again preparing a full-day’s programme for them and helping them with on-line teaching in the premises of the Stupkova Primary School in Olomouc, which is close to the campus of the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry and University Hospital Olomouc.
“Every day is different. Some days there are more children, some days fewer. Sometimes we also have children with special needs, and we are learning how to work with them step by step,” says Pavla Richterková, one of the volunteers who take care of the children. “My shift actually starts the day before. With my colleague, we talk about what we are going to do and prepare materials and activities. In the morning, I start by finding out who is missing, how many classes each of them has today, who goes home at what time, and plugging in all their laptops. On their screens, you can suddenly see several different teachers, all teaching something different. In addition, there are also children who don’t have any on-line classes or have their classes later. Some bring a long list of homework, other kids reach for board games. In the meantime, I have to go around the class several times,” says Richterková, a student of Teacher Training for Primary Schools, about her regular day at the “substitute school”.
The afternoon programme usually consists of an arts class, a walk in the neighbourhood, activities in the gym and playing board games; the children also enjoyed a carnival.
“What’s in it for me? New experiences in working with children, especially those who have various educational conditions and disorders. I’m also learning how to handle technical problems and how to manage my time to get everything done. This work is enriching me the most in terms of communication – with parents, school management and staff, as well as other volunteers. Every parent perceives this substitute school differently. Some of them understand that children sometimes don’t have time to do all their homework, and are still thankful for what we do. On the other hand, other parents would send extra tasks,” says Richterková, adding that she had immediately agreed to participate as a volunteer, despite the ongoing exam period.
Anežka Běhávková, also a student of Teacher Training for Primary Schools and Special Education, has a similar view on this adventure. “I know now that I have chosen the right field and that I will enjoy my work. Although I’m often really knackered when I go home, I never regret it. Where else would I have so many amazing and funny experiences – at this time? What is most rewarding for us is when we see that the children also enjoy their time with us and do not want to go home. One day, a dad came for his son, but we didn’t know the parents yet, so we asked the children whose dad he was. No one raised their hands, but then one boy said, ‘Miss, I think he came for you!’ Every day, these children make us laugh with their words of wisdom and teach us things we adults have forgotten.”
This provisional class for children whose parents are needed in the fight against the coronavirus epidemic was set up by university volunteers in cooperation with Stupkova Primary School in November of last year. After Christmas, the activity was renewed and continued until the university semester started. Since mid-February, volunteers have been coming on Thursdays and Fridays, when they have no classes. At this moment, six volunteers are taking turns in this “substitute school”.
Would you like to participate in this volunteer activity? Please contact the coordinator of the “substitute school”, Lenka Nosková, via e-mail: email@example.com. If you are interested in other volunteering, not only in the fields of tutoring and minding children, you can contact the UP Volunteering Centre: firstname.lastname@example.org
“We have made a few changes now. We meet in the after-school club room, where there is enough space for games and relaxation and at the same time there are small tables where on-line lessons can take place. Compared to November, there are more children now, from twelve to seventeen. In order for the group to function smoothly, simple rules were created on the very first day – the children actually wrote them themselves on a poster and confirmed with their signatures that they are determined to comply with them,” says Lenka Nosková, the coordinator of the activity and a doctoral student of the UP Faculty of Education, concluding, “Once again, all UP students went to work with great enthusiasm and perseverance. They pay great care to the children and it is obvious that they care about every single one of them. Thanks to the personal commitment of these students, the children are having a good time and will have many nice memories from these difficult times. Our students gain valuable experience every day, which makes me truly happy. Teaching experience is really the best way to get your teaching experience.“
Pavel Hofírek, director of Stupkova Primary School, also appreciates the cooperation with the volunteers. “They are very talented and their care for the children is outstanding. They have an individual approach to them in on-line teaching and manage to overcome the difficulties associated with it, no matter how tricky they are. After class, they prepare an interesting programme every day. I really appreciate how skilled these students are, considering they are not officially qualified teachers yet; in addition, they deal with an extremely diverse class of children from various schools in Olomouc. On behalf of our school, I can say that we will be very happy if we can continue our collaboration with these students – now within the volunteering programme and later as our employees. I’d also like to thank Lenka Nosková for all her help and cooperation in this challenging time, and Zuzana Pejpková from the UP Volunteering Centre and Vice-Dean Pavel Neumeister for supporting these students and our school.”
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 email@example.com.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.