Palacký University is organising and coordinating aid and support for students and employees from Ukraine who are finding themselves in existential situations due to the war. At the same time, UP is working with the Regional Assistance Centre to Aid Ukraine. Here, we bring you up-to-date information on the ongoing situation.
– The UP Volunteering Centre, which has opened a special contact point for UP students and employees in the Student Club in the Armoury/Zbrojnice, has enlarged its database of volunteers offering help. At present, it lists 527 people, 70 of whom are interpreters. Psychological and social help, etc., are also available. The majority of the volunteers are UP students.
– We’ve updated our special webpage upol.cz/ukrajina, where there is now an online questionnaire which you can fill in to offer help or request help from our volunteers for your organisation. The page has information in Czech, Ukrainian, and English.
– The Regional Assistance Centre to Aid Ukraine (Krajské asistenční centrum pomoci Ukrajině: KACPU) has been moved to the Haná Barracks building, across from nám. Republiky, where volunteers from UP are actively participating – especially with babysitting, interpreting, and offering guide services. Volunteers are working three shifts, in groups of thirty.
– First results are being seen from the work of the International Office, which is communicating with universities in Ukraine and informing them of the possibilities of housing students and academics in Olomouc. We have already been informed that a group of students will soon be arriving from Lvov, and more are on their way.
– Important practical advice: In recent days the university has been informing students and employees who have accounts at Sberbank to change banks, in order to receive their wages or subsidies without complications.
– UP is gradually withdrawing from all its contracts with Russian universities.
– Rector Martin Procházka has written a personal letter to management at our Ukrainian partner universities to assure them of our support for their country.
– The UP Faculty of Arts is offering Czech courses, not only for students and academics, but for anyone interested from Ukraine. The Olomouc Employment Office has also requested this.
– Various departments have been organising lectures and debates on themes such as Ukrainian history, international relations, legal and human rights explanations of the current situation, etc. An overview of university events connected with Ukraine can be found at upol.cz/ukrajina.
– There have been several charity events in the form of concerts and protest rallies which have taken place recently at UP, where contributions to help Ukraine have always been solicited. Students and employees from all UP faculties have been taking part.
– We are preparing a charity financial drive at UP, the proceeds of which will be used for the needs of students, academics, and employees affected by the war.
– At UPoint you can donate to the People in Need charity, and you will be given a blue and gold boutonnière, handmade by UP students Julia Mostova of Ukraine and Aglaé Alex of France.
– UP has decided to withdraw from renting the UP Field House for a planned concert by singer Jaromír Nohavica, who has refused calls to return his Pushkin Medal.
– Some might say “those are just words”, but they are important words. We are talking about information – essential information. So we would like to thank all our employees who have been forthcoming to the media, through which they have been able to share their expertise with the greater public.
You can find all essential information, including contact information, on the special page: www.upol.cz/ukrajina.
Michal Lehnert from the Department of Geography, UP Faculty of Science, received the prestigious 2021 Best Paper Award from a Young Author from the journal Building and Environment. His article, ‘Comparison between mental mapping and land surface temperature in two Czech cities: A new perspective on indication of locations prone to heat stress’, won out against tough international competition.
“Naturally, I appreciate the award, though in the context of what’s happening nowadays, one cannot really be happy about such things. At the same time, I must emphasise that the article would not have been created without the cooperation with Jiří Pánek from the Department of Development and Environmental Studies and without the help of colleagues from the Institute of Computer Science of the Czech Academy of Sciences and the University of West Bohemia,” said Lehnert, in gratitude.
Using the examples of the cities of Olomouc and Plzeň, the authors of the study used mental maps to find out which localities people consider unpleasant on the basis of their long-term experience during hot summer days. At the same time, they described the differences between these mental hotspots for certain groups of respondents. The spatial pattern of the detected mental hotspots was then compared with the places that have the highest surface temperature in cities.
One of the main findings of the research is that sites with the highest surface temperatures do not always correspond to those identified by people. Depending on the chosen comparison criterion, the mental hotspots and the actual surface temperature hotspots overlap by less than half and in some cases only in single digit percentages of their area.
The obtained results do not only contribute to the understanding of the mental component of thermal comfort, but they also have a practical significance. Many places where people often feel heat stress have so far escaped the attention of local governments. For example, in Olomouc, in addition to expected localities such as the Upper and Lower Squares or the area in the front of the main railway station, people have associated heat stress with the localities of Hodolanská, Divišova, Litovelská, Palackého, Svornosti, and Schweitzerova streets, parts of the Povel neighbourhood, and the University Hospital complex. “I am glad that the results of the study also found application in the Adaptation and Mitigation Strategy of the City of Olomouc. A continuation of the study is currently being prepared which will focus on citizens’ preferences with regard to the reduction of heat stress in the city,” added Lehnert.
Approximately 4,500 articles were submitted to Building and Environment in 2021, out of which the three best works were chosen for awards; one goes to a young author, in this case, UP’s Michal Lehnert.
Nitrogen-enriched graphene developed by CATRIN scientists is proving to be a very promising electrode material for use in supercapacitors. This is another result of Olomouc scientists, responding to the worldwide demand for electrochemical energy storage devices with better performance, higher safety, lower costs, and lower environmental impact. Scientists report on the benefits of the new material in the journal Energy & Environmental Science.
“We prepared nitrogen-doped graphene for use in supercapacitors deploying fluorographene chemistry. The material has high density, which, combined with its ability to adsorb ions from the electrolyte, leads to very high volumetric energy density—significantly higher than in any previously described carbon- or graphene-based supercapacitor materials,” said Michal Otyepka, who is the Principal Investigator of three European Research Council grants that focus on the development and potential application of new 2D materials.
The demand for affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy is growing with an effort to reduce fossil fuel consumption and with the increasing mobility and the number of electronic devices. Lithium-ion batteries currently dominate this field. However, carbon-based supercapacitors offer long life and ultra-fast charging and discharging along with safety.
“The new material can be prepared from graphite fluoride, an industrial lubricant available on the market in tonnes, which increases its potential commercial availability. At the same time, we took great care to make the resulting component as environmentally friendly as possible, which we achieved by choosing the electrolyte in the supercapacitor,” added the main author Veronika Šedajová, who is also co-author of a recently granted European patent protecting the material. The next step in the development will be to build prototypes of the supercapacitors in cooperation with international partners.
“Our discovery of such unprecedented properties of the nitrogen super-doped graphene derivative derived from the findings that, during the synthesis, highly reactive carbon centres resulted in the formation of diamond-like bonds. This is probably behind the ultra-high mass density of this 2D carbon, which thus keeps its ability to host the ionic energy carriers, consequently offering a transformative improvement of the supercapacitor performance. Such carbon-based energy storage systems are metal-free and can therefore considerably contribute to the material sustainability and clean energy societal goals,” explained Aristides Bakandritsos, one of the co-authors of the work.
In mate selection, female white rhinoceros are most likely guided by the unusual vocal calls of males, which can stimulate females into oestrus. This follows from the research of Ivana Cinková from the UP Department of Zoology, Faculty of Science, who studied the vocal manifestations of male rhinos during courtship at the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in South Africa. An article on the courtship “hic” calls of rhinos has been published in the journal Animal Cognition.
“In our research, we were interested in the importance of courtship hic calls of male rhinos and whether they contain any information that may be important for females in choosing their partners. We also monitored how females react to these calls and what information they can obtain from them,” Cinková stated.
Male southern and northern white rhinoceros constantly accompany females in their territory for up to 20 days before their potential partner comes into heat. They try to prevent the female from leaving her territory. During this time, the male approaches the female more often and calls her in a courtship hic calls. “It is a long sequence of wheezing to squeaky sounds. It is very difficult to record them in the wild, because the females only come into oestrus after about two and a half years and soon get pregnant again. Moreover, in zoos, these rhinos reproduce very poorly,” said Cinková.
The rhinos were observed in South African Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. “We found that out of all the rhino voices studied in the past, it is the hic calls that most likely determine a male’s individual identity, which can be important information for females when choosing a partner,” the researcher said.
Females in oestrus can gradually move through the territory of six to seven males, while other rhinos, which have lower positions in the hierarchy or have wandered in foreign territory, also often reside in these territories. “Our results thus suggest that females could also select a mate they know well and whose territory they prefer on the basis of hic calls,” said Cinková.
In the park, Cinková played recordings of male calls to adult female rhinos and from their reactions she determined that they recognised the male hic calls from their contact calls. “At the same time, they also distinguished some differences between the hic calls of both southern and northern white rhinoceros,” she said.
Both rhinoceros species are closely related, so some plans to rescue the critically endangered northern white rhinoceros include a variant of interspecies breeding to preserve at least some of their unique genes. “However, the results of our research suggest that differences in hic calls between the two species might potentially lead to a reduction in the likelihood of natural hybridization between southern and northern white rhinoceros,” she added.
The war in Ukraine is not just the fight of the inhabitants of this sovereign state gratuitously attacked by the Russian aggressor – it is also our fight and our war. In my position as Rector of Palacký University Olomouc, I categorically condemn the Russian attack on Ukraine. This is a wanton advance by Russia, with the forced occupation of a foreign country as its aim. The political agenda of President Putin disqualifies the Russian Federation in the eyes of the whole civilised world and defines him as a war criminal.
I have given my voice in agreement with the statement of the Czech Rectors’ Conference, and I am observing with deep disappointment and concern how the Russian Federation is trampling international law. I have great fears – not only for the citizens of Ukraine – but also for the values upon which contemporary democratic governments in the countries of the European Union and the entire world are founded. I fear that not only the people of Ukraine but also all democratic states are now facing a very difficult trial.
Palacký University joins in expressing solidarity with the people of Ukraine, with Ukrainian universities, and their students and employees. Our thoughts are with our Ukrainian students currently studying in Olomouc – and with their families. Palacký University is ready to provide immediate help and to use all the means at its command. We are taking steps to ease the difficult existential situations of Ukrainian citizens, especially our students and employees – but also students, colleagues, and friends from partner universities in Ukraine.
I’m convinced that Russia’s decision has severely eroded Czech-Russian academic alliances. This act of Russian aggression has irrevocably made inroads into the relationships between our two countries, not only regarding cooperation in university education and science. We are an internationally-oriented university – and the current situation is one which is unacceptable to us. Our own history and experience allow us to understand, better than anyone else, the desperate situation Ukraine and its people now find themselves in. Thus our NO! to the attempted usurpation by Russia should resound all the more strongly. We stand together with Ukraine; we stand together with our fellow European citizens.
Rector, Palacký University Olomouc
Palacký University is organising and coordinating aid and support for students and employees from Ukraine who are finding themselves in existential situations due to the war. UP is also offering aid to students and academics at partner schools in Ukraine. The information below is a summary of actual developments, and will be regularly updated.
– A special webpage has been launched with important information and contacts: www.upol.cz/en/ukraine. RA link has been placed on the main UP webpage under the heading “Situation in the Ukraine”.
– A special telephone hotline (+420 736 676 006) has been put into operation for UP students and employees who are in need, as well as an e-mail link. The UP Volunteering Centre is coordinating all activities, and has already fielded several dozen calls and questions via e-mail, including offers for help. It is cooperating with the NGOs Caritas Czech Republic and People in Need.
– The International Relations Office is in constant contact with partner universities and is arranging the arrival of certain academics and students.
– A list of specific aid offers has been created. The Volunteering Centre has a list of psychologists, linguists, lawyers, law and psychology students, and even accommodation listings. It is offering help with crisis intervention, and psychological support in person and in online form.
– The UP Volunteering Centre is communicating with the Embassy of Ukraine in the Czech Republic.
– The university is creating a scholarship fund for extraordinary support to Ukrainian students who are already studying at UP, or will be arriving as part of international aid.
– UP Accommodation and Dining is preparing rooms for arriving families of UP students and academics.
– University management is in intense discussions with the Czech Ministry of Education and together they are searching for other forms of aid.
– The UP Rector has met with Ukrainian student representatives. He has offered help and informed them of the means of aid UP has at its disposal. You can find more details in this text (in Czech).
Palacký University is currently monitoring the situation in Ukraine with concern and is prepared to help our Ukrainian students and employees living in Olomouc, including offering further assistance from the resources at its disposal.
For financial support, we recommend applying through these certified organisations: Czech Red Cross, People in Need, Caritas Czech Republic, Memory of Nations and UNICEF. At present, the first priority is financial support. Any material assistance would also be later provided by the official organisations mentioned above for logistical and organisational reasons.
UP students and employees who find themselves in need can contact the UP Volunteering Centre via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via telephone at +420 736 676 006. Be aware that this telephone line is only for Ukrainian students and employees of UP.
More information on the current situation can be found at upol.cz/en/ukraine.
Regarding the escalating conflict in Ukraine, Palacký University is prepared to help its Ukrainian students and employees living in Olomouc. According to UP Rector Martin Procházka, this is an unambiguous expression of solidarity with a country which freely chose the European path and pro-Western orientation.
Ukraine has long been facing pressure from the side of neighbouring Russia. “We are following the situation on the border between Ukraine and Russia very closely. I want to guarantee our students and academics from Ukraine residing here that we are prepared to support their country in case of invasion. We are arranging cooperation with interpreters, psychologists, lawyers, and others whose help might be required as the conflict escalates,” said UP Rector Procházka. At present there are roughly 150 students and two dozen academics from Ukraine at UP.
Several teachers are already offering help. As Naděžda Šišková, UP Faculty of Law, points out, it is necessary to engage the academic and scientific public from diverse countries against Russian threats. “As a lawyer and political scientist, I know the current conflict also has much to do with propaganda purposes and winning political points with the Russian public. This is why the threat of using force as a means for conflict resolution must be condemned, resolutely and unambiguously, and it is good when that condemnation is echoed in academic circles,” said the assistant professor, who was born in Ukraine and closely cooperates with Taras Shevchenko National University in Kyiv in a Jean Monnet Network project.
Help and other aid activities will be coordinated by the UP Volunteering Centre.
Let us not abandon Ukraine
I spent six years in Ukraine, and I fell in love with the country: its people, cities, culture. In these times I’m trying to maintain a critical distance, not simply be a fan club member, but I have to confess that it is not easy. Please forgive me if I’m not 100% objective in the following lines: I tried, but one’s feelings sometimes break through to the surface, quite on their own.
We often speak of the space called the “West”, in which we live and work, with a certain degree of pessimism. Today’s world is not what it used to be, and what little is left of it will certainly be squandered by our children’s generation. Just look at them: they take everything for granted. Nevertheless, all the while, we are that civilisation, culture, prosperity, and above all, and especially, those values. “Values” for the European politician, intellectual, or journalist are as routine and automatic as Good morning or Goodbye. Due to “values”, we cannot take in even a single immigrant child; due to “values” (usually the same ones), we must immediately take in all comers and save the entire world.
When the Kremlin goes looking for answers to its internal political questions – How to win the next elections? How to explain to our people that they’re not as well off as they should be? How come our country does not work as it should? – by looking back to the map of the former Soviet Union, it makes us upset. We will not allow Russia to take the surrounding countries as its provinces, in order to build a new sphere of influence. No way.
But in Moscow they are perhaps already coining a new series of jokes about us: What will Europe sanction us with next? No more French cheese? No Italian wine? Or maybe even no more smelly Olomouc cheese?
Ukraine wants to join NATO. It is written into their constitution, and it is not there for nothing. They are worried that their powerful neighbour to the east will not allow them to belong to the Western community, without a signed agreement. And they are right.
Several no’s on our part have come up in discussions about the possible war in Ukraine. No to Ukraine joining NATO at this time, or anytime. No to real help in the case of invasion by Russia.
In our Western world we esteem our own comfort and values too highly to fight for them. But this is nothing new.
No to aiding Czechoslovakia in 1938 did not prevent the global conflict, not even by a year. Europe would never have managed World War 2 on its own, had the Americans only lobbed their delicious UNRRA rations at the aggressors. Much more was required.
This is a conundrum without an easy solution – or at least, without a good solution. But to argue that Kiev is also fighting for our values – which is unquestionably true – while fearing above all that Nord Stream 2 will not be finished: that is an inherent contradiction of those same values.
Let me make myself clear. I’m not saying that the war in Ukraine is also our war. Nobody here is looking forward to World War 3. But if we abandon Ukraine and just wait and see how bad things will get, we cannot lie to ourselves that this is primarily about protecting our Judaeo-Graeco-Roman-Christian roots. Or we will be forced to subject those roots to a new, very thorough analysis.
Doctoral student in Comparative Slavic Philology, UP Faculty of Arts. From November 2014 to July 2020 she ran the Czech Centre in Kiev.
The new Cin City mobile application, which records subjective perceptions of urban environments, is intended to help cities plan their further development. The application was created by Lucia Brisudová, a doctoral student at the Department of Geography at the UP Faculty of Science, in cooperation with experts from the University of Manchester. Citizens of Olomouc and Manchester will be able to use the application on a trial basis, and the data obtained will be used by the local governments. The application is free, and currently available for Android devices. The link for download can be found here.
The Cin City application (Civic InnovatioN in CommunITY) was created during a research internship that Lucia Brisudová completed at the University of Manchester in 2021. “Its current user-friendly design allows the marking places that citizens personally consider pleasant, unpleasant, or abandoned. Furthermore, we use the application to determine the intensity of the feeling and its cause,” she said. The information entered by citizens into the application, together with the time and GPS coordinates of the place, is immediately stored in a database which can then be used by town hall planners. Users do not have to worry about the app tracking their movement throughout the day, as it only records the location of the place they decide to report themselves.
Although the mobile application was created as part of a dissertation, the authors wanted to use the collected data for the strategic development of Olomouc and Manchester from the very beginning. These cities are willing to get involved in the research. “The Department of Strategy and Management of the City of Olomouc is acquainted with the course of the research and with the preliminary results. Together, we are trying to ensure that the city makes practical use of the information obtained, and we are already making the Cin City application accessible to the widest possible circle of Olomouc residents,” said Brisudová. The authors of the application are also cooperating with the Transport Research Centre, which will use the obtained data in updating the Olomouc Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan.
Lucia Brisudová got the idea to create a mobile application during her dissertation research which focused on the perception of the urban environment from the point of view of the inhabitants. The young scientist also deals with how the perception of the urban environment changes not only during the day and night, but also over a longer period of time.
“This approach is called participatory mapping, and directly involves the inhabitants of cities and municipalities in urban planning. In recent years, this procedure has been gaining more prominence and is being applied in many cities throughout the Czech Republic and abroad. The comprehensive data gained from the mapping contains suggestions that are based on real experience of the inhabitants, and serves in more effective and targeted planning of the urban environment,” the scientist added.
Lucia Brisudová therefore tried to develop a tool with which it would be possible to perform similar mapping more realistically and differently than just by using various map applications or questionnaires. This new approach will make it easier for cities to gather spatial information and at the same time allow residents to participate in the mapping whenever and wherever around the city. “One of the goals and at the same time the advantage of this new approach is the sharing of suggestions and proposals for the improvement of a specific area, which will get to the responsible employees of the municipality,” said Lucia Brisudová.
In March, Lucia will leave for the University of Manchester for another internship, this time in the criminology department. “In addition to professional cooperation on ongoing research, I would also like to work on the further development of the Cin City application and expand its use in the field of participation, strategic urban planning and also in the field of public space security,” she added.
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Sixteen students from eight countries attended a February seminar for Fischer scholarship recipients. The scholarship is awarded by the Faculty of Science to foreign students of doctoral study programmes. At the seminar, students presented their projects focused on e.g. the analysis of sustainable consumption and production patterns in developing countries, electrochemical detection systems and their use in chromatography, and reactive oxygen species in retrograde signaling in higher plants.
“After last year’s forced break due to the anti-epidemic measures, this year we were able to organise a traditional seminar in which foreign doctoral students, who are awarded the Fischer scholarship, report on the results of their research. In addition to the scholarship holders and their supervisors, several Vice-Deans of the Faculty of Science, and Vice-Rector for International Relations Jiří Stavovčík also took part in the seminar. There was a consensus among the academics present that the formal and factual level of contributions was generally very good and has improved since the last seminar in 2020,” said Miloslav Dušek, Vice-Dean for International Affairs.
The range of works presented was very wide. For example, Soodabeh Hassanpour from the Department of Analytical Chemistry is working on a new type of fast sensor for the determination of hydrogen peroxide in biological samples. This fluid plays a crucial role in the inflammatory reactions of cells. “The development of a sufficiently sensitive, fast and miniature sensor can tell us a lot, for example, about the effect of nanoparticulate drugs on these basic physiological pathways in cells. In my work, I focused on the use of molecular fingerprinting techniques to capture the peroxidase enzyme as part of an electrochemical sensor. So far, the sensor enables the determination of hydrogen peroxide in complex blood samples, which we consider to be a great success, because this is the initial stage for the study of inflammatory activity in cells.”
The seminar for Fischer scholarship holders was held under the auspices of Dean Martin Kubala at the Faculty of Science for the fifth time. Young researchers from France, Iran, Iraq, Spain, India, Cameroon, Morocco, and China were given the opportunity to present their work to the academic community and were able to get feedback. “The atmosphere was pleasant and friendly. The discussions, attended by doctoral students and guests, were very lively. Notwithstanding the fact that the thematic scope of the seminar was so broad,” added Dušek.
A total of 79 awards for academic works, science publications, and sporting achievements were granted by UP Rector Martin Procházka at a ceremony held on Tuesday 15 February in the auditorium of the UP Faculty of Education. This announcement of student awards and honourable mentions for the authors of monographs for the past year is one of the traditional parts of the UP Academic Week programme.
Students from six faculties of Palacký University Olomouc entered their Bachelor and Master theses as well as academic texts. Among the 16 prize winners prevail students of the UP Faculty of Arts and the UP Faculty of Health Sciences. One of the winners, Gabriela Pačková from the UP Faculty of Science, was awarded for her work “Fossil record of the family Elateridae (Coleoptera: Elateroidea)”. “I appreciate this prize a lot because there was a lot of effort behind the work. I’m glad I could make my whole family happy with this achievement, and I thank them very much for supporting me in my studies," she said.
In addition to awarding best academic works by students, the Rector’s Awards were also presented to the best student athletes. The committee selected 7 awardees. The most successful sports disciplines were archery and swimming. Jakub Jurka was awarded for his participation in the Tokyo Olympics in fencing. “To qualify for the Olympic games in this discipline is like winning a medal. I was the youngest participant there, and it was an incredible experience. The Rector’s Award made me really happy; I also really appreciate the support I get from the faculty," said the student of the UP Faculty of Physical Education.
According to Rector Procházka, the results of the student competition confirm the high degree of creativity, expertise, and competitiveness among the students. “I am pleased that Palacký University student theses are of very high quality and often have practical use. It is also pleasing to see that our students are successful in sports, even on the international level. I thank all those involved for their great work and performances,” said the UP rector.
53 publications acknowledged
Honourable mentions for professional publications published in 2020 and 2021 were awarded to 56 academic authors for 53 publications. They dealt with medical, theological, philosophical, psychological, historical, and artistic topics. Among the awarded titles, those in the humanities and social sciences dominated.
To mention at least one laureate, Associate Professor Kamil Kopecký from the UP Faculty of Education was awarded for his monograph Risky Communication and Acquaintance of Czech Children in Cyberspace, which draws attention to risky online behaviour such as meeting strangers. “I truly appreciate the Rector’s recognition. It certainly motivates one for further scientific work,” he said.
Rector’s awards and honourable mentions are meant to raise the prestige of scientific work at Palacký University Olomouc. According to Rector Procházka, the publications by members of the academic community show the extent of research at UP faculties and other institutions. Last year, 27 student scientific and artistic works, 7 athletes, and 48 authors of the 41 best scientific/academic publications were awarded. A list of all the current awardees can be found here; more about the UP Academic Week is here.
The GLODEP (Global Development Policy) study programme offers students the opportunity to study at three European universities that implement programmes in the field of development studies and development economics. In addition to Palacký University, they are the University of Clermont Auvergne in France and the University of Pavia in Italy. The programme’s aim is to prepare students for development policies. For the last five years this study programme had been led by Miroslav Syrovátka from the Department of Development and Environmental Studies.
How do you evaluate the project overall, and what has been the biggest challenge for you?
Overall, I would rate the project as successful, although its launch was not easy. Four universities participated in the project and it was coordinated by our Olomouc team. In mid-July 2016, I received an email saying that the European Union is approving our project for funding. A few hours later that day, a coup broke out in Turkey, as a result of which one of the participating universities (Fatih University in Turkey) was cancelled a week later. Thus we had to restructure the study programme so that it was provided by only three universities. We also started to implement the programme at a time when our university did not coordinate any similar programme; it was only the second Erasmus Mundus programme in the Czech Republic where the coordinating workplace was the Czech university. This, of course, required setting up the processes at our university that were necessary for the implementation of the project, but with which the university had not yet had experience. GLODEP is not an exchange programme – where one university sends students to another university – but a joint programme, where all students are from the three cooperating universities, all the way through.
How was the interest from foreign students?
Interest was huge: I reckon that the ratio of applicants to students was the highest in the entire university. In the first three cycles of students, we received 3,000 applications, but we could only accept much fewer. The European Union provides a relatively high financial contribution to scholarship holders of these programmes, and many of them apply for more programmes, with the scholarship sometimes being more motivating than the programme itself. This means that you can have 1000 applicants per year, but many of them do not have the necessary prerequisites to study. Obviously, there are a lot of very good candidates among the thousand applicants, but you won’t find that out except by evaluating all properly submitted applications, which was very time consuming. In the new project, we have already introduced a fee for the admission procedure, which discouraged some weaker applicants and made the admission procedure more manageable. By the way, if I remember correctly, out of the three thousand applications, only one applicant was from the Czech Republic.
What did the students have to do during their Master’s studies?
The programme, which was completed by a total of 68 students from 37 countries, was based on three teaching semesters and a research or practical internship connected to the thesis. The whole group of students always started in Olomouc, the second semester was completed at the French University in Clermont-Ferrand and the third semester in Pavia, Italy. The individual semesters differed to some extent in specialisation. For example, in Olomouc, students acquired a multidisciplinary foundation in development studies, while in France the focus was more economically oriented.
Do you have any information about the students’ subsequent employment?
We are in contact with most of our former students and follow their careers informally. The majority work in the field, as the programme intended; a smaller portion remained in the academic sphere. Their job positions are very diverse, usually in public administration at national and international levels and in non-governmental organisations. To name a few, I would like to mention the gender adviser at the National Statistics Office of the Dominican Republic and a programme worker at the World Intellectual Property Organization. Some work in positions that are less relevant for development studies, but this is quite common in today’s world.
Did the Covid-19 pandemic affect teaching?
The Covid-19 pandemic had a significant impact on our programme. It broke out in the spring of 2020, when one class-year of students had just moved to France to complete their second semester, while another class-year of students was already in the fourth semester on internships in various parts of the world. And even though this happened at a time when the students were not in the Czech Republic, the coordination of the procedure was, naturally, up to us. These included border crossing solutions and the validity of insurance for students travelling to another country than planned. In 2020, we held state exams online, and students took them in various places around the world. I was a little worried about the organisation but I was pleasantly surprised that everything worked out, both in terms of logistics and the quality of the connection. A year later, we managed to organise the first hybrid graduation, which was broadcast online world-wide.
What has this joint Master’s degree programme brought to our university, to the Faculty of Science, to your department?
This programme has mainly strengthened internationalisation for the university as a whole, as it is a programme fully taught in English for international students, which is not usual. It also brought the experience that the university has now had with this programme, which will make it easier for other departments to implement joint programmes. To our department it brought much stronger contact with foreign universities and especially with students. Regular teaching, supervision of Master’s theses, state final exams, all in English, have also increased the professional capacity of the academic staff. One more aspect is worth mentioning. Although exposure to the international environment is beneficial to any programme, it is absolutely essential for international development studies. Discussions with students, most of whom come from developing countries, are stimulating, and thus keep the department’s contact up to date with the reality of the developing world, which the programme focuses on most.
Will the programme continue?
The programme is already continuing. All three universities wanted to continue with the programme, so as a consortium we asked the European Union for a follow-up grant, which we have received. I left the consortium in terms of project organisation, which was taken over by my colleagues. I wish them good luck in continuing the programme, and I would like to thank them as well as everyone at the university who indirectly participated in the project.
The physical chemist Michal Otyepka from the Czech Advanced Technology and Research Institute (CATRIN) of Palacký University Olomouc has succeeded for a second time in the competition for a prestigious grant funded by the European Research Council (ERC). This second project in the Proof of Concept (PoC) category will support translation of basic research findings to practice. Thanks to this, researchers will prepare a sufficient amount of fluorographene-based nanomaterial and in cooperation with a commercial partner will verify its use in lithium-sulfur batteries. As part of this call, ERC PoC grants will be provided to 166 researchers, with one going to the Czech Republic.
While designing the electrode material, the team capitalized upon their rich experience of so-called 2D chemistry, i.e., understanding the chemical rules of the two-dimensional world of ultra-thin carbon nanomaterials. This is the topic of Michal Otyepka’s first ERC-funded research, which started in 2016. Based on this knowledge, his team searched for new, super-functional materials derived from graphene for specific applications. In this case, they chose a simple method and prepared a new sulfur-modified graphene derivative on a laboratory scale, which they submitted to the European Patent Office.
“This simple method could be very effective for production of lithium-sulfur batteries with high performance, stability and long life. We have demonstrated these properties on a laboratory scale. I am very glad that thanks to the ERC Proof of Concept project we will be able to improve the production process and verify the material during industrial testing in real facilities. I also view the project as recognition for the results the team at CATRIN achieved in the field of graphene derivatives,” said Otyepka. The one-year project received a financial support of 150,000 euros.
Lithium-sulfur batteries (LSBs) are one of the options to address the growing demand for energy in relation to the dynamic development of technologies, while reducing dependence on toxic chemicals or raw materials that pollute the environment. Sulfur is an environmentally friendly, easily accessible and affordable material, and batteries containing it dispense with toxic metals such as nickel or cobalt. The fact that LSBs are rechargeable will help reduce the amount of electronic waste in the long run.
However, the disadvantage of sulfur for use in lithium batteries so far has been its low conductivity and leaking during repeated charging/discharging, which led to a rapid reduction in battery capacity. These drawbacks had to be overcome. First, they removed some of the fluorine atoms from the fluorographene and bound polysulphides to the vacant sites with a strong bond. Thanks to their properties, it was possible to connect the individual layers to one other.
“We have formed strong bonds between the carbon backbone of fluorographene and sulfur. This prevents the gradual release of sulphur during the charging and discharging cycles. The material has excellent performance, high capacity and great stability. The fact that the feedstock—a commonly used industrial lubricant—is readily available is also beneficial for practical application,” described the properties one of the authors, Aristides Bakandritsos.
This is not the first time CATRIN scientists have looked for a way to get a new material from a lab into industrial practice. Michal Otyepka won his first ERC PoC grant in 2020, the first ever for the Czech Republic. His goal was to prepare and test one of the graphene derivatives for energy storage in other devices—supercapacitors.
The ERC grants are intended for top researchers across disciplines. The programme is open only to researchers that are currently conducting or have conducted research under the ERC in the past. The Council funds individual investigators and their research teams based on an assessment of the scientific excellence of the project proposal and the investigator. The Proof of Concept call aims to support successful ERC grant investigators at the earliest stage of commercialisation of their research results. The grants are part of the EU research and innovation programme Horizon Europe.
The President of the European Research Council, Maria Leptin, highlighted the fact that the results of frontier research are transferable to practice. “It’s wonderful to see that frontier research has the capacity to generate discoveries that can be quickly put into practice. Let’s not forget that there is no applied research without basic research feeding the pipeline first—and that very valuable innovations spring from all disciplines, from the physical and life sciences to the social sciences and humanities.” she wrote in her letter to the successful applicant of a second ERC PoC.
The Council allocated €25 million for PoC projects in 2021. 348 proposals were submitted, out of which 48 percent succeeded. The highest number of grants (22) go to the UK, followed by Italy, receiving 21, and Spain and Israel with 18 each. Other successful countries are, for example, Austria (7 grants), Belgium (5), Denmark (4), Germany (13), the Netherlands (16), or France (15).
The 47-year-old scientist studied Physical Chemistry at the Faculty of Science of Palacký University. He is dedicated to the study of the structure and properties of nanomaterials and biomacromolecules. He was, among others, behind the discovery of fluorographene. He is a (co)author of 300 scientific papers that have been cited more than 15,000 times (H-index 63, according to WoS). He led 9 grant projects as principal investigator and 9 as co-investigator. In 2016, he received an ERC Consolidator grant focused on fluorographene chemistry entitled “2D Chem”. Between years 2020 and 2021, he coordinated the ERC Proof-of-Concept “UP2DChem” project focused on the development of electrode materials for supercapacitors. He is a laureate of Neuron Impuls, awarded by the Neuron Endowment Fund.
A completely new perspective on species diversity and endemism in the tropics can be provided by a method based on large-scale genetic analyses of insects. Zoologists from the Czech Institute of Research and Advanced Technologies CATRIN at Palacký University Olomouc examined samples from more than 800 sites in Asia, Africa and Australia and found about two thousand species in a single group of beetles, half of which were previously unknown to the scientific community. Compared to conventional methods, researchers can now obtain the information needed for the conservation of the environment much cheaper and faster based on verified data. The information was published by the British magazine eLife.
“Today, marked by the rapid loss and degradation of many natural habitats, knowledge of biodiversity is much needed to establish a starting point and set priorities for conservation. It is estimated that we know between a quarter and a tenth of all animals, while insects represent about two-thirds of the fauna. For example, about 400,000 species of beetles have been described so far, but the actual number is estimated at more than a million species. Insects are rarely used for large-scale biodiversity studies, and conservation management usually relies on the less diverse but more studied birds and mammals. It is therefore essential to use innovative methods to speed up the cataloguing of insects. DNA-based monitoring is an appropriate way forward,” said Ladislav Bocák, head of CATRIN’s Biodiversity and Molecular Evolution research group.
The scientists combined data from next-generation sequencing and more traditional mitochondrial DNA markers to rapidly monitor the biodiversity of one group of beetles. The group’s targeted field research and material obtained from international collaborators covered about 800 sampling sites in Asia, Africa and Australia, and provided tissues for large-scale DNA sequencing and biodiversity analyses of the tropical net-winged beetles, whose cradle is Southeast Asia. In the database assembled, experts identified about two thousand species, of which one thousand were previously unknown. “The richest occurrence was found in New Guinea. We have identified more than a thousand species there, which is three times more than have been named so far in this region. In contrast to analyses based on vertebrates, New Guinea thus appears to be a place of enormous species diversity. This is one example of how DNA-based monitoring can completely transform our ideas about biodiversity,” said Dominik Kusý, another co-author of the paper.
However, in some areas, such as the Philippines and the lowlands of the Greater Sunda Islands, it has been difficult to collect samples, for example, because of the loss of natural habitats. The coastal areas from where the species were described in the 19th and 20th centuries are now densely populated or used for palm oil production. “As a result, many species deposited in the world’s museums are missing from our dataset. On the contrary, the fauna of the mountain ranges was previously almost unknown and we are only now collecting the first data. In the tropical mountains, we have not only shown very high species diversity, but also unexpected findings. The high proportion of endemics with very small ranges makes the mountain fauna very vulnerable to extinction,” pointed out another author, Michal Motyka.
According to the authors of the study, the database created has not only provided new knowledge, but is also an important starting material for further research on the biodiversity of the areas in question and documentation of the current status for future assessments of species extinction. It is also important to confirm the effectiveness of the chosen approach. “If we were to describe species at the current rate and in the current way, it would take more than a century to record a thousand species in such a group of insects. In this way, we have a chance to find out relatively quickly how many species there are in a given area, how closely they are related and how large a range they inhabit, which is essential for conservation management,” Bocák concluded.
The scientists collaborated with the Czech Academy of Sciences, which has a research base in New Guinea, and with colleagues from the Natural History Museum in London.
Three experts from the UP Faculty of Science and the Global Change Research Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences took off for a research trip to Zambia with the focus on development cooperation. The results of their research will be used in further planning of the Czech Republic's international development cooperation, which aims to improve living conditions in developing countries.
The field research in Zambia involves Lenka Dušková from the Department of Development and Environmental Studies at the UP Faculty of Science, together with Lenka Suchá and Zuzana Harmáčková from the Global Change Research Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences. Their work in Zambia will be supported by Štěpán Bubák and the local field staff of the application partner, People in Need. The target location of the qualitative field research is the area around the city of Mongu in the Western Province. This region is also located in the Kingdom of Barotseland. “Although it is a formally unrecognised kingdom, traditional structures still play a big role in the region,” said Dušková.
The existing research findings have been based on an analysis of interviews and participatory workshops with implementers of Czech international development cooperation projects. “Thanks to our findings, we have gained a deeper insight into their current practice, including the types of knowledge necessary for preparation and implementation of development cooperation projects. We explored how they perceive development as such. In order to make our view on Czech international development cooperation comprehensive, similarly focused interviews will also be conducted with local staff of Czech organisations in Zambia, with an emphasis on knowledge transfer between the Czech Republic and Zambia and the perception of development cooperation,” Dušková indicated.
Together with the Czech development cooperation implementers, they identified issues in 2021 that represent a challenge for further planning of projects in the target countries. These issues will therefore be the focus of field data collection in February. “We are primarily interested in the relationship between society and nature, and will focus on, for example, access to land or dealing with complicated land ownership cases. We also want to obtain information about people’s employment in agriculture in terms of social and environmental relations. We will also explore systems of governance and power relations across traditional and formal structures,” said Dušková.
The February field research in Zambia includes in-depth interviews and focus groups involving representatives of traditional structures at different levels of governance, national and local government officials, local experts, farmers, market influencers, small-scale financial institutions, interest groups, community representatives and beneficiaries of aid.
“We strive for a greater interconnection of science and applied research with Czech development cooperation practice. That is why we are trying to connect the needs of those involved in the implementation of projects in target countries by means of sharing findings from field research on socio-ecological dynamics in this case study in Zambia,” said Dušková.
The organisation of the trip to Zambia was complicated by the coronavirus epidemic. “On site, participants will have to follow all prescribed sanitary rules and cope with transportation to the research sites, which may be complicated by the ongoing rainy season,” added Dušková.
Zambia is a landlocked country in the southern part of Africa. With an area of 752,614 square kilometres, it is almost ten times larger than the Czech Republic. Zambia has 16 million inhabitants, who speak about seventy languages. Mining and mineral processing form the backbone of Zambian industry. Agriculture in Zambia is extensive and characterised by a low degree of modernisation.
The year 2021 showed the direction Palacký University Olomouc would like to take in the area of sustainability. In the spring, the post of Sustainable Development Coordinator was created, and by the end of the year, UP was included, on the basis of the collected data, in the international UI GreenMetric rankings for the first time. UI GreenMetric evaluates how environmentally-friendly universities and colleges are.
UI GreenMetric World University Rankings is the first international ranking since 2010 that assesses how well universities are developing their infrastructure and education with respect to the environment and sustainability principles. It aims to contribute to the academic debate on sustainability in education and promote a social change that respects the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Universities ought to play a key role in this change and inspire others.
“The ranking focuses on six criteria: Setting and Infrastructure, Energy and Climate Change, Waste, Water, Transportation, and Education. Each of these criteria consists of 5 to 20 indicators for which we submitted data, including evidence, for example in the form of a photograph, a link to a website, or a description,” explained Zuzana Huňková, UP’s Sustainable Development Coordinator.
UP has received its best rating in Waste, mainly due to its good management of toxic waste and measures aimed at reducing the amount of used paper and plastics. The score was further improved thanks to the number of green spaces on its campuses, such as the park near the UP Faculty of Science building on the Envelopa campus and the UP Education and Science Centre Park on the Šlechtitelů campus (which also received an honourable mention in the Park of the Year 2021 competition). In other categories, a positive impact was made by UP’s various measures aimed at saving energy (energy-saving LED lighting, sensors for window blinds, and automatic control of heating and air conditioning) and promoting sustainable transportation.
Palacký University Olomouc was ranked 642nd among universities from 80 countries last year. “This is the first time we have been ranked. To keep being included in the ranking in the future is a great challenge for our university. The collection of data has also helped us identify areas in which we can improve, which relates not only to building renovations and infrastructure, but also to research and education in sustainability. For example, the Sustainability Strategy currently being approved at UP should help us in this regard,” added Huňková.
Overall, universities in the Netherlands, Great Britain, and the USA stand out in environmental friendliness. First place was again occupied by Wageningen University & Research from the Netherlands, followed by the UK’s University of Nottingham, and the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, once again.