Innovation: Slovak scienctists work with the best - but lack funds

Dusan Velic

Spending on science in the EU averages around 1.8% of GDP. Slovakia currently spends only 0.5% of its GDP on science. It's planned to lift this significantly but it will remain below EU targets. Dusan Velic is a prominent Slovak scientist who worked with this year's Nobel Prize winner for chemistry, the German professor Gerhard Ertl. Michal Groch from Radio Slovakia International spoke to Dusan Velic about the Nobel Prize and the state of science in Slovakia.

Velic: "Professor Ertl received his Nobel Prize for studying of reactions or interactions of small molecules on a solid surface, which is a base for modern surface science and the base for applications like heterogeneous catalysis. "

What does it mean for him? Does he have any motivation to continue in some research? Do you know if he plans to do something else?

"I talked to him last month and we have been discussing it. We awarded him with a gold medal of Slovak Chemical Society month ago and after that ceremony in Slovakia he was awarded with a Nobel Prize, so it was kind of like a sweet coincidence. He was a candidate to get a Nobel Prize, he was a very hot candidate. I believe he was not doing science for a Nobel Prize, he got it because he was excellent. He goes on, although his age is a certain limitation, but to be in science it is not like paint a building and it's over. It's never over."

You have also been cooperating with Mr Ertl. What in particular have you done for his research or his contribution to science?

"I have to say that of course the Nobel Prize is exclusively of Professor Ertl. He is really phenomenal and I was really fortunate to work for him. I was basically engaged in studies of ultra-fast dynamics of electrons in those surface interactions."

Would it be possible to conduct similar research in conditions that are here in Slovakia?

"Yes, I mean we are also happy that we have the International Laser Centre and we have certain facilities which can be related to the research and some of them could be used in a similar way. It is the activity of Ministry of Education and we are very grateful for this approach. So we have certain machines which can be used in that way. "

Does it mean that we can expect another Nobel Prize winner from Slovakia?

"(laughter). Yes I always laugh when I hear this question. In a very simplified way, sure. If you wait long enough, everybody can have a Nobel Prize winner. The process of getting to the Nobel Prize is extremely complex. The major thing we need in Slovakia is to change the attitude towards science, to really believe in science and believe in intellect and I think that's the good way of how to get there".

Is there a problem with a system where there is a weak connection between a university education and research and science, or is it just all about money?

"No it's not all about money. I don't think it's all about money. It's a mixture of everything. We are very young country, with a very young tradition of science. We have to be patient, work hard, invest money into the people, invest money into the machines and I think slowly we can go. I think it's the whole atmosphere to really believing and really fighting for that. To have a heart for science, so it's not only money".