Science Journal


This month in Science Journal: the Czech Republic, at the centre of Europe, is becoming a major focal point for the pursuit of science: today we look at three planned science facilities that will put the country at the centre of the map in bio-research, laser technology and satellite navigation.

Welcome to Science Journal for May, 2010, exciting times for microbiologists, laser scientists, satellite navigation specialists and anyone in the Czech Republic who’s following such fields, because Prague is becoming a major player in all of them. Just take this example: it will soon be Bohemia that you think of when you hear the word “superlaser”, because the region is set to host the most powerful of them all. For more on that I spoke to Dr. Bedřich Rus, the scientific manager for the ELI Beamlines project.

What is a superlaser, exactly?

“The superlaser is a project for the most intense laser in the world, so the objective is to have a cutting-edge laser facility to deliver the most powerful laser, which will produce very short pulses of light, which will serve projects in fundamental research and a wide spectrum of applications.”

The “most intense laser in the world” sounds wonderful and futuristic, but what exactly is it used for?

“’Most intense’ means that the laser pulses, laser energy, will be concentrated, ultra-short pulses, the beauty of which is that you can use them to generate thus-far unachievable concentrations of light intensity over very short times, and you can use them to create new flashes, new sources and varieties of other radiation, like x-rays and gamma rays, and electrons and protons and other particles. These flashes are so short, and so intense, that they can mimic a lot of situations that occur in cosmology and astrophysics and other fields.”

Bedřich Rus
So it can be used in a very wide range of fields; what other fields can it be used in?

“In fundamental research these pulses make it possible to study phenomena related to astrophysics, to see in a laboratory what kind of matter could be involved in certain objects, like dying starts, pulsars or other things. And then in the application, the sources can be used to generate flashes of light that can be used for very efficient cures or eliminations of tumours, it can contribute to new techniques of cancer treatment and also it can be used to develop new technologies of medical imagining, etc. etc.; it can be used to develop new devices in the field of electronics, and many other things.”

The visualization of the ELI Beamlines project in Dolní Břežany,  photo:
How was it that the Czech Republic won the competition to host the laser, among the many other countries interested?

“The Czech Republic won the competition because of the very good reputation of laser science and technology in the Czech Republic, and because of the very good collaboration with our colleagues in the United Kingdom – the UK was also a contender to host the facility but in the end they supported the Czech bid. So that’s why the Czech Republic won the competition, and as I say because we had very good support from our British colleagues and from Germany.”

Everything these days is bio bio... What then a BioCeV? It has nothing to do with free-range chickens I assure you, and everything to do with cutting-edge biological research. The Biotechnology and Biomedicine Centre in Vestec, run by the Academy of Sciences and Charles University, will be a reality in just three short years - a research and development institution par excellence, being overseen by biochemist and former head of the Academy, Dr. Václav Pačes.

What is all the excitement around BioCeV about?

Václav Pačes
“BioCeV was evaluated by three committees – the last one was the international committee of experts – we were quite happy with the results: the scientific programme of BioCeV was evaluated without any objection, so it got the full number of points and was rated very highly.”

What exactly does the scientific programme consist of?

“BioCeV has five large programmes. One is functional genomics, which also involves phenogenomics and the European infrastructure Infrafrontier. Then the second programme is cell biology and virology – virology is very important, because there is a lack of really expert teams and laboratories in the Czech Republic, we have excellent individuals but not really consistent research in virology, so we would very much like to strengthen this in BioCeV. The third one is structural biology and protein engineering, this is very important from the practical point of view, as is the fourth programme, which is biomaterials and tissue engineering – this involves stem cell applications rather than only research. And the last one is the development of therapeutics and diagnostics, and this is very important because it should take the results of the four scientific programmes and turn them into something more practical.”

It sounds like a great boon to man and an enormous hell for laboratory mice.

“That is true, yes!”

What will be the overall impact of BioCeV?

“This is behind why we proposed this and set it up. Because, you know, in the Czech Republic we have reasonably good basic research in biomedicine and the biological sciences, we have some new industry like biological companies for instance, but what is absolutely missing is this transfer bridge between basic research and practical production, diagnostic tools and so forth. And this what is behind the BioCeV programme. There will be not only excellent scientists but also emphasis on this technological transfer; to transfer results to the companies. And what we also want is to initiate new companies, spin-off companies, that would involve people working in BioCeV, who would either continue working, part-time perhaps, or set up their own companies. And a part of the BioCeV programme is to help these new technologies and new people to apply their technologies in something commercially successful.”

And aside from these plans, it’s also intended as a learning institution as I understand it.

“Absolutely. This is an extremely important part of it. BioCeV is based on three pillars: one is science and research, the other is the transfer of research results into something practical, and the third pillar is education – not only education of post-docs and doctoral students, because BioCeV is run by the institute of the Academy of Sciences and two schools of Charles University, this is very important, but we also want to, for instance, run courses for company people, to teach them, to have them work together with people in BioCeV, to learn new techniques, new developments in science that could then be applied in something that they are interested in”.

Last but by no means least on our rundown of exciting new centres of science and technology in the Czech Republic: the Galileo Supervisory Authority, possibly the most distinguished, but also the most hypothetical of the three. Nothing has been promised, but it’s no secret that the Czech Republic wants the new European navigation system based here very much. We’ve been hearing about it for years, but now decision day is fast approaching it seem.

Karel Dobeš
“Why all the fuss?”, I asked Karel Dobeš, who is the official representative for the Czech candidature for the headquarters. What does the Czech Republic want with a global navigational centre anyway??

“There are two reasons: the first one is that it is motivation for the Czech industry and Europe. I think we have a big European project with Galileo, and what we need is the support and participation of the new European EU countries. We have ten reasons for the Czech candidature for having the seat of GSA in Prague.”

Well if you could tell me maybe the three best reasons…

“Okay. The first one is Prague itself. Prague is a very nice city, it is beautiful and safe. There are top living conditions in Prague, located in the heart of Europe, and excellent congress and conference capacities…”

And I assume that when you say “safe”, you don’t mean thugs and pickpockets so much as the threat of terrorism.

“Yes, look, the Czech Republic is a member of ISA, and that means we have all of the security requirements for industrial security.”

Well aside from it being an honour to host the headquarters, I assume that you expect it would be of great benefit to Prague and to the Czech Republic, what do you think those benefits would entail?

“The first is the message, the signal to the other countries, that the Czech Republic is the centre of satellite navigation in the whole world. The second is the motivation for Czech industry and for the Czech economy is means a lot. For example in look at Germany, where they have the Galileo technical centre in Oberpfaffenhofen, and the now have more than 50 new companies around this area. And if we have the seat of GSA in Prague, it is sure that a lot of foreign companies will be coming to Prague, consulting companies and others, to concentrate the satellite navigation business in Prague.”

That was Karel Dobeš, official representative for the Czech candidature for the Galileo Supervisory Authority headquarters. And that’s all the science we have time for today. Thanks to all those who were able to join us for the programme and to you for listening, and I hope you’ll tune in to Science Journal this time next month.