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Palacký University
05-25-2016, 12:57, Age: 6 y.

Young RCPTM Scientists Succeeded in French Embassy Science Contest

By: Martina Šaradínová

The successful young scientists from RCPTM, Markéta Paloncýová (on the left) and Kateřina Holá.

Two promising scientists from the Regional Centre of Advanced Technologies and Materials (RCPTM) at the Faculty of Science, Palacký University Olomouc, stood out in the largest science contest for doctoral students in the Czech Republic, organised by the French Embassy in Prague. Kateřina Holá placed second in Chemistry (the Jean-Marie Lehn Award), while Markéta Paloncýová confirmed her erudition in Computational Chemistry (the Joseph Fourier Award) by her third place. In addition, she was also granted a special IT 4Innovations award.

“I consider the fact that both our young scientists reached ‘medal positions’ as a tremendous success. This is a fierce competition: twelve finalists are selected from dozens of applicants in each category. The achievements of our two students testify to the quality of the young generation in RCPTM which we are cultivating,” said RCPTM Director Radek Zbořil.

Secretly nominated by a colleague

Twenty-eight-year-old Kateřina Holá earned her achievement for her current work, the pivotal theme of which is carbon quantum dots – a new generation of nanomaterials that could be applied in diagnostics, treatment of several diseases and technological applications. “I have been investigating this issue for about five years; I learned the basics of how to synthesise carbon dots during an internship at our colleagues in Greece. Today in RCPTM, we are trying to find a use for these materials with fluorescence properties in biomedicine,” said Holá. Carbon dots can work as ultra-small probes in the human body, able to selectively detect and mark tumorous tissues. They can also monitor the changes of temperature and pH directly in the cells.

“These miniature systems are also tested for the improvement of light emitting diodes (LED) and the technology of direct solar water splitting. I summed up all my existing findings and publications for the competition,” added Holá, whose tutor is Prof Zbořil, a laureate of several prestigious awards including the Czech Ministry of Education Award and one of the most cited Czech scientists today.

Paradoxically enough, the young scientist rather tends to avoid any contests, however her colleague entered her into the competition without her knowledge. “All’s well that ends well – I did not want to disappoint anyone. Today I’m happy that I was allowed to represent Palacký University and I cherish the award,” said the postgraduate third-year student with a smile. She was rewarded with a month-long study stay in France and has not decided which institute would be best.

The miscalculated importance of computation

Markéta Paloncýová, also a postgraduate student, submitted a work entitled “Computer Simulations of Small Molecule Interactions with Biomembranes”. “This category included works from various disciplines on miscellaneous themes. The only thing we all had in common were computers. So I tried to focus on the computational part, that is, how the simulations work. At the same time, I tried to explore their applications,” explained Paloncýová. The simulations conducted on high-performance computers are made for example in order to predict the permeability of membranes towards molecules. These findings may be useful in medicine and the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries.

It is no coincidence that her tutor is Michal Otyepka, who received a prestigious grant from the European Research Council. “The tutor’s role is essential, especially in the choice of the theme for the dissertation. It is also important to provide top-notch technological support. The rest depends on the talent and potential of the doctoral student herself. Both awarded students are probably the greatest talents in Czech science today,” asserted Prof Otyepka.

Paloncýová has studied Computational Chemistry since the beginning of her Master’s studies. “When I came to study in Olomouc, I thought that theory was definitely not my cup of tea, let alone computers, which I did not understand at all. I thought that I should follow experimental research. It took me perhaps a week to find out that solutions offered by computational chemistry are truly interesting. So I started to enjoy it, this discipline and all the freedom it gives you. The only thing I need for work is a computer with an internet connection,” relishes the postgraduate student, who was very surprised and pleased by this achievement. Her research into interactions of molecules and skin membranes has been used by Procter&Gamble for several years.

The Jean-Marie Lehn Award for Chemistry (formerly the Chemistry Award) is jointly organised by the Embassy of France in the Czech Republic and the company Solvay ČR. It is an award for research works by Czech students made during their doctoral studies. The Joseph Fourier Award for research in computational sciences is awarded by the companies BULL, Atos IT Solutions, and the Embassy of France in the Czech Republic. Both awards will be granted to the laureates on June 22 at the Embassy of France in Prague.

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