The Czech world of science has just presented its biggest prizes with the major cash awards giving certainty to the winners leading internationally significant research.
The Czech Republic’s most important academic institution, the Academy of Sciences, annually presents its most significant award to scientists selected for their current research and the work they plan to do. Normally it’s just two winners, but this year as the academy’s chairwoman, Eva Zažímalová, explained the choice was especially tough and the rules were bent a little.
"It was not so easy. After a long discussion we selected three and we still had some doubts about whether we should actually award all three people or just two. Then we decided that all three are very distinct and different from each other but on the other hand all are excellent in their topics and in their disciplines and so we decided to award all three. "
The winners this year are Petr Baldrian, the head of the environmental microbiology at the Institute of Microbiology of the Academy of Sciences; Michal Fárník of the J Heyrovský Institute of Physical Chemistry; and Jan Flusser, the director of the academy’s Institute of Information Theory and Automation.
Fárník is engaged on some fundamental research about how molecules react, for example with infrared and ultraviolet rays. Some of the results could lead to better understanding of damage to the earth’s ozone layer and could also put some of the pieces together towards understanding the beginning of life.
Flusser’s focus is on the computer processing and recognition of images. Some of the results could lead to better interpretation of some medical scans and better understanding of aerodynamics.
And Petr Baldrian’s speciality is the ecological study of the millions of organisms that make up the soil with an understanding of some of the reactions and interactions taking place there a possible key to understanding aspects of climate change. As well as the prestige, the winners get up to 30 million crowns over six years to fund equipment and research teams working on their current research
"It allows us to try methods that would be too difficult to prove or to get grant support because we cannot guarantee the results. But the more we can try, the more that we can get results. So it a high risk, high gain approach that we are now able to apply and this is the main importance of this premium."
And one of the other main bonuses will be launch research in potentially risky and less promising areas can be pursued which still could however reveal some unexpected secrets. Petr Baldrian again:
"The methods that allow us to work in this area are fairly new so there is still a lot that is undiscovered. You should keep in mind that we are dealing with billions of cells of thousands of species that we need to analyse at the same time so that it is a relatively complex setting. For certain there are mistakes that we still do not understand. "