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Establishing Laboratory of Advanced Materials at the Comenius University

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - LAMatCU (Establishing Laboratory of Advanced Materials at the Comenius University)

Reporting period: 2018-09-01 to 2019-11-30

Comenius University (CU) in Bratislava is considered to be the top university in Slovakia. However, in terms of commonly used international metrics, its performance is severely lagging behind similar universities within the EU. This is documented by various global rankings in which CU is typically ranked at 500th place or even lower. Due to the ongoing lack of adequate financial resources in education and research, not only CU, but the entire Slovak higher education system has struggled to reach international competitiveness within the European Research Area (ERA). As a result, outstanding researchers are not seeking long-term employment at CU, which leads to a severe brain drain from Slovakia. Reversing this trend requires a long-term, sustained effort in which creation of a competitive and attractive research environment will play a key role.

The main goal of the project is to help in addressing this challenge by establishing at CU a world-class interdisciplinary research laboratory focused on advanced materials research. The new laboratory, Laboratory for Advanced Materials (LAM), will be led by an internationally recognized scientist, an ERA Chair holder, identified and recruited through a broad international search. Establishment of LAM is expected to:
• strengthen the potential and the contribution of CU in the area of materials research in the wider ERA in tight connection to the central idea of the Work Programme - Spreading Excellence and Widening Participation
• help counteracting the eminent brain drain taking place in Slovakia by attracting and retaining brilliant young researchers from both Slovakia and abroad
• strengthen the position of CU as a leading research and educational institution in Slovakia and elevate its significance in Europe.

The structure and management of LAM is designed to ensure its future self-sustainability and continuity of its research. Project funds are to be utilized to establish LAM and maintain its operations for an initial period, during which following actions are to be taken to secure its future financial sustainability:
• top-quality research personnel are to be recruited and, where necessary, trained in the relevant areas of materials research
• scientific collaborations with internationally recognized research institutions are to be established
• research grants connected to the area of research interests are to be applied for
• external collaborations with industry are to be actively sought
• opportunities to utilize research outputs as intellectual property and patents are to be exploited
• public outreach activities are to be focused on stimulating interest and engagement among the most talented students from Slovakia and abroad

Within this scheme, the project funding is to serve as the initial kick-start of a new internationally recognized research facility, LAM, establishing materials research program within the CU, and providing positive long-term effect on the status of research excellence in Slovakia.
During the first year of the project following advances were made towards the project objectives:
• ERA Chair, LAM director was recruited through a broad international search. The recruited LAM director, Dr. Milan Sykora, has more than 25 years of experience leading and performing research in the area of advanced materials and their applications in energy, electronics and optoelectronics at number of research institutions in US, including fifteen years at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
• New LAM director prepared and presented a detailed research plan for the LAM. The research plan builds on previous research experience of the LAM director.
• Six research personnel (Postdocs, PhD and undergraduate students) from Slovakia, India and Ukraine were recruited through an international search. Further recruiting of staff is ongoing.
• Important advances were made towards establishing LAM research operations, including:
- redesign and reconstruction of laboratory space (ongoing)
- procurement of laboratory equipment and supplies (using internal CU funding)
- development of safety documentation and operation protocols
- establishing access to research infrastructure essential for LAM research
- establishing first international collaborations for LAM (Oxford University, UK, Los Alamos National Laboratory, USA)
- establishing multiple collaborations within the CU and with other institutions in Slovakia, including Centre for Nano-diagnostic and Advanced Technologies Research Institute of the Slovak University of Technology, International Laser Centre, and others
- establishing online presence (https://fns.uniba.sk/en/lam/)
• Filing two grant applications with Slovak funding agencies (one successful, one pending)
• Outreach activities were initiated:
- LAM director presented multiple lectures about the planned LAM research activities at research institutions in Slovakia and to CU students and high school students
- LAM director and employees prepared lectures, study problems and a laboratory exercises in the area of materials research for high school students, and participants in chemistry Olympiads, through a CU organized summer school
- LAM participated in the CU open door day for prospective students, advertising planned LAM activities
LAM cover image