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03 2017

charles university magazine

The 21st century toxic threat

milan štengl → 8

Could we live on Mars one day?

julie nováková → 28

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Welcome to the third edition of our Forum magazine to be published in English for international audiences. From mathematics to snowboarding, there is something for everyone at Charles University. There is a fascinating variety of innovative research, teaching and community engagement here at Charles University in the Czech Republic. In this third edition of our English-language Forum magazine, we turn the spotlight on the pioneering work of our scientists at the university’s Biomedical Centre at Pilsen who are using the latest technologies to improve healthcare. We also introduce some of our amazing students and staff and look at how they are actively engaging with society at large. We look at how a diverse research team, for example, is helping restore the flood-damaged archives of the experimental Czech Laterna magika theatre which took Expo 58 by storm 60 years ago. And we meet the evolutionary biologist who is helping to popularize science with younger audiences through her fascination with the wonders of the universe. We also talk to students who combine their studies with some remarkable achievements – like Eva Samková, whose good-luck hand-painted faux moustache has become a symbol of international success in the sport of snowboard cross.

On a lighter note, we look at research into the likelihood of couples at universities in different countries across Europe becoming attached after studying the same academic subjects. So whether you are interested in encouraging biodiversity in the natural world or understanding how mathematical graphs can help postmen deliver the mail more efficiently, we are sure there will be something for everyone in the pages ahead.

 rofessor Martin Kovář P vice-rector for public affairs


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contents 12

6 Charles University Magazine Issue 1/2017

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Charles University Ovocný trh 5, 116 36 Prague 1

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Professor Martin Kovář Vice-Rector for Public Affairs

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Petra Köpplová Tel + 42 (0) 224 491 349

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Forum is published twice a year and is free. The opinions expressed in Forum are those of the contributors and not necessarily those of the Charles University. Reprinting of any articles or images from Forum without the express permission of Charles University is forbidden.

Distribution

Registration MK ČR E 22422 ISSN 1211-1732

spotlight – Biomedicine Petra Köpplová

Jaroslav Hrabák – Robots in the research labs 6 milan štengl – The 21st century toxic threat 8 Infographic 11 Karel Blahna – Memory man 12 anna stunová – A healing process 14

science lab Petra Köpplová

Robert Šámal – Making sense of mathematics 16 Lucie Kettnerová

Kateřina Svatoňová – Restoring the glory of Laterna magika 20 P. G.

Birds of a feather flock together 24 Lukáš Laibl, Oldřich Fatka

Gigantic trilobite larvae 26


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16 38

20 students

MY CU

Petra Köpplová

Ivan Duškov

Julie Nováková – Could we live on Mars one day? 28

Education in a castle 46

Successes at Winter Universiade:

close-up at cu

Kateřina Chourová 32

P. G.

Čestmír Kožíšek 34

Anniversary ceremonial mass 48

Tereza Kmochová 36

Learning from CERN 51

eva samková – With a moustache for good luck 38

Rare global view 53

High spirits 42

Kamila Špinarová

Professor Roland Naul honoured 56

Shadasha Williams – From the USA to Prague to Study Linguistics 44

56


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An organic approach Being able to replace, support, regenerate or repair a person’s vital organs may seem like science fiction to most people. But developing know-how in these vital areas of medical science is the day-to-day work of Charles University’s Biomedical Centre in Pilsen. In the following pages we turn the spotlight on various aspects of the research being carried out at the centre. text by Petra Köpplová  phOTO by René Volfík, Radana Čechová, Thinkstock


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Robots in the research labs Artificial intelligence is providing fast and accurate ways of diagnosing infectious diseases. Associate Professor Jaroslav Hrabák believes it offers huge benefits without reducing the need for humans Standardized data for research and examinations, the elimination of external influences and pure output data. That’s what everybody wants, and, helping to achieve these goals, robotization has entered research and hospital labs. The benefits are clear: it is reducing faulty diagnoses of patients with risky conditions. At the Biomedical Centre in Pilsen, part of the Faculty of Medicine at Charles University, Prague, the technical equipment in the analytic labs has been developed to the point that an international patent for a new device to detect bacteria could be filed in cooperation with Czech research and diagnostic products company BioVendor. Associate Professor Jaroslav Hrabák, who is leading the team, says: “The point of robotization is not to steal jobs from lab technicians. They will still be needed as

qualified operators, but the objective is to reduce the number of mistakes caused by human factors.” The current development of diagnostics aims at standardization and elimination of inaccuracies and deviations, and the robots only replace certain manual operations. “Our lab studies increasing problem of antibiotic resistance on the molecular genetic level, for example by sequencing complete bacterial genomes,” he explains. “The second part of our research focuses on the development of methods for the rapid detection of bacteria and its resistance to antibiotics for clinical diagnostics. The development of new methods and devices is fully in line with the lab portfolio. “Every examination should be repeatable, and our partners at BioVendor asked whether it was possible to replace a human lab technician by a robot during the


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The point of robotization is not to steal jobs from lab technicians. They will still be needed as qualified operators, but the objective is to reduce the number of mistakes caused by human factors. processing of bacteria in order to identify the causative agent of the infection.” The first validation studies in Pilsen have shown that the new device, the MALDI Colonyst, produces better results when it comes to bacteria identification. There are several technicians in the Pilsen lab performing the same analyses, but their results are variable. The bacteria grow on the culture medium in colonies, and the lab technicians must pick the right one to make a sample for identification. What they used to do with a toothpick, using only their naked eyes, is now displayed on the screen thanks to the new device. In the past, the technicians may have failed to see the bacteria for some reason. They always tried to collect as many of them as possible, and the risk of non proper identification increased. An excellent technician performs at almost the same level as the robot, but the robot works better than an average staff member and maintains quality over time. That’s exactly what the scientists and physicians need – the examination of the sample is always the same, and the results of the repeated examination of the same biological matter do not vary. The MALDI Colonyst replaces human error with exact measurement. It approaches the colony and finds out the accurate number of bacterial mass. Then transfers exactly the right amount from a Petri dish to a steel plate that is inserted to the mass spectrometer together with the agent (called ‘the matrix’). However, the device was not developed primarily for science but for clinical microbiological diagnostics, and the road to the final product was not easy. The original concept didn’t work, and there were many changes made thanks to the experts from the Biomedical Centre. Hrabák describes the breakthrough that took place in the development of the MALDI Colonyst: “When we tested the prototype, we applied a drop of formic acid to the plate, and then added the bacteria to this drop. This is the reverse procedure compared to how it’s usually done, but it worked surprisingly well.” The solution is technically complex and the patented procedure is so essential that it alone enabled robotization. The Faculty of Medicine in Pilsen won funding for the development, and the centre, together with BioVendor, applied for a patent that can bring profits to all participants. The device also eliminates the contact of lab staff with the biological material, so it can be used for very dangerous agents diagnosed, in army labs for example.

Associate Professor Jaroslav Hrabák has been manager of the Biomedical Centre in Pilsen since 2014. He uses mass spectrometry in clinical-microbiological diagnostics to study the resistance of bacteria to antibiotics.

The device raised interest in EU countries as well as in the Czech Republic, and also in the United States where it was commended as the best innovation in machine technology at the Pittcon 2017 conference on analytic chemistry and applied spectrometry in Chicago. The team at the Biomedical Centre plan to continue cooperation with BioVendor and another participant in the development of the system, the team from Brno University of Technology, Faculty of Information Technology and Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Communication. Together with BioVendor, with turnover of more than €39‚000‚000, the Pilsen centre is now developing several quick tests to detect antibiotic resistance. So far, they have managed to create a kit to detect the most important resistance to carbapenems – the production of carbapenemases in entreobacteria and pseudomonades – which is set to go into production soon.


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The 21st century toxic threat

Experimental cardiologist Milan Štengl is an expert on the effects of sepsis, also known as blood poisoning, researching the way it affects electrical activity of the heart It is a silent killer: every year up to 30 million of people die of sepsis. Septic shock, its most severe form, is responsible for about half of all deaths in hospitals. In Germany it kills about 60‚000 people every year, about the same as the number of deaths by heart attack. In the Czech Republic sepsis was the second most frequent reason for hospital treatment in 2012 with 10‚700 patients, of whom 923 died. In the UK the annual direct and indirect costs associated with sepsis are estimated at up to €11.5 billion. (£10.2 billion).

More worryingly, the occurrence of sepsis is increasing by 1.5% annually and treatment is complicated by increasing bacterial resistance to antibiotics – some drugs no longer work. “It’s a serious problem,” says Milan Štengl, a research director at Charles University’s Biomedical Centre in Pilsen, “and it’s getting more frequent. It is one of the biggest medical issues of this century.” When sepsis occurs, the body overreacts to an infection and the immunity response results in organ damage. It is not usually restricted to a single organ. Typically, multi-organ failure develops.


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The symptoms may include myocardial depression, which decreases the pumping abilities of the heart. Štengl’s team at Pilsen is investigating the causes of severe sepsis and possibilities for its treatment. There is an increasing amount of research into serious infections at Biomedical Centre and it currently involves several teams. The groups study the issues involved in specific tissues – monitoring leucocytes, kidney and heart functions and so on. About 20 years ago, Professor Martin Matějovič started using piglets as the main model, as their physiology and the way they develop toxaemia is very similar to the human organism. Why are heart contractions associated with toxaemia? “The cause could be anywhere,” says Štengl. “Analysis based on the model suggests that the main problem is calcium management – heart cells get less calcium than needed, and then less is released. This may well be the cause.” The appropriate amount of calcium inside the heart cell is only released with the right electric impulse, the so-called “action voltage”. Higher concentrations of calcium create a response in contractile proteins, and the cell contracts. That is why the main area of focus in the Pilsen lab at the moment is the impact of various procedures on calcium management. Many labs in the world study toxaemia using small animals such as mice and rats. However, the physiology of these animals is different to human physiology, so the course of sepsis is different too and it is not usually possible to translate the results of labs using small animals to pigs. “There are only a few labs in the world using the pig model, as the experiments are extremely demanding,” says Štengl. “The animal model must be taken care of by someone experienced in intensive medicine for no less than 48 hours. In our case, it’s the team from the 1st internal department at our university hospital in Pilsen”. The experiment usually starts on Monday morning by inserting all catheters necessary to monitor the animal’s vital functions. To make the conditions as similar to the clinical situation as possible, sepsis is induced by peritonitis – the animal’s own stool is applied into its abdominal cavity, which induces the inflammation and subsequently the blood poisoning. The bacterial composition of the stool isn’t specified, and this is the next focus area of the research of Jaroslav Hrabák’s team which is studying the bacterial resistance to antibiotics. Even though the animal is treated the same way as the patients – they are given fluids, for example, and noradrenaline to

Every year up to 30 million of people die of sepsis. Septic shock, its most severe form, is responsible for about half of all deaths in hospitals. maintain blood pressure – the sepsis is so massive that the piglet reaches the terminal stage within 24 hours and dies. On the difficulty of treating septic shock, Štengl says: “In case of high values of the inflammable mediators that tell the organs how to act to save the whole organism, the treatment is really complex. You disrupt the balance that was already disrupted once. You can adjust the function of an organ, but at the same time you can damage other ones. For example, if you decrease high heart rate, it can result in lower blood flow into the organs. The treatment must affect multiple levels in a coordinated way.” At first it seemed that the application of stem cells might be the key to success. In this particular area, however, their advantage is not in their modification to various cell types, but the possibility of releasing various mediators that tell the tissues what to do. The application of stem cells in small animals was able to reduce the mortality rate for sepsis, but the question is whether it will work with large animals too. “According to our first results, it’s not a miracle,” Štengl says. “To overdose a mouse with stem cells is easier than doing the same with a pig or a human. The research is still in progress, and we’re analyzing the results. There are many paths to take. If you try something and see that it doesn’t work, there are many side roads that could be possible. This doesn’t necessarily involve stem cells – we’re trying to optimize the conditions of the cardiovascular system, we’re studying whether it wouldn’t be enough to slow down the heart rate, or use drugs to support heart contractions or avoid vasodilatation.”

Associate Professor Milan Štengl is a research director at the Biomedical Centre and head of its Laboratory of Experimental Cardiology. He leads the Institute of Physiology at the Charles University Faculty of Medicine and is a member of the European working group on Cardiac Cellular Electrophysiology of European Society of Cardiology.


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A septic history Sepsis, based on the Greek sēpein, to make rotten, was described by Hippocrates in the 4th century BCE. In the 19th century, the physician Ignatius Semmelweis managed to reduce the mortality rate of mothers in Vienna maternity hospital from 18 per cent to 2.5 per cent by making the medical students, who visited the department of pathology at the same time, wash their hands. Unfortunately he was not able to convince other physicians to do the same, and himself died of sepsis. The knowledge of Semmelweis and Louis Pasteur was then applied by Joseph Lister in Glasgow hospital to decrease the 50% mortality rate after amputations. Lister’s procedures were improved by Robert Koch, who invented steam sterilization. However, the mortality rate was significantly reduced only by the availability of antibiotics after World War II. In 1980s the link between the infection and immune response was discovered and in 1989 sepsis was defined by the American physician Roger C. Bone.

The mortality rate was significantly reduced by the availability of antibiotics after World War II.

The causes of sepsis Sepsis is an inflammation response to serious infection, may occur after scratching, tonsillitis or even a bad tooth. About 30% of patients die within a month of diagnosis and 50% within six months.

Resistance to antibiotics explained

Globally, resistant bacteria kill about 700‚000 people a year.

Antibiotics are the most effective protection against bacterial infection in humans and are commonly used in agriculture for treatment of livestock as well as for prevention and growth support Even though there are more than 6‚000 substances with antibiotic effects, human and veterinary medicine only uses about 70 of them. Unfortunately some physicians prescribe antibiotics unnecessarily, while patients often fail to take the recommended doses, which can lead to resistance. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria may also be passed on in the food chain. Bacteria may become resistant either due to improper use of antibiotics or as a result of gene mutation in the bacterial chromosome. Or it may occur by acquiring the gene from bacteria that are already resistant to specific antibiotics. Polyresistant bacteria are able to store the genes which are resistant to several types of antibiotics. It is estimated that 25‚000 people die every year in the EU countries because of infections by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Globally, resistant bacteria kill about 700‚000 people a year. The World Health Organization (WHO) considers growing bacterial resistance to be the biggest threat to long-term human health. In 2050, it is estimated it will prove fatal for up to 10 million people.


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2

research programmes: replacement and support of vital organ functions

regeneration and repair of vital organs

Key Facts about the Biomedical Centre 4,125 m² of lab area, studies and other areas located in two buildings.

171 papers

18

136

24

researchers work in the Biomedical Centre at key research positions

other researchers including work in post-doctoral programme participants, postgraduate students and other research staff

members administration and support staff ensure seamless operations

Source: Annual Report 2016

including 118 impacted ones


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Memory man Some people like to hack into computers, while others try to get inside our heads. Researcher Karel Blahna specializes in the study of memory using long evans rats

It was not a big change for Karel Blahna to move from a top lab at the Austrian Institute for Research and Technology to the Laboratory of Experimental Neurophysiology at Charles university’s Biomedical Centre in Pilsen. Here, he is under the supervision of Karel Ježek who for eight years was a member of the team of Edvard and May-Britt Moser, winners of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2014 for their research unravelling the mysteries of the human body clock. Both labs are of international stature and the equipment is similar. As Blahna says, the real differences are outside the lab, not inside where the work takes place. His research involves the study of memory in awake state and during sleep – a hot topic at many competing labs – carried out using long evans rats and recording neuron activity in brain structures. During single unit activity, the rats collect rewards, which are their motivation for memorizing different pathways. To help understand what is being researched, imagine this: you come home to find someone has


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Neurons in long evans rat’s brain

Dr. Karel Blahna worked in the Institute for Research and Technology in Klosterneuburg, near Vienna, before moving to the Charles University Biomedical Centre to research memory in awareness and during sleep.

taken your couch and replaced it with a different one. You immediately notice it and the information is important enough for you to save. Blahna explains: “Such information can be repeatedly decoded, even while asleep, and we can see the way the rat runs or finds its way back to food when calm. I focus on processes that involve multiple brain structures overlapping in time, when the rat is reminded of an old piece of information, and then confronted with a new one. I monitor the dynamics of this process.” This involves the interaction of hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, the structures that are, among other things, important for the processing of temporary and permanent memory. It is believed that while the hippocampus saves the temporary memory, the permanent memory is represented by the prefrontal cortex. In the hippocampus, the information is saved by place-specific cells coding a certain part of the space, and researchers are able to decode the saved information.

The site-specific cells are flexible and respond to cognitive aspects. The cell codes a certain area from various places, but this works in a different way to sensory cells, and also enables the researchers to monitor cognitive processes – an increasingly popular field of study worldwide. “If a change involves the modification of a known part by new inputs,” Blahna says, “we may observe the memory trace for the original and new information and watch their interactions. I’ve collected the data for the research. Now I am processing it and getting it ready for publication.” In addition to the basic research Blahna also wants to do more applied research into Alzheimer’s, a disease known to disturb sleep structurally. However, the details have not yet been revealed. “I’d like to study, at the level of the neuron single unit activity, the way old rats (model TgF−344−19) process information while asleep,” he says.

I’d like to study, at the level of the neuron single unit activity, the way old rats process information while asleep.


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Ing. Anna Stunovรก won the highest commendation at the Conference of the European Wound Management Association in Amsterdam for the best lecture from a researcher making their first presentation to an international conference. Her presentation focused on the identification of dermal fibroblasts in the multi-factorial 2D and 3D in vitro model of a chronic wound.

A healing process The key to treating chronic inflammation is not to develop new drugs but to look on it in its whole complexity, says Anna Stunovรก


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Photo: archive of A. Stunová

I don’t have a favourite stressor, sometimes I work with some of them, sometimes with others. But all of them are quite stressing.

Despite the huge range of pharmaceutical products available today, chronic inflammation is still a big problem. The answer to this challenge, argues Anna Stunová of the Laboratory of Cellular Regenerative Medicine at Charles University’s Biomedical Centre in Pilsen is not to continue making new drugs but to see illnesses in a different way. She is developing a chronic wound model for effective treatment design. “In our lab, we look at the treatment of chronic wounds at the level of the cell,” she says. “This angle of view is widely ignored by physicians. They are more likely to see the biometric parameters, but there is no general approach to chronic wounds.” It would be best if physicians more accurately recognized the ways of wound healing, she argues, something that is not necessarily immediately obvious. But if it were recognized, different types of medication could be applied at different stages. Patients with chronic wounds usually suffer from additional illnesses, so the researchers in Pilsen first used the model for diabetes, adding glucose to the cells. However, setting the glucose level in wounds is more difficult than in blood, and because they did not want to focus only on diabetes patients, this approach was eventually abandoned. The researchers at the Biomedical Centre try to model chronic wounds in vitro, which isn’t easy. The lab works with cells acquired, with informed approval, from the donors of skin grafts at the Department of Plastic Surgery at the Pilsen University Hospital. The cells are then cultivated and exposed to various stressors present in chronic wounds, such as reactive oxygen species, hypoxia or bacterial contamination. It is common practice in the labs only to monitor a single factor, so there are specific situations to study. For example, when the cells have insufficient nutrients or are exposed to bacterial contamination. “We, however, combine the factors and model the situations when the wounds suffer from lack of oxygen and nutrients, and at the same time are contaminated by bacteria,”

says Stunová. “We’re trying to find out the influence on the cells.” No-one else creates such combinations, and they are very demanding in terms of identification. There are multiple factors in the model and it is difficult to tell which ones affects what. The Pilsen lab’s objective is to create a model that would make it possible to identify the influence of each stressor. “Sometimes each stressor can be a negative influence but they may be much less of a problem for the cells when combined,” Stunová explains, adding: “It is vital to find out which factor has the biggest impact and which supports the occurrence of chronic wounds most, together with their development and inability to heal.” This enables the researchers in the lab to identify the appropriate procedures in the healing process. “We must find specific concentrations,” says Stunová. “We’re building on the data found out with the patients, but this data isn’t specific enough to tell us the current level of oxygen in the wound. So we must try different concentrations and optimize each factor separately. Another challenge is to ensure that the cells don’t destroy each other with the factors combined. It’s all about looking for balance.” Amid all the high-pressure research, Stunová manages to maintain a sense of humour. “I don’t have a favourite stressor,” she says. “Sometimes I work with some of them, sometimes with others. But all of them are quite stressing!”


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Making sense of mathematics


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Leading Czech mathematician Robert Šámal tells us that mathematics isn’t a conspiracy to get us to memorize things and that it can help make sense of the world text by Petra Köpplová  phOTO by René Volfík

So there I was lying on the floor of a classroom, under a desk, and throwing a colourful cube into the air while trying to understand the meaning of mathematics as related to graph theory. Sitting above me is Robert Šámal, who won the 2017 Neuron Prize for his research into unique vector coloring of graphs. To avoid thinking about possible damage to the colourful toy, I’m concentrating on the baroque ceiling above. But it’s not a toy flying in the air, but a projective cube with 16 little connected balls – vertices of the graph and the cube can also represent a computer code. While the eight vertices of the cube are marked 1–8, computer scientists prefer using sets triples of zeros and ones. “One point has the coordinate 000 and its opposite is 111; vertices that differ only at one coordinate different are connected by edges,” explains Šámal, Associate Professor at the Computer Science Institute in the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics at Charles University. “Coding theory studies the possibility of reconstructing an encoded message in a computer if some bits get lost. For this, we need to understand how the groups of zeros and ones look, and what happens when a zero turns to one or vice versa,” he adds. Mathematicians focus on more than one discipline Šámal tells me mathematicians focus on more than a single discipline; typically they are involved in many related areas, such as mathematics, computer science, geometry and the probability theory at the same time. He illustrates his point by explaining the graph theory, developed in the 19th century from one of the oldest exercises in graph history, known as the ‘Seven Bridges of Königsberg’. This notable mathematical challenge attempted to devise a walk through the old Prussian city so its citizens could cross each of the seven bridges only once and return to the original spot. It was tackled by one of the most eminent mathematicians of the 18th century, Leonhard Euler, who converted the problem to a graph and found no solution exists. “The basic graph theory and its applications can be explained easily,” Šámal assures me. “However, what I am doing is more difficult to understand.” He offers another illustration to show the value of the theory of graphs using the example of a Chinese postman, first studied in the 20th century. “A postman

needs to take the mail from the post office, deliver it throughout the city to people’s homes, and then return. He should take the shortest possible way. Graphs model the city so that every crossroad is a vertex and every street is an edge,” explains Šámal. How to electrify even the smallest village He then reflects on how Czechoslovakia was ahead of its time with electrification between the wars and how it was decided to electrify even the smallest villages. “There was a big discussion about how to use as little material as possible. The problem was examined by the best mathematicians of that era, Otakar Borůvka and Vojtěch Jarník. They used sophisticated algorithms, rediscovered after the Second World War, as part of the theory of graphs. These algorithms search for the minimum spanning trees of graphs. With this, the Czechs were ahead of the global development in science by several decades,” says Šámal. After the end of World War II, the flow in networks started to be studied which enabled mathematicians to determine the largest possible capacity of railroads in case soldiers and supplies needed to move across the country. Among Šámal’s many areas of research expertise is graph colouring and generalizations of colouring, or homomorphisms, and flows in graphs, flow-continuous and tension-continuous mappings and vector colouring. To put his research interests into context, he recalls the issue of map coloring, which appeared in the mid−19th century. Looking at the map of the counties of England, a 19th century student realized that it would only require four colours to distinguish the different counties and make the map easy to understand by displaying all neighbouring areas in different colours. This assumption was proved correct several times during the next 150 years; but all the proofs were incorrect and the problem was only finally solved in 1977, thanks to extensive use of computers by Kenneth Appel and Wolfgang Haken. In the 1990s several mathematicians, including the Czech-born Robin Thomas, once a student of Faculty of Mathematics and Physics at Charles University, found the final, definite proof, which solved the case for good. This exercise, so simple at the first sight, is currently used by operators when planning the coverage of → mobile networks in which the phones use a specific


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The Seven Bridges of Königsberg

The Seven Bridges of Königsberg, in graph format

frequency for the communication with a base transceiver station, or BTS, and by schools when setting timetables. Šámal says setting timetables is similar to coloring English counties. “Even if it isn’t apparent, we want to attach a colour or number to every subject in such way that the courses that are connected in some way – that could be by the same teacher or students – they need to have different colours. “The number of colours could correspond to the number of lessons per week, but the theory of graphs aims at finding the least possible number of colours necessary. In the same way, the makers of a timetable always try to squeeze the courses into the shortest possible time frame.” Coloring is used in programming Coloring is also used in compiling computer programs. “The algorithmic coloring of big graphs is difficult, as all known algorithms are very slow and ineffective. In some situations, we may try and get close to the best possible result using the vector coloring. As a theoretic

mathematician, I develop theories in this area, which I hope will be useful. I don’t solve real-life applications, but an interesting mathematical problem,” says Šámal. So what does a mathematician do when he can’t find an answer to a specific question? “He may study similar problems and hope for some inspiration that will move him towards the right solution. Or he may find out that the assumption is wrong, or learn a new trick to approach the problem. It’s similar to climbing Mount Everest. You don’t try to jump from the sea level to the summit; you have to make small steps. And you never know who’s going to make the last one.” Prize-winning research Among the interesting concepts that Associate Professor Šámal and his colleagues have developed in recent years is unique vector coloring – the area that led him to win the 2017 Neuron Prize for promising young scientists in the field of mathematics. This built on the work of his PhD advisor, Professor Jaroslav Nešetřil, at Charles University.


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illustration flickr

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

The city Königsberg was built around the Pregel River and connected by seven bridges.

He also solved a version of the Hedetniemi’s conjecture, which looks at the connection between graph coloring and the tensor product of graphs. It was a problem that had been waiting decades to be solved and meant Šámal and his colleagues had made one more significant step on the way to the summit of their very own Mount Everest. The Neuron Foundation grant has enabled Šámal to work with David Roberson, who studied in Canada and worked in Singapore on solving other mathematical problems. Šámal has invited him to Prague on repeated occasions and they have completed four papers about their research. “The principle of a mathematician’s work is that he writes papers on issues that weren’t described before because they were unknown. In fact, he must choose something unsolved. Often he picks up a problem formulated by someone else, someone who would like to find an answer but who can’t! Sometimes, such a problem can wait several months to be solved; other times, it can be several years, or even centuries,” says Šámal. One of the areas particularly attractive to Šámal the cycle double cover: a question, whether every graph has a system of cycles that will cover each edge of the graph twice. For a big category of graphs – planar graphs – the solution is easy, for others the question is solved; but for general graphs, it’s been a challenge for several decades to find the correct answer. Šámal says: “I’m only interested in it for the aesthetics of the mathematical statement. You can tell that a part of mathematics is good by the fact it’s pretty, that

the results are nice! Even in the areas that look very abstract and away from reality. You will eventually find an application. Sometimes it takes five years, sometimes a century, it all depends,” says Šámal, referring to famous British mathematician G. H. Hardy. He said that the theory of numbers is a beautiful discipline, which will never have any real use (as a pacifist, he saw it as a big advantage in World War II). Only 40 years later, the theory of numbers became the essential component of cryptography. Not a 9-to−5 job “Mathematics isn’t a 9-to−5 job, which lets you leave exactly on the dot,” says Šámal. “If a problem stays in my head, or if I, for example, prepare a test for students, I take my work home, even though my family isn’t very happy about it.” If a mathematician studies what others have discovered by others, it primarily involves sitting at the computer. If, however, new things are discovered, the procedure is more complex. Šámal writes on paper or blackboard, depending what’s closer, or programs a computer. There are many methods; it all depends on what he is currently studying. “I feel the world is getting more and more complex, and people understand it less. It’s good to challenge this and try to see the heart of problems. Not to take the miracles around us for granted but to see them as something worth investigating or exploring. “I’m happy when I can show kids or students that things make sense, that the world isn’t a conspiracy of mathematicians who just want them to memorize things. That there are simple reasons why things work.”

Robert Šámal, PhD is currently Associate Professor at the Computer Science Institute in the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics at Charles University. He gained his PhD in 2006, working with Jaroslav Nešetřil as his transceiver.


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Restoring the glory of Laterna magika The Faculty of Arts of Charles University is helping to restore rare film materials from the pioneering Laterna magika multimedia theatre, damaged by floods 15 years ago, and make them accessible to the public text by Lucie Kettnerová  photo by Luboš Wišniewski

Laterna magika literally took the world by storm when the revolutionary multimedia theatre premiered at the international EXPO 58 exhibition in Brussels more than half a century ago. Originally conceived as a cultural programme to promote the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, the combination of film projection and live stage performance gained the highest number of points among the exhibits and was awarded the Gold Star at the 1958 international exhibition. After EXPO 58, Laterna magika was invited to give performances in the USSR, Syria, Egypt, the USA, England, France and many other countries and returned to Czechoslovakia in triumph to become an independent ‘experimental’ company of the National Theatre. It became a permanent fixture on the Prague theatre scene and a Czech cultural monument, housed in a huge glass structure next to the National Theatre. But disaster struck when rare film archives and materials from the unique multimedia theatre were in the wrong place in the wrong time as floods wreaked havoc through much of central Europe in 2002 and the Vltara River burst its banks in Prague. Now, 15 years later, a major project is underway to restore the damaged materials and bring them back to their former glory. The Laterna magika shows offer a uniquely Czech theatre experience, mixing dance and ballet with mime and black

theatre and combining these with film and computer-generated visual effects. Diverse team required for recovery project The multidisciplinary nature of the theatre platform has meant that a diverse research team had to be assembled to work on the recovery project consisting of many experts from the humanities and technical areas. In addition to the Faculty of Arts at Charles University, the National Film Archive and the Czech Technical University are also involved. The project is due to be completed in 2019. In the same year an exhibition is scheduled to present the multimedia audiovisual artwork to a wider audience. It is due to open at The Brno House of Arts and then move to Prague. Among those leading the scientific team is Kateřina Svatoňová, head of the Department of Film Studies at the Faculty of Arts, Charles University. She presented her Associate Professor lecture on Laterna magika as multimedia artwork and said it was an example of art that goes beyond usual standards because of its fragmentary nature and expansion into space and by the way it wraps the audience in illusions and through its use of virtual reality. Her dissertation resulted in a book, titled Unbound Images, which uses the metaphor of pictures leaving the canvas and floating into space. →

Associate Professor Kateřina Svatoňová heads the Department of Film Studies at the Faculty of Arts, Charles University. She graduated in Czech language and literature and film studies and now focuses on changing perceptions of space and time in visual culture and the history of Czech cinematography.


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Pictures from the glory days of Laterna magika


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About Laterna magika Laterna magika, a theatre combining multi-genre plays with film projections on several screens on the stage, was the main attraction of the Czechoslovakian pavilion at the international exhibition EXPO 58. Due to its extraordinary success, the eponymous series of shows moved to Prague, and then the permanent theatre using the same principle was created. Laterna magika was founded by Emil and Alfréd Radok and stage designer Josef Svoboda. Among those working on the early set designs was Miloš Forman, part of Czechoslovakia’s New Wave of artistic directors who went on to win Academy Award success with films such as ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and ‘Amadeus’. The Ministry of Culture has enabled the work to preserve the past with a special grant to the Laterna magika project.

After many years, she is returning to Laterna magika to see it with new eyes. “Now, we‘re putting the subject in its historic context, either linked to advertisements of the old times or to film songs. And we see common points in both aesthetics and expression, which comes as a surprise to me.” The team is attempting to digitize materials from its second heyday in the 1980s when it returned to its experimental form. Since that time no one has ever seen the performances from the second peak of Laterna magika, explains Svatoňová. The current Laterna magika still plays some of the original pieces and recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of the ‘Wonderful Circus’, which has remained in the repertoire ever since its 1977 premiere to become the most frequently performed theatre piece in Central Europe. Aimed at children and centred on a circus theme, the panoramic moving screen bearing the cinematic image represents a circus big top and the set design serves to tell the entire story and principle of Laterna magika. The performance shows another age and uses old music, dances and costumes which today feels like a peculiar anachronism – a conserved memory of the experiment.

However, Laterna magika is also doing new shows, including ‘The Cube’, a return to old principles of the theatre. The dance is modern and so is the technology, but in a way it is also true to the original Laterna magika. To see what Laterna magika means now, the best recent show, at least according to Kateřina Svatoňová, is ‘Human Locomotion’, which uses chronophotography. “The picture moves due to all technologies the theatre has and uses a lot of trick projection. It may not be a classical Laterna magika, but for me it is still one of the best shows you can see these days,” she said.

The performance shows another age and uses old music, dances and costumes which today feels like a peculiar anachronism – a conserved memory of the experiment.


Birds of a feather flock together

infographics by Paulína Očkajová

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text by Red.

Social Science and Healthcare students were most likely to get together

36. 4 %

of college-educated couples in the EU studied the same subject-field The rate is measured using an index we call H. The bigger the values, the bigger the inclination for field-homogamous couples Source: IDEA study

H index – field homogamy 50­­–74

75–99

100–124

Many couples get together because they are studying the same subject or branch of knowledge at university. Now in the first study of its kind Alena Bičáková, Štěpán Jurajda and Lucie Zapletalová have looked at the significance of this phenomenon

Deciding which subject to study at university may not seem to have much in common with a dating app like Tinder. But research has found that more than a third of couples at college got together based on their choice of subject or branch of knowledge. It seems that the choices we make about education affect life, society and economics much more than might have seemed possible.

125–150

not calculated

Now academics Alena Bičáková, Štěpán Jurajda and Lucie Zapletalová have carried out the first quantity-based overview of the impact of subject choice on the selection of a partner. They looked at information on 128‚040 couples in 24 EU countries who were sharing a home. Of these, 75% were married. The research was based on information from the EU Labour Force Survey which provides data on university graduates, their family status and home sharing arrangements in 24 countries. It categorizes subjects into eight branches – education, humanities, social sciences, science, engineering, agriculture, healthcare and services -- and a couple

is considered “homogamous” when both partners graduated from a university or college in the same subject or branch of knowledge. The researchers found that the rate of ‘field homogamy’ was strongest among Germans, Greeks and Slovaks, while the number of Czech couples sharing the same subject is also above the European average. Couples studying social sciences and healthcare subjects were most likely to get together, the researchers found, while those studying services and agriculture were least likely to get romantic. The effect is multiplied if young couples go into working in the same industry after college: field homogamy among those work-


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Differences between fields

The number of field-homogamous couples is different in various fields

Agriculture and services

Social sciences and healthcare

Was the field-homogamous couple formed during the study?

11 p p

higher probability if both partners graduate in the same year

up to 5 years

4  × higher

since graduation, the field homogamy rate increases

field homogamy rate for couples working in the same industry

pp – percentage points

Why is it important? High field homogamy rate

ing in the same field is almost four times higher. The researchers say the findings have many socioeconomic consequences, such as the significant income inequality of college-educated households, caused not only by different salaries but also by varying career conditions in different fields. They found that the occurrence of same-subject couples during the years of study goes on to increase significantly in the first five years after graduation, but later the curve levels as new relationships form in the workplace and prevail over social networks created during studies. In creating couples of university graduates, an important factor is the gender

Big pay gaps between fields

Big pay gaps between families

Career-family combination

Different decisions on starting families

segregation of subjects that occurs in workplaces such as hospitals or IT companies. The most ‘masculine’ field is engineering in most countries, while the most ‘feminine’ is education. The research found that once they have graduated in a strongly male field, up to 60.5% of women live as partners in homogamous couples. The most balanced field was services, which had only 22.3% of homogamous couples. Other factors seem relevant. Among partners who graduated in the same field of study, the researchers found, the probability of graduating in the same year was 11 percentage points higher than those who were not homogamous. Research by the authors also shows that the gender balance

by field of study in college affects fertility after graduation. Women graduating from a strongly male field in college are more likely to parent with less educated men. “The conclusions of this work open up many interesting questions for further research,” Jurajda said. “Possible research areas include, for example, the relations between the rate of field homogamy and stability of marriages, income inequality at home, investments to children, or lower birthrate which is currently a most serious demographic problem for Europe.”


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a

b fig. 1  Gigantic larvae of Hydrocephalus carens (a, b) and Eccapara­doxides pusillus (c, d) trilobites. Scale corresponds to one millimetre.

0,5 mm

c

0,5 mm

d

0,5 mm

Gigantic trilobite larvae text by Lukáš Laibl, Oldřich Fatka  photo by Lukáš Laibl

0,5 mm

Palaeontologists from the Institute of Geology and Palaeontology have discovered gigantic trilobite larvae in Bohemia that were probably nourished by large yolks. Over 500 million years ago these larvae inhabited seas in high latitudes in the southern hemisphere and their distribution was comparable with that of lecithotrophic larvae of today’s invertebrates


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The life cycle of today’s marine invertebrates includes various larval stages that may be very different compared to adults in terms of their way of life. This early post-embryonic stage can be simply divided into two categories based on feeding. The first category consists of tiny larvae that hatch from small eggs and after hatching live off of plankton or detritus and are therefore known as feeding larvae (or also as planktotrophic or detritotrophic larvae). Others emerge from larger eggs rich in yolk, and during their early development live off of this yolk supply (non-feeding or lecithotrophic larvae). While we have a relatively good understanding of the biology and ecology of early post-embryonic stages of today’s invertebrates, our knowledge of long-extinct organisms is still very limited. Palaeontologists from the Institute of Geology and Palaeontology at the Charles University Faculty of Science and the Complutense University in Madrid were able to discover gigantic larvae of Cambrian trilobites. Larvae belonging to the species Hydrocephalus carens and Eccaparadoxides pusillus (fig. 1) come from several locations around the villages of Skryje and Týřovice in the Křivoklát region. Compared to the larvae of other trilobites, these are two or even three times as large. While for most Cambrian trilobites the smallest stage measures around 0.2 to 0.6 mm, for E. pusillus it is 0.9 mm and for H. carens 1.9 mm. Both of these species have a very unusual morphology characterized in particular by a large protruding glabella (part of the head shield on top of the front part of the digestive tract). In addition, H. carens has a significantly shortened development and incremental changes between individual larval stages. Similar characteristics are typical of the lecithotrophic larvae of present-day crustaceans. In their study, the authors also ponder what could have led to the emergence of lecithotrophic development in Cambrian trilobites. Today, lecithotrophic larvae are much more plentiful in seas where plankton production is very low or seasonally unstable.

While we have a relatively good understanding of the biology and ecology of early post-embryonic stages of today’s invertebrates, our knowledge of long-extinct organisms is still very limited. Such a situation applies, for example, in high latitudes, deeper seas or freshwater. An analysis of the size of early stages of Cambrian trilobites shows that in tropical seas near the Cambrian equator larvae were small, while large larvae (including species H. carens and E. pusillus) come from high latitudes of the southern hemisphere along the continent of Gondwana (fig. 2). We find a similar distribution of the larval stages of marine invertebrates today, where along the equator there are numerous species of small, planktotrophic larvae, while in the polar areas we find primarily large lecithotrophic larvae. For certain trilobites unstable plankton production in the waters of high latitudes at that time could have been one of the causes leading to the emergence of lecithotrophy.

fig. 2  Palaeogeographic map of the world in the Cambrian period showing the size of trilobite larval stages in individual areas


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Could we live on Mars one day? Julie Nováková is studying evolutionary biology on her doctoral programme at Charles University, but it’s her knowledge of the universe that amazes audiences far and wide. Here she discusses her research into altruism and wonders whether humans could one day live on Mars text by Lucie Kettnerová  phOTO by Luboš Wišniewski, NASA


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Julie Nováková (pictured) is studying on the doctoral programme of theoretical and evolutionary biology at the Faculty of Science, Charles University. Her dissertation focuses mainly on the evolution of altruism and cooperation. For years, she’s also been active in popularizing science and has written seven novels and over 30 short stories for magazines and anthologies and also publishes in English.

I’m not aware of anybody directly using this methodology to test Trivers’s conclusions on the impact of health on altruism.

First, let’s focus on your research. Your dissertation is looking at altruism and cooperation. Do scientists know why creatures in nature are willing to help each other without any immediate benefit for themselves? This is one of the mysteries of evolution as such behaviour can harm the helper by reducing their resources in favour of another. There are lots of hypotheses. In the 1960s, one of the leading figures of modern biology William Donald Hamilton, published the theory of ‘kin altruism’ and offered a genetic basis for altruism. His theory argued that we tend to help our kin to the extent that gives us benefits. In short, it is about the number of genes we share with the ones we help. But there’s still the question why this behaviour occurs even outside the kin bonds. Why, for example, do worker bees forsake the chance to breed to care for the queen’s young? In the case of bees, they have an unusual genetic structure and are closely related to one another. So while they appear altruistic, their behaviour in a haplodiploid system where only a few females reproduce means it makes sense to invest in the production of their own sisters. Robert Trivers, an American evolutionary biologist, created the theory of reciprocal altruism in the 1970s, which could be roughly translated as ‘I’ll help you now, you’ll help me later.’ This is much more demanding than kin altruism and means individuals must remember one another, their previous interactions, their investments and gains, and must be able to make ‘calculations’ for the future about whether they are likely to meet again. And of course, memory and calculations require high level of cognitive abilities so this kind of altruism is understood to be quite rare. Vampires provide an interesting case and Gerald S. Wilkinson has studied the behaviour of bloodsucking bats since the 1980s. As their metabolism is very fast, vampires need to eat every day, or every other day, otherwise they starve to death. But they don’t all find food. So those with plenty

often regurgitate it for those with nothing to eat. Wilkinson studied the origins of this sharing and found it was not just the kin thing – often when one individual helps another, it’s more likely to get help in the future. He experimented by filling a vampire’s stomach with water, so it had no food but appeared to have plenty. The others begged for some, and when there was no response – as there was nothing to give – the chances of the animal getting future help diminished. A similar system could work with people, too and I’m specifically interested in how altruistic behaviour is affected by current health and the role this plays in further interactions. What method do you use in the research? Behavioural sciences, mainly behavioural psychology and economics, and I include experimental games to allow people to be altruistic or selfish in their actions. What makes your research innovative? I’m not aware of anybody directly using this methodology to test Trivers’s conclusions on the impact of health on altruism. Do people who are ill tend to help more in order to get help in return? According to Trivers’s hypothesis, ill people have less chance for the future interactions so they should save their resources for themselves, but there are many different factors involved and I’m eagerly waiting for more results. Apart from evolutionary theories, you focus on space travel and exploration. Can you tell us about your involvement? I’ve always been interested in space, astronomy and astronautics. Since high school, I’ve been active in popularizing science; I’ve written papers and given lectures at festivals and I’m a member of the Czech Space Network association. In popularizing science, I cooperate with the department of geophysics of the Facul- →


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There are also known effects, such as muscle atrophy, bone thinning and eyesight problems, which may be caused by changes in in-eye pressure. However, it’s not clear why some astronauts suffer from this while others feel no effect whatsoever.

ty of Mathematics and Physics at Charles University, which works with the US-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory and analyses the data from the Cassini space probe to Saturn. Not long ago, the Cassini space probe made several beautiful flights between Saturn and its rings. At the faculty, they also study the ice moon of Enceladus. Shortly after the probe reached Saturn, water geysers were discovered. It was a mystery where they come from – had the ice heated and the resulting pressure released the water or is there a permanent reservoir of liquid water? Later it was revealed that the ocean is more than just a small water pocket under the South Pole, where the geysers are, but is under the ice crust of the whole moon. How to explain it as this moon is too small to keep heat from the decay of radioactive elements, or from its own accretion of space objects from dust and gas. Even the tidal effect of Saturn or other moons, such as Dione, could not generate enough heat to keep the water liquid. However, the water is there, and it was the geophysicists from Prague who made the model showing how deep the ocean probably is, how strong the ice crust is, and how is it possible for the ocean at Enceladus to remain liquid. With such a deep interest, why didn’t you choose to study space? There are many interesting things to study, and I’m lucky I can focus on space in my popularization work, whether writing articles, making lectures or taking part in competitions, such as FameLab or Science slam. At high school, you took part in the competition ‘Expedition to Mars’. If you could fly to Mars in a few years, would you go, even if it meant a one-way ticket? Not the one-way ticket! People on Mars would face many problems that still need solving. Recently, I attended an international astronautic congress and saw the entrepreneur Elon Musk, who founded SpaceX in 2002 to revolutionize space technology. He revealed plans to colonize Mars in the 2020s. I find that a very ambitious and unrealistic plan, but let’s see. He may succeed in ten or 15 years. But there’s been little discussion on the impact on human health of both the long flight and living on Mars. To date, all longterm cosmic expeditions have taken place in the low orbit of Earth – on the International Space Station (operating from 1998) and the Russian orbital station Mir (from 1986 till 2001). This is deep in the Earth magnetosphere, which protects against many par-

ticles from the Sun and cosmic radiation. Travelling outside the magnetic field of the Earth could present big problems. This could even show on a trip to the Moon, also outside the Earth magnetosphere, but the journey is only a couple of days, and the Apollo flights always took place in the quiet solar period. If there was an unexpected solar eruption, the health of the astronauts could be at risk – probably not immediately, but the cancer risk could increase in the future. A flight taking months would increase the risk significantly, even if the spaceship was adequately screened. You’d also need a large quantity of water for the crew, although that could be gradually replaced by, for example, dried faeces and other waste. Another issue is microgravity. We’ve got good data from the low Earth orbit, as microgravity applies there too, and it seems that a year’s stay would not have a significant negative impact on human health. The recent ‘Year in Space’ study saw two astronauts, Russian Michail Kornienko and American Scott Kelly, spend almost a year at the International Space Station, ISS. NASA is analyzing data on, among other things, the impact on the brain and it seems that the rate of white and grey matter changes a bit during lengthy exposure to microgravity. There are also known effects, such as muscle atrophy, bone thinning and eyesight problems, which may be caused by changes in in-eye pressure. However, it’s not clear why some astronauts suffer from this while others feel no effect whatsoever. Recently a summary study was published, describing different health effects on male and female bodies. While there have been fewer female astronauts, this shows some effects can be more significant than others, but we need better research before sending someone on a three-month trip to Mars. And that’s when Musk’s Interplanetary Transport System could make such a journey – otherwise it would take at least six months! You’d also need to be on Mars for several months and take another three months coming home. So say two years per mission, constantly exposing astronauts to increased radiation and microgravity during the flight if the ship had no rotating section of some sort, which we haven’t had any hands-on experience of so far. Such a solution has been suggested for space stations for half a century. It’s a standard feature in sci-fi books and films, but it has never been actually tried. And it could be risky to test it first on a journey to Mars.


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Self-portrait of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover above the “Buckskin” rock target Credit: NASA/JPL-­ ‑Caltech/MSSS

People on Mars would face many problems that still need solving. As to life on Mars, astronauts would live in one-third gravity – probably enough for normal vital situations, but we don’t know the long-term effects. And what would happen if a human foetus developed in one-third gravity. Microgravity experiments in this area are currently done on animals at the ISS, so we may know more in the near future. I believe it would be useful to return to the moon before Mars for a long-term lunar stay to learn more about health effects, use of local resources for fuel production, or hydroponic substrate for planting, and attempting to create a self-sustainable system without the need of supplies. The moon is close enough so flights would not be that costly, can be organized almost at any time, and evacuation is possible in emergencies. With Mars, that would be very difficult, as the window of opportunity for the launch only opens once in two years. Is it feasible to get to Mars within 20 years, or are these just promises of commercial businesses in pursuit of supporters and investors?

I believe both. From the beginning of SpaceX, Musk said his long-term goal was to get people to Mars. It’s not just a marketing strategy. He hopes to develop a carrier and make progress, for example, in cosmic medicine. I don’t know whether they plan to cooperate with other organizations, but we keep hearing about SpaceX and its new launches, but news on cooperation with hospitals and NASA institutes is quite scarce. However, with sufficient investment, I believe people could get to Mars within 20 years. If SpaceX makes enough money from their commercial flights to the lower orbit or beyond, it could happen. But I don’t know how NASA would respond, especially the Office of Planetary Protection. The planetary protection is all about not contaminating other objects in space, and not contaminating Earth by life from other planets. You have written several sci-fi books. Do you believe in the existence of extra-terrestrial life, or even civilization? The universe is vast, so in my opinion it hardly seems possible not to have another life, or civilization. What’s more interesting, and also more important for science, is whether they exist near our planetary system, say in the radius of 20 light years where there are more than 120 stars. So, it’s a question of science, not faith. Faith has no place here. In science fiction,

I can play with this topic as much as I like, for example, in my Gemini trilogy. In real science, it is better to look at what types of stars are near the sun; if these stars have their own planetary systems; how old are they; what’s their metallicity and thus the estimated composition of planets; how much sunshine is there on the surface of the planets and whether there could be water. Then we might try for a realistic estimation of whether life can exist. As yet, we have no hints of the existence of other civilizations, but it would be very difficult to discover them hundreds of light years away. Even if we caught a ‘TV broadcast’ of extraterrestrials several hundreds of light years away, it would be easy to ignore it. A narrow band, like laser, would be much better. But it would have to be targeted directly here, and there’s the question why would anyone do it, and whether the signal has already come as we‘ve only been technically able to receive them for several decades. That’s why I’m not surprised we haven’t found anybody.


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We’ve got a full collection of medals from the Winter Universiade in Almaty, Kazakhstan text by Petra Köpplová  phOTO by René Volfík


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Bronze Student of physiotherapy and snowboard cross racer Kateřina Chourovå defended her bronze medal after four years.


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Silver Čestmír Kožíšek, student of the Faculty of Physical Education and Sports, flew for silver in ski jumping competition. He was part of a mixed team with Marta Křepelková.


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Gold Scientist Tereza Kmochovรก won the gold medal in the Alpine team skiing, together with Daniel Paulus, Adam Zika and Martina Dubovskรก.


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eva samková

With a moustache for good luck

With her hand-painted faux moustache in the colours of the Czech flag for good luck, Eva Samková has taken the world of snowboarding by storm and returned from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi with a gold medal in snowboard cross text by Lucie Kettnerová  phOTO by René Volfík, ČTK


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Today Eva Samková combines international competitions with being a second year student at the Faculty of Physical Education and Sport at Charles University. Here we catch up with the Czech snowboarding super-champ who followed her triumph at Sochi by bringing home more gold from a World Cup race. Are you happy with this year’s results so far? The results are fine. The World Championship didn’t end up as I had imagined, but I rode really cool and certainly feel positive. I’m the first in the World Cup now, which is absolutely fabulous, and I’m trying to keep it up until the last race. In the World Cup race in Feldberg, you delayed your start to give rivals a head start by several dozen metres. Was this the first time you used this strategy? If it failed who would you blame – yourself or the coach? This was the first time we tried it during a race. We thought it was the only way to ride the race, as I had been dreadful in the first turn – always coming last. So we decided to give it a go, and either make it or break it: it was a 50/50 chance. The coach didn’t mind if I came first or fourth; he wanted to try it, and so did I, so there would be no one to blame. We could only find out whether I could do it or not. What type of track do you like best? I’m more into technical tracks, as I can get further ahead of the competition. My coach Marek Jelínek always decides the best way to ride the track, and if I manage to stick to it, all is good. If the track is too easy and there’s nothing to invent, we’re level with the opponents, and it’s very hard to succeed. Ester Ledecká does both snowboarding and skiing. Do you feel like trying both? I used to ski before, but I didn’t really enjoy it as the skiers get up early in the morning. That’s why I switched to snowboard. I never was that good as a skier anyway, so I’ll stick to snowboarding. What do you think about when you’re standing on the podium? Nothing really, except that I’m happy to be there. I’m happy to be what I am. Having won the Olympic medal your fans gave you a horse. Have you kept it? I was given the horse by my hometown Vrchlabí, and it was probably the best present I will ever get. Of course I’ve still got Pepin, even though I don’t have many opportunities to ride during the season. However, I hope to change that in springtime and will try to get to him whenever I can. It’s about half an hour from Prague to the stables, and the horse will be in Vrchlabí during the summer. Do you find it a bit weird that the horse can’t be controlled the same way as the snowboard? No, it’s not a problem for me. On the contrary, I believe that horse riding helps me in my snowboarding, as the

I was given the horse by my hometown Vrchlabí, and it was probably the best present I will ever get. horse is a living being and you have to communicate with him in order to make it work. What’s your typical racing speed, by the way? The average speed is about 40 kilometres an hour; the highest speeds are allegedly about 70 to 80 kilometres. If you fall, can you think rationally at that moment and protect your head, or does your brain just switch off? It depends where you fall – in a banked turn or on a jump – and whether you realize it at the moment at all. Sometimes, I try to wave my hands to fall on my back, or catch my head when I know there are other racers behind me. But it really depends. Is it hard to go to the Olympics when people expect you to bring a medal home? It is probably harder when you go there for the first time, but now I’m not trying to defend myself. When I went to Sochi, I wanted to win. I just hoped it would work out. The coaches believed in me and I think it’s up to you if you accept the pressure or not. You’re involved in camps for snowboarding kids. Are you patient enough? Not only that, but I’m the face of all camps when I’m in the Czech Republic and have time. I always try to attend them personally. At Dolní Morava, there was a presentation planned for the evening, and during the day, we were riding. I always try to be with every kid at least for a while. So, sometimes I’m with the beginners, and then I take the track with those who can do more already. They also see me training the whole day. I’ve got no problem with patience. There are just some things I want to tell them, and so far most kids want to hear it. They are really interested and it is great. But then I’m not raising them, of course! In the past, people wanted sport clothes to be functional. Now, the sportswomen do their makeup, and clothes and helmets are often design gems. What do you like to wear? Primarily, I want my clothes, whether it’s a wind-stopper jacket or pants, not to be too large and to have as little air resistance as possible. Mostly, I wear dark pants and jacket; sometimes I design it myself. I also have a special helmet with pretty nice drawings of wolves. But we’re not biathlon, where the racers are on the screen in detail. We’re too fast for that; so it’s not that important to me. But of course, you want to wear → something nice.


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But we’re not biathlon, where the racers are on the screen in detail.We‘re too fast for that; so it’s not that important to me. But of course, you want to wear something nice.

You’re a student of training at the Faculty of Physical Education and Sport at Charles University. Why did you decide to get back to school? It was my mum who wanted me to study at the college. And I wanted to do it too, as I felt I could enjoy it, and I wanted to give it a try. I believe that the way we do camps is very compatible with what I could do after the end of my career. And so far, I have to say I really enjoy it. You have to do a lot of sports at the faculty. Are any of them a real challenge for you, or are the theoretical courses more difficult? Everybody’s afraid of theoretical courses, like anatomy or physiology. But I have a different problem – as I’m used to the physical activity all the time, it’s very hard for me to spend several hours just sitting and learning. I can’t concentrate for too long without a break. As for sports, the real challenge for me is swimming, and sports where you use hands in general, as my shoulders are prone to dislocation. I’m a really bad swimmer. I have to work on that. Do you have time to enjoy a beer or coffee with your classmates and enjoy student life? Yes, mostly during field courses, whether it was hiking or skiing. It was great, they are really funny and we ‘distant students’ are a cool gang. What’s more stressing for you, the World Cup or the exams? Probably the exams. I’m really not used to them that much. Of course, I’m stressed at the World Cup too,

Snowboard cross – often called bordercross – is a type of snowboard race in which several competitors – usually four – compete down a custom-made course, including various types of terrain and obstacles. It is a bit like motocross on snow and is growing in popularity.

but this is something I know well, so I know how to handle it. Do you take your schoolbooks with you to the races, or do you leave them at home? Lately I haven’t taken the books to the races – I found out it was pointless. I’m usually really tired and want to relax, so I leave the learning until I come home. And finally, what is the painted moustache all about? It’s for good luck. I first wore it at the 2011 snowboarding world championships in Spain and I’ve done so ever since because I want to have fun.

Eva Samková won the gold medal at the Winter Olympics in 2014 in Sochi. Earning her first Crystal Globe in 2017, she will be able to defend her Olympic title in PyeongChang. Samková has been a snowboarding racer since she was ten. First, she did freestyle; then, after an injury, she switched to snowboard cross. In 2010, 2011 and 2013, she became the junior champion of the world. Eva is studying at the Faculty of Physical Education and Sport, Charles University.


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High spirits

Vivat Academica consists of nine students at the Faculty of Physical Education and Sport, Charles University – Matěj Cichra, Tomáš Fiala, Martina Illichová, Radka Hlaváčková, Tereza Palanová, Tomáš Pintér, Kristýna Stránská, Vojtěch Strejc and Anna Šebková. Supervised by Eva Pokorná from the language department and Šárka Panská from the department of gymnastics, they performed at joint events with students from University of Konstanz in Germany.

Members of an acrobatics group at Charles University are used to seeing fear in their audience’s eyes as they perform several metres above the ground text by Petra Köpplová  phOTO by René Volfík

On a Sunday morning at a time when most people are still in bed having a lie-in, there is something spectacular taking place in Letná Park, overlooking the old town in Prague. Several young men are hanging upside down from a tree, suspended by what appear to be very long colourful scarves. The acrobats clearly enjoy watching the world below from a height of around six metres. Suddenly the scarves give way and the acrobats are falling to the ground. The admiring looks of tourists and mothers with prams are replaced by amazement and fear. The onlookers turn away to avoid watching the last few feet of the fall. Only one or two are still shooting the action on their mobile phones. However, the acrobats apply the power of their muscles at the right moment and the scarves wrap around their thighs and stop them safely just above the ground. The tourists take more pictures and the local families stroll on. The acrobats, Tomáš Pintér and Vojtěch Strejc, students at the Faculty of Physical

Education and Sport at Charles University, are used to seeing fear in other people’s eyes. As members of the Vivat Academica acrobatics group they often perform in professional circuses and theatres. The group’s members have been doing gymnastics or dancing for years which gives them a solid background for acrobatics which requires strength, flexibility, graceful movement, synchronization and good choreography, and above all focus and shared confidence. The group even includes members of the Czech national gymnastics teams. Anna Šebková, for whom the photo shoot in Letná Park is a well-deserved break in her rehabilitation after a knee injury, is the Czech modern gymnastics champ­ ion. Radka Hlaváčková was a member of the Czech national team in acrobatic rock’n’roll. For Pintér and Martina Illichová, acrobatic tricks six metres above the ground are no challenge – they often go twice as high in their performances before hockey matches.

The same thrill experienced by passers-by in Letná Park was felt by the 1‚200-strong audience at the performance by the group at the sports festival Konstanzer Welten in Germany last year. Thanks to the support of Eva Pokorná, Vivat Academica, under the supervision of Šárka Panská, performed in Konstanz again this year. As the only foreign participant, the group also performed during the 4th Long Night of Science in Konstanz, this year focused on motion in various forms and branches of science. The German university is now planning to organize an acrobatics workshop for students from Konstanz and Prague.


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From the USA to prague to Study Linguistics Shadasha Williams is from New Jersey and has been studying computational linguistics at Charles University since last October. She is the second international student to win a scholarship from the Institute of Formal and Applied Linguistics and the School of Computer Science of the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics text by Petra Köpplová  phOTO by Luboš Svoboda

You graduated from Montclair State University with a bachelor’s degree in linguistics. What impressed you about computational linguistics? Why did you choose this specialization? The options of working with a BA in linguistics were limited in my opinion. I understood that I did not want to pursue a career in translating, teaching, or speech pathology. Montclair State offered courses for a certificate in Computational Linguistics, so I took these courses out of interest, and the applications introduced to me seemed promising. Computational linguistics offers an opportunity to continue working with language in a more exciting way. Whether it is speech generation or sentiment analysis, I knew I wanted to take part in some of the technology that is currently coming from natural language processing (NLP) careers/applications. Why did you decide to study this field at the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics? This was more a matter of chance because I was placed here from the Language & Communication Technologies (LCT) programme. I applied and was accepted on the LCT programme, and placed at Charles University for my first year. I was later informed by the Charles University contact of the LCT about the scholarship and decided to apply separate from the LCT programme. After some research, I understood that the Matfyz programme for this specialization was very technical, but I feel that because I come from a linguistic background, this university would provide me with the skills I need to succeed in NLP. Computational linguistics is a field where several disciplines meet. What do linguistics and computer science have in common? While there is usually a stark difference between the subjects of humanities and empirical sciences, the shift between linguistics and computer science isn’t as strong as one would think. Linguistics usually requires logic for understanding syntax, lambda calculus

for semantics, and a rule-based framework for phonology, among other things. So I think between these two disciplines there is a bit of overlap, and throughout my courses I learned both disciplines in parallel, and could make comparisons between my more technical courses and my linguistics courses. What do you like about studying at the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics? And on the other hand is there anything difficult for you to get used to? One of my favorite things about studying at the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics is that many of my professors work on very interesting NLP projects. Most of them are dedicated to their personal projects and are constantly working while teaching. This shows us how our education can be implemented in the real world, rather than simply theoretically. As the programme goes on, I realize that the content strays further from theoretical linguistics and closer to NLP models, applications, and implementations. This has been my biggest challenge because I am constantly studying to understand the baseline knowledge that many of my peers with a computer science background are expected to have. Nonetheless, I understand this won’t always be the case, as it is a part of the learning process. From your point of view what are the main differences between Czech and American universities? There are quite a lot of differences, but my opinion may be tainted because I am experiencing not only differences between American and Czech universities, but also differences between graduate and undergraduate studies. I think the starkest differences are the testing and grading. Czech students have more freedom in choosing when their final exams occur. In the US, all final exams are taken in a span of a week or so, after the last classes of the semester. They are generally set dates and students don’t have scheduling options. The grading is also different – previously, most of my grades were


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One of my favorite things about studying at the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics is that many of my professors work on very interesting NLP projects. Most of them are dedicated to their personal projects and are constantly working while teaching.

How common is it for the US students to spend some part of their undergraduate or graduate studies abroad? I think it is very common for students to study abroad, especially in Europe. While this is much more popular for undergraduate than for graduate programmes, it’s quite common. In fact, a few of my friends came to Prague for a semester during their undergraduate studies.

based on my performance in class, participation, attendance, and assignments, with roughly 30% of the final grade being based on the final exam. At Charles University, the coursework is oftentimes seen as credit to take the final exam, and are disregarded afterward, so the only grade attained is the exam score.

What attracted you to study in Europe? The work that is being done in Europe is what attracted me to studying here – linguistics is a niche and computational linguistics more so. When I learned that there are quite a few European universities with respected NLP graduate programmes with a much lower cost than in the US, I realized it made more sense to study here.

Do you see any difference between the way of teaching and the form that lectures and seminars have? American students are said to be more used to discussing and to raising the questions during lectures… I don’t believe that there is much difference, the classroom etiquette is generally the same in both Czech and American universities. I do think that the teaching style of the lectures really is dependent on the subject, as in some courses the themes are up for discussion. On the other hand my courses are quite technical, so there is not much up for discussion. When my classmates have a question or need some clarification they too raise their hand and ask the professor.

Why is Europe so popular among the US students? The USA have many prestigious universities… I think that Europe is popular among Americans because it allows them to explore other countries, step outside of their comfort zone, and it is oftentimes less of a culture-shock than many cities in Asia, Africa and South America. Also, many undergraduate programmes allow a semester abroad, but not a semester at another US university.

Computational linguistics at Matfyz is a two-year programme. What are your next plans? I would like to find work after this programme and see what the NLP industry has to offer. The thought of going forward with a PhD has crossed my mind, but I will only pursue this if I know exactly what I want to specialize in. I am still unsure if I will go back to the US, as it really depends on the job market and my personal interests over the next year and a half.


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Education in a castle phOTO by René Volfík


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Adress Podebrady Education centre Castle in Poděbrady Jiřího nám. 1 Poděbrady GPS N 50.1433679 E 15.1139207

It is a great honour for me that the facilities offered by Charles University include Poděbrady Castle, on a site overlooking the Elbe about 50k east of Prague. It has been rebuilt several times since the days of Ottokar II of Bohemia who built a stone castle in the 13th century on the site where a wooden fortress stood. Since then it has been associated with historical figures including the Kunstdat family, George of Podiebrad and Emperor Ferdinand I. More recently the former royal seat has been linked to education and was formerly occupied by King George College whose alumni included the first Czech president Václav Havel and film directors Miloš Forman and Ivan Passer. Between 1953 and 1983 the castle was used by the Czech Technical University’s Faculty of Electrical Engineering but now it belongs to Charles University’ s Institute for Language and Preparatory Studies. Dr Ivan Duškov Director of Institute for Language and Preparatory Studies


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close-up at CU Anniversary ceremonial mass A ceremonial mass in the Grand Hall of the Carolinum celebrated the 670th anniversary of the bull issued by Pope Clemens VI in 1347, which permitted Charles IV to establish the first Czech university. It was celebrated by Vladimír Kelnar, pastor of the Týn Temple and chancellor of the Metropolitan Chapter of St. Vitus. The steward of the Týn parish school was one of the first teachers at the new university.

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Boxer rebellion at the Faculty of Law

The 2015 performance of the art group Ztohoven, who protested against President Miloš Zeman by flying red boxer shorts instead of the presidential standard, became the a hot topic of academic discussion. This was followed by Prague’s first performance of the operetta ‘We’d Start It Yesterday’ by Theater Husa na provázku.


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Research impact The conference “10 Years of Excellent Ideas: European Research Council and its impact in the Czech Republic” was organized by the Technological Centre of the Academy of Sciences in cooperation with Charles University. It was attended by the leading European Research Council figures, and nine grant winners presented their topnotch research.


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Learning from CERN

Professor Fabiola Gianotti, CEO of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN, paid us an official visit. Her programme included a lecture in the Carolinum titled ‘Fundamental research (and much more) at CERN’. This was followed by a presentation on ‘Working and Learning at CERN’ by Charlotte Warakaulle, the organization’s Director for International Relations.

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World-famous mathematician Professor Cedric Villani, Director of Institute Henri-Poincaré in Paris, visited Prague at the invitation of the Learned Society and gave two lectures at Charles University. The presentation ‘Of Triangles, Gases, Prices and Men’ in the Blue Hall of the Carolinum can be seen on YouTube.

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Villani on YouTube

Taiwan on film Chou Siao-sien, a protagonist of the Taiwanese new wave and the director of Assassin, gave a presentation at the conference of Taiwan Cinema and Cultural Dynamics, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation International Sinological Centre at Charles University.

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Rare global view

5 / 5 At the end of the 19th century the Austro-Hungarian manufacturer J Felkl & Son was one of the best producers of globes in the world. Their rare masterpieces are now exhibited at the Faculty of Science, Charles University, to celebrate the 200th birth and 130th death anniversaries of the factory’s founder Jan Felkl. The exhibition’s co-sponsors are the geographical section of the Faculty of Science and the Central Bohemian Museum in Roztoky.

Sporting life

This year’s Rector’s Sport Day was attended by more than 1‚100 students, teachers and employees of the university. The sunny day was a great opportunity to use new disciplines and meet new friends.

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Treat the Earth responsibly Jeffrey D. Sachs, Professor of Economics at Columbia University in the USA and consultant to the UN General Secretary gave a presentation on sustainable development at the Faculty of Law. Prof Sachs, celebrated as one of the world’s most influential 100 people, emphasized the need to treat the Earth responsibly and take an interest in the origins of what we buy and consume. He recommended that we should only support environmentally safe businesses.

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Children’s Day Children’s Day took place in the garden of the Neurological and Psychiatric Department of the First Faculty of Medicine and the General University Hospital. We know the organizers will feel happy whenever they remember the joy in the eyes of the young visitors.


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President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker encouraged everyone to put their efforts into keeping Europe united in a lecture on the future of Europe at the Grand Hall of the Carolinum. “We have to fight against those who are trying to divide Europe,” he said. “Now it’s more important than ever, due to the current demographic development. We have to resolve this situation if we are to overcome it”. He concluded by emphasizing the importance of spreading European values. He was presented with a gold Charles University medal by the rector Professor Tomáš Zima for his efforts for European integration, cooperation and understanding between nations. “Seeing a university like this gives me hope,” said Mr Juncker.

United Europe

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Visitors to the Carolinum during the Prague Museum Night could feel the almost mystical attraction of the ancient centre of Charles University, which has provided education since the Middle Ages. In addition to the Grand and Little Hall, visitors could see the exhibition on the university’s history and take pictures with the famous sculptures of Charles IV and Master Jan Hus. Young people especially enjoyed posing with a real live beadle.

Almost mystical

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Professor Roland Naul honoured text by Kamila Špinarová

Roland Naul, Professor Emeritus of Physical Education and Sport at the Institute of Sport Studies at Münster University, was appointed honorary doctor of philosophy on January 31, 2017. His career has seen him working at ten universities, not just in Germany but also in the US, Canada, Spain, Portugal, China and Israel. He is closely associated with Münster University, where he started in 1968 as a student of teaching and physical education. For more than 25 years he was professor at the University in Duisburg-Essen focusing on social sciences, sport education and Olympic education.

In the mid−1980s Professor Naul began cooperating with the Faculty of Physical Education and Sport at Charles University. The main topic of the joint research is the comparison of the physical activity of young people and the issues involving Olympic educational activities. “It’s a great honour for me to receive this important award. Without cooperation with my colleagues from the Faculty of Physical Education and Sport, not only my work but my whole life would be different,” he said.


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