16. Apr. 2024

One of the most prominent and internationally recognized experts in the field of structural biology, Professor Vladimír Sklenář, died on 13 April 2024. Professor Sklenář made a significant contributions to the field of structural biology. His Watergate method is now widely used in biomolecular NMR. At the Central European Institute of Technology (CEITEC), Masaryk University, he was instrumental in establishing world-class research infrastructures in structural biology, particularly in NMR spectroscopy and electron microscopy. His tenure at the Faculty of Science of Masaryk University and CEITEC was characterised by a great passion for scientific challenges and a great deal of humanity with which he approached his colleagues.

Vladimír Sklenář's professional career was launched by his interest in experimental techniques of nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR spectroscopy), which he pursued at the Institute of Scientific Instruments in Brno. In the late 1980s, his focus led him to the USA, where he published thirteen original and still widely cited scientific papers during his stay at the National Institues of Health in Maryland. In 1990, his study of DNA triplex formation in solution, co-authored with Prof. Juli Feigon, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California Los Angeles, was published in the prestigious journal Nature.

After his stay in the USA, he briefly returned to the Czech environment, habilitated at the Faculty of Science of Masaryk University in the field of physical chemistry and then became a researcher at a pharmaceutical company in Strasbourg, where he developed the Watergate method, which is now commonly used in NMR spectroscopy to suppress the solvent signal.

Vladimír Sklenář applied the experience gained abroad to the Czech environment upon his return, and thanks to his unusual diligence and consistent approach to scientific challenges, a laboratory was established under his leadership at the Faculty of Science of Masaryk University, focusing on the development of NMR spectroscopy methods and their application to the study of the structure and dynamics of biomolecules. "With the passing of Professor Sklenář, the Faculty of Science of MU has lost one of the most important personalities of its modern history. Together with Professor Koča, Professor Sklenář was instrumental in the establishment of the National Centre for Biomolecular Research (NCBR) and made a significant contribution to the development of structural biology, especially nuclear magnetic resonance methods. Thanks to him, we have one of the best workplaces in this field in Europe, perhaps even in the world. Last but not least, professor Sklenář has built up valuable international contacts, which enable our students to gain experience at the most prestigious world workplaces in their field," says Tomáš Kašparovský, Dean of the Faculty of Science, Masaryk University.

Vladimír Sklenář has also played a key role in the establishment and development of the Masaryk University research institute CEITEC, since its establishment in 2011, he has been actively involved in equipping it with state-of-the-art instruments for NMR spectroscopy and for several years coordinated the structural biology programme with the vision of building scientific excellence. Through his efforts, many outstanding researchers have come to CEITEC, many of whom have won prestigious ERC and EMBO Installation grants for Masaryk University. Vladimír Sklenář has also shown courage and a great deal of foresight in introducing new technologies, such as cryo-electron microscopy, which enable researchers at CEITEC to make significant scientific discoveries. "Professor Sklenář's contribution to the support of quality research and new promising research teams coming to Masaryk University is invaluable and has clearly contributed to the development of quality research with international overlap. For many scientists of the younger generation, he was and will always remain a great role model both on scientific and personal level," says Šárka Pospíšilová, Masaryk University's Vice-Rector for Research and Doctoral Studies.

For twelve years, Vladimír Sklenář led the Czech Infrastructure for Integrative Structural Biology (CIISB), which he helped to build not only in the conceptual phase, but also by obtaining initial funding and establishing CIISB as an effective group of service laboratories supporting scientists in excellent research. Shared infrastructures in the field of structural biology were a pioneering venture in the Czech Republic at that time and their excellent results under the leadership of Vladimír Sklenář were crucial for the integration of CIIBS into the European Instruct and Instruct-ERIC networks. Over the years, CIISB has become the backbone of the Czech structural biology community, enabling both Czech and international scientists to measure data using state-of-the-art instrumentation and gain insight into biological processes. "The service laboratories supported by CIISB enable scientists in the Czech Republic and abroad to carry out ambitious research projects. The popularity of CIISB laboratories among scientists is a testament to the quality of the system that Vladimír has set up in this infrastructure," confirms the importance of the cutting-edge laboratories Pavel Plevka, Director of CEITEC, Masaryk University.

Prof. Sklenář's personality went far beyond professional and geographical boundaries – his reputation as an excellent scientist made a good name not only for his research field, but also for the city of Brno, where he lived for a long time. His love for basketball and cycling was positively reflected in his competitiveness, without which quality science could not do without, and his sociability and sense of humour made him a good person to work with.

His colleagues, who have contributed their memories to this text, will remember him as a great colleague and an excellent scientist who enjoyed the company of good people, fine wine and jazz...

The last farewell to the dearly deceased will take place on Friday, April 19, 2024 at 1:00 p.m. at the Czech Brethren Evangelical Church of J.A. Komenský in Brno (Red Church).

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