Pavel Porizka from CEITEC BUT: It is important to travel, gain experience and get international contacts even during studies

Pavel Porizka managed to make use of international internship opportunities that university studies provide and thus became independent on his research journey.  After coming back to the Czech Republic he was entrusted leading a research team, where he can work on topics which are interesting for him. He is also a shareholder in the first start-up of CEITEC BUT. His specialization is laser spectroscopy, he is active in this field on academic ground as well as in public sector. After all, Pavel is a young researcher who proofs that it is necessary to work systematically during the studies to achieve one's goals.

 

You graduated from BUT, what was exactly your field of study? Did you try to already specialize in something particular during your studies?

My alma mater is Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, particularly Department of Physical Engineering. I was always interested in the optics, mainly in the laser sources. As a result, I joined the research group of Prof. Jozef Kaiser. I have been a part of his group since the times I was working on my bachelor thesis, so around 11 years ago.

What does abbreviation LIBS mean?

It stands for Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy. It is actually a method of analytical chemistry which enables to study the elemental composition of a material. To describe briefly the whole process, let's start with a laser pulse. The laser pulse is introduced on the surface of a material and focused into a tight spot. At CEITEC BUT we use this method in many applications. Above all, the most interesting is the mapping of sample surfaces. In this way we obtain the distribution of individual elements and their mutual correlations. This approach may be implemented in geology as well as in biology. In order to extend the awareness of the LIBS method, prof. Kaiser co-founded in 2014 the first start-up company of the CEITEC BUT, AtomTrace. This company focuses not only at the development of advanced and highly sophisticated analytical instrumentation but also at the transfer of LIBS technology to industry and its commercialization.

You spent some time abroad studying your PhD. Could you compare your experience from academic life abroad with the way it works in the Czech Republic?

As a part of my PhD studies internship I was lucky to spend two and a half years in Berlin. I was working at the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing, particularly in the research group of Prof. Panne and Dr. Gornushkin. This internship was very important for me in terms of being an independent researcher because the way it works there is different comparing to our system. Here, in Czech, every project is basically a team work and there are not so many students who would set up their own experimental system, write their own software, measure the data on their own and at the end write an article to be published.  Also, laser spectroscopy might be specific in the fact that we don't really use commercially available analytical systems and as a result, each group tries to set up their own system in their own lab. That is, however, changing in recent years. Also, the study program is not the same and of course, there are pros and cons everywhere. And that's why we encourage our students to gain international experience and create their own network.

You are a leader of the CEITEC BUT research team with the specialization of laser spectroscopy. How does forming of such a group work?

During my PhD studies, Prof. Kaiser let me do the research my own way so I ended up in Germany by my own initiative. After my coming back to Brno, Prof. Kaiser entrusted me leading the laser spectroscopy lab which was a part of his research group RG1-6: Materials Characterization and Advanced Coatings. Little by little, we were forming our "subgroup" to the present state, where we have basically two teams (one being more research oriented and the other taking care about the instrumentation) which tightly cooperate. As a leader of the group, I got to the point that I could develop the research problems that were interesting for me. Together with my colleagues and students, we got to big data, utilisation of LIBS in biology, toxicology, industry, etc. So there is quite a wide range of possible applications.

Could you describe what everyday's life of a research group look like? I suppose it is not just about working in a lab...

We have defined long-term research goals and we try to systematically discover some new links between problems. It is interesting because the particular problems - research goals - are interdisciplinary and so a lot of people who are from different research backgrounds must cooperate. We apply for Czech and also international grants so that we are more financially independent. In doing this, the Grant Office at CEITEC BUT is a big help for us. We have currently applied for a few european grants in the frame of Horizon 2020.

You came back from an internship in the US a few months ago. You started a cooperation with Dr. Hahn from the University of Florida...

Thanks to the Fulbright program I could do my research at the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of Florida. My current research is about processing of multivariate data, which becomes an important topic not only in spectroscopy. We get more and more overloaded with important and also redundant and even useless information and as a result the outputs from measurements are so voluminous that their processing takes more time than the measuring of samples itself. We have already published one article on this topic with Dr. Hahn and we are currently working on another one. I believe that what I have learnt at the University of Florida is important for the future development of our research group. For me, Dr. Hahn is a visionary who sees quite a lot to the future and one of his current research projects is 3D printing of living cells. This is of course a very interdisciplinary topic and the spectroscopy is just a part of the whole research. By the way, Dr. Hahn visited CEITEC VUT not a long time ago and his talk on this topic was a big success. This technology plays an important role in biological research and shows the direction that engineering could take. It is inspiring for us in CEITEC because we also aim to join biology and engineering.

What are your plans for the future?

I will keep up the currently running projects, biological applications are now of my paramount interest and I will continue developing an analytical system in collaboration with AtomTrace. Also, I would like to mention a RISE project for which we applied together with the University of Florida and Karolinska institutet (Sweden). The topic is the use of spectroscopy in biological research. In the meantime, before we know what the decision on this grant proposal, we are working on joining analytical methods and biological research in the project EXPro. This project which is a collaboration with Assoc. Prof. Marcela Buchtová from  Czech Academy of Sciences is inspired by Dr. Hahn’s research. Its goal is to join the spectroscopy methods and the 3D printing of cells in order to investigate the origin and spreading of carcinogenic tumours.

 

Author: Katerina Vlkova