31. Oct. 2020

Although this year's LIBS2020 conference moved from Kyoto, Japan to a virtual environment, the program still managed to present awards to researchers from different parts of the world. Among them was Zita Salajková, who successfully engages in the field of laser spectroscopy at CEITEC BUT and also at the Italian University of Bari Aldo Moro. Among other things, Zita described the details of her research and also assessed the impact of the current pandemic on her doctoral studies and science in general.

Zita, you dedicate your doctoral studies to laser spectroscopy. Can you tell us more about what your research is about?

The main aim of my PhD research is to deepen an understanding of surface properties influence on the interaction between laser and surface during laser ablation. Laser ablation is a very complex phenomenon in which plasma is generated after irradiation of a sample with a high-energy laser. The spectrum emitted by plasma contains information about the elemental composition and is used in the LIBS method. During plasma decay, an aerosol forms by condensation of ablated particles and (the aerosol) can be father analysed, then we speak of the LA-ICP-MS method. As the laser interacts with the surface of the sample in the first phase, the whole process of laser ablation is affected by the properties of the surface. Our work is focused on understanding the physical processes accompanying laser ablation and the subsequent development of surface treatment that could improve the analytical capabilities of LIBS and LA-ICP-MS. As a surface modification we use the deposition of NPs, but also other surface treatments.

You are studying for a doctorate in the Advanced Materials and Nanosciences study program, but internationally. How did you get this opportunity? What do you appreciate most about it?

I got the opportunity thanks to Professor Jozef Kaiser, who is my thesis supervisor at CEITEC BUT. In cooperation with the University of Bari Aldo Moro, I work on my PhD under Cotutelle contract, both in Brno at CEITEC and in Italy, where professor Alessandro De Giacomo is my supervisor. Both of my supervisors are highly regarded experts in the field of LIBS. At the same time, I also continue my research collaboration with Masaryk University, where, in addition to the LIBS method, we study laser ablation from the perspective of LA-ICP-MS. What I appreciate most about this opportunity is that national and international cooperation has enabled me to gain experience working in different teams and with different devices. In addition, the connection of these research groups yielded a number of interesting ideas and results, which were published in high-ranked journals.

The LIBS2020 conference, where you received an award for your doctoral dissertation, eventually had to move from Kyoto, Japan, to a virtual online environment due to a coronavirus pandemic. How did the organizers handle it?

All lectures, poster sessions and coffee breaks took place online. The organizers also included a city tour, awards ceremony and even a party in the program. However, the big disadvantage of online conferencing remains that people cannot meet in person and make face-to-face contacts. Unfortunately, the discussion about research over coffee or a glass of wine cannot be replaced by a meeting via Zoom. The LIBS conference is held every two years and in 2022 should take place in Matera, Italy. I believe that it will be in the traditional form again.

During the conference, you received an award in the "The Best Ph.D. Award" category. What were the award criteria?

I received the award for the contribution of my doctoral thesis in the field of LIBS. I think the number of articles in journals with a relatively high impact factor and presentations at international conferences was decisive.

So what other conferences have you attended in the past, for example?

A series of conferences focused on LIBS. Before starting my doctoral studies, it was the EMSLIBS 2017 conference in Pisa, Italy, where I met the already mentioned my supervisor professor De Giacomo. A year later, I presented my poster at EWLA 2018 in Pau, France. I also had the opportunity to give the talks about my research results in 2019 at a workshop in Bari, Italy. Also in Mexico at the CSI XLI & I LAMLIBS conference, and at EMSLIBS 2019 in Brno, organized by Professor Kaiser and members of his research group Characterization of Materials and Advanced Coatings. That year I managed to attend a spectroscopic school in Florence called CHESS 2019, where my participation was supported by a grant.

Would you evaluate how a pandemic generally affects not only research but also study?

I think that, overall, 2020 is a very unfavourable year in this area, for everyone without exception. Virtually all conferences were either cancelled, moved or held online. For example, one of our articles won the Elsevier / Spectrochimica Acta Atomic Spectroscopy Award for the second best article published in Spectrochimica Acta Part B. Thanks to this award, I received an invited lecture at SciX 2020 to be held in the USA. Instead, I presented our article in a virtual environment. However, to point out something positive, thanks to the fact that the conference was eventually online, I was able to register for the LIBS2020 conference in Japan. This would not normally happen, as the travel costs associated with both events would not be covered by my junior specific research.

And how did the pandemic affect you personally?

In my case, I underwent a lockdown in the spring in Italy, when I couldn't even walk in front of the house. The only possible trip was to buy food and také out the garbage. I used this time to write a grant and to complete unfinished articles and evaluate measurements. In the fall, when work began to slowly return to normal, a second (even stronger) wave came, and no one knows, how long we will be able to continue pur work in laboratories. I hope at least I can go home for Christmas.



  • LA-ICP-MS = Laser Ablation Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry
  • LIBS = Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy

Author: Kateřina Vlková (edited by Craig Binding)


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