This year, a young scientist of the Faculty of Chemical Technology, University of Pardubice, Dr. Ing. Jan Macák was the only one from the Czech Republic to win grant support in a challenging scientific European competition worth CZK 45 million to be used in a five-year project entitled "Towards New Generation of Solid-State Photovoltaic Cell: Harvesting Nanotubular and Titania Hybrid Chromophores", directing scientific research towards a new generation of hybrid photovoltaic cells.
The young scientist’s project succeeded in this year’s round of the challenging competition announced by the European Research Council (ERC) under Horizon 2020, allowing the development of the most popular disciplines and supporting excellent scientific research activities of young scientists through the so-called starting grants, in the case of Jan Macák’s project in the field of physical and material sciences (Starting Grants – PE – Physical Sciences & Engineering). This year, 3273 proposals were submitted to the competition of these "starting grants", of which only 328 projects by scientists of 38 nationalities from 180 institutions received European financial support. In the field of physical and material sciences, 1490 proposals were evaluated and one of 143 accepted for funding was the project of Jan Macák of the University of Pardubice, the only one from the Czech Republic.
Jan Macák has thus joined the prestigious top ten Czech scientists who have ever succeeded and received financial support for their scientific research in one of the five categories of projects announced by the European Research Council since 2007 when this European institution started supporting the next generation of top European scientists and development of bordering scientific disciplines with an extraordinary innovation potential for the future. Thus, the University of Pardubice is now one of the five research institutions in the Czech Republic, having joined the trio of universities of Prague and Brno where these scientists have been solving their research projects.
The multidisciplinary project by Jan Macák of the University of Pardubice brings a new concept of solar cells that combines titanium oxide nanotubes with suitable inorganic and organic chromophores, which is to efficiently convert solar energy into electricity. The project also aims to develop a suitable deposition method for precise surface finishing of nanotubes to extend their application usage.
The project deals with materials and processes from several various disciplines and fields of materials engineering, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry and physics that have not been explored and tested in this complex concept. Due to its complexity and multidisciplinary nature it will enable collaboration within a team of nearly a dozen young scientists and technical staff and significant cooperation is also expected with several foreign research institutions.
With his project, Dr. Jan Macák underwent challenging two-round evaluation by the European Research Council concluded by a successful interview in early October 2014 in Brussels. The European Research Council gave the highest "A" rating in both rounds to the project proposed by the Pardubice-based scientist within the framework of the "ERC - Starting Grants" program and awarded the investigator an amount of EUR 1.7 million, which is about CZK 45 million, for a five-year period to build an excellent scientific team and acquire unique experimental facilities to develop the proposed areas of research.
Dr. Macák explains its unique research: "With my team, I intend to study such materials the combination of which, if done properly, can lead to an entirely new type of highly efficient solar cell. As the project gives us an opportunity to acquire, by Czech standards, unique equipment for the deposition of atomic layers, I intend to primarily engage in surface treatment of titanium dioxide nanotubes, which are perfect material with extraordinary potential for a number of applications. We will also examine other material, such as inorganic and organic chromophores, on the basis of thin films, intensely absorbing solar radiation, which will be appropriately combined with nanotubes. Specific properties of the modified tubes therein will effectively ensure the process of converting light to electricity." And commenting on the possibilities of project results, he adds: "I expect our research to produce extraordinary results. Although it is rather a basic research project, I anticipate, in addition to a number of publications in prestigious scientific journals and presentations at international conferences, the possibility of commercial application of project outputs, for example in the photovoltaic industry, biotechnology and medicine."
Jana Macák’s new research team will find suitable facilities in the newly built Centre for Materials and Nanotechnology at the Faculty of Chemical Technology, now being created in the reconstruction of the court wing in the area of the University of Pardubice in the centre of the city at Čs. legií Square where chemical technology courses at the Pardubice higher education institution had its original facilities since the 1950s.
The success rate of project proposals in the category of the so-called "Starting Grants" (grants for young scientists), where 3000 to 4000 are annually submitted and in which Jan Macák of the University of Pardubice was the only one to succeed in the Czech Republic this year, is usually less than 10%. Since 2007, the ERC thus evaluated 50 000 project proposals in all five announced categories, of which about a tenth was chosen for funding. Since 2007, the funding has been granted to only 11 ERC projects submitted by scientists working on five research institutions in the Czech Republic. Thanks to Dr. Macák’s project, the University of Pardubice has become the fifth institution and the third public university hosting this type of prestigious projects.
Results of the 2014 competition of Starting Grants:
Information and contact:
Dr. Ing. Jan Macák
Centre for Materials and Nanotechnology
Faculty of Chemical Technology, University of Pardubice
Ing. Valerie Wágnerová
Chancellor - spokeswoman of the University of Pardubice
Phone 466 036 555