The 80th anniversary of the science and technology of explosives in Bohemia
The education in sciences and technologies of explosives started in Bohemia in 1920 at the “Institute of technology of explosives, essential oils, resins, rubber and lacquers, and blasting techniques”, whose head was Prof. Dr. Cyril Krauz. The Institute was a part of Prague Institute of Chemical Technology (VŠCHT Prague). The teaching was interrupted by German occupation of Czechoslovakia: the Czech universities and technical colleges were closed after November 17th, 1939. When, after the war, the education at universities and colleges was restarted, a section of “Technology of special production” was established as a part of Department of Organic Technology (Prof. Viktor Ettel, head of Department) in academic year 1952/1953. Dr. Ing. Josef Seifert, who was appointed head of the Section, used personal contacts at Pardubice to establish the Department of Special Production at the then Institute of Chemical Technology, Pardubice (he was employed at this Institute from February 2nd, 1953).
Before the above-mentioned activities in Prague and Pardubice, the Department of Explosives (K 102) was established at Military Technical Academy Brno in 1951, but this Academy was closed in 1958. From among the teachers of the Academy who affected the teaching at VŠCHT Pardubice too, we should remember the late Prof. Ing. Jaromír Šimeček, CSc. and Colonel Prof. Ing. Jindřich Foltýn, CSc.
The official time of foundation of Department of Special Production at VŠCHT Pardubice is September 1953. The renowned specialists, whom Dr. Ing. Seifert concentrated as external co-workers, notably included the reputable expert in the field of high explosives, Dr. Ing. Antonín Straka from Blanické strojírny (now Sellier & Bellot, Vlašim) and Prof. Dr. Ing. František Polanský, expert in ballistics from Military Technical Academy Brno. The first assistant professors of the Department were Ing. Jiří Denkstein (later associated professor), a graduate from the above-mentioned Section in Prague, and Ing. Milan Novotný (later associated professor), a graduate from inorganic technology at VŠCHT Prague. The beginnings of the Department were very difficult as regards both the allotted space (only two rooms) and realisation of laboratory training, which originally was planned to be placed “somewhere in Synthesia Comp.” After a series of conflicts with original users of the allotted laboratory in Synthesia and thanks to efforts of Dr. Ing. Straka, the first laboratory training was realised together with practical training in manufacturing plants at Blanické strojírny, where the students spent several weeks. The above-mentioned Company also provided room for elaboration of diploma projects of five undergraduates of the Department; the remaining 14 undergraduates worked on their diploma assignments in a small laboratory provided by the management of VŠCHT. On June 14th, 1954, i.e. before the first state examinations, Dr. Ing. Seifert suddenly died.
The newly appointed head of Department in 1954 was Ing. Jaroslav Pantoflíček (later full professor), an experienced expert in ballistics from Synthesia. From among the fresh graduates of the Department, Ing. Lubomír Kacetl, Ing. Vladimír Kadeřábek and Ing. Jaroslav Růžička became new lectors. At the same time, also the number of technicians increased, and further rooms were allotted to the Department, inclusive of laboratories, in the main building of VŠCHT. The basic line of scientific and pedagogical activities of the Department was specified by Prof, Pantoflíček, who established a new course of lectures, “Theory of explosives”, and appointed Ing. Milan Novotný and later on Ing. František Lébr as its teachers (the latter joined the Department in 1957, and in 1973-1981 was rector of VŠCHT). Starting from academic year 1955/1956, the lectures in “Technology of nitro compounds” were given by Ing. Denkstein, and lectures in technology of explosives based on nitrate esters were given by an external teacher, Dr. Ing. František Krejčí (from VÚPCH), who later joined the Department and became associated professor.
In 1959, activities began with respect to designing and preparation of building of Pavilion of special production VŠCHT (now Technological pavilion of FCHT). The original project involved firing range, press rooms and other objects connected with production of, and handling, explosives, but these were not built in the end. At that time, Ing. Vladimír Janda (former employee of VCHZ Synthesia and Chemoprojekt) joined the Department, and Prof. Pantoflíček charged him, as an experienced designer, with supervision of the building of pavilion.
In connection with nationwide activities in the area of development of technological procedures and means of civil blasting techniques (Dr. Ing. Straka was chairman of the corresponding committee) the Department started a four-term retraining (now licence) study program called “Rock disintegration by explosion” (it was run by Ing. Denkstein and Ing. Novotný). With regard to the fact that this important program met with a good response, it has been repeated in various organisational variants up to now. Serious disasters in manufacturing of nitroglycerin and explosives in VCHZ Synthesia, as well as other explosion disasters in industry elsewhere resulted in Ing. Denkstein and Ing. Novotný turning their attention to prevention of disasters of various types. This led to introduction and repetition of series of retraining (licence) courses called “Safety of production in chemical industry”, in which important organisational part was taken by Headquarters of Slovchémia Bratislava. In this way, another parallel research-pedagogical section was started – namely special subsection of safety engineering, which forms a part of the Department’s activities up to now (also a part of the subsequent licence study program called “Theory and technology of explosives”).
In the finished Pavilion of special production, only about two thirds of the second floor (the present rooms of Department) was allotted to the Department in 1963. On December 31st, 1965 the independent Department was dissolved and divided into two sections. The Section of physics of explosion was organisationally incorporated into Department of Chemical Engineering, and Prof. Pnatoflíček (who was also rector of VŠCHT in 1970-1973) was appointed its head. The section of chemical technology was incorporated into Department of Organic Technology (KTOL). A part of the teachers, namely Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ing. Krejčí, CSc., Ing. Kacetl, CSc., and Ing. Růžička, CSc., joined the Department of Chemical Technology of Fibrous Materials, others (Ing. Lébr, CSc., and Ing. Novotný, CSc.) joined the Department of Chemical Engineering, and in 1970 also Ing. Kadeřábek, CSc. left and joined the Department of Wood, Pulp and Papermaking. In November 1968, Ing. Stanislav Sedláček, CSc. (who graduated from the Department in 1966) joined the Section of physics of explosion, but he emigrated to Germany in November 1985. When Prof. Pantoflíček retired in March 1978, the Section of physics of explosion went into KTOL too, and Assoc. Prof. Ing. Milan Novotný, CSc., was appointed head of the combined workplaces dealing with explosives. After the above-mentioned dissolution of Department, the R&D activities were realised in the form of commercial contracts and expertises and were oriented predominantly to commercial explosives and protection against explosion. Only little of the results of these activities was published on regional conferences organised by the Association for Technology (DT), member of Czechoslovak Scientific-Technological Society (ČSVTS). Still existing results of these activities include the assortment of explosives called Danubit and, especially, the explosive of IInd category of mining safety, Harmonit AD, which is still manufactured in Istrochem PLC Bratislava. In connection with the above-said facts, in early 1980’s the most substantial equipment of the firing area in a wood close to the Technological pavilion was finished, namely the blasting hole, stores of explosives, and the building called “playhouse” (i.e. lodging units donated by the present Istrochem PLC Bratislava).
In March 1986, Ing. Boris Vetlický (later Assoc. Prof.), who had been director of VÚPCH for a long time, joined VŠCHT. Already at the end of the same year, the independent department was renewed under his leadership and named Department of Theory and Technology of Explosives (KTTV). Prof. Vetlický succeeded in getting long-term loans from industry and purchased some important instruments, and in cooperation with VÚPCH he purchased an explosion chamber and installed it in the firing area of the Department. Being an expert with worldwide reputation and manager of Czechoslovak industry of explosives, he tried to stop the Department being isolated from analogous workplaces abroad, which at that time above all meant analogous institutes of Academy of Sciences in USSR.
Having succeeded in open competition, Assoc. Prof. Ing. Jiří Denkstein, CSc. was appointed head of the Department in 1991, and Assoc. Prof. Ing. Svatopluk Zeman in 1994. The latter had graduated from the Department in 1996 and then had been working in the Slovak company Chemko Strážske till January 1993. Assoc. Professors Vetlický, Janda and Denkstein retired in 1994-1995, and in 1995 Assoc. Prof. Novotný died. In addition, two young assistant professors left the Department for Industry, and all that caused a serious crisis of the Department’s personnel. However, this could soon be overcome thanks to the constituted team of external experts teaching in the full-time study programs (now Ing. Tamchyna, CSc from Sindat Ltd, Assoc. Prof. Ing. Kusák from Prototypa-ZM Ltd, Prof. Ing. Popelínský, DrSc from VA Brno, Ing. Hanus, PhD from VTÚVM, Assoc. Prof. Vetlický, CSc – teacher emeritus, and Assoc. Prof. Ing. Ladislav Lehký, CSc from the division of Synthesia), and thanks to the fact that several young graduates from the Department expressed their interest in teaching profession (Ing. Marcela Jungová, Dr. Ing. Břetislav Janovský, and Ing. Miloslav Krupka): the Department not only got through the crisis without damage to its results and their quality, but also significantly increased the publication activities of its staff members. Also the PhD students of Department, whose number has not fallen below nine persons each year since 1995, significantly contributed to the overcoming of the crisis. In 1997 the Department took on Assist. Prof. Ing. Jiří Strnad (originally an expert in high explosives and igniting agents at Sellier & Bellot), and in 1998 Assoc. Prof. Pavel Vávra, CSc. (who before had worked as scientific researcher at VÚPCH for a long time).
As for the scientific-research activities of the Department after 1993, these were realised both as supplementary economical activities closely connected with needs of organs of state administration, industry (also Slovak industry) and/or Czech Army, and in the framework of grant projects of the Czech Grant Agency GA ČR (total volume of CZK 1,575,000) and Ministry of the Interior of the Czech Republic (total volume of CZK 1,975,000). The difficult economical situation of the Czech Republic seriously endangers not only the present research activities but, in connection with some legislative restrictions in the area of explosives and military materials, significantly complicates also the science-research cooperation of the Department with its counterparts abroad. In spite of that, there exist close contacts with Slovak industry of explosives, Slovak Army, and also developing is cooperation with scientific-pedagogical institutions dealing with energetic materials in Poland. It should be mentioned that there is also publishing and consulting cooperation with the corresponding Institutes of Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) and China Academy of Engineering Physics. In recent years, the Department has organised lectures for professional public, given by experts from Geoinform Szolnok, DRA Fort Halstead (UK), ICT Pfinztal and scientists from Institute of Chemical Physics, RAS. In November 1997, the Department took part in organising the NATO Advanced Research Workshop, and at present it is organising the 3rd seminar called “New Trends in Research of Energetic Materials”.
Since 1995, the interest of young people in studies (especially PhD studies) exceeds the Department’s capacity (rooms, instruments, personnel). In spite of the above-mentioned “ill fortune” in 1966-1986, since 1953 the Department has educated 294 MSc graduates (not only from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, but also from Afghanistan, Slovenia and Hungary) and 47 PhD graduates. The number of graduates from licence courses (including also specialists from Egypt) exceeds 250. The extent of studies similar to that at KTTV is also realised at Military Technical Academy Warsaw, Mendeleev University of Chemical Technology Moscow, University of Chemical Technology Kazan, and Polytechnic Institute in Sankt Petersburg. A limited extent of education is provided by Warsaw Polytechnic (only the technology of energetic materials) and Silesian Polytechnic (industrial explosives for underground mining). From the said facts it follows that in newly organised Europe the Department and its counterparts in Poland have real chances to educate specialist in the area of explosives to meet the needs of European companies and NATO organs. The practicability of such prospects can be documented e.g. by the HILTI Company’s interest (November 1999) in taking on a PhD graduate from the Department for the Company’s headquarters in Liechtenstein, or Prof. Thompson’s interest (Oklahoma State University, December 1999) in taking on PhD students or graduates from the Department in connection with his intention to extend the workplace of energetic materials at his Department of Chemistry.
Prepared by KTTV team of associate professors