Zdeněk Farka, a junior researcher from the group of Petr Skládal at CEITEC MU, sheds light on his impressive research and talks about his long-term association with CEITEC.
Could you briefly tell us about your research?
My research belongs to analytical biochemistry. I am working on detection of various kinds of analytes, which include agents directly affecting human lives, e.g. developing sensors to detect Salmonella in milk, or cancer biomarkers in blood (prostate cancer). Primarily, as a principal investigator, I am studying a bacterial disease of honeybees (European foulbrood). I am developing a portable device, which could distinguish the healthy bees from the infected ones, eventually preventing spreading of the infection.
What are the reasons, which led you to this area of research?
In this area, one has an opportunity to engage in basic research, and at the same time has the room to develop practical applications with real-life impact. You can have a tangible outcome; which does not limit you only to publish scientific papers but renders you to solve the actual problems.
What are the driving forces that help you stay motivated as a person and also as a scientist?
Our research is helping people; this belief is a great motivation to move forward. And I am quite a competitive person, too.
Any childhood memory or idol that/who inspired you to be a scientist?
My mother is a chemist too! That’s a great motivation. Besides, the teachers at the grammar school (Gymnasium Brno-Řečkovice) were very motivating and helped us to build a scientific outlook.
During my 1st year Bachelor’s days, at the Biochemistry department, I got precious opportunity to work on a project in the lab of Petr Skládal, and since then I am working there. This was one of the biggest steps in my scientific life.
You are originally from Brno, right? What is so special about Brno? Tell me about your experience as a Brňák.
Yes, I was born here. I like the size of Brno; it’s just optimal! Brno is a very safe and young city, with countless students. It’s one of the ideal cities to pursue your studies or postdoctoral research.
Why did you choose CEITEC?
When I was deciding to enroll in a Ph.D. program, meanwhile, CEITEC introduced the new Ph.D. school. It is a very prestigious programme and they were accepting only a handful of students. The conditions were attractive, both in terms of salary and the level of science. The core facilities of CEITEC, which are of world standard, are the biggest benefit for me. Furthermore, the grant office is really helpful. I always receive valuable feedback from them, which not only polish the technical details but also refine scientific ideas.
Could you tell us more about the CEITEC Ph.D. school?
The Ph.D. programme is entirely in English; I had to regularly present my research in English; that is going to help me enormously in the long run and I am already taking advantage of it. Together with the technical skills I also picked up many soft skills (e.g. presentation skills, time-management) which are eminently beneficial for a researcher.
Does CEITEC support you to maintain a work-life balance?
CEITEC is making a huge effort to help the researchers maintain their work-life balance. CEITEC is frequently organising networking events (not only scientific meetings but also events like pub-quizzes or skiing trips), where you can meet fellow researchers and then it’s much easier to start some in-house collaborations. When you are asking for a Western Blot apparatus, you are asking a friend, not a stranger anymore!
CEITEC is a research consortium, how does its multidisciplinary approach help your research?
This is a big advantage. Our research is an amalgamation of Biology (work with microbes), Chemistry (modification of surfaces and biomolecules), and Engineering (production of the devices). On top of that, Prof. Skládal programmes the software for the devices, so you can see we have already put together a multidisciplinary research system. Additionally, we are collaborating with several groups at the CEITEC MU (Bioanalytical Instrumentation) and CEITEC BUT (Plasma Technologies, Materials Characterization, and Advanced Coatings), so this is an effective team-game.
What do you love to do when you step out of the research lab?
I love cycling and enjoy paddling around in nature.
However, at the top of my interest-list are cars. I am a fan of cars! I visited automobile museums all around the world, e.g. the Ferrari museum in Italy, and the BMW museum in Germany. Car races are also my passion, I was at the Monza circuit and at several other races.
But, as you know, car-racing is quite an expensive hobby. That’s why I switched to this racing wheel, which gives me the feeling of being an F1-driver. Notably, you are not risking your life using a car-simulator and it's dirt-cheap compared to owning a LaFerrari! And it’s fun!
You won the prestigious Young Scientist Award presented by the French Ambassador. How did that influence your professional and personal goals?
It feels great when mine and the whole team’s effort is appreciated. I want to thank Prof. Skládal and my colleagues from the bottom of my heart. The award also funded one-month research stay in France, which opens new doors for me.
As it’s considered one of the top prizes in our country, it gives me a huge motivation and pushes me to aim even higher in the coming future. It shapes me as a person and as a scientist with greater passion.
What are your further plans?
For a researcher, it’s always beneficial to go for a research stay abroad, which can enhance one’s technical expertise and also personal qualities.
We have a long-term collaboration with the University of Regensburg (Germany), which I am planning to visit again this year. In the meantime, I am also negotiating my postdoctoral stay abroad.
If everything works out, I would like to come back home as a group leader. I want to repay what CEITEC, Masaryk University, Brno, and the Czech Republic has provided me. I want to continue in the sphere of analytical chemistry in the future, especially focusing on the bioanalytical applications of the nanoparticles.
Any tips for the future PhDs?
Aim high, and never give up! Securing research grants could be tricky, but failure to achieve one grant does not invalidate your capability and the scientific question. Keep on trying, even though most of the times you will face innumerable hurdles, the success will be waiting for you just at the corner. So keep flowing!
Interview and editing by Somsuvro Basu
Photography by Emil Gallík
Publication date: 29.03.2019