1 febbraio - 19 maggio

NPI Rez/Prague, Czech Republic

Q: Please send us a short presentation of you including, if possible, a picture.

My name is Jiri Mares. I was born in Prague in the last century. I studied physics at Charles University, Prague. I defended PhD thesis on "Calculations of hypernuclei" (supervisor Jan Zofka) at Nuclear Physics Institute, Rez/Prague. I spent 2 years as a research fellow at TRIUMF, Vancouver, Canada. Then I was offered a position of a research scientist in the Department of Theoretical Physics at Nuclear Physics Institute, Rez/Prague. At present, I am the head of the group "Hadrons and Baryonic Systems", which consists of 5 staff members, 1 postdoctoral fellow and 6 students.

Q: What are you working at now and what are your ambitions or expectations?

I study interactions of hadrons with non-zero strangeness (hyperons, kaons) with nuclear matter. At present, I calculate properties of bound nuclear systems with antikaons - so called kaonic nuclei. These systems and their possible properties have been subject to many discussions among physicists since recently. The study of the behavior of (anti)kaons in the nuclear medium enables us to test various models of strong interaction among particles. It is expected to bring new information about the composition of dense baryonic matter, which is realized in neutron stars or in heavy-ion collisions. I believe that experimentalists together with theorists will soon resolve the question of kaonic nuclei and thus enrich our knowledge of the (anti)kaon-nucleus interaction. My ambition at this moment is to contribute meaningfully to this joint effort.

Q: How and for what reason was your interest for physics born? Which characters have influenced this choice? What is the most beautiful memory of your life as a student?

I have been always curious to know how the world around us functions and what is behind. My father, who is an electro-engineer, was patient enough to talk about these questions with me and also with my grand-uncle, a curious old wise man, who was educated in Vienna at the beginning of the 20th century. I admired my father and I decided that I also would like to know the answer to any question. Later, I had very good teachers of physics and mathematics at the junior school, who significantly influenced my choice.
One of the most beautiful memories of my life as a student is connected with our "Indian-Summer School of Physics". As a PhD student I decided with my 2 PhD colleagues to start organizing a school of physics for ourselves and other students. We invited prominent physicists from abroad and students from our, as well as foreign universities. We arranged accommodation, board and conference room, we took care about the budget. The lecturers were quite surprised when they came and realized that the organizers were mere PhD students. But the school came out very successfully. And since then we have been organizing our school of physics regularly every year. The 22nd Indian-Summer School of Physics takes place this September (2010).

Q: Which difficulties did you have to deal with in your career? What has given you the strength to carry on? Which was the most significant event of  your career?

There were several significant events that influenced my career: the choice of a right high school oriented to mathematics and physics, the choice of a faculty, university. But probably the most important was the right choice of the Master's and PhD supervisor, Jan Zofka, who determined the direction of my future study (strangeness nuclear physics) and the orientation of my career. Unfortunately, he died too young before I have finished my PhD thesis. I succeeded to overcome this difficulty thanks to my colleagues at the Department of Theoretical Physics.
Otherwise, I must admit that I have been lucky because I have not encountered really serious difficulties so far (I do not consider here standard problems of young families, such as lack of money, searching for an apartment).

Q: Which do you believe will be the next discovery in physics, and how this might contribute in changing our lives?

Physicists usually believe that the "planned" detection of the Higgs boson or dark matter or supersymmetric particles at the new collider LHC at CERN would be the next great discovery in physics. No doubt, these would be fundamental discoveries with large impact to our understanding of Nature. However, history teaches us that really new discoveries were quite often made unexpectedly. So, let's look forward to a surprise.

Q: In your opinion, what has been the biggest discovery in physics and who has been your "reference-scientist"?

I do not like questions like: "What/who is the most important/biggest/ best....?" Our knowledge of Nature and its laws is a result of a work of many scientists, physicists, chemists, biologists, mathematicians, who contributed to the mosaic of our current understanding of the world around us. Each period in the history of natural sciences, each field in physics had their great, bright minds, whose names we can find in textbooks. It is hard to judge who was the biggest physicist, which discovery was the most important. Moreover, many discoveries were often a product of a particular climate in the society and scientific community. I have several reference-physicists: my late supervisor, Jan Zofka, and my long-time good friends and collaborators, Avraham Gal and Eli Friedman.

Q: What characterizes research workplace and how is scientific collaboration organized?

I have no experience with a work within a large collaboration with hundreds or even thousands of scientists, such as STAR at BNL (USA) or ATLAS and ALICE at LHC (CERN). Theorists work in much smaller groups, which have just a few members. Some of them, like my colleague who is a mathematical physicist, work quite often alone. In our group we work on several subjects - sometimes together with some other members of the group, often with our foreign colleagues, theorists as well as experimentalists.
Each member of such a collaboration has its own particular task in which his skills and virtues are employed. We expect our students to participate in the work of the group right from the beginning and give them concrete problems to solve. Collaboration in our case means discussing problems and their solutions, asking again and again questions, checking results, discussing their meaning and their interpretation. Our workplace can be characterized by a table with PC or a terminal of a larger computer and shelves with books and papers. But we often think about our problems and work at home, on the way to and from work, during our free time.

Q: Considering the crisis of inscriptions in scientific faculties, which do you retain are the reasons of the gap between young people and scientific studies and what may the world of research do in order to change this trend?

I find a great problem that very often one is forced to make decisions too early, before he gets enough information to be able to make responsible decision. Children (and their parents) have to choose a type of school, university, and their choice is influenced to a large extent by good/bad examples either in their neighborhood (teachers, friends) or in media (internet, TV, press). I know from my own experience how important are these examples. The scientific community should therefore approach in time these young people and give them good examples. We should be more active in showing the beauty of sciences and the adventure of research, in presenting our work and results in a popular way to public via media but also directly, e.g., by seminars and lectures at high schools. Some of my colleagues write regularly popular articles on nuclear and particle physics, and astronomy on their own web pages. They patiently answer readers their questions. These pages became quite popular and we already see the result of this promotion of science. The number of students coming to our institute has increased last years.
Of course, we cannot compete with faculties of law, economics, management, etc., in the number of students. The study of sciences is quite hard and, in a way, also time-consuming. You cannot do it just for money. After getting diploma, you are expected to spend another 3-4 years by PhD studies. At the time when your friends get good, well-payed positions and permanent jobs, you are at the beginning of a scientific career, looking for a post-doctoral position (usually for 3 years).
On the other hand, when you decide to take this course, you get enough satisfaction: you often do work, which you like and which is your hobby, your work is not routine but quite diverse, you contribute to forwarding our knowledge of Nature and, in some sense, you help indirectly to improve our lives.

Q: How can a scientist be defined and how do talent, intuition and study influence his profession?

There are many definitions of a scientist (see, e.g., internet). On the www pages of NASA I found the following definition: "Scientists use systematic methods to study the world around them. They use an organized approach to observe and study the world. They ask questions, look for patterns, and try to find general rules for the natural world." (
I could add that a scientist should be curious, intelligent, patient, fair, honest, unbiased.
It is quite natural that children of a certain age ask their parents and grand-parents questions:"Why ...? How...?" When they get older, in adolescence, they start writing poetry or start playing/composing music. Scientists, writers and musicians are those who retain these affections from childhood for the rest of the live.
Talent, intuition and study should be in a right proportion in the scientific profession. Fortunately, we form scientific collaborations, which allow us to set up the right, optimal proportion in the research team.

Q: How do you spend your free time?

I am happy that I could consider time spent at work, or at least a part of it, also a part of my free time since I do what I like to do. I like to do sport twice a week in the evening and during weekends.
I play regularly football and ice-hockey, I like swimming, skiing,
biking and hiking. I find very pleasant and relaxing to work in the garden. Thanks to living in Prague, I can go quite regularly to concerts of classical music, theaters and art exhibitions.

Q: In this period of economic crisis, how do you see the future of research and what do you think about the employment of nuclear energy for energetic aims?

I believe that responsible politicians have already realized that the money invested in research and science are not lost or thrown away, but wisely invested in our future prosperity. However, resources are limited. It is therefore our duty to formulate our research priorities and to show and explain to the politicians and the whole society what we can offer them, what they get for their money.
Nuclear power is the largest source of emission-free energy and we could hardly live without it. Nuclear power-plants do not produce sulfur, greenhouse gases, they do not pollute the air. They thus help to preserve climate on Earth. Nuclear waste, a false argument of the anti-nuclear propaganda, ceases to be a technical problem. Reprocessing of nuclear fuel will enable us to transfer that waste into another source of energy.