The J. Heyrovský Institute receives a prestigious ERA Chair grant


The J. Heyrovský Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Czech Academy of Sciences has received funding from the ERA Chairs, a prestigious European research project aimed at elevating European scientific institutes to the ranks of the world’s best. The J. Heyrovský Institute of Physical Chemistry is only the second Czech scientific centre to be selected as a recipient of these funds. Overall, it will receive almost EUR 2.5 million (over CZK 60 million), which it is looking to use, among other things, to attract a world-renowned scientist. This person, who will be chosen in an international selection process, will subsequently put together a team to study chemical nanocatalysis at the J. Heyrovský Institute of Physical Chemistry.

PRAGUE – 2 May 2018

The goal of the ERA Chairs programme is to enable European institutes to hire first-class academics who can elevate specific research departments to the highest global level. Funding through this programme is disbursed mainly to scientific institutes in countries that joined the European Union after 2004. Luxembourg, Portugal, and eight other countries outside of the EU are also eligible to receive funds. The J. Heyrovský Institute of Physical Chemistry is only the second Czech institute to receive this type of funding. The other is CEITEC in Brno, which used its funds in 2014 to research RNA and immunity.

‘The ERA Chairs programme can overcome the main handicap faced by most institutes situated in Prague compared to other European capitals which are mainstays in scientific research. Salary levels are 70% lower compared to Germany, which is not very attractive for experienced researchers or even young scientists and post-graduates. Beginning in 1997, the year I came to the Institute, and probably even before then, it was difficult to attract world-class scientists to institutes in Prague for defined research projects. While our German colleagues can hire the best candidates for their projects, our institutions have to train their own researchers, which takes significantly longer. This slows down their scientific careers, a handicap that is one of the reasons for the low success rates of experimental research workers when applying for ERC advanced grants. OP R&D funding possibilities have already improved this situation in Brno, Olomouc, and other Czech cities, though not in Prague, which was excluded from these competitions,’ said Director Martin Hof of the J. Heyrovský Institute.

The J. Heyrovský Institute intends to use its grant to improve its scientific capacities, especially in the field of nanotechnology in response to growing international trends that have seen nanotechnology research receive greater attention; as such, the Institute is expanding its activities in this field. The grant will also allow scientists to develop their capabilities in the key area of chemical catalysis, in which the J. Heyrovský Institute is already an internationally respected authority.

‘Our specific expectations for the scientist we hope to hire with these funds were part of the project proposal for which we received the grant. In general, this person must be scientifically renowned and have relevant experience from top institutions abroad. In addition to introducing a new department and creating a new nanocatalysis team, they are to build on the Institute's other successful activities in the field of nanotechnologies and nanomaterials, thus expanding our scientific knowledge in these areas. All these factors are of paramount importance for the development of our Institute and for establishing ourselves among the top institutions in the world. The expectation that the J. Heyrovský chair will invest their entire capacity into working at the Institute and will fully identify with its goals is a key aspect of our project,’ said Jan Hrušák, project coordinator.

The selection process is currently being announced in leading scientific magazines and on professional websites. All suitable applicants will then undergo a two-round selection process. Hrušák expects the second round to include up to five of the most suitable applicants, who would then present their previous scientific experience in Prague. Finally, a panel of international experts will be tasked with selecting the most suitable candidate. The project also includes five external associates for the newly created team. Czech candidates are also encouraged to apply. Job interviews and hiring for these positions should occur simultaneously with the recruitment process for the lead position. Moreover, the J. Heyrovský Institute has also released additional personnel and its own financial resources for rebuilding laboratories and purchasing equipment.

‘We expect the recruitment process to conclude at the beginning of July, which is when the funding should begin according to the grant agreement. We’re trying to speed the process up a little bit, as most other selected ERA Chairs projects won’t start until September,’ Hrušák added.

Over 100 projects applied for ERA Chair grants, 96 of which were evaluated. The J. Heyrovský Institute is one of thirteen institutions to successfully receive funding, and other grants were awarded to applicants from Luxembourg, Portugal, Poland and Slovakia. With four grant awards, Estonia was the most successful country. Data was provided by the Technology Centre of the Czech Academy of Science.  

Author: Klára Conková, PR.Konektor