7 Scientists to Accept the Neuron Award for Contribution to Science

7 Scientists Who Have Changed the Future to Accept the Neuron Award for Contribution to Science

They could see farther and they were ahead of their time. It required intuition and determination. Seven scientists who have become role models and inspiration for younger generations of scientists will meet December 6, 2017 in Prague to accept the Neuron Award for Contribution to Science. The Neuron Fund has been awarding accomplished Czech scientists for eight years.

Press release ~ Prague ~ Nov 20, 2017 

“It is our great honor to be able to recognize seven respected Czech scientists who have made their mark on the history of science and become role models for younger generations of scientists and the rest of us. We are also excited to be able to support ambitious projects of talented young scientists who have the best chance to push the frontiers of knowledge,” says Monika Vondráková, Neuron’s co-founder and Governing Board Chair. “The Science Advisory Board selected accomplished scientists and fifteen young researchers who have just started out and Neuron tries to make their beautiful and difficult career path a little easier. This would be impossible without the benefactors who donate considerable amounts to the Fund every year. We are very grateful to all of them,” adds Professor Pavel Hobza, Governing Board Vice Chair and science guarantor. Since its founding, Neuron has supported science with CZK 51 million. The Neuron Awards take place for the eighth time this year.

“Few of us can fully understand all the intricacies of research conducted by our laureates. But we can all see their resilience, determination, unique ways of thinking or the scope of their knowledge. Their individual stories speak volumes about the intersection of the abstract and everyday world and about the courage it takes to carry on when nobody believes in you. Or about the need to give up science when your principles are at stake,” says Hana Křepelková Rezková, Neuron’s Managing Director. 

Neuron Laureates 2017
The Award for Contribution to Science

chemistry – professor Emil Paleček
social sciences – professor František Šmahel
biology – professor Josef Svoboda
physics – professor Martin Roček
medicine – professor Otto Hrodek
computer science – professor Pavel Pudlák
mathematics – professor Vladimír Šverák

Emil Paleček
Neuron Laureate 2017 – chemistry

“At the time, genetics was a forbidden word. Only Jaroslav Heyrovský would tell me: ‘You must persevere and carry on.’ I started something others would pursue ten years later. It took both intuition and determination.”

Just a half century ago, nobody could imagine that DNA could be read using electrochemical analysis. This groundbreaking discovery was made by Emil Paleček. His discovery then gave birth to a new scientific field. All despite the fact that genetics was banned from universities and many of his colleagues did not even know what DNA was. Paleček focuses on biophysical chemistry and he prefers working Saturdays when nobody disturbs him. His colleagues say he is both kind and stubborn. Perhaps that is why ten years ago, at the age of 77, he came up with another important discovery – this time involving the detection of the potential onset of cancer. He continues his research, building on the foundations he himself established fifty years ago. 


František Šmahel
Neuron Laureate 2017 – social sciences

“Instead of studying abroad, I started working as a miner and spent my best years as a tram driver. I might have achieved more but I liked every job I had.”

František Šmahel showed tenacity even as a young man. Before studying history at university, he took a temporary job as a coal miner in Ostrava. Although he maintained academic contacts in Paris and was offered a scholarship from Columbia University, he was forced to quit academic pursuits and for many years worked as a tram driver. This could be why his contribution to our understanding of history is so unique. The scope of his research is truly wide-ranging and unparalleled, having made major contributions to Hussitism and Reformation. One would be hard pressed to find a greater expert in his field, even though he resumed his research only after 1989.

Josef Svoboda
Neuron Laureate 2017 – biology

“The high Arctic region resembles a lunar landscape. There could even be some similarity to the gulag in Jáchymov – eating canned food from aluminum bowls, no shower, oil barrel toilet. And terrible cold.” 

At first glance, the Arctic really looks like a lunar landscape. Well used to harsh climates, Josef Svoboda made it the focus of his research to find out how plants and life can thrive in this region. He studied biology only after a lot of tribulations – he was jailed for 8 ½ years for anti-regime political activities. Still, he did not become bitter, and although he started university after the age of thirty, his polar experiments helped to establish Arctic plant ecology. It is thanks to Svoboda that Czechs are so well-respected in environmental research in the polar regions of the high Arctic and Antarctica.

Pavel Pudlák
Neuron Laureate 2017 – computer science

“I once had a brilliant idea just as I was changing from bus to tram at the Střešovice depot. Young people today would program everything. But I like to remind them: Don’t be lazy and think.”

Pavel Pudlák focuses on theoretical computer science and his key work is grounded in the interface between logic and computational complexity. He is fascinated by problems that are easy to define yet difficult to solve. He says he is like a machine that runs on coffee and spits out mathematical expressions. In fact, he is a math genius for the way he thinks. He came up with his first famous theory shortly after completing compulsory army service but his career has since had several major peaks where others might have just one. He is a recipient of the prestigious ERC Advanced Investigator Grant, one of only six Czech scientists to have won the distinction.

Vladimír Šverák
Neuron Laureate 2017 – mathematics

“I try to understand the motion of water from a mathematical perspective. The equations describing the motion are classical and are used all the time in computer simulations. However, our mathematical understanding of them is limited, in spite of great works of many mathematicians, some of it going back into the 19th century. A better mathematical understanding of the equations might also be important also for practical purposes, such as designing good algorithms for computer simulations."

Water is one of the basic essentials of life on Earth. Yet its flow is still something of a mystery that is included in the Millennium Prize Problems, a list of seven major mathematical problems selected by the Clay Mathematics Institute. Vladimír Šverák has worked on the problem since the 1990s, and together with his collaborators, clarified some important open questions about the equations. Prior to his work on fluid flows, he worked on classical problems in the Calculus of Variations, and he received awards for his results in that area. He works at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. 

Otto Hrodek
Neuron Laureate 2017 – medicine

“Back then, sooner or later all of the kids died. It was awful. I kept telling myself we had to eventually succeed, and this belief gave me strength and hope.”

In the 1950s, leukemia was invariably fatal. Caring for others became Otto Hrodek’s mission when he was still young. His plans to attend medical college were disrupted by the war. As soon as it ended, he set out from Vysočina to Prague to stand in line and enroll. He studied leukemia in Paris and when he came back, he knew he would dedicate his career to this field. Hrodek soon understood that improvement would require a system of specialized medical centers. He is the founder of Czech pediatric hematology that saves hundreds of lives each year. The early results were astounding – they were able to cure 65% of their patients. At the end of the 1980s, he transplanted bone marrow for the first time – the patient is still doing well.

Martin Roček
Neuron Laureate 2017 – physics

“I try to use intuition for physics in mathematics and, in infinitesimal distances, understand how the world works.”

Martin Roček is among the most renowned researchers in supersymmetry. His work is on such a level of abstraction that it offers a glimpse of the nature of life, space and infinity. If you can imagine a nuclear fission reaction, that would be a very small amount of energy compared to Roček’s field of research. He focuses on infinitely large amounts of energy, well beyond the scope of nuclear physics and nuclear weapons. He entered the free world as a six-year-old when he jumped from a cruise ship into the cold sea off the coast of Denmark.    

About Neuron Award

Each year, the Neuron Award for Contribution to Science is presented to notable and outstanding Czech scientists working in the Czech Republic or abroad who have achieved success in their respective fields and who are role models and inspiration for younger generations of scientists.

The Neuron Awards are presented in biology, computer science, physics, chemistry, mathematics, medicine and social sciences.  


Neuron Fund

At Neuron we believe that science drives our development and that the work of Czech scientists can improve the quality of life for all. By supporting science and research, we take our share of responsibility for shaping our future. We don’t receive any form of state funding. Our work is funded by private benefactors – successful people who work with Neuron to support talented Czech scientists. Our independent science board includes top experts for each field we support. 

For more information please reach Lada Brůnová:
lada.brunova@nfneuron.cz nebo +420 739 659 456