The news that Slovenia is #21 on Bloomberg’s 2020 Innovation Index, with its rise over the last 12 months due to strong patent performance, is a reminder that there’s a lot more to the country than tourism and cultural heritage. Perhaps to the surprise of visitors who only make it to Bled and Ljubljana Old Town, Slovenia is a modern country with a broad-based economy, its position strengthened by the many research projects its scientists are involved in.
In case you missed them the first time round, here’s a brief review of some of the developments and discoveries we’ve noted on TSN over the last year or so.
A Slovene team has developed a tandem solar cell that transforms solar energy into electricity in the most efficient manner seen to date, an important step towards photovoltaics becoming more competitive in power production.
The move to renewable energy will require new kinds of devices to store the power produced, and, Slovenian researchers are working on batteries that could end the need to mine certain minerals outside of Europe, as well as on aluminium batteries that have a greater capacity that current ones, and also contain less damaging and more readily available materials.
However, no matter what developments there are in terms of renewables, climate change is already having an impact on the environment. One sign of this is the proliferation of jellyfish blooms in the Adriatic and elsewhere. Such infestations are inspiring researchers to look for new ways to use an oversupply of jellyfish – as food, as fertilizer, and, in Slovene/Israeli project, as a way to remove microplastics from the oceans. To achieve this the project is developing a filter that makes use of jellyfish mucus to trap the tiny pieces of pollution.
Of course, the future will be dominated by computers that are becoming ever faster, smaller and smarter, and here Slovenia also plays a part. For one, UNESCO is sponsoring a global AI research centre that will be based in Ljubljana. For another the Jožef Stefan Institute (JSI - Institut "Jozef Stefan”) and a team from Switzerland have confirmed the existence of two kinds of atypical anyon quasiparticles in a special kind of quantum magnet, Ruthenium(III) chloride – said to be a key step towards the creation of a topological quantum computer. The JSI is the country’s leading research centre, and last year researchers working there discovered an entirely new kind of matter based on “electron jamming”, one that as yet cannot be understood with existing physics.
Source: Wikimedia Doc James CC-by-SA-4.0
Turning to the life sciences, researchers at the Ljubljana Faculty of Medicine, the biomedical centre Celica and the National Institute of Chemistry, discovered a new molecular mechanism of action in ketamine that has potential for the development of fast-acting antidepressants. While a team involving Slovenians also published a ground-breaking cell differentiation paper that could help revolutionise personalised regenerative medicine and the use of stem cells. Another cutting edge cell technology is the CRISPR gene-editing technique, with researchers at the JSI working on new applications for this.
Another medical discovery, one that draws on one of the country’s most famous animals, is the decoding of the olm’s genome, with this creature perhaps better known as the “human fish” or proteus. Among the olm’s remarkable attributes are the ability to live up to 100 years, to survive (and thrive) for long periods without food, to overeat with damage to its organs, and regenerate lost limbs.
Moving from the karst to the coast, a team based in Piran watched the dolphins in the bay and learned that they share the area based on time, not space. Finally, the humble bumble bee, one of the world’s most important pollinators and another icon of Slovenia (in the form of the Carniolan Grey), has also attracted the attention of the Jožef Stefan Institute. A team there has applied machine learning to help understand the sounds the bees make, and the importance of temperature for their colonies.
You can find more discoveries, inventions and achievements in our section Made in Slovenia.
The National Institute of Chemistry reported last week that it has acquired a new European project, NAIMA (Na-ion materials as essential components to manufacture robust battery cells for non-automotive applications), in which it will participate as a partner in the development of new sodium-ion batteries.
The NAIMA project aims to demonstrate the cost efficiency and robustness of sodium-ion batteries and prove them to be one of the best alternatives to the current lithium-based systems of energy storage. The new energy storage solutions would address the current problems of lithium-ion batteries, mostly produced in Asia, and allow for the localization of the entire chain of production. The main problems with lithium-ion batteries are in the scarcity of materials and sometimes safety, when flammable electrolytes are used in high energy density appliances.
The new EU-funded NAIMA project was kickstarted in Amiens, France and awarded a Horizon2020 programme grant of almost €8 million by the European Commission. The duration of the programme will be 36 months, having started December 1, 2019.
The project will test six prototypes of Na-ion batteries in three different business scenarios. These scenarios will provide concrete evidence of the technology's competitiveness in three real-world settings – renewable production, industry and households.
New carbon materials will be developed at the Department of Materials Chemistry of the National Institute of Chemistry for use in prototype anodes of Na-ion batteries.
Euronews reports that Slovenian researchers at the National Institute of Biology (Nacionalni inštitut za Biologijo), working in cooperation with a team from Israel, are developing a way to remove microplastic particles from the oceans – using jellyfish mucus. The gelatinous mucus, which the jellyfish secrete when under stress, is being used to develop a TRL 5-6 prototype microplastics filter that could, if successful, could be one approach to reduce sea pollution.
Slovenia is especially well-suited for such work, as the Adriatic often suffers from “jellyfish blooms”, destructive invasions of these simple yet fascinating creatures, caused by climate change and overfishing.
The work, which is funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 initiative, is part of the broader GoJelly project, which is also examining the use of jellyfish, caught or farmed, in agricultural fertilisers – due to the high levels of phosphate, nitrogen and potassium they contain – and as a food, with jellyfish already consumed in parts of Asia (see the related papers “Mediterranean jellyfish as novel food: effects of thermal processing on antioxidant, phenolic, and protein contents” and “The attitudes of Italian consumers towards jellyfish as novel food”).
BTS, also known as Bangtan Boys, is a Korean boy band of enormous global popularity, second on the list of the IFPI best-selling artists in 2018, just after Drake and in front of, well, everyone else.
With their latest music video release, ahead of the upcoming new album, BTS have made a sharp and bold break with the usual K-pop style of music, and especially video, by leaving the stage to the Slovenian MN Dance Company from Nova Gorica, which choreographed a dance film to a version of the group’s new song, Black Swan, with an orchestral background. The location of the film appears to be at the abandoned Hawthorne Mall in California.
On its fourth day of release the video is already approaching 22 million views and seems to have been very well received by the group’s fans. Even the band members themselves appeared surprised by artistic quality of the final product when they saw it for the first time just before its release.
The dancers in the video, as well as the choreography, are from a relatively small dance company from Nova Gorica, Slovenia. MN Dance Company, as it is called, was established in 2008 by the artistic directors Michal Rynia and Nastja Bremec Rynia, who are also responsible for the group’s distinctive choreographic style and its global presence.
At the company’s website we read that “lately, the company has been creating pieces for Slovene National Theatre Nova Gorica, Opera and Ballet Ljubljana, Cankarjev dom Ljubljana, Opera Graz, Theatre Rotterdam, CODARTS Rotterdam Dance Academy, International Storytelling Festival Austria, DAP Festival Italy…” and as we’ve just learned, BTS latest music video as well.
For more on NM Dance Company, Please click here.
Related: 레드벨벳 in Slovenia (Video)
Slovenia rose 10 places to #21 in Bloomberg’s 2020 Innovation Index, between Australia and Canada, with this year’s list headed by Germany, ending South Korea’s six-year run at the top, the Asian nation now at #2, with Singapore at #3.
The index is based on dozens of criteria under seven broad headings: R&D intensity, manufacturing value-added, productivity, high-tech density, tertiary efficiency (enrollment in tertiary education, percentage of the workforce with degree and the number of STEM graduates), researcher concentration and patent activity. It’s this last category where Slovenia excelled in the last 12 months, enabling it to leap ahead of such countries and territories as Canada (22), Iceland (23), Luxembourg (31), Estonia (36) and Hong Kong (39).
Notably, Slovenia is the highest ranked of the former communist or socialist states – with the next being the Czech Republic at 24, although note that China, operating under a self-proclaimed system of “socialism with Chinese characteristics”, is at 5. Slovenia is also the only member of the former Yugoslavia to appear in the top 60. More details on the list can be found here, while the top 21 are listed below.
STA, 15 January 2020 - Photographer Stojan Kerbler, and ballet dancer and choreographer Milko Šparemblek have been declared the winners of this year's Prešeren Prizes, Slovenia's top accolades for lifetime accomplishments in the arts.
Kerbler, 81, is being honoured for his body of photographic work, "a magnificent fresco of the life of the Haloze people", a "value of national importance that professional and lay public can agree on", the Prešeren Fund Committee said in announcing the winners on Wednesday.
Stojan Kerbler. Wikimedia - Srecko Trstenjak CC-by-4.0
"Unpretentiously, with his modesty, love and responsibility for the fellow human being, Kerbler has set high standards of pure black-and-white analogous photography, establishing a reference point for humanistic photographic sensibility and aesthetics even for generations to come," said the committee.
Kerbler, who hails from Ptuj, has never sought his motifs around the globe, never photographed excess situations. Rather, he has caught in the lens the unforgettable, warm images of the inevitable flow of everyday life, winning acclaim at home and abroad for his 'spectacle de la vie quotidienne'.
At 91 years of age, Šparemblek is the oldest still working choreographer in the world. Spanning seven decades, his oeuvre comprises more than 150 ballet, opera and theatrical productions for 45 theatres worldwide, heard the winners-announcing event at the Ljubljana opera house.
Milko Šparemblek. Screenshot
"Milko Šparemblek is a charismatic man and artist who leads us as creators and viewers reliably and joyfully from the labyrinths of the world into the embrace of our own hearts," said the committee in the justification.
Šparemblek, who was born in Koroška in the north of Slovenia, but lives in Croatia's Zagreb, where he graduated in comparative literature and completed a ballet high school before pursuing further education in Paris and New York, is seen as one in a generation of artists of global renown whose work has led to a change in thinking about dance in modern times.
In their first reactions to the honour for the STA, Kerbler said that he understood the prize as recognition for classic auteur photography and Slovenian photography in general, while Šparemblek said winning the Prešeren Prize meant "you are being recognised, remembered, not forgotten".
The Prešeren Fund Prizes for achievements in the past three years go to graphic designer Nejc Prah, actress Nina Ivanišin, composer and accordionist Luka Juhart, film director Rok Biček, translator Suzana Koncut and costume designer Alan Hranitelj.
Ivanišin, a member of the ensemble of the SNG Drama Ljubljana theatre, is being honoured for her roles of female heroines Antigone, Francka, Nežka and Agata Schwarzkobler and for her freelance projects, and Koncut for her translations of French fiction and theory over the past three years.
Juhart won the recognition for achievements in the past three years, including his composition Unleashed, and Biček for The Family, his monumental 2017 feature-length documentary about a dysfunctional family of people with special needs that he followed for more than a decade.
Prah won over the jurors with the visual image of the 33rd Graphic Biennial, promotional material for a series of experimental concerts and his independent exhibition, while Hranitelj is being honoured for Parallel Worlds of Alan Hranitelj, a 2019 exhibition showcasing some of his major costumes from his career.
"Each year, the prizes provide an opportunity to show what our arts and culture are capable of. We definitely reach all the way to the starts," Culture Minister Zoran Poznič said in his address to the winners-announcing event.
Coming with a prize money of EUR 21,000 for lifetime achievement and EUR 7,000 for individual accomplishments, the prizes will be presented on 7 February, the eve of Culture Day, a national holiday commemorating the death of Romantic poet France Prešeren (1800-1849).
STA, 13 January 2020 - A senior Chemistry Institute researcher has received a EUR 150,000 follow-up grant from the European Research Council (ERC) to develop applications for a novel gene-editing method that had been discovered as part of an earlier ERC grant.
Roman Jerala, the head of the Chemistry Institute's synthetic biology department, had received the prestigious EUR 2.5 million ERC advanced grant for protein research in 2018 and his team have already discovered a novel way to use the popular CRISPR gene editing technique.
The new proof of concept grant that he received now is meant to facilitate the transfer of these scientific findings into practice, for forging partnerships, and for the initial phase of commercial deployment.
Last year the Chemistry Institute submitted a patent application for the improved CRISPR method, now the researchers plan to develop technologies for biotechnical use in plants, microorganisms and mammal cells.
The new project is called CCEdit and will last 12-18 months in cooperation with researchers from Oxford University and Cambridge University, links that are expected to improve the commercial potential of the technique.
Cell and gene therapy is one of the fastest-growing areas of medicine and provides new avenues for treatment of the most difficult diseases, including cancer.
Klemen Slakonja, the most successful Slovenian YouTuber, just came out with another potential hit. After a collection of music videos in which he impersonates famous people singing, his latest gem comes in a form of a tourist ad for Slovenia, presented by the American First Lady, Melania Trump.
Slakonja, who is an actor by profession, looks stunning while introducing Slovenia’s main tourist attractions, Melania’s home town of Sevnica included.
Last month Klemen Slakonja posted his new music video featuring Luka Dončić and Drake, which has since gathered close to a million views. His most popular YouTube video so far, with 28 million views, remains Putin Putout, posted in February 2016.
STA, 9 January 2020 - Jadran Lenarčič, the director of the Jožef Stefan Institute, the country's top research institution, was declared the Person of the Year 2019 by the newspaper publisher Delo as the award ceremony was held in Cankarjev Dom on Thursday evening.
Lenarčič is the long-serving head of Slovenia's largest and most important scientific institution, who has been successfully managing 500 doctors of science "who create the future of our country", the award jury said.
As a scientist, he is one of the pioneers in robot kinematics, biorobotics and humanoid robots, and today is among the most appreciated authors and lecturers in this scientific field, it added.
In the past year, Lenarčič held lectures at the Academy of Sciences of the Institute of Bologna and, as a member of a task force of the European Commission, participated in the drafting of a document on promising technologies.
Lenarčič, who was picked among ten nominees by Delo readers and editors, was also decorated with the insignia of chevalier in the French National Order of Merit in 2019.
He knows "how to listen to inspiration, which is the most important guide for him, because he says that ratio keeps a person in the same place, while it is only possible to take a step into the unknown with imagination."
Addressing the ceremony, which was attended by Prime Minister Marjan Šarec, the award winner said he was glad that the title had been given to a scientist, and that he was a scientist at heart.
Lenarčič said that the Jožef Stefan Institute was a symbol of Slovenian science, research, technological progress, innovation and creativity and bore the name of "one of the greatest physicists of in history of mankind".
"Slovenia is small ... and we will be successful only if we are open, if we exchange and compete with people outside our borders," he said, adding that "science is like a parachute - it works if it is open."
He concluded by saying what he had told the prime minister as he visited the institute two months ago - "investing in science is not cheap, but it is not the most expensive thing in the world, not investing is science is."
Šarec said prior to the announcement that being the person of the year was an honour and responsibility. "This person must be aware that people follow them and admire them," he added.
Lenarčič succeeds Uroš Ahčan and Vojko Didanovič, the first surgeons to complete a full nose reconstruction from own tissue, who were declared the Person of the Year by Delo last year.
You can learn more about the Jožef Stefan Institute here.
STA, 8 January 2020 - The Female Engineer of the Year title for 2019 went to Aida Kamišalić Latifić, a researcher and professor at the Maribor Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Informatics, as the award ceremony was held on Wednesday in the Cankarjev Dom arts centre. Kamišalić Latifić came to Slovenia as a Bosnian war refugee in 1992.
The judging panel considers the winner's life story "an inspiration for the young, encouraging them to follow their engineering dreams - even if the circumstances in which they dream are challenging".
Kamišalić Latifić's life motto is "they can take everything away from you, except knowledge". She already excelled as a student, receiving the faculty's commendation for her research work. In 2014, she acquired a doctoral degree in computer science and informatics.
Tisti, ki so jim blizu matematika, fizika, kemija, naj si upajo sanjati o takšnih poklicih, otrokom, ki se odločajo o svojem poklicu, sporoča inženirka leta 2019 dr. Aida Kamišalić Latifić.✨➡️https://t.co/DOysIUGQVN— Časoris (@CasorisUrednik) January 9, 2020
Her research has been recently focused on blockchain technology. She is an inventor and advocate for female-friendly working spaces at the Institute of Informatics, being a supporter of the Ladies in Informatics initiative.
Apart from busting gender myths in an occupation dominated by men, she also does that on the football field, playing for an all-women team.
Kamišalić Latifić was chosen among ten nominees who are all promoting engineering, science and innovation.
The title was awarded for the second time - last year it went to Dora Domanjko, an electrotechnology expert. The competition is organised by IRT3000, a magazine focusing on innovation, development and technology, Mediade, a company providing assistance with product development, and partners.
The event aims to promote women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). In Europe, there is a gender imbalance in these areas, with only some 25% of such studies being undertaken by women.
In Slovenia, the situation looks somewhat more promising, with female STEM students accounting for about a third of all such students.
One of the main reasons why young women are not choosing STEM careers is also a lack of role models and inadequate explanation of the role of engineers in societal development, said the organisers.
Labour Ministry Ksenija Klampfer pointed out in her address at the ceremony that gender stereotypes were still present in society and urged putting an end to them.
Meanwhile, Education Minister Jernej Pikalo said that as long as gender discrimination and inequalities were not stopped, society needed positive discrimination and role models.
STA, 6 January 2020 - US First Lady Melania Trump remains the most influential Slovenian, according to a list compiled by the right-leaning magazine Reporter, ahead of PM Marjan Šarec and UEFA boss Aleksander Čeferin.
The Reporter Top 100 list takes into account formal influence associated with the person's post or job, as well as their informal influence.
Reporter says that there is no doubt about Melania Trump being by far the most influential Slovenia, and that she will stay so as long as she remains in the White House.
All our stories on Melania Trump are here
PM Marjan Šarec this year replaced Aleksander Čeferin in second spot, with Reporter commenting that along with the powers associated with the executive post, Šarec has also gained informal influence.
Čeferin, who the magazine says as EUFA boss has access to both the Pope and Russian President Vladimir Putin, is followed by Slovenian President Borut Pahor and parliamentary Speaker Dejan Židan.
The most influential aides of Šarec, according to the magazine, are Finance Minister Andrej Bertoncelj in 6th spot, and Šarec's national security adviser Damir Črnčec in 8th place.
Janez Lenarčič, the European crisis management commissioner, ranks 7th.
Rounding off the top ten are Janez Janša, the leader of the opposition Democratic Party (SDS), and the man widely perceived as his nemesis, Milan Kučan, Slovenia's first president.
Silvester Šurla, the Reporter editor-in-chief, writes that Kučan, who slipped from 6th place a year ago, wields the biggest informal power of all people on the list, along with Gregor Golobič, the former long serving secretary general of Liberal Democracy (LDS), the party that ruled Slovenia for more than a decade until 2004. Golobič ranks 11th on the list.
On the opposite side of the political spectrum, "the main uncle working in the open and behind the scenes", as Šurla writes, is Janez Janša, his formal and informal power being greater than Kučan's.
"Janša has managed to politically subjugate virtually all of the right bloc, from [Marjan] Podobnik's SLS [People's Party] and [Matej] Tonin's NSi [New Slovenia] to a number of civil society organisations in the right ideological pole.
"As a former prime minister he still has a network of loyal people at state institutions and enterprises with millions of euro flowing in regularly from Orban's Hungary allowing him to manage his propaganda machinery, packed into (party) media," writes Šurla about Janša.
All our stories on Janez Janša are here
After Melania, the second highest ranked woman on the list is former PM Alenka Bratušek in 12th spot.
She is followed in 13th by Zmago Jelinčič, the leader of the National Party (SNS), whose influence increased now that his party secures majority to the Šarec minority government.
The politician whose influence declined the most is Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Janković, while the NBA superstar Luka Dončić climbed 50 spots to rank 50th in the biggest leap on the list since last year.
The list includes 22 new names, including Andrej Šiško, the leader of the paramilitary Štajeska guard, in 100th spot.