STA, 5 April 2019 - The University of Maribor and the company SAB-LS signed a contract in Maribor on Friday, April 5, on the launch of the first Slovenian nanosatellite into orbit. Trisat is to fly into space on a light European Vega rocket that is to be launched from French Guiana in August.
Trisat has been developed at the Maribor Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in cooperation with the Slovenian company Skylabs.
According to the chancellor of the Maribor university, Zdravko Kačič, the launch of the nanosatellite will be an important step in the internationalisation of the Slovenian space industry and a recognition for its technology.
"It is a proof that a student project can develop into an important project for the Slovenian industry and environment," he said.
"Nanosatellites are an important segment in the present-day space industry, because they can bring new technology into space in a cost-efficient and quick way. The new technology can thus be evaluated much quicker and cheaper, which reduces financial risks in this field," he said.
Trisat, weighing only 4.4 kilos, is capable of taking multispectral images of Earth in short-wave infrared spectrum with a camera unlike any other in space at the moment.
It will be deployed at the altitude of 500 kilometres in a Sun-synchronous orbit by the Vega rocket launched by Arianespace, a company developing launch solutions for the European Space Agency (ESA).
The rocket will carry some 50 satellites, including another Slovenian satellite that is larger than Trisat, called Nemo HD, which has been developed by Vesolje-SI, the Slovenian centre of excellence for space sciences and technologies.
The company SAB-LS will act as Arianespace's subcontractor for deploying nanosatellites as part of the ESA's programme Small Spacecraft Mission Service.
The signing of the contract, on Aptril 5, was also attended by Economic Development and Technology Minister Zdravko Počivalšek, who said the move set the course for the development of Slovenian technology and proved that Slovenia was an important partner in space technology and thus also of the ESA.
Slovenia became an associate member of the ESA at the end of 2016.
The head of the Trisat project, Iztok Kramberger, stressed that Trisat, whose lifespan has been estimated at six years, was almost entirely a product of Slovenian know-how. It has been developed and manufactured in Slovenia, except for the solar panels, he noted.
You can learn more about the project here
STA, 5 April 2019 - Physicist Jure Žalohar has combined a number of seismic studies to come up with a new way to potentially predict earthquakes in the future. His theory suggests earthquakes are not coincidental but are caused by synchronised processes in the Earth's crust.
Žalohar's theory was introduced in his book The Omega-Theory: A New Physics of Earthquakes, which was released in May 2018.
It is based on a number of studies conducted by seismology, geophysics, and maths experts in the past two decades and could prove effective if put into practice through an IT system.
Seismology or the study of earthquakes tried to forecast earthquakes in the 20th century by taking into account various precursors, such as animal behaviour, regional transformations of topography, changes in the speed of primary and secondary seismic waves, or radon gas emissions.
These efforts were only partially successful, with many studies focusing on possible causes for earthquakes, but none of them coming up with the exact way of predicting them.
In 1997, journal Science published an article saying that earthquakes could not be forecast. The bold claim did not discourage scientists from continuing their research.
They succeeded in developing two theories; the theory of the Earth's tectonic plate movement and the theory of the epicentre mechanism. The majority of earthquakes occur at or near the boundaries between tectonic plates.
Žalohar's Omega theory, which could be described as a rotation theory of earthquakes, is based on the already established phenomenon of the plates' splits tending to be parallel and intersecting.
According to Žalohar, the plates are "enormous omega cells", experiencing earthquake sequences stemming from parallel splits, with the famous golden ratio determining the number of those splits. Earthquakes are thus connected between themselves and affected by the Earth's rotation.
The Omega theory suggests that earth tremors are not coincidental but a result of "highly synchronised processes" in the Earth's crust, which indicates they could be predicted.
The software programme T-Tecto was created on the basis of the theory, currently providing only one model of earthquake forecasting which includes a 64-day prediction.
An IT centre that could build on that and further develop the method would require additional funding and special training for monitoring personnel, said Žalohar.
The ability to forecast earthquakes would also entail potential ethical issues in case it was not confined to authorised organisations.
All our stories about earthwuakes and Slovenia can be found here
STA, 22 March 2019 - Slovenia's top science and research institution, the Jožef Stefan Institute (IJS), will mark its 70th anniversary over the course of the coming week, having started with an open day last Saturday, March 23. Between Monday and Friday, top researchers from across the globe will speak in Ljubljana about their work at the cutting edge of science.
Perhaps the top event of the coming week will be a talk by top robotics expert Vilay Kumar, the dean of Penn Engineering, a graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania.
Taking place as part of the main ceremony marking the IJS's 70th anniversary on Wednesday, Kumar's talk about flying robots will be "very interesting visually," IJS head Jadran Lenarčič has told the STA.
The anniversary week will start with an open day tomorrow, allowing the public to take one of several tours of the institute's laboratories.
On Monday, a day after the actual birthday of the late Jožef Stefan (1835-1893), considered one of the top Slovenian scientists, the 27th annual Jožef Stefan Days will officially open.
Zdenka Badovinac, the director of Modern Galerija, will deliver a talk ahead of the opening of an exhibition titled Irwin: NSK Guards and Processions.
The next day, Bart De Moor of KU Leuven will talk about the role of new technologies and data science in biology in the future, while Rosario Rizzuto, a rector at the University of Padua, will talk about calcium signalling in cells.
After the main ceremony on Wednesday, Thursday will feature a talk by Jean-Claude André, the inventor of 3D printing, while the Jožef Stefan Days will wrap up with a talk by Geoff Webb of Monash University, a top data scientist.
The institute will also name the winner of an annual competition for young researchers. This year, the winner will get between EUR 300,000 and 350,000 to set up their own lab.
STA, 4 February 2019 - Slovenska Matica, the nation's oldest cultural and scientific society, is celebrating its 155th anniversary with an open house on Monday. A number of lectures, debates and presentations are taking place. President Borut Pahor addressed the main ceremony.
Slovenia is confronted with the question of how to build its national character without it turning to national arrogance or nationalism, Pahor said in his address, adding that this was a sensitive and tough intellectual and political issue.
At the same time, Slovenians need to ask themselves "how can we build stable pillars of sovereignty without creating the impression that we started to doubt the European idea and were getting ready for its downfall".
He pointed to the important role Slovenska Matica played in this context and noted that these issues needed to be addressed with great sensitivity, especially by politicians.
Slovenska Matica president Aleš Gabrič said in his address that the society wanted to continue to do the work it set out to do 155 years ago: "to bring into the treasure trove of the national cultural wealth that what makes the nation its best".
The society was established in Ljubljana with donations of academics, tradesmen and entrepreneurs with the objective to print academic and scientific books in Slovenian.
Slovenian was not a language of academia, as Slovenian lands were a part of the Austrian Empire up until its dissolution following World War I.
When it was established, the society's mission was to raise the level of education across the nation and create Slovenian vocabulary in a variety of fields.
The society's heyday was in the early 20th century, when the books it published reached high circulation and the society nurtured frequent contacts with universities and academic societies from London to St Petersburg.
Today, Slovenska Matica is the second oldest Slovenian publisher after Mohorjeva Družba. It organises science meetings and conferences addressing issues faced by the Slovenian culture and society. It is fully funded by the state.
STA, 31 January 2019 - The National Assembly passed legislative amendments on Thursday which transpose the EU directive setting down the conditions of entry and residence of third-country citizens for the purposes of research, studies and training.
The directive, which entered into force in May 2016, should have been translated into national law by member countries by 23 May 2018. Missing the deadline, Slovenia has already received a reprimand from Brussels.
The directive also deals with the entry of third-country nationals for the purposes of voluntary service, pupil exchange schemes or educational projects and au pairing.
Education Ministry State Secretary Jernej Štromajer said that the amendments to the research and development activity act entailed only minor changes.
The amendments were passed by unanimous vote, but many MPs said they expected much more from a bill reforming the act more thoroughly which is already in the pipeline.
However, the Left abstained from the vote, airing misgivings about the elimination of certain proofs in acquiring residence permits for third-country citizens hosted by research agencies.
The EU standards can be found in many languages and formats here
A Slovenian team, working for the Piran-based organisation Morigenos, has discovered that the common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) living off the coast share the Bay of Trieste, dividing it based on time of day rather than territory, the first time such behaviour has been observed.
A paper published in the journal Marine Biology, “Behavioural and temporal partitioning of dolphin social groups in the northern Adriatic Sea”, and written by Tilen Genov, Tina Centrih, Polona Kotnjek, and Ana Hace, outlines how the researchers carried out their work, and what they learned. The team used the distinctive features on the dorsal fins of 38 dolphins to keep track of each individual, noting when and where the animals were sighted in the bay. An analysis of the data showed that the dolphins were divided into two groups of 19 and 13, with the remaining six making up a loose group of its own. The larger group of dolphins tended to following fishing trawlers between the hours of 07:00 and 3:00. In contrast, the smaller group of 13 were seen swimming with the trawlers, and hunted in the bay between 18:00 and 21:00. Dolphins from each group were rarely in the same area at the same time.
Source: Tilen Genov
In addition to revealing such temporal segregation for the first time in this species, the study is of interest because – as the paper concludes – “We demonstrate how different segments of the same population may behave very differently and have differing effects on human activities such as fishing (through potential depredation or gear damage). In turn, they may respond differently to anthropogenic pressures, as temporal partitioning may make animals either more or less vulnerable to disturbance from boat traffic.”
The full paper can be found here, while those interested in learning more about Morigenos can read an earlier story about the organisation here. The study reported in this story is also summarised in a short and relatively simple Slovene-English dual text here.
STA, 16 December 2018 - Slovenia has the largest share of women graduates in sciences, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) among all EU member states, show figures released by European Commission earlier this week.
According to the study Women in the Digital Age, the share of women graduates in STEM stands at 20.5 per 1,000 persons aged 20 to 29 in Slovenia, which compares to the EU average of 13.1 per 1,000 graduates.
The study brings an assessment of the participation of women in the digital economy, showing women lag behind men in several areas in the EU.
Only one in six information and communications technology (ICT) experts are women, and although women represent 52% of the EU's population, only 17% work in ICT.
However, data for the 16-24 age group are more encouraging, as the gap in digital participation between women and men is fairly narrow.
In the age group, 55% of women are active in the digital world compared to 60% of men, with the trend even starting to reverse in certain countries, with women outperforming men in the category.
Slovenia is the 10th best performing country in terms of integrating women in the digital sector, while the leader is Finland, with Bulgaria at the bottom of the list.
Slovenia performed best in specialist skills and employment (3rd place) and worst in the use of the internet (19th).
The Commission's first annual review of women's participation in the digital economy is based on the Women in Digital Scoreboard, which brings together 13 indicators in three fields: internet use, internet user skills, and specialist skills and employment.
It is to serve as a tool for the Commission and national governments to identify shortcoming and take action to improve the situation.
STA, 6 December 2018 - A group of acclaimed scientists and researchers have addressed a letter to Prime Minister Marjan Šarec urging him to increase research funding in 2019 and laying out several issues. Among other things, they expressed concern that only 2% of Slovenian grant bids to the European Research Council (ERC) are successful, while the EU average is 12%.
So far only seven Slovenian research labs have been successful in acquiring grants from the ERC, notes the letter, signed by nine successful Slovenian researchers working either at home or abroad.
Science and research funds have remained virtually level in Slovenia since 2009. Many of the EU member states that joined the bloc alongside Slovenia in 2004, or later, have taken a much more ambitious path, the letter notes.
"The Czech Republic established several centres of excellence, allocating EUR 200m for each of them. Poland is building a synchrotron and a centre for cryo-electron microscopy."
Slovenia fares poorly even compared to the Balkans: Croatia has made it a priority to invest EUR 100m in the Ruđer Bošković science institute, while Serbia is investing EUR 40m in a nanoparticles centre, the letter says.
It adds that Romania and Hungary have each invested about EUR 100m in the past four years, while more developed countries are investing much more.
Austria, for example, launched in 2009 the Institute of Science and Technology, which in 2016 alone acquired more ERC grants than all Slovenian scientists in a decade, the letter illustrates.
The scientists also point to a fiscal policy that "punishes researchers working abroad and forces them to sever all ties with the homeland."
What is more, the funds available in Slovenia do not attract top foreign researchers. "Salaries of Slovenian researchers are not even attractive to those from Eastern Europe and Asia, let alone from more developed parts of the world," says the letter, adding that Slovenia has a serious brain drain problem.
Slovenia will only be able to raise a new generations of scientists if it encourages post-doctoral students to join the best research teams around the world and then gets them to return back home by providing funding that allows them to start new research teams.
Moreover, the state should rethink the way science and research funds are distributed. It should move away from giving a little to everybody and make sure that the best and the most promising teams get the funds they need.
"A clear support for science excellence could reverse the trend and start seeing results in five to ten years," the letter stresses.
"We urge you to increase science funding already in 2019, at the very least in line with promises given in the coalition agreement: to increase science funding from 0.38% of GDP to 1% of GDP by 2022."
STA, 14 November 2018 - Slovenian researchers have made a tandem solar cell which transforms solar energy into electricity in the most efficient manner so far, which they see as an important step towards photovoltaics becoming more competitive in power production.
The new solar cell was developed by Marko Jošt from the Ljubljana Faculty of Electrical Engineering while on post-doctoral studies in Germany as part of a Slovenian-German project.
Jošt and several other researchers, among them fellow researchers from Ljubljana, published their findings in the prestigious journal Energy and Environmental Science.
Researchers from top-tier institutions around the globe have been competing since 2015 to develop the most efficient monolithic tandem solar cell.
Last month, Jošt, together with researchers from Germany's Helmholtz Centre and Slovenia's Ljubljana University, managed to set a new record by achieving 25.5% conversion efficiency.
The solar cell was improved with the use of a textured foil, which was produced in the lab for photovoltaics at the Slovenian faculty.
Although tandem cells are still in the R&D stage and there is a long way to go before their industrial use, lab boss Marko Topič says "such achievements prove that our goals are realistic".
The new tandem cell is according to the faculty a stone in the mosaic of knowledge and achievements which pave the way to photovoltaics being increasingly used for energy production.
Obstacles to a more wide use of solar energy are relatively low conversion efficiency of silicon solar cells, which are currently the standard in photovoltaics, and their relatively high price.
Jošt explained that silicon cells had reached their limit in conversion efficiency and low price, while the perskovite tandem cells have the potential for better conversion efficiency while increasing the price of a photovoltaic module just a bit.
Topič meanwhile believes that photovoltaics has already proved it could become "the key technology in the transformation of the energy system" and "as a low-carbon technology, the first solution to fight climate change".
STA, 24 August 2018 - Slovenian scientists in cooperation with their Canadian and Brazilian counterparts have solved a 150-year-old mystery about how light causes movement. They discovered that light can cause elastic waves, similar to those generated during an earthquake.