SCIENCE | MY PASSION
According to the definition taken from the Polish Language Dictionary, science is complete human knowledge arranged into a system of problems, but also a set of ideas that constitute a systematic whole and comprise a specific research field.
Science is also activity: learning and teaching.
Please read the “Science | My Passion” series, where our researchers present their work and show that science and research process can really draw us in.
Leon Battista Alberti, considered the prototype of the Renaissance man, once said that “a man can do all things if he will“. Since Alberti combined the knowledge and skills of a mathematician, philosopher, architect, poet and sculptor, it can be assumed that only modesty prevented him from adding who he meant. Nowadays, it is difficult to be such a Renaissance man, but it does not mean that we can afford the ignorance of a specialist who does not see the world beyond his field. The world is too complex to be known from just one area of interest. The truth is that there are no fields of science in the world around us, and it is only our tendency to simplify and pigeonhole that makes us learn isolated fragments.
I work at the Faculty of Science and Technology of our University, although to some extent it was a coincidence. I was born in Częstochowa and I also studied there, originally thinking about a career as a teacher, but while learning about science “from the inside” in the laboratory, I decided that it would be my passion for the rest of my life. When planning my doctoral studies, I considered various possibilities, and it turned out that I finished them in Katowice, and despite my scientific travels and working in various places, I stayed with this University for a longer time.
However, the interest in chemistry as the first field appeared even earlier, in primary school. Back then, in the seventh grade, chemistry was my… hated subject ;-). It was impossible to understand! Some atoms, difficult words, boring books and a teacher of whom the whole school was scared stiff (although I regretfully admit that Mrs. Ilona Mędrzyk was a great teacher, certainly better than I was a student). Suddenly, during the summer holidays between the seventh and eighth grade, I got my hands on a book by Stefan Sękowski – an outstanding promoter of chemistry, the author of books showing a slightly less repulsive side of chemistry and helping to cultivate it at home. It is more like “home chemistry”, simple experiments that can be performed with everyday objects and substances. I reached for the book then out of boredom, but it suddenly turned out that this field is interesting, useful and at times very effective. By the end of those holidays, I read most of Sękowski’s books available in the library and set up a home laboratory. At first, it was in my room, but as a consequence of one unsuccessful experiment, I had to move it to the basement. In the following years of study, I looked at chemistry differently. I also quickly changed my mind about the teacher, who taught me a lot and became a model when I first chose a profession.
Besides, I was interested not only in chemistry. It actually started with chemistry, though. Over time, however, my interests focused on biology and medicine. Finally, after obtaining a doctoral degree, and thus a kind of passport to the world of independent research, I was able to focus on other areas. I no longer had to be so attached to one scientific field or the rigid divisions of areas in which officials in the ministry are trying to cram us. The next stages, such as habilitation at the Faculty of Pharmacy of the Jagiellonian University, concerned the subject of drugs. The end of this career ladder, and thus the title of professor in medical sciences and health sciences, was awarded to me in recognition of a work much loosely related to chemistry. This does not mean, however, that I am a physician. I am still in chemistry, but now it is a path for me to a goal that lies, sometimes far beyond its scope. In our research, we use mathematics as well as physics and computer science. Nowadays it is difficult to be a Renaissance man, you cannot be very good at everything. But if we want to do something useful, we cannot afford the ignorance of a specialist who does not see the world beyond his field. In my team, most of my colleagues, just like me, have several specialties. Science cannot be pigeonholed and scientists should avoid it too. I personally hate it.
Each research field is interesting and worth your time. Chemistry extends and connects to many different fields, contributing to the emergence of modern technologies. From quantum computers to solar cells and nanomaterials to new drugs. My interests are focused on the latter. Of course, the SARS-Cov2 coronavirus vaccines are the most frequently commented on in recent times in medicine. It is sad to see one of humanity’s greatest achievements being criticised by self-proclaimed experts who do not even understand the words they repeat. Another challenge scientists have to deal with is breaking up with the use of non-renewable energy sources. However, the most fascinating thing about science is that we can never really predict what application the results of current research will have. That is why it is so important to properly present them and show them to the world, so that they can find this new meaning, still unknown to their author. I also work as an editor in the scientific journal “Scientific Reports”, which publishes research results in the field of natural sciences. It’s such a real melting pot where ideas and theories mix, and it’s available for free. Contact with such a large area of knowledge is very inspiring.
Every project that was successfully completed, and its results, after being published, meet with the interest of scientists and the public gives me a lot of satisfaction. Even so, I am a bit of a “grouch” by nature and I always think that something can be done better. Do I have any greatest achievement? I hope it is still waiting for me. However, I remember a very pleasant situation that could be subsumed under such a category. For some time after graduation, I worked at school as a “that chemistry teacher”. Then, after a few years at a scientific conference, probably in Warsaw, a young student approached me with the question: “sorry, did you ever teach at a school in Częstochowa?” It turned out that it was an old student of mine, whom I managed to infect with my passion for chemistry. It really gives you great satisfaction. It’s good that there are no vaccines for such “germs”, I would probably be the first to be their opponent ;-).
So why did I choose chemistry? First of all, chemistry is, next to physics, the basis for understanding how the world works. All biological changes, and thus the mysteries of life, can be explained on the basis of chemistry. Of course, not all of them for now – there is still a lot of interesting work left for future generations of researchers. I chose chemistry, but I think it is worth studying everything. What I mean is that it is not worth following the fashion or popularity of a given field of study, and you certainly should not choose a field of study when looking at the possibilities of finding a job. Firstly, it is difficult to predict what the situation will be when we finish this studies, and secondly, nowadays, the possibility of retraining will always be an advantage. So I think that this what interests us should be the one we choose. Studies are a unique time that will teach us a lot – not only in the field we have chosen.
The popular saying that we learn trough all our life is true. Not only at school or work, but also during entertainment. After installing a new game, we also have to learn to navigate its world, new rules and names. The same is true when traveling, especially when we are far away, when we need to quickly learn the words necessary to find, for example, a toilet or a restaurant. Traveling and playing are more fun than math or history lessons, so we don’t even notice this knowledge coming to us. The work of a scientist, research, and satisfying the curiosity of the world gives a lot of satisfaction. It’s a bit like work of a detective. So if this is – research – that really interests us, then what feels like hard work is enjoyable to us, but of course still exhausting.
Outside of work, I manage to find some time for my hobby. I have been fond of everything related to nature for a long time. In my spare time I like to photograph, and nature photography gives me the most joy. Favourite sport is rock climbing – also related to nature. In addition, I almost always have a book with me.
I also travel a lot. Two of the most beautiful moments of the journey are departure and return. I like to leave, but I like to come back even more. If the words of the philosopher are true: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”, I would add that the adventure begins right outside the door, you don’t have to go far. Somehow I never went far myself, my destination is always in Europe. It doesn’t mean that I don’t want to go somewhere further. There are just so many beautiful places that by the time I get to another continent on the map, I will find enough goals for the rest of my life. I often go to the Czech Republic or Slovakia – these are countries that I especially like. I worked for a year at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague. But I go there not only for professional matters.
I’ve already mentioned that I like books – it’s a better way to spend my free time than movies. Good films are those where you can read a book ;-). I’m not a cinema fan and there aren’t many films I want to come back to. I could make an exception for the adaptation of the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien, but more in recognition of himself than the filmmakers. Speaking of books, apart from fantasy or SF, I also like crime fiction, mountain literature and adventure. I love popular science books – of course, from various fields. I’m serious! If they are well written, they are as pleasant to read as a detective story, and sometimes there is also a murderer at the end ;-). I will definitely disappoint everyone when it comes to music: I like to listen to silence the most, and if I had to give up something, I would probably not notice the lack of music. I do have a mix of different songs that I like, but I only listen to them on longer car trips – out of boredom. I am more eager to listen to audiobooks, such as fantasy. I like even the bad ones, I break away for a moment then from keeping both feet on the scientific ground.
My life motto?
I have two, both taken from my favourite sport:
“Do not be afraid, you will not fly up” and “What should hang, will not drown“.
Thank you for reading this article to the end.