Researchers have developed new plasma lamps based on thin ceramic substrates. They will be used to clean surfaces or to increase seed production

Research dealing with the development of thin flexible ceramic substrates with optimized electrical properties for plasma sources was evaluated as excellent by the Grant Agency of the Czech Republic. Under the leadership of professors Martin Trunec and Mirko Černák, a team of experts from CEITEC BUT and the Faculty of Science at Masaryk University worked on it. They would now like to continue on this basic three-year research.

The idea originated over a beer in a garden meet up. “We speculated about a new direction in the research of ceramic materials for the generation of barrier discharges. It was there that the basic impulse was created, which we then wrote down in the form of a project. It took us about a year,” describes one of the leaders, Martin Trunec from CEITEC BUT.

Specifically, it was a three-year project under the auspices of the Grant Agency of the Czech Republic, entitled Flexible Ceramic Substrates with Optimized Electrical Properties, and was undertaken in the years 2018–2020. The main goal of the project was the development of thin flexible ceramic substrates with optimized electrical properties for plasma sources. “Preparing such substrates required the development of a new method of preparation that will allow the creation of very thin ceramic substrates with the required properties from nanometer particles,” says Martin Trunec.

Flexible tape

The researchers also investigated the material composition of ceramic substrates to achieve optimal conditions for plasma ignition and combustion. “When dealing with the project, we tried to prepare a ceramic material which, with its physicochemical properties, would facilitate the ignition and maintenance of low-temperature discharge, because this is the key element for industrial applications,” says Mirko Černák from the Faculty of Science at Masaryk University, who with his team focused mainly on assembling plasma lamps and testing them.

But as we know from everyday life, flexibility is not a typical property of ceramic materials. “However, theoretical calculations during the research have shown that ceramic substrates can be highly flexible if the material has high strength and the substrate is thin enough. We subsequently confirmed this experimentally,” explains Martin Trunec. Thanks to years of experience in the field of advanced ceramic materials, he and his team have sponsored the process of preparing ceramic substrates.

The developed plasma lamps based on thin ceramic substrates can serve, for example, as basic units of new advanced devices used in the industry for plasma cleaning of inorganic impurities, for disinfection, ozone preparation, or, for example, in seed germination devices.


According to both group leaders, the cooperation of researchers from two important Brno institutions and the strong involvement of young students contributed to the successful outcome of the project. “During the project, the students increased their qualifications and at the same time provided the team with a constant flow of new ideas, and also contributed to resolving complications that we did not anticipate,” emphasizes Mirko Černák.

The output of an extensive project is, among other things, eight professional publications. “We have advanced knowledge in the field of dielectric barrier discharges used to generate low-temperature atmospheric plasma. We are now continuing to work with partial knowledge,” concludes Martin Trunec. The researchers have therefore already applied for a follow-up project and hope to investigate and design ceramic substrates that increase free radical production in a low-temperature atmospheric discharge even more effectively. These could also be used in the future, for example, for surface sterilization or ozone production.

Bird communities as bioindicator of environment quality of urban areas

Urbanization is increasing across the globe, and urban areas constitute one of the fastest growing land-use types. Several studies highlighted how biodiversity plays an important role in conserving ecosystem function and how urbanization reduces the resilience of ecosystems. However, approaches focused on different and complementary biodiversity measures are needed to understand how specific elements of urbanization impacts biodiversity.

Urban green, Marche, Central Italy photo Federico MorelliUrban green, Marche, Central Italy, photo Federico Morelli

The team headed by doc. Federico Morelli carried out the GACR project “Effects of urbanization on multilevel avian diversity: linking bird community metrics to pollution level, vegetation and building density”. The project’s main objective was to assess the impact of specific elements of urbanization on multiple facets of biodiversity, targeting bird communities. Field data collection in 16 different European cities, geospatial analysis, and modelling procedures were conducted from 2018 to 2020 to provide new insights on identifying high environmental quality areas in European cities.

Emberiza citinella in Poland photo C. KorkoszEmberiza citinella in Poland, photo C. Korkosz

“We mapped the local characteristics of the cities in terms of land use composition, building structure, as well as type and amount of vegetation in the urban greenery. Additionally, we estimated the level of environmental pollution (e.g., light and noise pollution). We found that some elements of urban greenery as grass, bush and trees are positively correlated with the number of bird species, while grass and trees, and the presence of water (rivers or urban streams), increased the phylogenetic diversity of avian communities,” says doc. Dr. Federico Morelli, Ph.D., and adds:  “On the opposite, all the main indicators of a high level of urbanization (e.g., building cover, number of building’ floors, pedestrian’s density and level of light pollution) increased the phylogenetic relatedness of species (how much the species in a given assemblage are close related in terms of evolution). Two species are more related if they have a more recent common ancestor. We can associate bird communities characterized by a high phylogenetic relatedness with more homogeneous assemblages, potentially less resilient if facing an ecological stress. Interestingly, the presence of bushes in the gardens and public green areas helped to mitigate this effect on the biotic homogenization.”

Urban green in Prague 6 photo Federico MorelliUrban green in Prague 6, photo Federico Morelli

The main importance of this project is related to the large spatial scale and international scope of the study, as well as the assessment of the impact of different components of urbanization on the taxonomic, functional, and phylogenetic diversity of urban bird assemblages. Specifically, the project considered building density, development of greenery, and environmental pollution including the influence of noise and artificial light at night. The final outcomes (see some examples in the web: may increase the basic knowledge concerning urban bird communities as bioindicator of the environment quality of urban areas, providing new valuable information for ecological and urban planning. We delivered a list of positive and negative effects of different urban characteristics on overall avian diversity, that can help to mitigate the continuous decline on biodiversity, especially marked in urban areas.

Passer domesticus italiae photo Fabio PrusciniPasser domesticus italiae photo Fabio Pruscini

“Finally, our findings suggest that maintaining adequate levels of avian diversity within the urban settlements can increase the potential resilience of urban ecosystems, exposed to the stress provoked by rapid and continuous changes. Last but not least, as highlighted in several previous studies, the conservation of urban biodiversity constitutes also a positive driver of citizens’ wellbeing,” says Morelli.

Federico Morelli photo Yanina BenedettiFederico Morelli, photo Yanina Benedetti

doc. Dr. Federico Morelli, Ph.D.
Community and Ecology Conservation Research Team

CULS – Czech University of Life Sciences

Federico Morelli is a quantitative ecologist, currently working as an associate professor at the Czech University of Life Sciences (Prague, Czech Republic). He has been involved in several European projects modeling the impact of land use and climate change on the spatial distribution of biodiversity. The focus of his research interest is macroecology, species distribution models, urban and road ecology, biodiversity spatial patterns, and bioindicators as a tool for conservation planning.

Text: CULS
Featured image: Urban development – La Defense, Paris, France, photo Federico Morelli

Unique Opportunity for Czech Scientists to Work Together with U.S. Colleagues

The Czech Science Foundation has succeeded in signing a prestigious cooperation agreement with the National Science Foundation (NSF) government agency of the United States. This is the largest-scale scientific cooperation between the two countries ever. Czech and U.S. scientists will receive funding from both agencies to jointly explore areas such as artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, or plasma.

“Reaching an agreement with the United States is a tremendous success because the NSF is highly selective in its choice of partner agencies. This agreement will make it possible for Czech scientists to work with universities such as Harvard, Stanford, and other research institutions recognised globally,” says Prof. RNDr. Jaroslav Koča, DrSc., President of the Czech Science Foundation.

“It took approximately two years to help establish this cooperation between the Czech Science Foundation and the NSF. It is the largest-scale scientific cooperation between the Czech Republic and the United States ever agreed upon,” says His Excellency, Mr. Hynek Kmoníček, Czech Ambassador to the United States.

This cooperation will help fund basic research projects which have a high application potential at present — artificial intelligence and nanotechnology. Project proposals are also welcome in the areas of plasma, astronomy, astrophysics, and certain humanities.

Calls for project proposals will be made this year already. The agencies will share the costs of individual projects — the Czech Science Foundation will cover the costs of the Czech part of the project, and the NSF will finance the U.S. part.

About the Czech Science Foundation

As the only institution in the Czech Republic, the Czech Science Foundation provides targeted aid using public funds to basic research projects only — the volume of funding was approx. CZK 4.2 billion (U.S.$ 195 million). Through its grants, the Foundation funds scientific projects carried out by seasoned scientists and teams as well as young scientists in their early careers. Each year, the Foundation funds hundreds of scientific projects on the basis of a multi-stage, transparent selection process.

About the National Science Foundation

Established in 1950, the National Science Foundation is an independent agency of the U.S. government responsible for the support of basic research. In 2021, it manages a budget of U.S.$ 8.5 billion, and its grants cover approx. 25% of basic research at U.S. universities. The NSA funds approx. 11,000 projects a year through highly prestigious calls for competitive proposals.  Funding from the NSF gave birth to a number of revolutionary technologies of their time. Throughout its existence, the NSA has funded 236 scientists who would later become Nobel Prize winners.