We are among the top in the research of low temperature physics


RNDr. Peter Skyba, DrSc. is Scientist of the year 2019 and expert in the field of low temperature physics, who also specializes in the cosmology. Being a scientist is a pilgrimage of life, he says for Edutech.

Last year, you received the Scientist of the year 2019 award. What does it mean for you?

Every award one receives will please and encourage at the same time. Scientist of the year 2019 award made me all the more pleased because it is an award given to scientists of the Slovak Republic, regardless of the scientific field. It is therefore a fair competition. Although it may seem unbelievable, Slovak Republic achieves top scientific results in the field of low temperature physics and belongs among the world leaders in the field.

You said to media that being a scientist is a pilgrimage of life. What are the qualities or abilities one should be equipped with for such journey?

I think that being a scientist is a mission and no one becomes scientist over the night. Being a scientist really is a pilgrimage of life. Same as when someone wants to be an excellent teacher, doctor,… If someone wants to be successful in his profession, he has to be able to learn all his life, and must follow trends not only in the field of his research but also in related sciences. And he should follow the overall development of the science and society. This helps him to gain insight and understanding for context. And what qualities one should possess throughout this journey? Well, he has to be responsible, patient, purposeful, not afraid of failures and be able to learn from them, and he should be strict with himself.

You focus on the low temperature physics. What do you see as the potential of your field of research?

In my opinion, low temperature physics will become one of the key areas of research and development in the near future. Why do I think that? Well, because during the last 5-10 years there has been a massive development of the refrigeration techniques and technologies. Today you do not need sophisticated cryogenic infrastructure consisting of helium liquefier, cryogenic transport vessels, etc., to perform experiments at low temperatures. The so called “dry refrigeration” technology, nowadays commercially available, offers possibility to perform research in the millikelvin range of temperatures while the “dry refrigerator” can be installed even in the garage. That is one reason.

And the second one?

The second reason is development of quantum technologies. Miniaturization of the electronic circuits or electronic systems has reached the point at which their quantum properties start to manifest. Cooling these systems to low temperatures helps to amplify theses quantum properties which in turn leads to observation of new, many times unexpected phenomena. Understanding the physical nature of these phenomena brings new application possibilities in medicine, measurement and detection technologies, etc. To be a little more specific, I would mention quantum computers, quantum computing and related quantum data transfer, which are currently very dynamically developing areas. Operation of quantum computers is directly related to presence of low temperatures, which is ensured by the already mentioned “dry refrigerators”. However, the quantum computer programming is different from the classic computer programming and requires mathematical and physical knowledge. This is future. I want to add that Slovakia is not at all behind and we have an established national platform for quantum technologies.

You work at the Institute of Experimental Physics. How important for you is to “do experiments”?

Performing experiments is by far the most important work of scientists. Because only the experiments can confirm or disclaim our theoretical models of the nature. After all, if we look at history and point to Albert Einstein and his theory of relativity, it was the English astronomer sir Arthur Eddington who performed the experiment during the solar eclipse and showed that Einstein’s theoretical prediction about the gravitational diffraction of light passing around massive objects (in this case our Sun) is true. Only experiments can confirm exclusively whether some theoretical prediction or theoretical model that describes a natural phenomenon or process is true.

Currently, however, confirmation of some theoretical models especially in the field of cosmology is limited by contemporary technological and technical possibilities. For example, the physics of black holes. In order to justify theoretical background of models we need to perform experiments using the model systems which to some extent simulate some properties, such as the above-mentioned black holes. Of course, analysis of the results obtained by these model systems has to consider its limitations. However, if you do such experiments, you will realize how macroworld properties reflect in the microworld and vice versa, the microworld is reflected in the macroworld. Very briefly – nature is amazing.

Are young people still interested in studying physics?

Well, I would like to believe that they still have, even though the long-term trend of interest in studying physics at universities and changes in the educational process (the so-called transformations of the educational process with goal of its improvement) of the natural sciences classes say exactly the opposite. If I am not mistaken, primary school and high school physics education was reduced to only one lesson per week! I consider this to be highly absurd because in the end it leads to the ignorance of the young generation. And I do not say that only because I am physicist. If the government representatives talk about establishing of the so-called knowledge society with advanced technologies, then they have to return the seriousness and importance to teaching of natural science classes, especially the physics, otherwise those are just empty words and creation of illusion.

Physics is not just a science of the nature of natural phenomena and processes. Above all, it is a science which teaches and develops one’s logical and creative thinking, how to analyze processes, understand the connections, develops a personality or, if you want, “soul” of a person, making him independent. We encounter the achievements of physics every day and everywhere. Without the achievements of physics, the human society would not have any technical and technological progress. Just mention computers, cell phones, airplanes,… Advances in diagnostic medicine is largely based on the application of physical experimental techniques such as nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), ultrasound and laser techniques, XRD, etc. Currently there is a large progress in the field of quantum nano-technologies, quantum computers,… Do we want to develop them? If we do, it will not be possible without physics.

I want to believe, that in the near future our society itself will understand the nonsense of reducing the teaching of natural sciences in our schools and will return it its importance which it deserves. Only then we can hope that young people will show interest in studying this fundamental scientific field.

Many young people are searching for their profession, especially high school student tend to think about “what to do with my life” and which university they should choose. Do you have any advice for them?

Yes, I do. However, before I give any advice, I want to ask the high school students to answer themselves a question: “Why do I want to go to college and what is my motivation?” Is it because of the diploma, or because they do not want or are unable to find a job? Or is it because they want to acquire knowledge that will help them to further develop? If it is the first case, then it does not matter which university they apply to. There are more than thirty universities in Slovakia and very few high school students. Since universities are paid also by the number of students, they fight for “their” students by lowering the admission criteria. This corresponds to the level of the educational process itself (“we do not let students fail exams” approach).

If it is the second case, then despite what is said above, we still have some universities in Slovakia which, despite the system, try to maintain the level of education process much higher than the others. They are the so-called scientific universities – these are the universities which combine the very process of education with (top) scientific research. Because if some university wants to offer top level of education, naturally it needs to have top research level as well. The results of research are directly transferred to education process. Well, and which Slovak universities are scientific universities – that is something you can find online (for example HERE).

In conclusion, I want to say that vast majority of honest (European) employers closely monitor the level of universities. In general, chances of a job seeker with diploma from a well – known, established university are different from the one who graduated from a completely unknown university.

What are your future personal and professional plans?

As for the professional plans, the main goal will be to meet the objectives of the European microkelvin platform throughout the next three years. It is a broad-spectrum project under the Horizon 2020 call which was submitted by consortium of the same name, European Microkelvin Platform, which involves the Centre of Low Temperature Physics in Košice as one of the key partners. Within this project I plan to perform some model experiments at very low temperatures utilizing the unique properties of superfluid Helium-3. For example, one of the experiments is aimed to prove that it is possible to create and model quantum bit (Q-bit) using the superfluid Helium-3. And concerning my personal plans – I want to give my attention to my family, especially my grandchildren…


Translated from Edutech (January 11, 2021)