Opening Doors for Young People and Inspiring Future Generations

Opening Doors for Young People and Inspiring Future Generations

Author: Vera KoesterORCID iD, Monika JerigovaORCID iD Photo: © Miroslav Michalka

Dr. Monika Jerigova, Comenius University and International Laser Center, both Bratislava, Slovakia, was elected President of the Slovak Chemical Society (SCHS, Slovenská chemická spoločnosť) in January 2020. Here she talks to Dr. Vera Koester of ChemistryViews Magazine about the SCHS, her plans for her three-year presidency, chemistry in her home country, Slovakia, and what has inspired her throughout her career.



You have been involved in many different tasks with the SCHS. How did you first come into contact with the society? What aspects of SCHS membership have you found most helpful in your career?

My first contact with the SCHS was when I was a Ph.D. student. In 2002, I applied for membership. I attended the conferences organized by the SCHS together with the Czech Chemical Society, which take place alternatively in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. These conferences were the only international meetings I attended at that time. It was also one of my first contacts with colleagues outside of my workplace. At that time, however, I did not feel that the SCHS would be a help in my career, since as a Ph.D. student I was on my own doing everything in the laboratory myself. However, I found out later how important it could be to have contact with colleagues from institutions within my country and also abroad. With these colleagues I could then work on interesting topics in different areas of chemistry, especially from the viewpoint of science, education, and industrial applications.



Tell us a bit about your path to the SCHS presidency. Are you the youngest president the SCHS has ever had?

I became an active member of the SCHS in 2004, when I joined the organizational team of probably the largest professional conference in Slovakia jointly with our Czech colleagues. It gave me a lot of experience. Besides a bit of gray hair, it was the best event I have ever been a part of. And not just because I was the one to organize it but because I knew how much work and effort it involved, and I was able to enjoy the result, which was worth it. For example, attending the lectures of Nobel Prize winners in person was unprecedented in Slovakia during those years. I have always considered the success of these conferences as a credit to the whole organizational team.

I became president of the SCHS at the age of 42. I am the third woman in a row and the second youngest so far. Hence, I am definitely not the youngest president but I am the youngest female president. But I do not consider it to be a competition. It is all about good intentions and hard work to persistently drive the SCHS forward. Not only among Slovak chemists, but also around the world in chemistry-related disciplines.



What are your main goals as president of the SCHS?

As the president, I have set myself many tasks. One of the main tasks is to increase the promotion of the SCHS in Slovakia. In this respect, we need to improve our visibility among primary- and secondary-school students, chemistry students in universities, colleagues, and so on. This could be in the form of seminars, various popularization events, or with little things such as T-shirts—or facemasks with the SCHS logo as a substantial cloth covering during these troubled times of coronavirus.

I regularly try to reach out to all SCHS members to capture their thoughts and ideas, which I will be happy to help them implement along with the SCHS board. We have begun to organize various awards for skilled and gifted chemistry students and thus motivate them further in their career. I believe that my colleagues on the SCHS board and our expert group leaders are ready to work hard and send a positive message to the entire community.

A new SCHS board is being formed soon, and I believe that young colleagues will step up to help with our plans. I would be very grateful for their involvement, and they are welcome to come up with their own ideas and plans.



What are the biggest challenges that your society faces?

Slovakia is a small country. Since our society has about 800 members, we know almost all the chemists. But sometimes it is very difficult to pique the interest of the members and involve them in our work. We publish and distribute our ChemZi magazine among them in printed form so that they can familiarize themselves with the latest information about what is going on in our society and how they can get involved. And it is also to encourage them just to think about how they can be a part of the SCHS, not only formally, but also actively.

We also have many talented colleagues who regularly appear in the media, either through interviews or documents for the general public. In this way, they help to popularize chemistry and support the position of the SCHS in the domestic and foreign arenas. Eliminating prejudice against chemistry in society is challenging as well and will take plenty of time and a lot of work. Even though chemistry is a common part of our lives, we often do not realize it.

We would like to be also more active in the European Chemical Society (EuChemS), where we have recently successfully elected a Slovak representative to the executive board.



What has changed because of COVID-19?

For me, as well as for many colleagues, personal contact is very important. No online meeting will replace it to the same extent. And that is what COVID-19 has taken away from us. As everywhere, the coronavirus has forced us to cancel a lot of the events we had planned—from popularization seminars to anniversary events that we organize for our oldest members every year.

Likewise, this year, many colleagues from Slovakia had to cancel their attendance at our joint conference of chemists in Prague in September. However, we are glad that we had the opportunity to make the SCHS visible at least through the awards for selected chemistry students. Nor did COVID-19 stop us from publishing our ChemZi magazine.



Who are the most famous or notable members past and present of the SCHS?

This is a really difficult question for me, because the most famous or notable members don’t always have to be the ones who have done the most for society. Maybe I am being too candid in saying that, and I definitely don’t want to offend anyone. Of course, every era of the SCHS has had its own noteworthy representatives, and my older colleagues would remember and appreciate them better than I.

For me, the most well-known member and best president in the modern history of our society was Dusan Velic. His contribution is indisputable. He is also a clear trendsetter for me, and I would like to be just as successful and goal-oriented as he is.



What are the strengths and weaknesses of the SCHS?

Let’s not talk about the weaknesses of the SCHS. There are none! No, but honestly, I can say clearly that we are working hard on our shortcomings, so hopefully there will be no room for weakness in the future. Everything depends on particular individuals, on their interest in working together and overcoming their differences. We should all have a clear goal, namely, to move our society forward, to do better conferences and seminars, and to expand our operations throughout Slovakia. In particular, we should not forget our colleagues and students outside of the capital city of Bratislava.

And the main strengths? We are one of the largest and oldest professional organizations in Slovakia, uniting scientists, teachers, and engineers together to continue the legacy. Hence, the active cooperation of all of us is the main strength of the SCHS—and especially now that I am convinced that continuity will be maintained when the new SCHS board is formed. Along with a new vice president of the SCHS, Ľubomír Švorc, whom you will hear more about in the future, I am sure. [He is Associate Professor at the Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava.]



What is your opinion on the impact of scientific societies in today’s world and where are they headed?

Science and technology have had a major impact on today’s world, and the impact is still growing. Scientific societies bring together scientists from different fields, and their role is to provide information, education, and professional development programs for their members. The very important issue is to support the programs for teaching, so students can learn. This is the best way to open doors for young people and inspire future generations.



Please tell us a bit about how your career has developed?

I studied physical chemistry at the Department of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, Faculty of Natural Science, Comenius University in Bratislava. I also graduated with a Ph.D. there. I remained at Comenius University to teach and am also professionally involved with the International Laser Center.

My scientific field is focused on secondary-ion mass spectrometry, a sophisticated tool for analyzing the chemical composition of different materials, especially on surfaces. I work with our students and my colleagues, and together our interests extend from meteorites through MXenes and perovskites to biological samples. We are also advancing a unique technique of adaptive control for post-ionization in secondary-ion mass spectrometry with laser-pulse shaping. And I must say that we often work under very complicated and really specific conditions, since the budget for science in Slovakia is very limited.



Who or what has inspired you most in chemistry and during your career?

Of course, as a student and during my Ph.D. studies I was motivated by my supervisors, Professor Benko and Professor Vollarova, at the Department of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, Faculty of Natural Science, Comenius University. They also sent me out into the “big” world as a student during my postgraduate studies. The “big” world was Austria, but it was enough to reach a little beyond the borders of Slovakia. To put things into context, it was still less than ten years after the fall of Berlin wall, and our country was only just opening up towards Europe.

A number of international students from all over the world and friendly professors provided me with valuable experience. Now I have two long-lasting inspirations, personified in my two colleagues, who are also my friends. And I am very glad to name them: Dusan Velic and Dušan Lorenc. You most probably don’t know them, since they’re not Nobel-class scientists, but for me they are. I dare say that without them I would not be where I am, neither in the SCHS nor in my scientific work. We do experiments and projects together, we write scientific publications, and we have many discussions, both serious and less serious. The microclimate they create in my workplace is amazing, and I would wish everyone was fortunate enough to have such colleagues.



What motivates you?

Not what, but who. It’s always about people. These days I am currently motivated by my parents and colleagues, who do not stop pushing me to pursue an Associate Professor position. Recently, I have fulfilled the necessary requirements for habilitation, and now is the right time to move forward in my academic career.



What do you do in your spare time?

I consider myself an absolutely ordinary person. I have never excelled in any sport or in the arts, unlike many of my colleagues. I spend my free time with my family, my husband Dusan and my two sons Michal and Lukas. I like reading books and watching sci-fi, thriller, and horror movies. I really like animals and we also take care of several of them at home. Sometimes I enjoy a little “retail therapy”, and sometimes I do nothing at all.



Thank you very much for the interview.

Monika Jerigova studied chemistry at Comenius University in Bratislava and earned her Ph.D. in physical chemistry in 2004. During her Ph.D., she was a research assistant at Johannes Kepler University, Linz, Austria. Currently, Monika Jerigova is an assistant professor at Comenius University and a scientist at the International Laser Center, both in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Monika Jerigova has been a member of the Slovak Chemical Society since 2002. She was the executive director of the organizing committee of the joint national conferences of the Slovak and the Czech Chemical Societies from 2005 to 2013. Since 2005, she has served as an assistant editor of ChemZi, the membership magazine of the Slovak Chemical Society.

Her research focuses on secondary-ion mass spectrometry for analyzing the chemical composition of different materials, particularly surfaces. Her interests include meteorites, MXenes, perovskites, and biological samples. She was among the first to make use of adaptive control of post-ionization in secondary-ion mass spectrometry with laser-pulse shaping.


Selected Publications




Leave a Reply

Kindly review our community guidelines before leaving a comment.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *