Finalist of the category: Outstanding academic

František Kundracik

Modelling of light pollution

Light pollution is a problem of paramount importance, that practically all densely populated urban areas are struggling with nowadays. ‘’Accurate analysis of the light spectrum makes it easier for cities to take optimal measures to reduce it’’ says doc. Dr.rer.nat. Frantisek Kundracik, PhD. from the Department of Experimental Physics, Faculty of Mathematics, Physics and Informatics, Comenius University in Bratislava, who focuses on modelling of light pollution in his research work.

Light pollution casts away some animal species from their environment, leading to disturbance in the natural balance. This is manifested by an overpopulation of pests, such as rodents. It also has a negative effect on human health. Cities are trying to fight the light pollution by introducing new, less harmful lighting technologies. "If they decide to replace obsolete sodium lamps in street lights with LED lights, they should first know whether and how the reconstruction of public lighting will lead to a reduction in light pollution. We are able to calculate it relatively accurately using mathematical-physical modelling," says František Kundracik.

This application, with its working title SkyGlow, can determine the level of light pollution based on input data such as, types of light sources and numbers of street lights, houses, monumental illuminations and the like. When mapping light sources, you don’t have to necessary walk the streets, but their identification can be done using a spectrum analyser. As František Kundracik points out, one of his students also took part in this development. He has programmed software to break down the light spectrum into components that correspond to each type of lights. The more accurate these data, the more accurate the forecast. "Involvement in real projects is the best way to attract young people to do research," he adds.

The joint research team of FMFI UK and ÚSTARCH SAS, of which František Kundracik is a member, has developed a forecasting computer model that is simple, fast and accurate. This team is one of the three most significant organisations in the world dealing with modelling of light pollution. "Two years ago, we got a request by the city of Tucson, Arizona, to calculate the impact that the reconstruction of public lighting will have on an area famous for its many observatories. We predicted that the proposed measures would reduce light pollution by about twenty percent, which was also later confirmed. The same assignment was given to other organisations, but only we were able to come up with a forecast. The others ended up with the calculations suggesting it would take too long or not being able to obtain relevant input data at all." he explains.

František Kundracik is convinced that a university professor is obliged to practice science if he wants to pass on the current knowledge to his students. He admits that in bachelor's studies it is probably more important to arouse students' interest in science, whereas in higher grades, in which they already work on their specializations, it is necessary to teach them the latest trends, according to him. What he believes to be the most difficult part of teaching is the fact that preparation takes a long time. "It is not easy to prepare interesting lectures," he says. "In the first year, based on the students' reactions, I find out what is and what isn’t good, in the second year I correct it, in the third year I write scripts and in the fourth I can start preparing lectures again, because the scientific knowledge has moved on once again."

František Kundracik believes that it is necessary to inspire young people for science while they’re still in high school. Every year, he organizes the Young Physicists Tournament (an international competition for high school students) that simulates scientific work. It is not about giving class tasks, but rather about students being given mostly experimental tasks, which they then work on for several months. They study the literature, solve ambiguities and, at the very end of the competition, they present the results of their research to other competitors and a professional jury as if at a scientific conference. "Only in this way can we hope that promising students will go on and apply to science and technology related universities," he adds. "Of course, once they're at university, we can't drive them away. That is why, we try to involve them in specific projects, where they solve real scientific tasks, so that their bachelor's and master's theses do not become merely theoretical treatises."