Dr Uroš Seljak Award and Commendation Ceremony at the University of Ljubljana

Date of publication: 4.10.2023

Today, Wednesday, 4 October, at the University of Ljubljana, the second Dr Uroš Seljak Awards and Commendations were awarded for the best scientific papers by students of first and second cycle studies in Slovenia. The purpose of the awards is to encourage scientific publications by students and to increase their involvement in research work and to promote mentoring of students.

Dr. Uroš Seljak, Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of California, Berkeley, alumnus of the University of Ljubljana (UL) and mentor at the American-Slovenian Educational Foundation - ASEF, has been awarded the prestigious Yale University Gruber Foundation Prize in 2021 for his key contributions to research in cosmology. With his share of the award - USD 150,000 - he has established an endowment fund for first- and second-cycle students, which supports the best scientific publications of Slovenian students, regardless of which Slovenian higher education institution they are studying at, in the form of the Dr. Uroš Seljak Award of USD 10,000 each year.

The Dr. Uroš Seljak Award was awarded to Jakob Božič from the Faculty of Computer and Information Science, University of Ljubljana, for his published scientific work entitled Mixed supervision for surface-defect detection: From weakly to fully supervised learning (mentor prof. dr. Danijel Skočaj), Miha Papič from the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics, University of Ljubljana for his published scientific work entitled Topological liquid crystal superstructures as structured light lasers (mentor doc dr Matjaž Humar) and Peter Šujica from the Faculty of Law, University of Ljubljana for his published scientific work entitled Razumeti nepravo opustitveno kaznivo dejanje – stare kazenskopravne dileme ob novih problemih umetne inteligence (mentor prof. dr. Damjan Korošec).

The commendation for scientific publication by first and second cycle students was awarded to Tina Cimperman from the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, University of Ljubljana, for her thesis entitled Gene Electrotransfer into Mammalian Cells Using Commercial Cell Culture Inserts with Porous Substrate (mentor doc. dr. Lea Rems), Jan Otoničar from the Faculty of Biotechnology, University of Ljubljana for the thesis entitled A method for targeting a specified segment of DNA to a bacterial microorganelle (mentor: Associate Prof. Matej Butala, PhD) and Žiga Trojer from the Faculty of Computer and Information Science, University of Ljubljana for the thesis entitled Trans2k: Unlocking the Power of Deep Models for Transparent Object Tracking (mentor prof. dr. Matej Kristan).

Dr Seljak was unable to attend the award ceremony and welcomed the audience by video. "The very concept of the prize is based on the idea that research should be supported at undergraduate level, as this is where the beginnings of research are first created and can be developed in great depth with the help of mentors. This concept is already very well developed in America and I was wondering whether it should be encouraged in Slovenia as well. Research is a passion, and the sooner you start, the sooner you realise that it is a very interesting thing to do, which can lead to a lifetime of research," he explained.

"The Dr Uroš Seljak Fund is very important in strengthening the scientific potential of young people in Slovenia. We need to encourage young people to explore and discover new knowledge already during their studies. By doing so, we introduce them to the magical world of science at an early age and begin to encourage them to tackle the challenges we face as individuals, as nations, and as a global community," said the Rector of the University of Ljubljana, Prof. Gregor Majdič, and stressed that he would like this gesture of philanthropy by Dr Seljak to encourage other successful alumni of the University of Ljubljana to take similar steps.

The members of the Dr Uroš Seljak Prize jury, representing various research disciplines - natural sciences, engineering, biotechnology, human or veterinary medicine, social sciences and humanities - chose from 28 applications received this year, and due to the large number of high-quality applications and interesting topics, the decision was made in two rounds.

"I must stress that the choice between the 28 applications received was anything but easy. Nevertheless, I am convinced that we have made a fair and just decision, and we would like to thank all the applicants for giving us an insight into their achievements, despite the fact that they were not selected this time," explained the Chairman of the Expert Committee, Prof. Dr. Simon Horvat, at the award ceremony. "In a world that is constantly changing, one constant is ever present - the power of knowledge. Let this award be a symbol of that power and a reminder to all of us that together we are building a better future through science. We will need more ambitious and dedicated future scientists with bold ideas and an ethical and moral stance in science, like those who have been nominated for the Dr Uroš Seljak Prize," he added.

Dr Marinka Žitnik, Director of the ASEF Institute, also addressed the participants of the award ceremony via video. "The Dr Uroš Seljak Award not only recognises outstanding achievements, but also creates a stimulating environment where scientific ideas can be born, grow and flourish. Research is a journey that can be fraught with obstacles, ambiguities and uncertainties, which makes it all the more important to support young researchers in this world and encourage them to find new solutions. Emphasising the importance of involving young people in research from their student years is not just an act, but a long-term investment. Cutting-edge science that starts in the student years lays the foundations for lasting excellence."

Photo: Nebojša Tejić/STA

Tina Cimperman from the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, University of Ljubljana, received a commendation for scientific publication by first and second cycle students for her thesis entitled Gene Electrotransfer into Mammalian Cells Using Commercial Cell Culture Inserts with Porous Substrate. The mentor of the awardee is assistant professor Lea Rems, PhD.

Gene electrotransfection is one of the main non-viral methods for introducing plasmid DNA into biological cells. It is based on the phenomenon of electroporation, which temporarily increases the permeability of cell membranes when cells are exposed to a pulsating electric field. Nanostructured devices achieve localisation of the electric field to small parts of the cell membrane, significantly improving the efficiency of genetic electrotransfection and cell survival, but unfortunately such devices are not widely available.

In her award-winning work, she studies and designs a novel gene electrotransfection approach based on commercially available microtiter plate inserts pre-prepared for cell culture on nanoporous membranes. She has determined the parameters of the electrical pulses optimal for plasmid DNA insertion by numerical modelling of electroporation at the microscopic level of the cell and at the macroscopic level of the fabricated end-device. She tested the device in three mammalian cell lines, where the efficiency is comparable to classical gene electrotransfection, but allows significantly higher cell survival. An additional advantage of the device is that it does not require expensive high-voltage electroporators, as gene electrotransfection is achieved by low-voltage pulses.

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