With an unbuttoned robe, four pens sticking out of its pockets, Croatian scientist Mario Novak energetically enters the laboratory.
Vigen Goginyan, Deputy Director of the Scientific and Production Center Armbiotechnology of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia, introduces us to the guest, saying he’s a superb Croatian scientist. Mario smiles.
Mario Novak, a candidate of sciences, came to Armenia from the University of Zagreb in February this year, as part of the Phoenix project.
Phoenix is aimed at studying new technologies that will allow exploring the inaccessible environment. This project is a part of Horizon 2020, a seven-year (2014-2020) multi-layer program financed by the EU, with a budget of 80 billion euros.
"Our main goal is to create a movement in science and exchange the new knowledge. In global terms, we aim to make the world a better place," says Mario.
Mario replaced his friend, who was working here in Armbiotechnology before him, within the same scientist exchange program. He will stay in Armenia until June.
The Croatian scientist says he knew about Armenia only through the music of System of a Down, and he still listens to their songs.
He believes Croatia and Armenia have similarities - both good and bad.
Both were at war in the 1990s. Politicians of both countries behave alike. In both countries, officials do not want to put money into science, because they are only interested in their posts and benefits from them.
"Although only a small part of our taxes is being invested in science, we have very good scientists. You have them here, too, and they work hard. However, it's not easy to be a scientist, especially in a country that is still developing. But the work done by scientists can be very important and useful not only for the country, but also for the region," says Mario.
Currently, Croatia is the last state to join the EU (EU member since 2013). However, the Croatian scientist says that the science faces a funding problem there, too. For example, if the European Union is funding about 70% of a project, and the rest should be paid by the local government, that can lead to a problem, because the authorities fail to provide money for science. On the other hand, comparing natural and humanitarian sciences, Mario says that if, for example, the historian must just have eyes and papers to explore, natural scientists need tools and materials that are expensive.
The scientist highlights the importance of cooperation between business and science, adding that to see the results of their work, one needs time.
"For example, at present, when the price of oil and gas is low, bioethanol research is not profitable, because you cannot produce cheaper bioethanol as a cheap fuel. But if we look further, to keep the planet alive and clear, we should use bioethanol, biofuels. A few years ago, solar heaters were very expensive, but now an average family can afford them,” says Mario, adding, “Start small - dream big.”
He returns to Croatia in June and doesn’t yet know where his work will take him next. Mario says he’d like to collaborater further with Armenia.
"What scientists do here, is of great value, both in the laboratory and in the institute. I would like to continue researching with Armenian scientists," says Mario.
The Croatian scientist admits that he likes Armenian cuisine very much, especially lavash bread, sujoukh and wine. "When I return to Croatia, I do not know what I will do without lavash," Mario jokes.
We laugh. I promise to send some lavash to Croatia.
Photos by Narek Aleksanyan