In 1949 Yugoslavia was on the wrong side of the iron curtain and at the same time in a severe conflict with the Stalin-led Communist Bloc. No wonder the leaders of the Yugoslav communist parties felt threatened, and – according to some sources - even seriously considered the development of an atom bomb. One of the results of this Cold War paranoia was the establishment of several research institutions across the federation, including the Jožef Stefan Institute (IJS) in Ljubljana. Today Yugoslavia is just a fading memory, while Jožef Stefan is the leading scientific institute in Slovenia, bar none.
Nowadays IJS employs almost 1,000 people – over 800 of them work as researchers in four main scientific fields: physics, chemistry with biochemistry, electronics with IT and nuclear engineering. Every year the institute is involved in over 400 international projects, in both basic and applied research. Some of the results of these activities are seen in the over 1,500 articles published annually in leading scientific journals.
Although IJS’ activities cover a very wide spectrum, there is a clear focus on certain key research areas involving various teams and departments. One of these is materials and nanotechnology, with a team now involved in the development of eco-friendly materials for flexible energy-storage devices, while another is developing hard coatings for the protection of tools and machine parts. The Institute’s department of Inorganic Chemistry and Technology is one of the leading groups in the world for the synthesis of new compounds containing fluorine. The Electronic Ceramics Department develops complex multifunctional materials and structures on the macro-, micro- and nano-levels, with the resulting materials are applicable in pressure sensors, flexible electronics and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS).
The Condensed Matter Physics program includes research on quasicrystals, “incommensurate crystals and complex metal alloys with gigantic cell units, which show outstanding combinations of material properties”. The Solid-State Physics research group is working on novel types of nanomaterials suitable for gas sensors. The group has also discovered new materials with high electrocaloric effects for use in cooling devices. On a more fundamental level the group has also discovered new quantum phenomena in the magnetism of low dimensional spin systems.
Apart from applied research the Institute is also involved in more esoteric areas of theoretical and elementary particles physics. Here IJS researchers focus on strange hadrons, quantum chromodynamics or leptoquarks. Again, one of the key emphasis is on the development of advanced particle detectors, and the Slovenian ATLAS group from IJS plays an important role within CERN’s ATLAS experiment.
Another focus of IJS researchers is biotechnology, in particular toxinology and research into the biology of fungi in a search for new biotechnological approaches and products. IJS scientists consider animal and plant toxins as “a rich source of new substances and molecular tools to improve human and animal health”.
The third focus of the institute is research related to robotics and artificial intelligence. Here, IJS scientists combine engineering and the life sciences with the goal of developing a “human-robot partnership”. The results have been “significant contributions to the development of new methods for sensorimotor learning by imitation and coaching, a planetary habitat simulation facility, humanoid vision systems, manikins enabling the evaluation of protective garments for industry and recreation, kinematic models of the human body that serve as a basis for the design of anthropomorphic systems, reconfigurable robotic systems, and a medical treatment for frostbite”. The department is also working on a reconfigurable robot work cell for the rapid set-up of assembly processes in SMEs and on exoskeletons. In partnership with US company Kimberly-Clark the department “investigates novel strategies in the development of optimal personal protective garments”.
IJS also operates its own nuclear reactor, with the main focus of the Reactor Engineering Division being safety research.
The Institute Jožef Stefan has its own international postgraduate school, and was a founder of the first Slovenian postgraduate school which has evolved into the country’s fourth university, located in Nova Gorica. It is also co-founder of ERICo Velenje, the Institute of Ecological Research, and the environment in general is one of the important areas of IJS research. To ease the development of spin-offs IJS also established a technology park, and as other partners joined this project it eventually evolved into Technology Park Ljubljana.