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The Warsaw Voice » Other » October 28, 2009
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From the Publisher
October 28, 2009   
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It was naive of me to think that the Central Mining Institute (GIG) was all about mining and mining only. And I took it for granted that coal mining, a huge part of the Polish economy, should have a powerful institute of its own. After all, even kids in Polish preschools are taught that their country is founded on coal. Coal mining constitutes the bedrock of the country's economy, with industry, households and exports dependent on it. Whenever a crisis loomed over Poland, before World War II and afterwards, the coal industry has led the country out of it. Coal miners were glorified as saviors of the nation, a status they took advantage of. Even in the grim communist days, their privileged status meant that stores in Silesia, the coal heartland of Poland, sold goods that were never available in other parts of the country. Anyone who wanted to stay in power in Poland needed to have the miners on his side. And then, 20 years ago, it turned out that the Polish and international markets demanded reforms to the mining sector, which meant it would become much less important. Poland's first democratic government after World War II, installed in 1989, thus faced a challenge that surpassed even that taken on by Britain's Margaret Thatcher. The reforms in Poland were by no means painless, but they were effective and today, instead of 400,000 people, the coal mining sector employs 100,000 and is far more efficient.

Still, coal mining is not all there is to the Central Mining Institute. Our interview with Prof. Józef Dubiński, the director-general of the institute, shows that we should beware of stereotypes. "We are not focused exclusively on coal mining; the mining sector accounts for only 20-25 percent of our revenue," Dubiński says. "Our technical and technological experience in mining can be successfully transferred to other areas of the economy, which is why today GIG provides services to companies from practically all industrial sectors."

GIG could easily stand for "gigantic," because with a staff of 540, the Central Mining Institute is one of the largest institutes of its kind in Poland. The staff includes 12 professors, 14 academics with postdoctoral degrees and 90 with Ph.Ds. The Scientific Council of the Institute has been authorized to confer doctoral and postdoctoral degrees in mining and engineering geology since 1961 and in environmental engineering since 1998.

A lot has been said in Poland about a knowledge-based economy, innovation and technology transfer between science and business. A lot has been done in this department too. These topics occupy more space in The Polish Science Voice than all other subjects put together. The Central Mining Office and what Prof. Dubiński tells us about it stand as testimony to how plans and ideas can become reality.

This issue of The Polish Science Voice also carries a series of reports on the international successes of young Polish researchers. These include a Gdańsk academic working to develop new methods to treat infectious and neurodegenerative diseases; a young scientist in Cracow researching the transformation of matter after the Big Bang; and a Ph.D. conducting research on third-generation solar cells.
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