Remembering Ludvík Smrčka

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The recently deceased Ing. Ludvík Smrčka, DrSc., an outstanding researcher and a friend,  as remembered by four of his colleagues (Pavel Středa, Petr Vašek, Pavel Svoboda and Jan Kočka)

Ludvík Smrčka strongly influenced our lives - not only our lives as professionals. Two of us (Pavel Středa, Petr Vašek) first met Ludvík Smrčka in 1961 while he was working as a camp leader at an international summer camp at Zruč nad Sázavou. We just left secondary school, not sure yet about our next steps. Ludvík studied the Faculty of Technical and Nuclear Physics of the Czech Technical University (ČVUT) and his appealing talks on physics convinced us to follow the same path - we joined the same faculty. There we encountered him again - this time as a lecturer on field theory at the Faculty of Technical and Nuclear Physics. He managed to get us involved as research assistants at the Institute of Solid State Physics (today a section of the Institute of Physics at “Cukrovarnická”), where he was working on his dissertation. The dissertation dealt with experimental physics; he was weighting vacancies. However, a major practical obstacle related to his thesis (The shipment of devices he had ordered arrived only after the completion of his dissertation) made him reconsider his experimental aspirations and switch to theoretical physics. His candidature thesis (Candidate of Science, a scientific degree in former Czechoslovakia), successfully defended in 1970, dealt with calculations of the aluminium electron structure. At that time, Ludvík and all the four authors of this memory were members of a workgroup established by dr. Karel Míšek at the Department of Metals of the former Institute of Solid State Physics (ÚFPL). The group, comprising 2 theorists (Smrčka, Středa) and 2 experimenters (Vašek, Svoboda), was characterised from the very beginning by very close cooperation; this closeness was, in the fact, also literal - we were cooped up in a single room, including dr. Míšek,  for many years. The group's underlying work topic was the research in the physical properties of solids, primarily of metals and semi-metals, under low temperatures.

Ludvík Smrčka s Vítem Novákem
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Ludvík Smrčka s Vítem Novákem. Kredit: Pavel Svoboda

In the 1980‘s, when the initial ÚFPL had already become a part of today‘s Institute of Physics, the entire field of solid state physics was significantly influenced by the newly discovered macroscopic quantum phenomena, quantum Hall effect (KHJ) and, later, also high-temperature superconductivity. At that time, Ludvík Smrčka was exploring quantum theory of electron transport in magnetic fields and it was at his instigation that we began to concentrate on the new phenomena as a group. One of the authors (Středa) mastered the basics of quantum theory - under the lead of Ludvík - to such an extent that it allowed him to formulate the theory of quantum Hall effect. The exploration of quantum Hall effect was later joined by experimenters who, using the MBE technology, acquired suitable semiconductor structures.

A key aspect of the quantum Hall effect and the associated phenomena is the transport of charge in two-dimensional electron systems. The intensive evolution of this discipline at the end of the 1980‘s inspired Ludvík to implement arguably the most considerable coordination project of his career. In October 1990, he left the Department of Semiconductors of the FZU to set up a brand new Department of Surfaces and Interfaces. He became its head and we joined him as team members. Under his direction, a new workplace was created with top technology and experimental instrumentation. Then, apart from the installation of a modern MBE apparatus, also the laboratory of electron lithography was set up. The creation of the laboratory was part of a large project entitled “Nanotechnology Centre and Nanoelectronics Materials” with the participation of several departments of the FZU (responsible researcher J. Kočka), with Ludvík being in charge of the project‘s spintronics part. The Surfaces and Interfaces Department gradually evolved into the present Department of Spintronics and Nanoeletrconics. When Ludvík handed over the management of the department to his younger successors, he would still contribute to the department‘s scientific programme until the end.

At the beginning we said that we had been tied to a single office throughout the many years of our cooperation although the office was in the possession of several departments under two different Institutes of the Academy of Sciences due to numerous reorganisations. Further reorganisations spread us around different offices of the Institute of Physics in the last few years; one of us (Svoboda) decided to leave the Institute; but Ludvík Smrčka ultimately returned to that same office and continued to work there until the end of his days.

You can view a complete list of Ludvík‘s publications, grants and other expert activities at the following website https://www.spintronics.fzu.cz/People/Smrcka. Let us share just some of the personal memories of more than 50 years of our cooperation here. As we said earlier, Ludvík – although a theorist – had a very close relationship to experimental research and insisted that experiments are the foundation of the entire physics. This opinion was reflected in our team work - he used to motivate and, at times, even instructed experimenters to do what he proposed. This was reflected at its clearest in our long-term cooperation with the CNRS Laboratory of Magnetic fields in Grenoble. This cooperative project was Ludvík‘s affair of the heart. Between 1996 and 2012, Ludvík proposed and carried through 21 projects, which allowed us to study various types of semiconductor structures, prepared by our technologists at the FZU, using the unique magnets with magnetic fields up to 30 T at the Grenoble facilities. Once or even twice a year, we set off on a journey by car to Grenoble for a week long stay, and these trips - during which we took turns behind the wheel and, in the first years, slept in the car at parking lots, remain etched into the memories of all participants. We will never forget the numerous stressful occasions during the experiments; the beautiful view from the window of the guest room, and the trips we took around Grenoble.

The authors of this memory and a number of our colleagues have many recollections of the free time activities they took part in with Ludvík. First mostly at holiday houses of the ÚFPL and later of the Institute of Physics in Horní Rokytnice. One can hardly fully appreciate the influence of these places on establishing and building personal relationships among the co-workers of the FZU. Staying at the holiday houses, doing common maintenance and taking skiing trips have brought together several generations of employees and their families. There, life-long friendships were established, reaching far beyond the workplace. We played a number of sports together, first basketball and, later, mainly tennis. And it was a game of tennis with his friends at “Cukrovarnická” that was the last thing he did in this life Together, we went on holidays, we celebrated New Year‘s Eve and our birthdays. In all these life's happy moments, Ludvík will be greatly missed.

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