From making sculptures out of recycled paper to winning awards in literature, drawing, and history he has come a long way to become the world’s best young scientist!
Djordje Ogrizovic (21) begins his story by quoting one of the greatest minds in science, Mihajlo Pupin, stressing the importance of knowledge. This young man, a student in the Environmental Engineering Department at the Faculty of Technology and Metallurgy in Belgrade, is close to becoming a new Tesla! At a remarkably young age, more than 100 local and international awards are part of his life story.
Two years in a row, he won gold medals at the International Conference of Young Scientists (ICYS) in Stuttgart, in the field of Environmental Protection, while in 2016 he was named the best young innovator in the competition at the World Intellectual Property Organization and the Intellectual Property Office of the Republic of Serbia. He has also received the highest national prize in the field of education – the Saint Sava Award from the Ministry of Education.
Djordje shares creative ideas about spending time at home, speaks about his long-term plans, and also opens up a whole new topic about the ecological invention that made him internationally recognized. He reveals one of his greatest mottos is the line spelled out at the entrance to the ancient oracle of Delphi. There is so much good to learn from this modest genius.
Dear Djordje, who are the people who have helped you the most and who gave you the greatest support at the beginning of your career as a young scientist?
In the first place, it was certainly my family, as well as a circle of close friends. Also, there are organizations and associations aimed at introducing young people to scientific and research work, and by that I mean the Regional Center for Talents Belgrade, Petnica Science Centre and Intersection – Centre for Science and Innovation.
If it weren’t for the people who directed me to different activities, I would have never won so many awards
I received significant support for extra-curricular activities in both high school and elementary school, which continues today during my studies. If it weren’t for the people who directed me to different activities, I would have never won so many awards. I am very grateful for the selfless help I received. These are primarily the mentors, researchers, professors, and teachers whom I have reached out to through the organizations I mentioned.
Out of the hundreds of awards that you have won, there are a few very special ones and among them – two gold medals at the International Conference of Young Scientists (ICYS) in Stuttgart, in the field of Environmental Protection. What triggered you to focus your research in the field of Ecology?
Even as a kid, I loved recycling paper or making objects or sculptures from discarded packaging. During elementary school, my most important awards and successes were in fields such as history, grammar, literature, and drawing, while more serious “environmental work” began during high school.
I also owe my interest in this field to the mentors who guided me to the field of Environmental Science. I was introduced to the research process in the seventh grade, at the Center for Talents. Interests develop when we are young, from an early age onwards, throughout our lives. I was fortunate to grow up in an environment that always responded to my curiosity with enthusiasm and patience.
The project that made you the best young innovator in the world is related to the specific question of water purification. Can you tell us more about the mechanism and the idea behind it?
This research was about purifying water that had been contaminated with phenol, and doing so through the hydrodynamic cavitation process. Phenol is produced annually in large quantities and is deadly to humans at very low concentrations.
Due to the severity of this problem, many methods have been used to purify phenol water, but they have various disadvantages, such as high cost, poor efficiency, and indiscriminate purification. Examining the influence of different parameters on this process, it turned out that the hydrodynamic cavitation method is a very effective approach to solving this global problem.
Hydrodynamic cavitation refers to the formation, growth, and implosion of a vapor bubble in a flowing fluid resulting from variations in pressure. However, from this undergrad-student perspective, I can see how much could have been improved or done differently, so I will deal with that in the future.
This is not the only significant research that I have done. I have also examined the application of the hydrodynamic cavitation method for water purification on the lower course of the Kolubara River, as well as examining the vulnerability of groundwater in the Banja river basin. As part of the programs organized by the Vinca Institute of Nuclear Sciences, I have also participated in the Valorization of Waste Materials research.
What are the steps that need to be taken so this invention can become a valid patent? Are you working on putting it to wider use, and are you optimistic that one day it could be implemented as you imagined?
It was high school research, and the results were continued by my mentor, a professor at the Faculty of Physical Chemistry. I am currently a member of the team that is committed to waste management, with a desire to pursue water treatment methods in the future. Of course, I would like to apply in our country all that is established during scientific research, but this, unfortunately, does not depend on the researcher.
There are numerous studies that have outstanding results, concrete technical and economic feasibility, but they do not seem to be sufficiently heard.
There are numerous studies that have outstanding results, concrete technical and economic feasibility, but they do not seem to be sufficiently heard. It takes a systematic investment of both time and money in science and the entire education system (from the very beginning) to see some changes. Today, it all comes down to the personal desire and engagement of the individual.
How do you perceive the position of young scientists in Serbia, and what are the crucial changes that can be done in regard to the support of these talented young people, in your opinion?
In today’s pragmatic world, the applicability of the results obtained is important as well as the scientific field we are dealing with. Equally important is the team in which we work, so also the ideas and knowledge of the team leader. And finally, in my country, in addition to all of the above, it is necessary to have money for the planned research.
In 2019, the Science Fund was organized in Serbia, and for several years I have been a fellow of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development as a young researcher. It has turned out that the financial and funding questions are not the key issue. A much bigger problem is the lack of a mentoring system for the best students as well as an unclear desire and need to involve students from the earliest days of any given research process.
Of course, the modernization of teaching and the re-examination of the subjects taught at the faculties are also necessary. Yet, we still have many great professors who work with students like me. I had the great honor to meet one of the greatest bioengineers in the world today, Gordana Vunjak Novakovic, who was also educated at the Faculty of Technology and Metallurgy.
What is the best tip you have received from someone you admire and that you will never forget?
You will achieve everything with your work
Lately, whenever I talk to seniors, most being over 80, I ask them what they think is the most important thing in life. I would like to share two of the most beautiful answers I have gotten. The first one refers to the idea that we all must know ourselves and our capabilities (this is, after all, one of the oldest ideas, spelled out at the entrance of the ancient oracle at Delphi – gnōthi seauton – “know thyself”) and the other is that everything in life can be done if the right way is found. This aligns with my favorite motto – you will achieve everything with your work.
How do you see yourself in a decade?
In a decade, I see myself as a person contented with myself, dealing with the application of Environmental Technologies. The short-term goals include a commitment to studies, participation in various scientific conferences and competitions, and counseling for younger people who are interested in science. The long-term and ultimate goal is a real concern for the environment and the conservation of natural water resources. I believe in a future where many educated, clever, and moral people can make their countries and the whole world a better place to live in. Even when I reach the age of my mentors, there will be students interested in science. I would like to assist them in achieving their goals by acting as a mentor who will help them to make their dreams come true.
How are you spending your time in this challenging period? Are you working on any interesting new ideas from home?
At the very beginning of this interview, I would like to wish everyone good health, hoping we are all acknowledging the relevance of the problem the world is facing today. This crisis, from which, I hope, as a society, we will draw lessons, is a clear indication that in difficult situations we remember those whose professions are often insufficiently respected, and also remember the sciences, in which a generally small amount of money is invested.
There are numerous indications that because of reduced human activity, the rate of pollution is being reduced, so I hope this situation will be striking enough to make us commit to environmental protection essentially, not just declaratively. I am using this period to read books that I have not had time for so far, to watch different films, to draw (again, after a long time), and to think about further activities. Acquiring further knowledge is always an imperative; and one of the greatest Serbian and world scientists, Mihajlo Idvorski Pupin, confirms this in his biography: Knowledge is the golden ladder by which we climb to heaven; knowledge is the light which illuminates our path through this life and leads to a future life of everlasting glory.
Can you update us on your local and international business plans or projects before the Corona outbreak?
I try to stay active all the time. The state of emergency has interrupted two very exciting activities. The first is the research I am involved in with a group of researchers at the Faculty of Technology and Metallurgy, where I study, which is related to Electron Beam Machining Lithography. The second is participating in the Bio-waste Management Project, organized by the United Nations Development Program, the Ministry of the Environment, and the Swedish Agency for International Development and Cooperation.
The previous period was full of various activities, too. Just before the pandemic began, I gave lectures on plastic pollution and environmental migrations as part of the Global Perspectives Week – Cambridge International Program.
In February, I was on a team with Milica Stojkovic, Tara Veselinovic, Jana Vujadinovic, Aleksandra Popovic, and Maja Dejanoska, and we won the third prize for an idea in waste management in Belgrade, at one of the most massive climate events in the world – Climathon. There were other activities and competitions, such as the Competition for the Best Technological Innovation in the Student Innovative Ideas category, where I, along with Filip Boskovic, Vladislav Mutic, and Milan Djordjevic, developed an innovative mosquito repellent, and we received a second prize for this idea.
As a student at the Faculty of Technology and Metallurgy at the University of Belgrade, can you share some tricks with all students on how to be more productive in studying during the quarantine?
I do not like giving such tips, as they seem too general for me and also because each one of us is different, so we need different approaches. However, I recently came across the advice of a professor from Belgrade University who said that in every subject that we study we have to investigate thoroughly and reach the core of what it represents to understand it completely.
Certainly, in addition to learning the subjects in formal course work, it is good to learn something new and broader than the college curriculum, it is good to find motivation in wanting to know more than our parents did and by doing so to improve both ourselves and the society which each new generation will rise. There is a traditional Serbian saying referring to this – One wants to be better than everyone, but to be worse than his son.
Photos: Katarina Kovacevic, Mostapha Raad and Jelena Ivanovic
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