History

Learning timely from the developed world is a vital requirement for the continued progress of the developing countries. The story behind the founding of the Materials Research Society – Serbia (MRS – Serbia) nicely illustrates this. Namely, not too long after the American and the European Materials Research Societies were founded in mid-1970s and mid-1980s, respectively, did we decide to follow up on these extraordinary efforts. YUCOMAT conferences, organized by MRS – Serbia and having taken place first biannually and then annually on the first weeks of September in this scenic Adriatic town of Herceg-Novi, have served as the best illustration of our success in this endeavor. Moreover, this particular conference, marking twenty years since the founding of MRS – Serbia and the first YUCOMAT conference, is supposed to present the culmination of our effort to create a Society that will not lag behind its developed world counterparts in absolutely anything, from the quality and contemporariness of science that it promotes to its involvement in regional educational efforts in materials science and beyond.

However, to properly understand the history of our MRS, a step back in time needs to be made. In the early nineties of the 20th Century, Yugoslavia was a relatively developed country, with its GDP being higher than that of many European Union (EU) countries. The country practically stood at the doorstep of EU, ready to join it in no time. A fruitful scientific and technological collaboration was in place with entire Europe as well as with Americas and countries from the eastern hemisphere. Our scientists, at the same time, earned the epithet of reputable partners, embodying an ideal middle ground between the eastern excellence in theoretical studies and the western interest in practicality. As was the case a few decades earlier, during the Cold War era, our country was practically a paradise for cooperation, having enabled the scientists from both East and West to meet, present their findings, engage in unrestrained debates about their ideas and establish vital contacts as nods on today’s network of a connected and globalized world.

Countless stories are shared to this very day about the first encounters between the renowned Soviet scientists with their western colleagues. As ever, science and art have acted as territories freed from political divisions and animosities that tore their real-life counterparts apart. Many of us still remember the gatherings of distinguished names from materials science and engineering in this very venue between 1969 and 1989 at conferences known as the Round Table Meetings on Sintering, later renamed to World Conference on Sintering. Unfortunately, this role as a bridge between the East and the West was erased in a heartbeat owing to a string of irrational strategic decisions of our political leaders in the early 1990s. It resulted in the breakup of a beautiful country that Yugoslavia was, a decade of civil wars, staggering social strife and horrible crimes before whose victims every intellectual should have kept his head bowed. Following the economic sanctions installed by the United Nations in June 1992 the country was plunged into a deep isolation; the Serbian scientists were left to themselves only, with only a few sporadic contacts here and there with their foreign colleagues and former collaborators being maintained. Even publications in international journals were prohibited in the years that followed. At the same time, while our country was shattered by real bombs and ammunition, materials science worldwide experienced an explosion of new knowledge and its technological potentials. Biomaterials, energy materials and nanomaterials are only some of the types of materials which underwent a small renaissance in this period of time. Yet, like a prisoner watching carnival outside the rusty prison bars, so were we pushed into ever deeper scientific, cultural and socioeconomic isolation while the outside world was getting ever more connected and prospective, the devastating consequences of which are reaped in every domain of our society to this very day.

What is important to notice is that this phenomenal moment in the evolution of materials science and engineering partially came forth as a result of the impetus given by the American scientists through their forming the first MRS in 1973. Ten years later, in 1983, the European MRS was founded, which was followed by the founding of other materials research societies all over the world – Japanese and Indian in 1989, Mexican and Singaporean in 1990, and eventually Serbian in 1997, a few years before the Brazilian in 2001 and the Ukrainian in 2003. The American MRS conferences with the unprecedentedly large numbers of symposia demonstrated the then unthinkable scale at which materials science congregations could be organized. Seeing this, a group of our scientists, who had worked in diverse fields of materials science and engineering - from physics to physical chemistry to chemistry to ceramics to metals to polymers to fine powders to thin films to monocrystals and beyond - felt inspired and came to an idea to organize the first conference on new materials, in September 1995, at which mainly reviews of their own and global research in the field would be presented and shared among the participants.The idea was unequivocally embraced and resulted in the formation of the embryo for a professional society that MRS – Serbia was to become two years later. This very seaside town, Herceg-Novi, was chosen as the conference site because of its long tradition in hosting the aforementioned conferences on sintering and other domestic and international events of scientific and cultural significance.

 

 

The agreement reached during this inaugural conference on materials in September 1995 was respected and, as a result, months before the second such conference was to be held, in July 1997 our MRS was registered as the Yugoslav Materials Research Society (Yu-MRS) and our conferences became known as YUCOMAT, being the acronym for YUgoslav COnference on MATerials. The organization scheme was established so that 19 of the individual founders of the Society became the members of the Presidential Board. The President, the Vice President and the General Secretary who were elected then have remained acting in those roles to this very day. Although a few members of the Presidential Board voluntarily stepped down, they were replaced and its membership count remained the same: 19. It must be added that a significant moral support was received from the Serbian Ministry of Science and the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SASA), as well as from a few other institutions. The then President of SASA, late Aleksandar Despić, welcomed the participants at the first four YUCOMAT conferences (1995-2001) and was actively involved in the workings of the Society. Logically, the most prominent sponsor was the Institute of Technical Sciences of the SASA, given that from the very first day a complete organizational logistics has been executed by its staff members and using its financial resources. The Institute for Chemistry, Inorganic Technologies and New Materials in Padua, Italy must be acknowledged here for offering us a helping hand when it was the hardest; the Proceedings for conferences held in 1999 and 2001 were published with their financial aid.

Initially we were driven by the idea that memories of even the most memorable presentations fade away with time and that, therefore, it would be useful to capture them in the form of Conference Proceedings. Starting with the first YUCOMAT, we published the Conference proceedings in English and with relatively large publishers, which distributed them globally. The first eight proceedings were published in the Materials Science Forum edition of the Swiss publisher, Trans Tech Publications. Each of the first four proceedings was a single volume, containing about 40 papers per volume, whereas the following four proceedings were published as two combined volumes with about 20 papers per volume. By that time, the global trend of diminished interest in releasing scientific results in low-impact conference proceedings had already taken over the entire scientific community and we were not spared by it by any means. Therefore, the first YUCOMAT that went on without being accompanied by published proceedings was the one held in 2007. Instead, the small number of papers chosen, as ever, through rigorous peer review, went on to be published in special issues of Materials and Manufacturing Processes published by Taylor and Francis, and of Surface Engineering published by Maney. Journals that published the selected works from subsequent YUCOMAT conferences were also Materials and Manufacturing Processes, Acta Physica Polonica A and International Journal on Modern Physics B. Despite the diminishing interest in the submission of papers, we continue to encourage the Conference participants to share their work in a written format and contribute to the impression of a memory of this event in a lasting form.

To complement the efforts to create a world-class scientific event for our community through YUCOMAT conferences, MRS – Serbia began to hold the complementary annual conferences for young researchers in the field of materials science and engineering. The success of the first such meeting held in Belgrade in 2002 prompted us to continue to organize them annually. Participants include undergraduate and graduate students as well as PhD graduates youngerthan 35; they are being given a valuable opportunity to orally present their works to peers, professors and professional researchers who could guide them in their further research. This was meant to be a part of their training for presentations at larger international meetings which are to be an integral part of their scientific careers. The interest in participating at these meetings has been continually increasing over the years: the first conference numbered 27 participants, whereas the few previous ones had about 80 of them. The conference is now being held in Belgrade each December and, in view of the interest of many younger international participants of YUCOMAT for it, as of 2010 the official language of it was switched from Serbian to English.

Were we to look back at where we started from and where we find ourselves now, I believe that we could be satisfied. We succeeded in uniting the majority of human potential in the field of materials science and engineering in this country around a common core and associating it with the work of peers from abroad. Working with very limited and modest resources we have succeeded in conforming the outlook of MRS - Serbia to the major European and worldwide trends. None speaks better in favor of this than the programs of all the previously held YUCOMAT conferences. Since the times of the first YUCOMAT conference in 1995, almost purely local in character, with no foreign participants, it has transformed into a truly international meeting, whereat two-thirds of all participants are affiliated with foreign scientific institutions. From the first YUCOMAT conference, whose focus was on review presentations of our most renowned materials scientists, to this one, twenty years later, the selection of invited, plenary lecturers was made meticulously. Their total number at this point exceeds 300, which is one-tenth of the overall number of participants at all YUCOMAT conferences up to now – over 3000. They have come from around 60 different countries and all five continents of the world. After the biannually held conferences in the first 8 years, after the fifth one, held in 2003, we transitioned to the annually held ones. This transition invoked a plenty of insecurities and disbelief at first, but they were swiftly overcome by our faith in the immense latent potentials in our scientific milieu. The interest in the participation did not diminish and we have maintained a steady number of 200-250 presentations per conference. In 2006, as a result of the breakup of the state union between Serbia and Montenegro, the Yugoslav MRS changed its name to MRS – Serbia, the sole successor of the Yu-MRS. Countless prolific contacts have been established at these conferences, even during the times of our deepest international isolation, and have resulted in many official and unofficial research collaborations wherefrom equally many joint research projects were born. The broader recognition of our activities came in 2008 when MRS – Serbia became one of the 27 members of the Federation of the European Societies for Materials, which gathers around 20,000 researchers working in the field of materials science and engineering under its umbrella. Numerous renowned colleagues originally from Serbia and the neighboring countries have also been attracted and they have widely accepted this conference as a forum for the presentation of their freshest research findings and for learning about the research accomplishments in their countries of origin too. Such is, we believe, the best way for the arrival at intimate interfaces between their research programs and the locally performed research, hoping that a fruitful cross-fertilization between the two will be initiated. We have given a substantial support for young researchers through the promotion of the best doctoral and masters theses and the best oral and poster presentations at YUCOMAT conferences, as well as through holding the Conference of Young Researchers in the winter period. As of 2015 we will be also giving the annual award for the exceptional and lasting contribution to the field of materials science and engineering. There is a plenty of locally and internationally based scientists who deserve this award.

The essential task for MRS – Serbia in the future should be continued maintenance of the ascending path of progress and furthering of the internationalization of its YUCOMAT conference. With an increasing number of new conferences on materials science taking place all over the globe, many of which are as predatory in nature as the largest percentage of open-source journals in existence today, the retention of the status and the “brand”, so to speak, that YUCOMAT has secured over the years will be challenging. Still, we must secure its permanent place on the calendar of world events in this field, while not straying from its main purpose, which is to gather materials science researchers from Serbia, from the Balkans and from the rest of the world, and provide a fruitful forum for the exchange of ideas, know-how and the initiation of collaborations from which everyone would benefit. More than anything, the continued emission of positive energy in the promotion of this wondrous field of science locally and globally must remain our central aim.

Still, MRS – Serbia is relatively young, maybe not so much when compared to other materials research societies in the world, but certainly when compared to many other prestigious scientific societies, both within the country and abroad, the most renowned of which have been in existence for over a century. Regardless of that, a series of successes from 1995 to this date, twenty years later, gives us a hope that bright future stands before our MRS. We wish to see both our local community and the planet as a whole benefit from our growth and the efforts to elevate the quality of materials science and engineering to ever higher levels. Countless individuals and institutions contributed to this two decades long walk along a long and winding road made by MRS – Serbia and its repeated arrival at this idyllic coast. They deserve unreserved credit and respect for their persistence, for their hard work and for their faith that in a small and materially impoverished country such as ours materials science could still flourish and bring fruit oftentimes sweeter and more refreshing for the body and spirit than that produced in the already developed parts of the world. What we celebrate today is the immense spiritual strength and the unfathomable intellectual potential of all of you who have been a part of this journey. We have proven that we could make it – we could build a research society following the model set by the bigger and more influential materials research societies, while at the same time enrich it with the flavor that is authentic to this region of the world and its culture.

 

Excerpt from the welcome speech by Dragan Uskoković, President of MRS-Serbia

YUCOMAT 2015, Herceg Novi, August 31, 2015

 

member since 2008