The new scientific research complex Centre of Excellence "Universities for Science, Informatics and Technology in the e-Society" (UNITE) of Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski" was officially opened at the Lozenets Campus on December 22, 2023. It was financed under the project BG05M2OP001-1.001-0004 UNITE of the Operational Programme "Science and Education for Smart Growth", priority axis 1 - "Scientific Research and Technological Development", within the procedure BG05M20P001-1.001 "Establishment and Development of Centres of Excellence".
The opening ceremony was attended by all members of the project team in the person of the scientific supervisor prof. Ana Proykova, prof. Prof. Krasen Stefanov, the current Rector of SU Prof. Dr. Georgi Valchev and the former Rector of SU Prof. Dr. Anastas Gerdzhikov, the Deputy Minister of Innovation and Growth Prof. Dr. Georgi Angelov, Prof. Dr. Genka Petrova- Tashkova, the Deputy Rector of SU Prof. Dr.D., Prof. Georgi Vaisilov from the Managing Authority of OP NOIR, Prof. Dr. Maya Stoyanova, Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics and Informatics, the Mayor of the Municipality of Lozenets Konstantin Pavlov and a number of other representatives of the project partner universities and Sofia University.
The three-storey building houses laboratories for Open Data, Internet of Things in Smart Cities and Data Science, conference halls, videoconferencing rooms, innovation forums and more, with a total floor area of almost 4,000 sqm. The building is located in the Lozenets Campus of St. The construction works were carried out by Nikmar Construction and the building was designed by Exa AD.
The aim of the overall UNITE project is to build and develop a Centre of Excellence type of distributed research infrastructure that will meet the requirements for a high level of research in the field of informatics, information and communication technologies (ICT), which are set out in the Innovation Strategy for Smart Specialization of Bulgaria. 5 Bulgarian universities are involved in the UNITE project, the lead organization being Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski", and the project also includes Technical University of Sofia, Ruse University "Angel Kanchev", University "Prof. Dr. Asen Zlatarov" in Burgas and Shumen University "Bishop Konstantin Preslavski".
All together today we are opening a beautiful building that is a symbol of the completion of a long process of building research infrastructures, said at the opening Prof. Ana Proykova. - The UNITe project is a distributed infrastructure unique in the country, in which the backbone to connect the individual multiple research resources of the individual universities. Sofia University, Burgas University, Shumen University, Rousse University and the Technical University of Sofia are partners because they have very well-known, strong and well-used scientific expertise in the field of information and communication technologies," added prof. Proykova.
She added that during the first phase, which started on February 28, 2018 and ends on December 31, 2023, a total of 209 people participated in the project. "In this newest campus, there will be furnishing of laboratories that will enable the scientists to be at the front fund of science. And the scientists have been working during this time and as a result of their efforts we have 531 scientific communications, including 126 articles in Web of Science with 831 citations and numerous conference presentations that have published these results. Why do I say this? Not just to brag that we are doing something meaningful, but because it can be seen beyond our campus." She added that in the new labs, people and the next generation will become researchers whose results will be commensurate with anyone else in the world.
Three centres - two for excellence and one for competence - have been built in the courtyard of the Lozenets campus. "They are made up of three faculties - the Faculty of Chemistry and Pharmacy, the Faculty of Mathematics and Informatics and the Faculty of Physics, which are the brain trust and dominate in a good sense the next generation of young researchers. All these centres are of little value without the people who work and create in them," added Profs. Proykova.
The UNITe Center of Excellence is located among the three leading faculties of Sofia University. But this is not just a symbol, scientists from all three faculties are actively involved in the work. That is, we aim to be a kind of bridge between the scientists from the natural faculties of the university and to create a new environment for conducting high-quality research, explained prof. Krasen Stefanov. - And this idea we are trying to expand with partner universities, which actually cover almost all fields in Bulgaria. Our goal is to create such scientific results that have direct application in the practice of business and society, and through our partner universities to make all this available to as many people in Bulgaria as possible," added Prof. Stefan. Stefanov.
"With regard to this building, I would like to express my special thanks to the leadership of the University in the person of the previous and the next Rector of the Board of Rectors and especially to the leadership of the Faculty of Mathematics and Informatics in the person of the previous Dean and the current Dean, who very actively helped us in important difficult moments for the construction of this building. And its realization was unthinkable without the crucial contributions of the architects, the builders, the supervisors, and especially our two engineers who were actively involved every day in the discussion and construction of this building. Special thanks also to Mr Vaisilev, with whom we have had constant telephone contact in recent days, as we have had to use all the funds allocated under the programme in recent days.
Our project is distinguished by the fact that since the building is very heavy and complex, the money under the program was not enough and the Faculty of Mathematics and Informatics allocated 3 million leva for the completion of the building, which were approved by the Academic Council of Sofia University", explained Prof. Stefanov.
At the beginning of my mandate I attended the opening of this wonderful building, but the hard part was in the mandate of Professor Gerdzhikov, but as a team we have really tried to support the process in every way, said Prof. Gerdzhikov. Georgi Valchev. - In the 21st century, it turns out that we cannot develop as a society if we do not enter the field of high technology, and this implies modern infrastructure, shared resources, good equipment for this research. This will, in fact, in addition to the added value for society, enable us to develop our own scientific capacity, and hence to increase the quality of education of our students. This is something that Sofia University will indeed pursue steadfastly," added the Rector of the University.
"Of course we will continue to support the development of the centres not only in the second phase. We have to finish the first phase and I hope that next year the campus will really take on a completely different look and become a modern European campus where both faculty and students feel comfortable, feel at home. I would like to express my warmest gratitude to the whole project team of the Faculty of Mathematics and Informatics, of course, to the people who are standing designers, builders. It is extremely difficult for scientists to engage in this type of non-specialist activity, but as you can see, things happen," said Prof. Georgi Valchev.
"Prof. Gerdzhikov was our companion from December 2017 to November 22, 2023. Since the writing stage of the project, the numerous problems we have always had related to the documentary organization of the activities and the fact that he never lost his good words for all of us who worked on it," said Prof. Gerdzikov. Proykova.
"The last few days have been exciting because we have witnessed the opening of these three buildings on the same campus. But they are only part of what Sofia University has done with the help of its partners from other universities and the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. We are involved in three centres of excellence and six competence centres, adding the INSAIT Institute and this centre," said Prof. Gerdzhikov. - We have managed to saturate this connected infrastructure with live people. It was hard to build the buildings, to provide the equipment, but it is even harder to find the people who can do real science and develop both science and innovation. I would like to thank all those over 200 people that Professor Proykova mentioned, because with many of them we have fought for particular elements of the development of these projects," added the former Rector of SU.
Deputy Minister Georgi Angelov, who graduated from the Faculty of Physics of Sofia University, added that the campus testifies to sustainability, upgrading, and synergy over time. ”I often share these words these days, but they are not empty phrases.
In recent years, there has been talk of sustained, consistent capacity building in high technology. And realistically speaking, we already have a foundation on which to build. These projects are more than the standard ones, in which we all have a lot of experience. These are cornerstones that will underpin the country’s future development in innovation, Angelov added.
Thank you to all my colleagues, and I am truly honoured that we are currently attending the opening of this centre. It is focused on the most promising areas related to information technologies: databases, their applications, supercomputers, and artificial intelligence. Our country has a well-developed industry in this area and this is a logical extension
Professor Genka Petrova-Tashkova, PhD, Deputy Minister of Education and Science
with Research portfolio. She is also the Chair of the Committee for Monitoring the Implementation of the National Roadmap for Research Infrastructures. According to her, the Centres of Excellence and Centres of Competence become part of the National Roadmap for Research Infrastructure 2020-2027.
"These wonderful buildings can bring together the intellectual potential working in mathematics, physics and information technology. What is essential, and what lies ahead, is to educate future generations of scientists, to really pass on all knowledge to them, because it is very dynamic. Seeing the dedication in all the staff as well as the leadership of the university, I am convinced that this will happen," said Prof. Petrova.
Prof. Georgi Vaisilov, Executive Director of the Executive Agency "Operational Programme Science and Education for Smart Growth", is also a scientist and worked hard in the initial phase of the UNITE project. "This is the latest in a series of events in recent months to inaugurate new buildings, to open renovated buildings, to final conferences on various projects funded under the Operational Programme Science and Education for Smart Growth. Especially on this campus, in addition to these three buildings, we have another renovated building, which is attached to the Centre of Excellence, which was also opened earlier in December.
The UNITE project is among the projects with the best territorial distribution in the country. It involves universities from four of Bulgaria's planning regions - two each from North Bulgaria and South Bulgaria, which is not typical of most centres. But this is one of the goals of the next programming period - to have greater participation of the regions outside the South-West,
so that the entire territory of the country can have a developed research infrastructure," explained Prof. Vaysilov.
For the next stage, we have provided various incentive arrangements to support the participation of centres outside the South West region in the Centres of Excellence and Competence Centres. One of the main themes in the next period will be the closer involvement of the centres to the problems of business, municipalities and regional development, so that their capacity for the development of the country - both industry and public life - can be used to the maximum, said Prof. Prof. Vaisilov.
But we must not forget attracting young people, more scientists. This is also one of the highlights of the centres' activities, because Bulgaria has more than twice as few scientists per capita as the average level in the European Union. So we need to move in the direction of increasing the number of scientists in the country, and the centres are a very good basis with the base that they have built precisely for such an increase.
And let me congratulate the project team for the successful implementation of this project so far. Let me also thank the management of Sofia University, because without their active participation and assistance neither this project nor the others would have been realized.
Prof. Dr. Maya Stoyanova, Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics and Informatics, congratulated the project leader, Professor Krasen Stefanov, and the whole team. "They have made great efforts to overcome the many difficulties we have faced over these years. The idea came to us, and we feel this centre is part of our community. Many of the colleagues at the UNIT Centre of Excellence are ours. This is the third building to open in recent days, and it is another proof of the leadership of Sofia University in all kinds of innovative projects, in all kinds of initiatives and ideas, in everything that brings the future to the young generations.
We hope that more and more young people will get involved in this good initiative and that they will work here together with established scientists, many young PhD students, many young scientists, and many new researchers, not just from our circles but from the whole community," said Prof. Stoyanova. We must also express our gratitude to our partners. It is the common work that has brought us here today to be gathered in this building and to rejoice in another success of Sofia University."
The Mayor of Lozenets added that the opening of four new centres in the territory of Lozenets Municipality within days is literally a miraculous, amazing event. "These beautiful new buildings are an extraordinary acquisition, as is the fact that modern science can be done here in truly state-of-the-art laboratories. Another benefit , which I don't know if everybody thinks about, is that Bulgaria has got a few dozen more people who can build modern buildings and do public procurement.
"I have a diploma from both the Sofia University and the Technical University that today they have given their hand and will work together in this centre. I am very happy that I will be working on the problems of smart cities there. I look forward to seeing the projects and I guarantee that if we can get involved in something, we will. And of course, I promise that whatever depends on us, this place here will look really European, welcoming and so be part of Europe," Konstantin Pavlov added.