Arts from the Laboratories

Music can have a lot to do with science and tech, like in the case of our lab expert from Prague and his passion inspiring both his daily technical work and artistic skills. 

Dec 2023

The beauty of diversity lies in vocations, abilities, personalities belonging to each individual within organizations made up of people. Among our colleagues, there are individuals who embody special talents or even experiences. Colleagues like Ales Materna, a Materials Engineer who works in the laboratories at Avio Aero Prague.

Ales is an engineer but also a historian, musician, editor, lecturer: he comes from Ostrava, an industrial Czech city that was once called the "steel heart of the country" and which today is a very creative and artistic town. Ales Materna embodies both his hometown’s souls: the industrial heritage and the artistic flair.

He graduated from high school as an electro mechanic and worked in this field for a couple of years. After that, for almost 20 years, Ales worked in mechanical testing laboratories where he investigated the properties of metals and performed chemical analyses. However, his greatest passion has always been music!

On the right, Ales Materna with Czech singer and actress Anička Slováčková, behind them a stunning view of the city of Prague.

Ales founded a music band in Ostrava, at the same time he contributed to a music magazine as a music editor. He had also a deep interest in history, at the age of 35 he enrolled at the university to study history and lately, he even lectured students at foreign universities. In 2019, he moved to Prague and, at that time, started working for GE Aviation Czech, now part of Avio Aero – a GE Aerospace company.

“I graduated in 1988 and immediately started my first job as a mechanic of heavy-current equipment at the Locomotive Depot Ostrava. I oversaw operational electrical repairs of locomotives, including also accidents or train derailments' technical investigations. I worked there until 1994 when I was offered to work in the editorial team of the rock music magazine ‘Spark’. Since 1995, I worked for more than twenty years in several material laboratories in Ostrava” says Ales, when introducing the start of his career.

What was your role in the band you founded?
“I founded my first band ‘Erebus’ in 1987. I played electric and bass guitar for a while and, since 1992, I have exclusively been singing for this band. We played a mix of hard rock music, funk and metal. In 1997, we were front runners for the legendary American band Megadeth in Prague. We played in dozens of concerts in clubs, halls and festivals and released two albums. Erebus split up in 1999, then I sang in the band Hoo Hoo Cocktail for two years, with this band I recorded one album. From 2015 to 2019, I sang for ‘The Konvertor’ and recorded two albums . When I moved to Prague in August 2019, I was no more artistically active, but I started singing again this summer in the funky-rock band S.O.S. in Brandys nad Labem”.

The Materials Engineering Lab team at Avio Aero Prague, from right to left: Konrad Kaczynski, Aleš Materna, La Minh, Ondřej Bača.

How was your artistic vocation born and raised, when did you start and why?
“My artistic interest was probably born during my elementary school studies, when I played the accordion for several years. Then, at the age of 15, I started playing folk songs on the acoustic guitar: at that time, I composed my first songs and lyrics. At the age of 17, I started my first band with my drummer friend, we played together for over ten years and our musical style evolved over the time”.

And you also started to write for music magazines, right?
“I started writing about music in 1994, when I wrote my first review for Spark magazine and, after a year of full-time work, I was an external contributor of the magazine even after the editors and the entire magazine moved to Prague. I continued to write reviews about albums, music concerts and festivals, but I also interviewed well-known artists. I have been collaborating with this magazine for more than 10 years. Here in Prague, since 2020, I support the largest music website in the Czech Republic as an external editor: I did a large number of interviews with the most famous Czech musicians and singers: Chinaski, Marek Ztracený, Ewa Farna, Lucie Bílá and many others along with foreign artists too, like Jamiroquai, Freak Power, Peter Freestone”.

What artistic or teaching activities are you currently carrying on?
“In addition to singing in the band ‘S.O.S.’, I have my own show (With Aleš on the roof), where I invite interesting and well-known artists (singers, musicians, actors) to have interviews from the Terrace of the Golden Well restaurant, with an amazing view of Prague and the Lesser Town. Up there, my guests are used to sing live too. I also love doing abstract painting in my free time. And I continue to lecture in economic and social history at foreign universities too, most often at British or Scottish universities, including the University of Cambridge, the University of Manchester, the University of College London, the University of Glasgow and the University of Pittsburgh (USA). I have published several scientific studies, articles and co-authored several books on the history of the iron industry and on engineering companies in the Czech Republic”.

Ales Materna interviewing the award winner, popular Czech artist Ewa Farna in studio.

Can you describe your current role at Avio Aero Prague, and do you use your creative abilities also in such scientific job?
“I work as a Lead Scientist in the Materials Laboratory. I support production and I am also responsible for the laboratory operations, being in charge of internal and external audits, calibration of all instruments, monitoring of repairs, procurement of materials and equipment, cooperating with suppliers and customers. Currently, for example, I’m working on the reconstruction and expansion of the laboratory - which is a creative work too. In our team, led by manager Baptiste Bouchaud, we strive to continuously improve the workplace and widen the laboratory’s activities to become the most cutting-edge aerospace materials lab in the country. This includes the need to equip our laboratory with the best optical and digital microscopes, including SEM, and high-quality instruments for the preparation of metallographic samples. A major challenge and responsibility for our laboratory is material testing in the development of Catalyst engine”.

How can you cope with so many activities and duties in your daily life?
“Perfect time management is the key and I have to admit that getting used to the work duties was very challenging, especially at the beginning of my work at GE Aerospace. The key is training and a seamless ability to learn new things and adapt to new challenges. My manager Baptiste Bouchaud and my mentor Ali Douibi have helped me a lot in this and continue to do so, passing on their invaluable, long-haul experience to me and I am excited to work in this team guided by their leadership. My own hobbies related to music and art take up a large part of my personal free time, thus I have a lot of support from my 17-year-old son and family. I think that the secret for mastering so many (apparently different) activities is passion: being able to find excitement about something and then do it with enthusiasm, with all your heart. That applies both to the work and the hobbies”.

Ales Materna singing on stage with his band, The Konvertor.

"My dream is to record an album with my new band and to make my new music show one of the most watched in Czech Republic"

Do you have any other dreams for your life?
“First of all, I want to complete the process of renovating and expanding our laboratory and maintaining its position as one of the best aerospace materials laboratories in Europe helped by our team. Speaking about music, I would like to record an album with my new band and to make my, relatively, new music show one of the most watched shows. That will mean a lot of patience and long-term, accurate work. I would also like to visit some places around the world that I haven't had the opportunity to get to know yet, like South America or Asia, along with my son too. He is an excellent football player, and a good student, strongly believing in both his football growth and success during university’s studies”.