No one knows the exact address where it occurred. It may have been in a room in the building that housed the office of the dean of the University of São Paulo (USP), on Rua Helvétia, located in downtown São Paulo, or at the USP School of Medicine, on Avenida Dr. Arnaldo. The fact is that at some point on June 4, 1962, geneticist Warwick Kerr, the first scientific director of FAPESP, sat down at his desk and began to review the first 507 project proposals for grants and other forms of assistance that had been submitted to the fledgling funding agency for the development of science and technology. And so began the daily routine of reviewing proposals at the Foundation that included staff, ad hoc advisors and directors. The routine was refined numerous times without interruption in the ensuing decades. In the recently published work entitled Circa 1962 – A ciência paulista nos primórdios da FAPESP (Circa 1962 — Science in São Paulo in the Early Days of FAPESP), journalist Mônica Teixeira chronicles the very early days of the work of providing funding for scientific research in São Paulo, carried out by an institution specially created for that purpose, as well as the years that preceded them.
The book is a narrative of the principal scientific activities carried out in São Paulo in the decades that preceded the creation of the Foundation. The author chose to concentrate on the fields in which there was a critical mass for research. “I used the first FAPESP Activities Report, which referred to 1962, to discuss the sectors in which things were really happening in science,” Teixeira says. “It was impossible to include everything and some fields are mentioned only in passing.” Agronomy, for example, appears in connection with Warwick Kerr and Friedrich Brieger, Department Chair of Cytology and Genetics at the Luiz de Queiroz College of Agriculture (ESALQ – USP). Also in the book, the foreword by Foundation President Celso Lafer, mentions the contribution of agricultural engineer Victoria Rossettim, who in 1987 discovered and named orange disease (citrus variegated chlorosis or CVC), whose bacteria, Xylella fastidiosa, was identified three years later by John Hartung of the University of California. Teams of FAPESP funded researchers sequenced its DNA from the late 1990s to the year 2000.
The same applies to the case of the São Paulo Institute for Technological Research (IPT). Although it is not included in any chapters, Professor Lafer mentions it for the research performed there since the time it was part of the Polytechnic School and was called the Office of Materials Resistance. “The USP professors worked at the IPT, and many of them helped germinate the first ideas for establishing a foundation to fund scientific research in the 1940s,” says the FAPESP president.
Teixeira put the spotlight on the research that was conducted in medicine, genetics, physics and social sciences, fields in which there was already research density and that the Rockefeller Foundation frequently supported before the 1960s. Of the 507 proposals, Warwick Kerr decided to fund 344, or the equivalent of 68% of the projects submitted as of April 30, 1962. A total of “roughly 700 researchers” received funding according to the report by Kerr, a geneticist who was already known and respected in the scientific community and who at that time was a professor at the Rio Claro Faculty of Philosophy, Science and Literature (FFCL), which later came to be associated with São Paulo State University (Unesp). As of 2013, FAPESP had contracted 12,393 new research projects.
The initial 507 proposals were categorized into fields: agronomy, biology, engineering and technology, chemistry, medical sciences, human and social sciences, exact sciences, geology, geography and history. The budgets for all of them were cut and projects were rejected. One of the grants went to José Carneiro da Silva Filho, an assistant professor of histology and embryology at FM-USP, to study nucleoli in hepatitis cells using autoradiography.
Before the 1960s, FM-USP was one of the few venues in Brazil where there was ongoing research in medicine and biology. The laboratory of the Department Chair of Histology and Embryology, Luiz Carlos de Uchôa Junqueira, seemed to be the most interesting one for anyone who actually wished to venture into the scientific world, work with cutting-edge topics and look for and obtain collaboration arrangements with qualified scientists outside Brazil. One of Junqueira’s assistants was Michel Rabinovitch, known at the time as somewhat of a magnet for young talents. Ricardo Brentani, Thomas Maack, Nelson Fausto and Sergio Henrique Ferreira were among the many that Rabinovitch hosted and encouraged, and all of them made recognized contributions in their fields.
Something similar happened in the circle of Samuel Pessôa, chair of the Parasitology Department from 1931 to 1956 as well as a physician and researcher who was interested in attempting to solve social problems using scientific research as an instrument. Attempts by the veteran researcher to work in science and set the world right attracted young investigators such as Erney Plessmann de Camargo, who took over as chair from Pessôa at the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at USP (ICB/USP) in 1986 as well as Luiz Hildebrando Pereira da Silva and Ruth and Victor Nussensweig, among others. The Nussensweigs met and were literally married at the School of Medicine—the wedding was held in the school’s library.
Another happy marriage, this one metaphorical, occurred from the 1940s to the mid-1960s. The Rockefeller Foundation financed the lion’s share of the research performed as part of the study of chromosomes and genes in Brazil. For example, funding was provided for Theodosius Dobzhansky, a Ukrainian geneticist based in New York, to come and continue his research on the genetics of populations of Drosophilae (fruit flies) in 1943 in Brazil, while he was teaching in São Paulo. In addition, Crodowaldo Pavan and other researchers were sent abroad to specialize in genetics. With these incentives, a generation of scientists sprang up in Brazil, such as Antônio Brito da Cunha, Pedro Henrique Saldanha and Luiz Edmundo Magalhães (São Paulo), Newton Freire-Maia (Paraná), Francisco Salzano and Antonio Cordeiro (Rio Grande do Sul) and Oswaldo Frota-Pessoa (Rio de Janeiro).
Moreover, in physics there were great names that worked in science in Brazil: Marcelo Damy de Souza Santos, Mario Schenberg, Roberto Salmeron, Paulus Aulus Pompeia, César Lattes, Oscar Sala, José Goldemberg and Sérgio Mascarenhas, just to mention a few. Behind all of these researchers was the right choice to invite Gleb Wataghin, a Ukrainian based in Italy, to begin to develop the teaching and research of physics in Brazil in 1934 at the Faculty of Philosophy, Science and Literature (FFCL-USP.) In just a few years, under Wataghin’s leadership, Brazilian physics began to appear in articles in leading international journals. Students were sent for internships in laboratories in other countries to hone their skills. In the opposite direction, foreign researchers, such as Giuseppe Occhialini of Italy, spent time in Brazil. From the wealth of experiments by physicists who studied between the 1930s and 1950s, the one that became the most famous was the discovery of the meson subatomic particle by the group led by Cecil Powell of England, of which Lattes and Occhialini were active members in 1947.
During the 1960s, another excellent phase in Brazilian physics began when Mario Schenberg put together the first solid-state physics group (today called condensates) in São Paulo, in 1961, with funding from the federal and state governments and from USP itself. In the years that followed, the researchers who were working in the new laboratory applied to FAPESP for scholarships and grants. Subsequently, in 1969, Zeferino Vaz, the dynamic first dean of the University of Campinas (Unicamp), brought in Rogério Cerqueira Leite from the United States to the Institute of Physics, with funding from the Foundation, to conduct this line of research. Other top-tier researchers came to the university, such as José Ellis Ripper Filho and Sérgio Porto. “The group that came from the United States to Unicamp was perhaps the most successful in Brazil in the 1970s in establishing a productive relationship with industry,” Teixeira wrote in the chapter entitled “Solid-State Physics.”
São Paulo research was also represented in the social sciences in the early days of FAPESP. Florestan Fernandes, a sociologist from FFCL-USP, included a funding request in his application to the Foundation in 1962 for “research on industrial companies in São Paulo” and travel for his assistants, who already had their PhDs: Fernando Henrique Cardoso to Paris and Octavio Ianni to London. Both went to study topics related to rural sociology and labor, and afterwards, when they returned to Brazil, they went into the field to collect and analyze data. “At the time, the social sciences were not as widely taught and researchers studied in the field. And that required money,” Teixeira says. Literary critic Antonio Candido went into the field as well. He was originally a sociologist, and from 1947 to 1949 and 1952 to 1954 he did extensive work in cities in the interior of São Paulo State. The outcome of his efforts was the classic Os parceiros do Rio Bonito (The Partners of Rio Bonito), a 1964 book that began as a thesis defended in 1954 in the Sociology II Department of FFCL-USP. Candido and Florestan were assistants to Department Chair Fernando de Azevedo, one of the founders of USP in the 1940s.
The book Circa 1962 also describes how FAPESP enhanced funding for researchers. The special project known as the Biochemistry Development Program (Bioq-FAPESP) began in 1970, and Francisco Lara, Department Chair of the USP School of Pharmacy, played a leading role. One of its key novelties was the implementation of a project designed to accelerate the development of research in a given field — biochemistry in this case. The first assessment of the sector, with proposals for action to advance research in the field, was done by Lara. With the well-planned sequence of projects, Lara successfully completed his task of establishing graduate programs at USP and at the Paulista School of Medicine with researchers such as Hugo Armelin, Rogério Meneghini, Walter Colli, Ricardo Brentani, Giuseppe Cilento, Carl Peter Dietrich, Hernan Chaimovitch and José Leal Prado, to name a few. “Bioq-FAPESP was a new way of organizing research and funding beginning in the 1970s,” Teixeira says.
Teixeira recalls that the first proposals for grants brought in recognized names, such as Schenberg, Lattes, Pavan, Brieger and Florestan, for example. “But the two proposals from Carolina Bori in experimental psychology surprised me,” she says.
The first one, in the field of human and social sciences, was to study the socialization of children using clinical methods; the second was in the biological sciences to determine the role adverse stimuli play in learning. “Both were among the 344 proposals that were accepted in 1962.” Bori taught at the Rio Claro School of Philosophy, Science and Literature (FFCL), and was one of the researchers Warwick Kerr urged to submit projects for review, according to the recollection of colleagues from that period. Subsequently, in 1987, Bori succeeded Pavan as President of the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science (SBPC).
Circa 1962 focuses on research from the past to understand the present, and the work was planned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of FAPESP in 2012. When Governor Carvalho Pinto signed Decree No. 40.123, enacted on May 23, 1962, which approved its by-laws, it was determined that FAPESP would support research but not perform research, that the research concept would be comprehensive, that the evaluation process would be based on peer review, that the Foundation would be autonomous in its decision-making processes and that administrative expenses would be limited to five percent. “In thinking about this book, we also wanted to highlight what already existed at the time the Foundation was created, a target audience that could respond constructively to the existence of an institution with this feature,” Lafer explains.
In Plano de ação do governo (1958-1963) (1958-1963 Government Action Plan), Carvalho Pinto inserted the topic of FAPESP under the item that he called “Improving the Conditions of Humankind.” And it was about an institution that would support scientific and technological investigation. “The governor gave Paulo Vanzolini, of the Zoology Museum, the task of studying similar institutions in the United States and Europe,” Lafer says. “The researcher had to think seriously about how to set up the work of the Foundation based on the guidelines in its by-laws, and this issue was heavily debated with the governor.”
According to its president, FAPESP has a set of statutory provisions and clauses in its by-laws that it used to grow in harmony with these guidelines. “One objective of Circa 1962 is to explain what the institution is and what it represents for São Paulo and Brazil,” Teixeira concludes. The book, 3,000 copies of which have been printed, was distributed to libraries in public and private universities and research institutions of the state of São Paulo.