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More quality with less risk

The Polytechnic School of USP reinforces strategic partnerships

The Polytechnic School of the University of São Paulo, founded in 1894, has introduced technical and scientific components to the knowledge produced in the country, even of an essentially humanistic character. Throughout its 107 years, the Poli has carried out successfully its mission of creating bases for the development of national industry. The rhythm of the development of the research and the widening of the number of partnerships over the last few years, demanded the expansion of its installations and the modernization of the equipment of its diverse laboratories. Since 1995, the Poli has been able draw on the support of FAPESP's Infrastructure Program to help fund its renovation.

The Laboratory of Technological Characterization (LCT in the Portuguese acronym), of the Mining Engineering Department of the Polytechnic School of USP, is one of the projects benefited by the program. Implanted in 1991, its growth took place in a disordered manner, and in a short space of time it was necessary to have the modernization of its installations, an information technology network and equipment to attend with quality the growing demand for its services, according to its coordinator Henrique Kahn. “The Infra came during a phase of consolidation not only of the infrastructure already in existence, but of the group itself, more mature and recognized by the community and with a higher performance in the eyes of the companies and the very university itself”, explains Kahn.

Currently the LCT is a center of excellence in research into raw mineral material, aiming the use of non-renewable resources. Its work points in the direction of the processing of samples, electronic microscopy and the materials evaluation, the guidance of investments in mining projects and the resolution of their technological problems. Companies of group size such as Bunge, Fertifós (Bunge/Cargill), Galvani, Companhia Vale do Rio Doce and Votorantim have been benefiting from the quality of the research developed in the laboratory, according to Kahn. The LCT trains and recycles researchers and technicians of these mining companies and periodically offers courses in the university campus. The laboratory also maintains an agreement with the Dutch company Philips for the training of the personnel of its Brazilian clients.

The resources of FAPESP's program were used to fix infrastructure problems: wiring in contact with water, termites, deficient air conditioning, the lack of their own generators and voltage stability systems as well as no-break equipment. The investments permitted the modernization of some sectors and equipment such as those of sweeping electronic microscopes, X-ray spectrometry via the extension of wave length, of sample preparation and of X-ray diffractometers. “If now we are comfortable about the water supply, clean installations, well illuminated, working and esthetically adequate conditions, we owe this to the resources of the Infra. Therewas a highly expressive improvement in the operational conditions, minimizing risks and increasing the quality of the life of our researchers”, sums up Kahn.

Porous silicon

Another department of the Polytechnic School that benefited from the Infrastructure Program was that of Electronic Systems Engineering. The department uses a technology for the use of porous silicon in research that has enormous potential for applications in information technology components. Silicon is also the material used in the development of an ample series of sensors widely used in petrochemicals and of medical diagnosis, according to Francisco Javier Ramirez-Fernandez, who is part of the department's team.

An example f this is the project of quality monitoring of combustion fuels through an “electronic nose” – a sensor that detects smells of different chemical gases in the composition of the fuel. The project has the support of the Financier of Studies and Projects (Finep), in cooperation with the company Petrobras. Another partnership, with Debis-Humaitá, a subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz, is allowing the development of intelligent tooling aimed at industrial automation.

The first payment of the Program made possible the creation of an area exclusive for the research of the groups linked to the area of sensors. New benches, some partitions and part of the flooring have already been redone. The second part payment will go to especially sophisticated equipment, making possible an increase in the amount of working time, training for the staff, and finishing of post-graduate programs and an increase in research production. For Ramirez-Fernandez, the two investments have contributed significantly to the development of five work groups in five different laboratories: the Integrated Systems Laboratory (LSI), the Micro Electronics Laboratory (LME), the Biomedical Engineering Laboratory (LEB), the Agricultural Automation Laboratory (LAA) and the Biomedical Sciences Institute (ICB), the only one that functions out of the complex of the Polytechnic School.

The research potential spurred by the resources of the Infrastructure Program was fundamental for the Electronic Systems Engineering Department to be signed up for the Scientific Development Support Project (PADCT), of the National Council of Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), so that it might continue the development of the technology of porous silicon. It has permitted as well integration with the Cooperative Network of Industrial Automation Sensor Research, supported by Finep, for the development of sensors, and has widened its interaction with other Brazilian universities.

Since 1995, seven masters and three doctorate programs have been finalized. In the opinion of Ramirez-Fernandez, the quality jump was also felt in the increase in the publications in renowned scientific magazines. “The local competence created conditions for the acceptance of our research group into national and international scientific circles”, he concludes.