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Reforms, competitiveness and cutting edge research

Superconductors in the Physics Department of UFSCar

The dreadful working conditions in the laboratory of the Physics Department of the Center of Exact Sciences and Technology of the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar) minimized the efforts of the researchers to develop competitive research. The problems of infrastructure were similar to those found in the State universities and research institutes: inadequate electrical circuitry, lack of air conditioning to maintain the equipment working safely and little space to accommodate both men and machines.

Throughout some twenty five years, the small department, created with the objective of teaching physics, had grown and grown. However, in the middle of the 80s, research was still expressively small. “In 1982, less than half of the close to forty professors were developing some kind of research activity”, vouches Wilson Aires Ortiz, the coordinator of the Superconductors and Magnetism Group.

New laboratories

The difficulties were not few that this small group of researchers had to overcome in order to establish a laboratory infrastructure that would eventually allow them to develop state of the art research. By the end of 1994, with resources from the Ministry of Education (MEC), it was possible to duplicate the built area, creating new teaching laboratories and workshops. During the same period, FAPESP's Infrastructure Program came about, which has permitted investments in the renovation and modernization of the laboratories.

The support from the Foundation made possible the substitution of all of the electrical circuit so as to attend to the Department's consumption demand. It was also possible to install a refrigeration system and air conditioning equipment to create a more adequate environment for investigation and the preservation of the equipment being used. “We'd lots of pieces of equipment precariously installed”, recalls Ortiz.

For the Superconductor and Magnetism Group, the financial resources of the Infrastructure Program were indispensable in adapting the experimental laboratories and the cryogenic workshop. “For us, this workshop is just as important as having water and electricity”, says the researcher. Superconductors, he justifies, are potentially important for making magnetic recordings. They present zero resistance, that is, they operate without energy loss and consequently they demand extremely low temperatures.

Due to the high cost of maintaining a tool like this working at such a low temperature, the superconductors are restricted to very specific applications, such as in appliances used in distribution centers of electrical energy to control the energy's oscillation. “As physicists, our task is to better understand the intrinsic characteristics of these materials, as well as the manner through which they are processed”, argues the researcher.