The evolution of science is much less linear and predictable, as well as more susceptible to mistakes and chance, than it might first appear. There are often interesting stories behind important discoveries that despite now seeming irrefutable, may have been controversial at the time. One such case occurred 100 years ago, and a Brazilian scientist was involved.
In 1919, Albert Einstein was not yet the renowned physicist he would later become. In 1905 and 1915, he published his theories of special and general relativity. Until then, space was thought to be three-dimensional (expressed in terms of Cartesian coordinates, direction, and distance), independent of time, which is one-dimensional. Einstein proposed that the four dimensions are united, creating the indivisible space-time model. In his theory, gravity is a geometric property of space-time. The presence of a massive body, such as the Sun, deforms space-time, causing its coordinates to become curved. One of the consequences is that when light from distant stars passes the Sun, it deviates from its trajectory.
Total eclipses present a rare and unique opportunity to test this theory. Several unsuccessful attempts were made—one astronomer was even arrested on suspicion of being a spy—until a team of astronomers from Sobral, in the Brazilian state of Ceará, recorded the position of the stars during a five-minute total eclipse in May 1919. With Einstein’s theory confirmed, a vast new field of research was opened, revealing a dynamic universe in which space-time expands, collapses into black holes, and creates waves—Einstein also predicted the existence of gravitational waves, which were observed for the first time in 2016.
The four interviews in this issue reflect the diverse range of themes covered by this journal. The cover story is accompanied by an interview with Irish astrophysicist and science historian Daniel Kennefick, who is releasing a book on the 1919 eclipse this month. The complex relationship between academia and industry is addressed by chemist Jairton Dupont, who also discusses the challenges he faces in academia as a defender of human rights. Physician Peretz Lavie talks about the innovative essence of Technion, an educational institution where 70% of tech company leaders in Israel studied. And Galician philologist and translator Basilio Losada discusses the challenge of introducing Jorge Amado and other Brazilian authors to the Spanish literary. He says that on his first trip to Brazil in 1968, having just spoken at a number of conferences in Argentina, he spent all of his money at bookstores in Rio.
March was a month of many losses. On the 9th, Maria da Graça Soares Mascarenhas, deputy editor of Pesquisa FAPESP in the publication’s early years and head of communications at FAPESP since 2002, passed away. Her obituary highlights how widely she was recognized for her talent, dedication, and kindness. Fábio Sasaki, a veteran journalist but a recent addition to the Pesquisa FAPESP staff, passed on the 14th. Sasaki worked at the Abril publishing house for more than 10 years, where he was editor of the Almanac and the Student Guide. His first collaboration with Pesquisa FAPESP was a substantial one: the cover story of the December 2018 edition, on the 30th anniversary of the Federal Constitution. Our thoughts are with their families and friends.Republish