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A historic milestone for the expansion of research

USP physics in S

In 1987, when he returned from the United States after having completed his doctorate course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in Cambridge, to work in the area of atomic physics at the Physics Institute of USP in São Carlos, Vanderlei Salvador Bagnato would never have thought that fifteen years later he would be coordinating one of the most advanced, productive and well equipped research centers in the country. The infrastructure that he found would not let him dream so high. Just like so many other researchers who had spent years abroad and had returned in the middle of the 80s, Bagnato had to roll up his sleeves and begin practically from scratch.

During the first six years of his work, the main challenge was in creating the minimum conditions necessary for research. From each project, a small part of the budget was set aside to correct problems with the electrical, hydraulic and refrigeration systems, otherwise there would be no way of switching on the equipment. Since the financial resources were insufficient for a planned operation, everything was done on the basis of improvisation. “At that time there were so many external factors jeopardizing the work, that we couldn't guarantee if the experiment begun today would continue tomorrow or if it would be totally lost”, says Bagnato.

The definite solution only came about at the start of 1995, with the financial resources from FAPESP's Infrastructure Program. “We had lasers that cost US$ 500,000, but the floor wasn't appropriate, the tables weren't firm and not even was the power sufficient to switch them on”, he recalls. The reform benefited all of the Physics Institute. The laboratories gained new electrical installations, with a special voltage power line and a central air conditioning system. The water problems were solved with the construction of a closed system, which allowed the returning water to be cooled, permitting its re-use. All of the institute's buildings received special protection against lightning. “Previously, each electrical storm burned out between two to six computers along with other equipment”, the researcher tells.

In Bagnato's opinion, the backstage organization created by the program was a milestone. An example of this is in the Research Center into Optics and Photonics itself, one of the ten Centers of Research, Innovation and Diffusion (Cepids) set up with FAPESP support, coordinated by Bagnato and by Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, the director of the Physics Institute of Unicamp. The center brings together researchers from USP-São Carlos, Unicamp and the Energy and Nuclear Research Institute (Ipen). In the extensive list of projects, eight have already resulted in registered patents.

In the area of atomic physics, Bagnato is working to reach the Bose-Einstein condensation, a state of material in which the atoms find themselves paralyzed. He also coordinates the project that resulted in the construction of the first atomic clock in Latin America widely used in telecommunications. Presently he is investing in the construction of Fauntain, an atomic fountain. “These are the new standards of time and frequency, a technology in which, at this moment, few countries are investing”, he says.

In the Optics Room, the researchers are focused on the development of lasers for medicine and odontology. Currently this center maintains a partnership with the Medical School of Ribeirão Preto, with the Amaral Carvalho Hospital of Jaú, the Odontology School of Unesp in Araraquara, and with the Odontology College of Bauru. One of the pieces of work developed is the implantation of the technique of dynamic phototherapy for the treatment of cancer, an extremely modern technique, which competes with chemotherapy and radiotherapy in many cases.