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A new light for science

In certain fields, innovative scientific discoveries are increasingly reliant on large and often multinational facilities. These projects are frequently the subject of controversy within (and outside) the scientific community due to the high costs ​​involved, but their supporters argue that such investments are needed to stimulate qualitative advances in science.

The largest, most complex and versatile research instrument in Brazil—a source of synchrotron radiation, a type of light that allows scientists to study materials on an atomic scale—is in its final stages of construction. The Sirius project is located at the Brazilian Center for Research into Energy and Materials (CNPEM) near Campinas, São Paulo State. It is scheduled to begin testing at the end of the year, assuming the approved funding is released and other pending issues are resolved, such as how to supply the monthly equivalent of enough energy to power a city with 40,000 inhabitants.

The CNPEM is also home to UVX, the first synchrotron light source in the Southern Hemisphere, without which Sirius would never have been built, as explained by special editor Ricardo Zorzetto in this issue’s cover story. The knowledge acquired during development of the UVX and the experience gained by the researchers that used it were essential to the current project, which has a budget of R$1.8 billion.

From high technology to the history of urban São Paulo: two articles analyze the walls of the city from different perspectives. One looks at the bricks that compose them, and another describes the graffiti that decorates them—or spoils them, depending on who you speak to. The Retrospect section recounts the story of how German engineers arriving in Brazil in the mid-nineteenth century popularized brickwork in public and private construction, which gradually replaced the traditional rammed earth technique. Graffiti is a common sight in most major cities, but in São Paulo it has developed a style all of its own. The pixo graffiti of São Paulo is a cryptic form of graphic writing that is not meant to be readable, and is usually done in highly visible and inaccessible places. The practice is illegal and often the subject of police investigations, but it has also found a place on the national and international art scene.

Gender and its relation to science and technology is an issue that has been receiving more and more attention in recent years. This issue’s Good Practices section addresses one such sensitive issue: should sexual harassment be considered scientific misconduct? A report by the United States National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine suggests that it is, arguing that the culture in many institutions needs to undergo a profound change.

The same topic is approached from another angle in the Careers section, which attempts to estimate the impact of motherhood on scientific careers. A survey of 1,182 researchers in Brazil, 921 of whom are mothers, found that 81% believed becoming a mother had a negative impact on their professional career. Maternity leave and the reduced hours often worked by mothers has a direct impact on scientific output, which is the key measurement of productivity in the research community. The consequences for these researchers are significant, affecting their ability to obtain funding and even to find employment.