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An invitation to exercise the imagination

This Edition’s cover report is one of those that, in addition to giving rein to imagination in the most exciting way possible, reaffirms the maturity of knowledge that is today produced in Brazil. In short: a team of researchers from São Paulo, led by astrophysicist, João Steiner, has come up with unquestionable proof that in Galaxy M 94 there is a voracious black hole that has been constantly looked for over the last few decades by research groups from several countries. Furthermore, the black hole, generally given away by the bright glow around its edges, the result of the unimaginable amount of energy concentrated there as it uninterruptedly absorbs star matter and the gas and dust clouds around it, was not found precisely in the center of the galaxy, but a little towards the edge of M 94, as the science editor, Ricardo Zorzetto, reports with exemplary clarity, starting on page 18.

Steiner, a respected professor from the Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics and Atmospheric Sciences from the University of São Paulo (USP), does not of course underestimate finding the black hole, which demanded three years of constant work from him, as he analyzed images obtained using Gemini North, one of the biggest optical telescopes on earth. But he is particularly delighted to point out that the method that made it possible can, he believes, be used in countless other pieces of research and other fields. In summary then, let’s say that this method took advantage of a statistical strategy that manages to establish the relationship between apparently unrelated data and at the same time discard redundant data, something that, without a shadow of doubt, is of incalculable worth when one is dealing with a mountain of data, like the one that was generated by Gemini for research by the Brazilian group. It’s worth checking it out.

Another text in this edition favors the knowledge resulting from the capacity of the researcher to throw light on a relationship hitherto hidden between two different spheres. I’m referring to the brilliant opening report in the humanities section, written by editor Carlos Haag, in which, starting on page 80, he deals with recent studies that reveal how slavery in Brazil had an impact on Charles Darwin and influenced fundamental aspects of his theory of evolution. For a start, the report is full of very special facets of the evolution of Darwinism in Brazil, which give it a character, at the very least contradictory. While the English scientist found a following among people who were well-known conservatives in Brazil in the last decades of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century, he left the true Darwinian researchers in the shadows.

I would also highlight the report by our Politics Editor, Fabrício Marques, starting on page 30, which details an important study by Embrapa on the advantages of ethanol made from sugar cane in the fight against greenhouse gases. This is an up-to-date account of the quantity of fossil energy necessary for producing fuel alcohol, which takes into account variables hitherto unknown and details the major advantage of the product in ecological terms. Fabrício’s text, therefore, makes room for the considerations of specialists who observe that the growing of sugar cane is still in deficit to the environment, to the extent that it has so far not managed to recover very many of the functions of the ecosystems that it substituted.

In technology, the report by Assistant Editor, Dinorah Ereno, merits our special attention. It starts on page 68 and talks about a subcutaneous sensor that is not very invasive and that is capable of efficiently monitoring intracranial pressure, which is necessary in the case of accidents and some diseases. One of the curiosities of this small apparatus is that it was developed by physicist, Sergio Mascarenhas, who was initially driven by a very personal challenge.

I could point out various other highlights, given that this edition of Pesquisa FAPESP seems to me to be particularly rich in material. There are many provocative themes, which always depend on a set of factors and not on the mere wishes of the editors, especially attractive texts and great graphics, finely handled by our Art Editor, Mayumi Okuyama, something which is apparent from the cover. But I leave each reader to make his or her own choice and find their own way around the magazine. Enjoy reading it!