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Boost for science and technology policy

Pavan acted on various fronts in support of Brazilian research

Science Station, in São Paulo: an interactive center for young people to learn about science

Elizabeth Lee/Science Station Science Station, in São Paulo: an interactive center for young people to learn about scienceElizabeth Lee/Science Station

A job for life at the University of Texas, with his family well adjusted to life in Austin, and scientific prestige overseas. In spite of this, in 1975, Crodowaldo Pavan decided to come back to São Paulo, after seven years in the USA. “I analyzed the situation and felt that I could do more for Brazil being here than being there,” Pavan said at a later date. The geneticist went back to work at the University of São Paulo (USP), but considerably expanded the scope of his activities by diving into questions of scientific and technological policy in a way that he had never previously done.

“From the merely institutional point of view, Pavan only played a small role until the mid 1970s, although he had been a member of FAPESP’s first Board of Governors from 1961 to 1963”, explains the physicist and historian Shozo Motoyama, from USP’s Interunit Center of History and Science. Shortly before he returned to Brazil, he took part in the foundation of the State of São Paulo’s Academy of Science with Sérgio Mascarenhas, Oscar Sala and Shigueo Watanabe, among other scientists, in 1974. Upon his return to São Paulo, in 1975, he found the country under a military government and the university in search of freedom of expression and revindication.

Pavan’s conversations with the physicist Alberto Luiz da Rocha Barros and the sociologist José Jeremias de Oliveira Filho resulted in the creation of the Professors Association of UPS (Adusp) in 1976, to a certain extent recreating the Association of Teaching Assistants which, although it still existed on paper, had ceased to be active on account of pressure from the regime. “These three set up the initial core that other influential professors such as Simão Mathias and Antonio Candido then joined,” Motoyama recalls. For Motoyama, one of Pavan’s characteristics was his boldness. “He was never afraid to propose or to do what he thought was right, even when the difficulties seemed very substantial, as was the case in the 1970s.”

For a period of 10 years, between 1975 and 1985, Pavan coordinated the integrated Genetics Program, which was supported by the National Council of Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq). The objective was to expand the assistance that was available for research and to discuss the priorities and the areas within genetics that should be explored in Brazil. “This was an integrated program in which one discussed what was being done, what had been done and what should be done”, he recounted in his testimony for the book 50 anos do CNPq contado pelos seus presidentes [50 years of CNPq as told by its chairmen].

From 1981 to 1984, the geneticist chaired FAPESP’s administrative technical counsel and played an important role in the economic recovery of the Foundation, which had been weakened by the delays in receiving government funds, which in turn were corroded by the high inflation. During this time, for a total of three terms, he presided over the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science (SBPC) from 1981 a 1986. Pavan knew how put to good use the two positions that he held simultaneously in important institutions, as well as his notorious capacity to mobilize others, in order, together with professors from São Paulo’s three public sector universities and researchers from the state of São Paulo’s research institutes, to promote the symposium “Crisis, university and research” in the São Paulo State Congress.

As a result of the political pressure, the then state congressman Fernando Leça put forward an amendment that obliged the government to disburse the annual funding in twelfths (i.e. on a monthly basis) during the same year as that in which the money was collected. Previously, disbursement was meant to be made quarterly, which, however, occurred with a delay of roughly two years. The Leça Amendment was finally approved in 1983. “Pavan’s leadership was important during this episode,” states Motoyama.

The geneticist was in his third term as chair of the SBPC when he was invited by Renato Archer, the first minister of the newly created Ministry of Science and Technology, to take over the position of CNPq chair, in 1986. Pavan left the SBPC and for five years was in charge of Brazil’s main agency for the promotion of research. “Prior to this, he was an important voice in favor of the creation of the Ministry of Science and Technology,” recalls FAPESP’s president Celso Lafer.

At the CNPq, Pavan worked to get increases in funding for scholarships and research, acting not only at the government level, but also building support in the National Congress. “We had Ulysses Guimarães – who virtually ‘owned’ the Congress – helping us with the party leaders so that our propositions would be accepted,” he said in an interview. Pavan was proud of the fact that more scholarships were granted in Brazil during the first three years he was in charge of the CNPq than during the preceding 30 years. When he first took up his position as president, around 13 thousand grants were being provided a year; when he stepped down, by law, the minimum annual number of grants awardable was 44,110. The federal agency also increased the value of the grants by pegging them to federal university professors’ salaries. Thus, a doctoral candidate would get 70% of the salary of an assistant professor with a doctorate, for example.

During the 1988 constituent assembly, the CNPq asked the researchers to draw up proposals. For each passage that was to be incorporated into the Constitution in relation to science and technology issues, there was a great deal of work involved in preparing the texts and personally convincing the representatives at the constituent assembly. “The most important discussions were those related to the university, to the scope of research in territories (such as in the underground and in the Amazon Region) and to the relationships between scientific output and intellectual property’, recalls Luiz Curi, assistant cabinet chief and later special advisor to the CNPq chairman in Pavan’s time. After the Constitution was approved, work began on another project: keeping a close watch on as well as maintaining pressure when budget amendments were being determined, not merely to ensure that research funding was not cut, but also to guarantee money for other projects.

“Pavan consolidated science and technology policy in Brazil,” says Curi. According to him, Pavan also paid a lot of attention/put a lot of effort into science and technology strategic policies, paving the way for discussions of innovation, such as new materials, fine chemistry, IT and the need for pharmaceutical research. “He was not the one who did all this, but he began to deal with themes that were related to innovation,” he explains. “With Pavan, policy as a tool of State action was stepped up.”

During his five years at the CNPq, Pavan had to deal with five different ministers of Science and Technology as well as with changes in the status of this government body – for a while the Ministry of Science and Technology became a special department and then it went back to being a ministry again. “He had a great deal of influence in the Brazilian scientific community, international visibility and a very positive agenda for science and technology, and achieved concrete results,” says Luiz Curi. “It was difficult to remove him from his position, even when the minister did not like him.”

Two other initiatives helped to define the administration during this period, both of which were carried out in 1987. One was the creation of the Brazilian National Laboratory of Synchrotron Light (LNLS), which was set up in Campinas, in order to carry out research into new physical, chemical and biological properties of atoms and molecules. This laboratory is the only one of its kind in Latin America and the first to be built in the southern hemisphere.

The second was the development of a science center for young people, similar to those found in other countries at that time. This was named Science Station (Estação Ciência). “Professor Pavan invited me to coordinate the project and asked me to consult scientists throughout Brazil to look for ideas and to try and get support from the scientific community,” recalls the history professor Nely Robles Reis Bacellar, who was the first director of the Science Station. The CNPq got permission from the São Paulo state government to use warehouses in the Lapa neighborhood, which had been listed by the Counsel for the Protection of Historic, Archeological, Artistic and Tourism Heritage, (Condephaat), and began the necessary architectural and museological work to convert the location into a science center without losing the characteristic traits of the buildings. “Pavan felt that this location was ideal because it was close to bus stops and to subway and train stations , making it easier for students to visit, which proved to be the case”, he added.

When José Sarney’s government came to an end in 1990, Pavan left the CNPq and Nely left the Science Station. USP negotiated with the federal agency to absorb the science center and maintained the programs designed to make science more popular among the young. The substantial amount of space available has always been used to the full in exhibitions and events and new technologies were used to make learning science a more interesting proposition for the young. The current director, Roseli de Deus Lopes, took over in 2008 and began a project to rescue the center’s history so as to lend it more visibility. “The records are all here, but I felt that what we needed was a book of video testimonials and of exhibitions about what had already been done,” she says. At present, more than 400 thousand people visit the place every year, split between students and the general public. “It is important that these people should know who Crodowaldo Pavan was, what he did and what the results of a science dissemination center such as this one are.”

New projects
On June 24 of last year, on the 22nd anniversary of the opening of the Science Station and just two months after Pavan’s death, a tribute was paid to him with the inauguration of the artist José Roberto Aguilar’s work ‘Professor Pavan’s fly’. A number of events are forecast for this year, including a seminar and other projects related to the center’s history. These are to include collaboration from former directors Ernest Hamburger, Wilson Teixeira and Saulo de Barros, as well as from the current vice-director Mikiya Muramatsu, in addition to Nely, who has already provided material and given a statement about the start of the project and Pavan’s initiative.

During the 1990s and the 2000s, no longer in the government, the geneticist continued his research into genetics – which he never gave up –, but his institutional and political activities were directed more toward the dissemination of science and making science popular. In 2001, he helped to found the Brazilian Association of Scientific Disclosure (Abradic) as a result of his work at the José Reis Center for the Dissemination of Science of the School of Communication and Arts of USP, where he was one of the coordinators.