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The brain, the Internet, and dodging time

Closing this issue of Pesquisa FAPESP during a World Cup played at home—unprecedented for us—was unusual. It involved, for example, the challenge of maintaining a degree of discipline beyond the usual needed to meet magazine production deadlines due to the strong passions aroused by Brazil’s games and the genuine interest in the soccer matches of other great or surprising teams. It certainly involved an intimate capacity for resistance—to keep us from being swept away by the general holiday spirit, by the prolonged festive climate that took over the country starting June 12, 2014—and awareness of the business aspects in addition to possible negative aspects of the World Cup.

For example, in the case of the excruciating match between Brazil and Mexico, on June 17, we had to work before the game, on pins and needles, and work after it, containing our frustration at the tie, after cheering with such ardor, with our eyes glued to the 42″ screen placed strategically in the office, awaiting goals that never came to dissolve such great tension. It was a bit easier to continue working after the victory by four goals against Cameroon on June 23. But the best part was being able to leave work immediately to celebrate and express our joy. You can see by this account that the Pesquisa FAPESP team, with rare exceptions, consists of fanatic soccer fans—if not always, at least every four years during the World Cup. This is why, in the days just before closing this issue, I felt that after July 13, we would work for some time with a strange feeling that something was missing from our daily routine. Then, daily dynamics and the plasticity of the brain would do their work and we would return to a normality that does not intersperse soccer games with interviews, texts, titles, images, infographics and the layout of magazine pages.

The brain was actually the destination to which I was leading in this letter—the World Cup was an unavoidable introduction—because of this issue’s cover story, written by our science editor, Ricardo Zorzetto. It tells the story of how a team of almost 40 people, led by the tireless physicist Sérgio Mascarenhas, 86, developed equipment which promises to provide an efficient, non-invasive method for dynamic monitoring of intracranial pressure and, through it, perhaps the start of a broader understanding and control of pathological conditions that appear to be closely related to variations in this pressure.

According to the researchers, the most important of these conditions is preeclampsia, which affects approximately 10% of the 3 million women who become pregnant in Brazil each year and threatens both their lives and those of their fetuses. But note that intracranial pressure is also an extremely important parameter to consider when a person suffers head trauma or presents other central nervous system problems, resulting, for example, from a tumor or a stroke. And being able to measure it non-invasively, with the same ease with which we measure blood pressure today, is a dream that the intracranial pressure sensor, developed in São Carlos, would fulfill. I highly recommend you read the details starting on page 16, including how many institutions are involved in this project, and learn a little about the personal motivation behind Sergio Mascarenhas’ efforts to develop the equipment.

I would also like to highlight other articles here but, given the limited remaining space, I will concentrate on recommending the notable interview with Demi Getschko, written by our technology editor, Marcos de Oliveira (page 24). Through the responses of this brilliant, amiable electrical engineer—who graduated from the USP Polytechnic School—who became the first Brazilian to be included in the Internet Hall of Fame, we can follow the history of the formation of the global network of computers in Brazil, to which he has contributed greatly since its inception. You don’t want to miss it.