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Calculated success

The Theoretical Physics Institute (IFT) was created some fifty years ago in São Paulo at an ideal historical moment. With the end of the Second World War (1939-1945), scientific and technological policy received an unprecedented boost in the years that followed. From the end of the decade of the 40’s until the 60’s, the world was to see the creation of dozens of new research institutes, study centers, associations and foundations interested in opening up new frontiers of knowledge.

Brazil was no exception. Besides the IFT – established in 1951 by a group led by the civil engineer José Hugo Leal Ferreira with the assistance of military officers such as Henrique Teixeira Lott -, and before this the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science (1948) had been created, the Brazilian Center of Physics Research (1949), the National Council of Scientific and Technological Development (1951) and the Coordination for the Qualification of Personnel at Tertiary Level (1951). And also in 1947 there was an article inserted into the Constitution of the State of São Paulo guaranteeing the annual allocation of 0.5% of the State’s tax revenue for a future foundation destined to finance scientific research, which later would become FAPESP.

These were auspicious times for the mounting of structures sufficiently adequate for the leap that Brazilian science would take in the decades that were to follow. Although in March of 1951, the IFT began to effectively function on the 14th of June of 1952, as a private foundation. José Hugo Leal Ferreira thought about giving the appropriate setting for scientists to study theoretical physics and to train researchers, without the bureaucratic difficulties so common in Brazilian universities. The model adopted was that of the Max Planck Physics Institute in Göttingen, Germany, that sent over the physicist Carl Friedrich von Weizsächer and the researchers Wilhelm Macke and Reinhard Oehme.

When they left in 1954, they were substituted by Gert Molière, Werner Güttinger and Hans Joos, who stayed until 1957. From 1958 onwards, the Institute entered into its Japanese phase. Mituo Taketani, of Rikko University and Yasuhisa Katayama of the University of Tokyo came to São Paulo. Two years after other Japanese professors came in their place. According to the physicists Pedro Carlos de Oliveira and Lauro Tomio, students of the history of the IFT, the interaction between the foreign specialists and the Brazilians was responsible for the formation of a base on which an efficient research system was built.

Especially with the Japanese, the collaboration made possible studies such as the particle model known as the São Paulo Model. In 1962, one of the two sons of José Hugo – both physicists -, Paulo Leal Ferreira, was nominated scientific director. It was the first time that a Brazilian had taken over such a position. With the financial crisis of the 80s, the IFT Foundation made an agreement with the São Paulo State University (Unesp), that incorporated the professor and administrative teams. Post graduation began to function in 1971 – 140 masters and 79 doctors were formed at all the branches of theoretical physics up until the year 2000. Also, up until the same date, 986 scientific papers coming from the IFT Foundation have been published in foreign magazines.