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Dialogue in Beijing

FAPESP Week seeks to broaden collaboration between institutions in São Paulo and China

The entrance to Peking University


Four decades ago, the universe of science was much more concentrated than it is today. About two-thirds of the 400,000 articles indexed in the Thomson Reuters database in 1973 were linked to the world’s seven most industrialized countries—the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Italy and Canada. The situation has changed radically, however. Scientific production in indexed journals has grown to about 1.75 million papers published in 2012, and the so-called G7 countries account for less than half of that number. The growth of science in China, which accounts for 11% of published articles listed in the Thomson Reuters database, and in Brazil, with 2% of the world’s scientific production, has helped drive this transformation. There has, however, been very little interaction among researchers in these two countries, so distant in terms of geography, culture, language and strategies for scientific and technological development. A confluence of scientists from institutions in the state of São Paulo and China to establish new research collaboration is the objective of FAPESP Week Beijing, a symposium organized by FAPESP, to be held April 15-18 at the Yingjie Exchange Center on the Peking University (PKU) campus in Beijing.

Previous editions of FAPESP Week have been held in the United Kingdom, Japan, Spain, the United States and Canada, beginning in 2011. The symposium in China is the first event in the series to have included a precursor mission aimed at exploring strategic topics and identifying partners. Physicist Marcelo Knobel, a professor at the University of Campinas (Unicamp) and deputy coordinator of research collaboration at FAPESP, and journalist Carlos Eduardo Lins da Silva, the Foundation’s communications advisor, went to Beijing to visit laboratories, universities and research institutions. “Because interaction among Brazilian and Chinese scientists is still in the very early stages, we went to talk first with the principal Chinese research institutions, and they all indicated a considerable amount of interest. There is a scientific culture in China that we need to become better acquainted with,” Knobel explains. Peking University signed on as a partner for the event, but scientists from other Chinese universities will also take part in the symposium.

Peking is one of China’s leading research universities. It is a member of the C9 League, an alliance of nine Chinese universities that are home to 3% of the country’s researchers but receive 10% of its research funding. These universities account for 20% of China’s academic output and draw about 30% of the citations of scientific articles written by Chinese researchers—an indicator of impact and prestige. In addition to PKU, the alliance includes the universities of Tsinghua, in Beijing; Fudan and Jiao Tong, in Shangai; Zhejiang, in Hangzhou; Nanjing, in Nanjing; Xi’an Jiao Tong, in Xi’an; the Harbin Institute of Technology, in Harbin; and the University of Science and Technology of China, associated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in Hefei.

According to a report published last year by Thomson Reuters on research in the so-called BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), scientific production in China has a strong profile in fields such as materials science (24.5% of the world’s scientific production in this field between 2007 and 2011), chemistry (20.2%), physics (17.9%), mathematics (15.7%) and engineering (14.8%), while Brazil’s strengths lie in the agricultural sciences (8.8% of the world’s output in this field); zoology and botany (6.6%), pharmacology and toxicology (3.7%), microbiology (3.3%) and the environment/ecology 3%).

One of the campus buildings: new interactions

JUCEMBER / WIKIMEDIA COMMONSOne of the campus buildings: new interactionsJUCEMBER / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Six topics
The areas in which both countries excel and could collaborate most closely served as guidelines for choosing the six major topics of discussion at the symposium. For each topic, internationally-renowned researchers from China and Brazil will show what they are doing and discuss opportunities for partnership. An opening ceremony on April 16, the first day of the event, will feature officials and researchers from both countries, followed by a discussion session on opportunities for collaborative research and a session on materials science and nanotechnology, with researchers from Unicamp, the National Nanotechnology Laboratory and Tsinghua University. The sessions on April 17 will cover two topics—environmental science and renewable energy—with presentations by researchers from the University of São Paulo (USP), Unicamp, Universidade Estadual Paulista (Unesp), the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and local institutions such as the Chinese Academy of Forestry. On April 18 there will be a session on agricultural sciences, with researchers from USP, Peking University and the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and another session on medical science, with representatives from Fudan University, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Unicamp, USP, and other institutions.

The exhibition Brazilian Nature – Mystery and Destiny, with panels on Brazilian biodiversity, will be on display at one of the Peking University libraries. Previously shown in Germany and other countries that have hosted earlier editions of FAPESP Week, the exhibition presents the documentation work of Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius (1794-1868), which was compiled in his book, Flora brasiliensis. The exhibition also offers a comparison of images produced in the 19th century and present-day photographs of plants and biomes.

China’s economic and geopolitical ascension has transformed it into a science powerhouse. In the early 1980s, Chinese scientific production was equivalent to that of Brazil, and today it is nearly six times greater. “There is enormous potential for collaboration, and it is extremely important that we build stronger ties with Chinese science,” Knobel says. “Strengthening partnerships is a strategic matter for São Paulo and the whole country.”