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Empty spaces in Brazilian science

Farewell Jayme Tiomno, Victória Rossetti and Lynaldo Cavalcanti

ABC Release / Esalq Release / USP | CNPQTiomno (left), Victória and Cavalcanti ABC Release / Esalq Release / USP | CNPQ

In the last two months, Brazil lost two of its leading scientists and an active professional in the field of science and technology. On December 26, agronomy engineer Victória Rossetti died at the age of 93; Lynaldo Cavalcanti de Albuquerque, president of the National Council of Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) from 1980 to 1985, died in Brasilia on January 6, at the age of 78; physicist Jayme Tiomno, died in Rio de Janeiro on January 12, at the age of 90.

Jayme Tiomno, born in Rio de Janeiro, was a member of a leading generation of Brazilian physicists, which includes Marcello Damy, Roberto Salmeron, César Lattes, Oscar Sala, Mário Schenberg and José Leite Lopes, among others. Jayme Tiomno graduated from the National College of Philosophy at the University of Brazil (currently the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro/UFRJ) in 1941. He attended the master’s and doctorate programs at Princeton University in the United States.

When he was at Princeton, he worked with physicists John Archibald Wheeler, Chen Ning Yang (Nobel Prize laureate in 1957) and Eugene Paul Wigner (Nobel Prize laureate in 1963). Wigner was Jayme’s advisor during the latter’s doctorate program. In 1950, Yang and Tiomno proposed the theory of the universality of weak interaction, which led Wheeler to unsuccessfully nominate Tiomno for the Nobel Prize in 1987 together with other researchers from the United States, India and China who had also worked on the same theory.

Tiomno, who was a theoretical physicist, helped create research groups all over Brazil. Together with Lattes and Leite Lopes, he was one of the founders of the Brazilian Center for Physics Research (CBPF), founded in 1949. In 1966, he and other physicists founded the Brazilian Physics Society. He was a professor and a researcher, having worked at the University of Brasília, University of São Paulo (USP) and at the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC Rio). “Professor Tiomno was one of the leading Brazilian physicists, and, as such, he was highly respected by the international physicist community. He was a role model for many younger generations of Brazilian scientists,” said Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, scientific director of FAPESP, who is also a physicist.

“He was one of the pioneers of high quality physics in Brazil. He created research groups at the various places he worked,” said physicist Luiz Davidovich, a professor at UFRJ and one of the directors of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, in an interview to Agência FAPESP funding agency. “He inspired several generations of students. It is also important to emphasize that he was fired from his teaching post and forced to go into early retirement by the military dictatorship.” The physicist died at home from natural causes. He is survived by his wife, physicist Elisa Frota Pessoa.

Xylella fastidiosa
Recognized as one of the most prominent researchers on diseases that affect citrus fruits, Victória Rossetti was born in Santa Cruz das Palmeiras, State of São Paulo. She was the first woman to get a degree in agronomy engineering from the Luiz de Queiroz Higher School of Agriculture (Esalq/USP), where she graduated in 1939. In 1940, she began working as an intern at the Biological Institute, where she pursued her professional career, always dedicated to research on diseases that affect citrus fruits.

In 1947, she went to the United States to attend a course on experimental statistics at the University of North Carolina. In 1951 and 1952, she studied at the University of California in Berkeley, with a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation. In 1960, with a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, she visited centers in Florida and in California that conducted research studies on citrus fruits. In 1961, at the invitation of the French Government and of the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (Inra), she worked on a scientific collaboration program with Joseph Bové, doing research work on viroids.

She attended training programs on techniques for the diagnosis of viruses transmitted through plant grafts, with the objective of implementing the Matrix Registration Program of virus-free citrus fruits in the State of São Paulo. One of her leading achievements was her discovery, in 1958, that the Brevipalpus phoenicis acari is a vector of leprosy and zonate chlorosis. Studies on citric canker and on citrus variegated chlorosis (CVC) – the name suggested by the researcher to substitute the commonly used term “amarelinho” -, caused by the Xylella fastidiosa bacteria, resulted in a number of research studies with colleagues from Brazil and abroad. She eceived many awards and honors during her long life. The agronomist died of pneumonia.

“Victória Rossetti and her enormously important scientific contribution are an example of hard work and dedication. She is the pride of the Brazilian agronomy sector,” said Antonio Roque Dechen, director of Esalq. “We are truly bereaved because of the death of this scientist, who pioneered studies on diseases affecting citrus plants. She led an outstanding professional career, and was responsible for educating and supporting generations of Brazilian researchers,” said Celso Lafer, president of FAPESP, to Agência FAPESP funding agency.

The scientist was particularly important for the Genome Program, which worked on the DNA sequencing of the X. fastidiosa from 1997 to 2000. “Her work with France?s Joseph Bové allowed him to establish the cause-effect relationship between CVC and  bacteria,” says José Fernando Perez, the then scientific director of the Foundation, which funded the sequencing project. The French scientist had devised the growth technique of the Xyllela culture to provide enough DNA for the sequencing. “If it hadn’t been for the previous research work that Victoria had conducted with Bové – the research work had been conducted at her initiative – we might never have chosen the Xylella for this project.”

Management of Science and Technology
Lynaldo Cavalcanti de Albuquerque, a native of the city of Campina Grande, State of Paraiba, was a civil engineer with a degree from the Federal University of Pernambuco. He was director of the Polytechnic School of the Federal University of Paraiba (UFPB), in the period from 1964 to 1971, the embryo of the current Federal University of Campina Grande. He worked at the Ministry of Education and was the Dean of the UFPB (1976-80). He was the chair of the Council of Deans of Brazilian Universities (1977-78) and director of the Brazilian Association of Institutions of Industrial Technology Research (Abipti).

He was president of the CNPq in the period from 1980 to 1985, during which he made some outstanding achievements. He implemented the Program for the Support of Scientific and Technological Development (PADCT). He created the country?s first technological complex with an incubator for start-up companies. In addition, he was involved in the creation of state and local Science and Technology secretariats. He created such leading institutions as the National Laboratory of Computer Science, the Museum of Astronomy and Like Sciences, and the Brasópolis Astrophysical Observatory, among others. Like Victória Rossetti, he also died as a consequence of pneumonia.