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Excellence in a test-tube

New short courses seek to show foreign researchers the opportunities provided by operating in São Paulo

Five proposals were selected in the second call from the São Paulo School of Advanced Science (ESPCA), a support modality from FAPESP that seeks to increase international exposure for research areas in Sao Paulo, which are already competitive worldwide. The objective of the program, which was launched in 2009, is to create opportunities for researchers from Sao Paulo to organize short courses that are able to bring young students or post-doctoral researchers from other countries and regions to the state, thus making possible  interaction with local researchers and discussion of advanced science topics. The themes of the courses selected are varied, ranging from climate change modeling to genetics, via quantum physics, ecology and superconductivity.

In April 2011, just before Easter, the Advanced School of Modern Challenges with Quantum Matter: Atoms and Cold Molecules will take place in São Carlos. The agenda is not yet complete, but at least two Nobel laureates are likely to be present. “This is a topic of atomic and molecular physics that is yielding articles in the best journals worldwide, such as Physical Review Letters, Science and Nature, and offering fantastic challenges in physics,” explains Vanderlei Salvador Bagnato, a professor at the São Carlos Institute of Physics (USP) and coordinator of the initiative. As well as discussing an emerging theme, what is being sought, according to the professor, is to attract good students from abroad and from other states to work in Sao Paulo. As happens with all proposals approved, half the students invited will come from other countries and the program’s ambition is that some of them apply for post-doctoral fellowships in Brazil. On the list of activities, participants will get to visit São Paulo university laboratories, such as those at USP and Unicamp. “We want to make our labs more international, both by bringing in students from abroad as well as sending ours there. This forces us to be at the forefront and more actively involved,” he states.

Climate models
The proposal of the São Paulo School of Modeling in Climate Change, scheduled to take place in September 2011, is to bring together a group of young researchers and graduate students from Latin America, India and South Africa to study the innovative research topics that will be included in the first climate model conceived by researchers from the Southern hemisphere. “The objective is to foster South-South collaboration in order to promote the growth of the community of researchers in the field of climate system modeling in Brazil, with the participation of neighboring countries, Africa and India,” says Paul Nobre, a researcher at the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and one of the coordinators at the school. “The activity will last two weeks, the target being that researchers will continue working remotely on the research topics discussed during the school and present the results in future editions of the event,” he says. The need to develop a new generation of competence in this field is understandable: today, to project the effects of climate change in Brazil, tools are being used that are inspecific and snippets taken from forecasts for the entire world. Coordinated by climatologist Carlos Nobre from INPE, in 2011 the school will focus on the interaction between continent and ocean. Each day, the 40 students will be presented with a new theme and sub-groups will be challenged to put forward a research proposal for a related issue.  Among the speakers, names such as Carlos Nobre, INPE, Jagadish Shukla from the George Mason University, and Guy Brasseur, a former director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, stand out.

Advances in the field of superconductivity will be the motto of the Advanced School of Anisotropic Conductive and Superconductive Materials, which will take place in Lorena, in upstate São Paulo, in August 2011, the year that marks the centenary of the discovery of superconductivity. The proposal came from the group led by Carlos Alberto Moreira dos Santos, a professor in the Materials Engineering Department at USP’s Lorena School of Engineering, who for some time has wanted to hold an event with renowned researchers in the field of superconductivity and superconductive materials in Brazil. “The Brazilian community that works in the field of superconductivity, particularly the experimental side, has diminished in recent times, contrary to what is happening abroad,” says Carlos dos Santos. “And we lament the fact that we’re not able to bring people from abroad to work here. In fact, I’m sure the school is going to increase the visibility abroad of the research groups working in the superconductivity area in the state of Sao Paulo,” the professor states. Among the specialists from abroad who have confirmed their presence are, for example, Americans Zachary Fisk, from the University of California, Irvine, and John J. Neumeier, from Montana State University.

A peculiarity of the Advanced School of Networks in Ecology: Theory, Methods and Applications, which is to be held in September 2011, is that it will be delivered within an ecological station. The exact location has still to be defined. For nine days, participants will formulate hypotheses and go into the field to test them.

The initiative will address concepts and applications of the network theory in ecology, especially on ecological interactions, spatial networks and conservation. It will be conducted by researchers from several countries, including Jordi Bascompte, from the Doñana Biological Station in Seville, Marie-Josée Fortin from the University of Toronto, and Timothy Keitt from the University of Texas. According to the school’s coordinator, Thomas Lewinson, a professor at the Biology Institute at UNICAMP, the objective is to stimulate research in ecology based on the analysis and formulation of data. “Research in ecology has grown a lot over the past 20 years, but this was mainly because of data herding. This is essential but not enough in itself,” he says. “Without formulating hypotheses and testing them, it is tantamount to being a supplier of commodities.”

The São Paulo School of Advanced Science – Advanced Topics in Human Molecular Genetics will be held at Unicamp, from February 28 to March 4, 2011. Speakers from abroad will include Charles Lee of the Harvard Medical School, and Christian Kubisch from the University of Ulm, in Germany. According to the dean of Unicamp, Fernando Ferreira Costa, who is coordinating the school, the goal is to discuss the latest data in the field of genetics in relation to diseases, such as cancer and genetic disorders of hemoglobin and the neurological system. “The intention is to discuss the latest methods and the consequences they will have on the diagnosis and treatment of diseases, and to strengthen relationships with Brazilian researchers from major centers abroad,” says Costa.

Two other proposals were pre-selected, but depend on completion of additional documents or information for finalizing their analysis. One of them, in the field of bovine genetics, is coordinated by Luciana Regitano from Embrapa Livestock Southeast. The other, by Ohara Augusto from USP’s Institute of Chemistry, is related to the oxidation processes that involve the formation of free radicals.