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Investments put risk under control

Laboratories reorganize their research areas

In 1988, a hydrogenation reaction was responsible for a fire in the Synthesis Laboratory of the Chemistry Department of the Exact Sciences and Technology Center of the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar), seriously injuring a student and a technician. Eight years afterwards, it was the turn of one of the laboratories of the Chemical Institute of the University of São Paulo (USP). These are only two of the examples of the accidents that have occurred in laboratories in São Paulo.

Problems in the electrical installations, inadequacies in the networks necessary for the equipment, lack of maintenance and inappropriate exhaust systems, were responsible for fires, explosions, burns and intoxication that, besides putting at risk researchers and students, jeopardized the development of research and resulted in serious loses to the laboratories of the São Paulo universities.

From 1995 on, the chemistry laboratories of USP, of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), of the São Paulo State University (Unesp) and of UFSCar as well as other São Paulo research institutes, could count upon the R$ 37.8 million of FAPESP's Infrastructure Program to finance reforms and to modernize installations proposed within two hundred and sixty two projects, in order to promote state of the art research. The improvement in the installations increased the motivation for the workforce and the quality of the formation of students. The research gained competitiveness as well as important awards. Also increased was the number of publications of scientific articles and the requests for new patents.

The Infrastructure Program established safer working conditions. In the case of the Organic Synthesis and High Efficiency Liquid Chromatography Laboratory (CLAE), of the Chemistry Department of UFSCar, it was even possible to create a Dangerous Reactions Room, tells Quezia Bezerra Cass.

Voltage drops

“Before the renovation, it was difficult to work as the rains brought voltage fluctuations to our equipment”, recalls Walter Colli, twice the director of the Chemical Institute (IQ) of USP in São Paulo. The frequent voltage fluctuations burned out the lamps of the apparatus and imported parts that very often took three to four months to be substituted. “In a single weekend, we lost as much as US$ 30,000 in chemical products destined to experiments that had been stocked in a freezer, burned out in one of these voltage fluctuations.” The wooden benches, handmade thirty years previously, were eaten through with termites. One of them, he revealed, collapsed during an experiment.

The condition of the hydraulic installations was no better: from the clogged and rusted pipes poured “brown water” which served the laboratories, demanding triple distillation in order to make it useable. “Scientific research, which had always been of a high level at the IQ-USP, had been damaged by the lack of infrastructure. Without the assistance of FAPESP, we wouldn't, for example, be housing today groups of the Genome Project. We didn't have aseptic conditions, nor a hydraulic structure or electrical stability to allow for the working of sensitive DNA sequencers”, he states.

The resources of the Infra Program guaranteed for the Chemical Institute of Unicamp a quality jump in research and the possibility of working with equipment of the latest generation, says Anita Jocelyne Marsaioli. Her group, made up of twenty four professors and close to one hundred students, began to count upon a Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometer for the development of their research, as from the beginning of 1996. The equipment was the last word in spectrometers and allowed for, among other things, the broadening of resonance research, studies of diffusion by NMR, structural determination of samples of less than a milligram and the NMR of carbon 13 . In two years, each professor of the group had managed to publish between five and seven pieces of work, as well as theses associated with the post graduate students.

At the same university, in 1999 the Infra Program sponsored the reforms in the Electrochemical and Electro Analysis Laboratory for Sensor Development. In the words of . Lauro Tatsuo Kubota, the contribution was such that the number of guided students rose from the level of between six to eight all the way up to sixteen. This is without mentioning the improvement in the quality and the acceleration of the rhythm of the research with different types of biosensors that have applications in the detection of micro organisms, of glutathione peroxidase (evaluation of the level of stress) and of phenol compounds in effluents. The laboratory has already generated five patent requests for biosensors here in Brazil.

In the evaluation of Dr. Luiz Otávio de Souza Bulhões, of the Interdisciplinary Laboratory of Electrochemistry and Ceramics (Liec) of UFSCar, “The Infra Program sanctioned the growth and the reorganization of the academic work and of applied research in our chemical institutes.”