Guia Covid-19
Imprimir Republish

Letter from the editor | 154

Knowledge with adventure

Alkahest (a very odd name), a wild search for ancient documents, a suggestion of mysterious courses through old alchemy, in order to try and arrive at modern chemistry: suddenly, reading the cover feature of this issue, I couldn’t help but remember The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum, two powerful incursions of the semiologist Umberto Eco into literary fiction, of which the first, to my mind, is more beautiful and better written than the second. Perhaps it was the atmosphere of the narrative or perhaps the perception of the tortuous paths followed by western reasoning to create knowledge and the scientific discourse these days. However, the truth is that this article fostered these recollections and made me feel like rereading Eco’s books. But this doesn?t matter; what really does matter here is to say that it was with great pleasure that we concluded that, of all the good articles in this Pesquisa FAPESP issue, the one that narrates the discovery by Ana Maria Alfonso-Goldfarb and Márcia Ferraz of early seventeenth century documents on alkahest, the hypothetical universal solvent of alchemy, should undeniably be the theme of our cover.

Without a shadow of doubt, this was a fine article on science history by two researchers from CESIMA, the Simão Mathias Center for Science History Studies at the São Paulo Pontifical Catholic University (PUC-SP). This work was part of a thematic project that was granted FAPESP aid. Ana Maria and Márcia threw themselves into the quest for these long lost but important documents in the archives of the Royal Society in London. Not only did they find them, but their findings also included the precise and precious details of the solvent meant to reduce any substance to its primary components, according to alchemical expectations. Currently in the final stages of translation, the manuscripts will be the subject of an article in Notes and Records, the Royal Society’s scientific journal, and will be presented at the institution in mid-2010 by the Brazilian researchers, along with Professor Piyo Rattansi, from University College London, who helped them with the documents’ transcription and analysis. The article by our humanities editor, Carlos Haag, on page 16, narrates vigorously the details of the historians’ discovery and what it reveals about the co-existence of modern chemistry and alchemy, which lasted far longer than usually admitted. It is well worth reading.

Several other articles in this final issue of 2008 are worthy of careful reading, for what they reveal. I want to call your attention, for instance, to the article on page 48, by our science editor, Ricardo Zorzetto, on new studies proving that air pollution in this megalopolis called São Paulo raises the risk of infant death by 50%.  Our assistant technology editor, Dinorah Ereno, wrote another weighty article on new techniques that allow straw and other sugarcane waste to be turned into a range of products for power generation. In the policy section, pay attention to the proposal put forth by Mohamed Hassan, the executive director of TWAS, the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World, about setting up, in São Paulo, an international center for research into biofuel, explained in his interview with Marcos Pivetta, our special editor, on page 30. Hassan presented this proposal during an international conference on biofuels held from November 17 to 20; our technology editor, Marcos de Oliveira, reports on the conference starting on page 28. Still regarding policy, take note of the article by editor Fabricio Marques on the sale of Alellyx and Canavialis to Monsanto, a transaction that teaches us a lesson about the creation of wealth as a result of competitive research. And, to wrap up, I suggest reading the interview with Manning Marable, a professor from Columbia University, on page 10, which makes one think a lot about interracial relations, in the light of Barack Obama’s notable victory in the US presidential race.