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Lessons from a researcher

Alcir José Monticelli, Unicamp professor and FAPESP collaborator, died at the beginning of August

Isidora’s testimony about her father, Alcir José Monticelli, is corroborated by all those who worked and lived with him. He was professor of the School of Electrical Engineering and Computing at the State University of Campinas (FEEC/Unicamp), author of three books on power and energy, and a researcher with 35 articles published in first-class periodicals abroad, and over 500 citations registered in the Science Citation Index. He was an advisor with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and a member of the principal conferences in his area of activity. Monticelli also spent a spell of great worth for FAPESP, where he was the mentor of one of the most important programs that the Foundation has ever put into practice, the Small Business Innovation Research (PIPE).

After putting up with several years of illness, the professor died in Unicamp’s Hospital de Clínicas on August 5th , as a result of complications arising from kidney problems, at the age of 54. Monticelli was born in Rio Capinzal, Santa Catarina, but moved with his family to Sorocaba, São Paulo, and in 1970 graduated in electronic engineering from the Technological Institute of Aeronautics (ITA), in São José dos Campos. After graduation, he went to Campina Grande, to take his doctor’s degree at the Federal University of Paraíba (UFPB), which he was awarded in 1972.

Back in São Paulo, he decided to settle in Campinas and to study for a doctorate in automation at Unicamp, which he finished in 1975. From then on, he never broke his link with the university there, where he became a professor in 1982. “Alcir Monticelli was a very important academic leader”, according to the testimony of Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, the president of FAPESP and a director of the Institute of Physics at Unicamp. “He would put academic values above anything else inside the university.”

Although he always preferred to work in Brazil, in 1982 he went to lecture, to write and to research at the University of California, in Berkeley, United States, with his wife, Maria Stella and their daughters Viridiana, Isadora and Leonora, the latter newly born. He also spent some time in Japan, between 90 and 91, as a researcher with the artificial intelligence and parallel computing group in the Mitsubishi Electric Corporation.

His activities with FAPESP started in 1987, as an advisor. During the 90s, he had a spell at the coordinating area for technological innovation and for engineering, and took part in the Foundation’s Senior Board. “One day in 1966, he came into my office and, full of enthusiasm, started to talk about an interesting American program for technological innovation in small companies”, recalls FAPESP’s scientific director, José Fernando Perez.

Monticelli had been entrusted with the task of analyzing two scientific projects under way at the NSF, which used his articles as their main point of reference. These projects were part of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR), a program maintained by government agencies for fostering research, with budgets of over US$ 100 million. The agencies set aside between 2.5% and 5% of their budget for SBIR, which supports technological innovation in small companies. Monticelli proposed the creation of something similar for FAPESP.

“The idea was very good, and we asked him to work on a preliminary version of the adaptation that was to become PIPE”, says Perez. A few months later, on June 18th 1997, PIPE was launched, with the presence of the then Governor Mário Covas (1930-2001) – it was the first program to support research for technological innovation directly in the company, by means of granting finance to the researcher who is connected to it or associated with it. “Thanks to the program, we have more suitable room for the Foundation to fulfill its constitutional role of fostering research for scientific and technological development”, says Perez. Beating all expectations, PIPE’s first call for proposals attracted 82 of them – about 20 of them were expected.

In the end, 32 ended up approved, and from that time until now, 165 projects have now been approved. One of the most spectacular of them is the subject of the current issue – AsGa, a manufacturer of equipment for telecommunications systems. Participating in PIPE, the company estimates it will reach US$ 100 million in sales this year. “For having given contributions like this one, from PIPE, Monticelli was very special for FAPESP”, says Perez.

As a researcher, he was rigorous and creative in all the areas of his work. One of the three books he wrote, State Estimation In Electric Power Systems: a Generalized Approach, published to order for Kluwer Academic Publisher, an American publishing house, was adopted by countless post-graduate courses in electrical engineering in the United States. “It is the definitive text for this area”, stated Professor Bruce S. Wollenberg, of the Electrical Energy Department of the University of Minnesota, in a letter to Monticelli’s wife, Maria Stella.

So much competence as a teacher, researcher, writer and shaper of policies for technological innovation did not rob him of time for his family and for leisure. Monticelli played the flute, loved astronomy, and was a keen walker. “If anyone went into my father’s library, they would not be able to say what his specialty was”, says Isadora, the daughter in the middle. “He had the same amount of books on history, literature, music and philosophy as he did on engineering.”