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Physics Institute of USP in São Carlos receives students from high schools

A group of 61 youngsters aged between 15 and 19 years old from five Brazilian states, dedicated a week of their school holidays to studying nuclear magnetic resonance, biotechnology, telethermography and other themes that do not usually appear on the curriculum of secondary schools. From July 13 to 20, they occupied the São Carlos Physics Institute, of the University of São Paulo (USP), where, in this period, the Advanced Physics School, functions, created in partnership with the São Paulo Association of Physics Teachers (Aprofi). In the course of 14 hours a day, they had lessons on theory and experiments, listened to talks, carried out astronomical observations and held seminars.

To measure performance, they had to do an end of course assignment, presented, in the form of a seminar, to a bench of specialists, along the same lines as the international congresses. “This school has the objective of showing talented students what the world of research is like and how some of the main research groups in the country work”, says Luiz Antonio de Oliveira Nunes, the coordinator. The course is taught by the faculty and researchers from the institute. The program addresses topics from Classical Physics and Modern Physics, but includes forays into other areas of knowledge, such as biotechnology and electronics.

“We place our bets on multidisciplinarity”, the coordinator explains. There is also the intention of calling the pupil’s attention to entrepreneurism, so much so that amongst the scheduled activities there was a visit to Opto Eletrônica’s company run by a professor of the Physics Institute, Jarbas Castro, that makes and exports sophisticated optical equipment and devices. Advanced schools, created in the former Soviet Union in the 60’s and for a long time adopted in the United States, are beginning to emerge in Brazil as well.

In the case of the São Carlos unit, the major differential lies in the criterion for selecting the students: they all have to have taken part in student competitions, like, for example, the São Paulo physics and mathematics Olympiads, or to present a letter of recommendation from teachers. “We only take talented pupils”, says Nunes proudly. Now in its second edition, the course is much sought after. “In the first year, we had a group of 42 students. Now, in 2003, we closed off registrations when we reached the mark of 250 applicants and expanded the number of openings, planned at 50, as we had no further criteria for elimination”, the coordinator explains. Publicizing the course is done by Aprofi and has a repercussion all over the country. The students in the last group, for example, come from 32 different towns. The great majority study at private schools: only one is a public school student.

The course is paid for. Signing up costs R$ 630 per pupil and includes room and board at two hotels in town. “But this does not prevent anyone unable to pay from taking part in the course, as we have scholarships”, says Nunes. There are also companies that finance the tuition. This is the case of Embraer, which maintains a school in São José dos Campos and paid for one pupil’s course. As this work does not aim at profit, the money left over is converted into prizes for the best students. “This effort will certainly attract good talent to scientific and technological careers, as well as contributing towards raising the level of Brazilian education”, Nunes says.