Brazil and the United Kingdom are increasingly frequent partners in scientific research, thanks to cooperation agreements that are exhibiting solid results, David Willetts, the UK’s Minister of State for Universities and Sciences observed at the opening session of FAPESP Week London, a symposium sponsored by FAPESP in England’s capital city September 25-27, 2013 with support from the British Council and the Royal Society. “During several visits to Brazil I have been able to confirm the quality of the scientific collaboration between Brazil and the United Kingdom, and we want to see that collaboration go even further,” said Willetts. “FAPESP’s activities in financing world-class research have long been recognized. And what we have accomplished here in the United Kingdom, especially in the past two years, is to guarantee that those programs of collaboration with the state of São Paulo through FAPESP will go forward.”
The presence of the minister at the opening session of the event, as well as a series of agreements and negotiations with universities and the private sector of the United Kingdom, demonstrated how the cooperation between São Paulo and British researchers has matured. FAPESP already had partnerships with the seven Research Councils UK (RCUK), with the British Council, and with 13 British universities. At the London symposium, new partnerships were announced and some of those already established were strengthened. On September 25, memorandums of understanding (MoU) were signed in order to establish cooperation between researchers from São Paulo and those from the Imperial College London, a university founded in 1907 with a strong focus on medicine, engineering, science, and business. Also announced were agreements with the University of Cambridge that had been signed on September 2, and others with the University of Manchester. “The vigorous cooperation by FAPESP with British universities shows the density of the scientific exchanges promoted by the Foundation in the United Kingdom in both absolute and comparative terms,” said Celso Lafer, president of the Foundation. “Brazil is consolidating its status and moving toward becoming one of the world’s leading knowledge-based economies. That is why we are open to forging research partnerships with European institutions that do research,” he said.
Public requests for proposals were announced under cooperation agreements that FAPESP has with the University of Edinburgh and with King’s College London (KLC), both involving the exchange of researchers and recipients of post-doctorate grants. Additional features were added to partnerships already in progress. Seven projects were approved under the call for bids recently launched by FAPESP and the British Council to fund workshops that are open-ended with regard to field of knowledge. The objective is to permit the sharing of experiences and encourage exchanges among researchers. Proposals were considered in such areas as communications, telecommunications, dentistry and nursing, among others. “When scientists from different countries interact, the result is more and better ideas,” said Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, scientific director of FAPESP. “We want to attract researchers and visiting professors of world caliber. Our universities are rising in the international rankings, having achieved a major increase in the quality and quantity of published works authored by Brazilian scientists that are having an impact. We may be nearing a point of significant change in global recognition of the impact of advanced science that is being carried out in Brazil,” he said.
In a ceremony held at the Embassy of Brazil in London, FAPESP and BG Brasil (a member of the UK-based BG Group) signed a cooperation agreement that calls for investments of up to $20 million in research into the production and consumption of clean energy during a five-year period. The objective is the establishment in São Paulo state of a Research Center for Innovation in Gas. Lafer said that now that Brazil is emerging as a worldwide producer of energy, the center will help enhance the country’s reputation in relation to responsible energy use practices.
“An intense internationalization is taking place at FAPESP, and this symposium has increased the visibility of that movement,” said Marcelo Knobel, professor of the Institute of Physics of the University of Campinas (Unicamp) and scientific coordinator of FAPESP Week London. “The cooperation with FAPESP is recognized in the United Kingdom, and it was not surprising that we received favorable responses from all the invited scientists,” he said. Knobel was referring, for example, to the presence of Tony Hey, vice president of Microsoft Research Connections, the research arm of Microsoft, who came from the United States to attend the event, and people like Simon Campbell, a former president of the Royal Society of Chemistry who became known as the discoverer of Viagra. “A meeting was also held with representatives of 14 research councils from Europe, as well as European universities, and the interest in establishing new partnerships with Brazil was significant, Knobel said. FAPESP president Celso Lafer, its vice president Eduardo Krieger, and scientific director Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz attended the meeting, which was held at the Royal Society on September 26 and attended by directors of British Councils and representatives of agencies from Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Ireland.
The symposium brought together Brazilian and British researchers in an effort to show the results of research projects conducted at institutions of higher education and research in São Paulo in conjunction with partners from the United Kingdom. Topics of interest to both countries, such as biodiversity, climate change, bioenergy, and health sciences were discussed during the three days of the event. Brazilian and British researchers have been flying over Amazonia since September 2012, using advanced equipment to investigate how the burning of fields in the region is changing the local climate and, indeed, that of the entire planet. They are participating in the South American Biomass Burning Analysis (SAMBBA), one of the initiatives undertaken by the Brazil-United Kingdom Network for Investigating the Composition of the Amazonian Atmosphere and presented by Professors Paulo Artaxo of the Institute of Physics of the University of São Paulo (USP) and Gordon McFiggans of the University of Manchester, during the panel discussion on climate change held during FAPESP Week London. “The Amazon Region offers a unique opportunity for research. From the scientific point of view, it is very interesting to try to understand the complex network of interactions among climate, biology, the atmosphere, chemistry, and physics, in addition to socioeconomic factors and biodiversity aspects,” said Artaxo, speaking to Agência FAPESP. The panel featured participation by researchers Luciana Gatti, of the Nuclear and Energy Research Institute (IPEN), associated with USP, and Hartmut Boesch, of the University of Leicester, in the United Kingdom.
Three Brazilian researchers and one British researcher presented the initial findings of a collaboration aimed at discovering how the aging process and certain habits—including a sedentary lifestyle and excessive consumption of salt—affect gene expression in certain regions of the brain that are responsible for vital functions controlled by the autonomic nervous system, such as blood pressure and heartbeats. “If we could, for example, identify a gene that is activated by engagement in physical activity in the part of the brain we are interested in, we could manipulate that gene in animals in order to increase its expression and find out whether that produces the same beneficial effect as exercises do, to control blood pressure, said David Murphy, a researcher from the University of Bristol. In Brazil, Professors Lisete Compagno Michelini, of USP, and José Antunes Rodrigues, of the Ribeirão Preto School of Medicine (FMRP-USP), are each coordinating thematic projects that maintain collaborative ties with Murphy’s group.
Other panel discussions—about nanotechnology, scientific culture, international collaboration, and partnerships between universities and industry—were held for the purpose of sparking debates on emerging topics, as well as stimulating new collaborations. During the panel on nanotechnology, physicist Russell Cowburn, of the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, in the United Kingdom, talked about trying to find computer processors with the kind of memory in which data flows in three dimensions rather than in only two, as with the current RAM. According to Cowburn, by evolving toward 3D platforms, chips could bring about a huge improvement in the performance of electronic devices. They would be better, but not bigger. “Even taking into consideration the current chips, we have the potential to place tens, hundreds, or thousands of layers without having to change the size of the device,” Cowburn told Agência FAPESP. Besides Cowburn’s presentation, the session on nanotechnology featured lectures by Marcelo Knobel, Thoroh de Souza, and Paul O’Brien. Knobel, leader of a group that conducts research into magnetic materials, spoke about the basic concepts of nanomagnetism. In his lecture, Souza discussed the Center for Advanced Graphene, Nanomaterials and Nanotechnology Research (MackGrafe) at Mackenzie Presbyterian University in São Paulo which, with financial support from FAPESP, is expected to be inaugurated in 2014. “One of the reasons for coming to FAPESP Week was to look for new sources of collaboration,” Souza said. Paul O’Brien, a professor at the University of Manchester and founder of Nanoco Technologies, spoke about commercial distribution of nanotechnology.
Universities and industry
Cooperation between universities and industry in research was the subject of a panel discussion chaired by Marcelo Knobel on the final day of FAPESP Week London. The speaker presentations made it clear how old this relationship is; it is deeply rooted and productive in countries like the United Kingdom, but in countries like Brazil, has only recently started to reach stages of greater maturity. Simon Campbell, former president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, spoke about how the Royal Society, of which he is a member, “although it is essentially an academic entity,” has had collaboration with the business sector as one of its strategic focuses for several centuries now—since, for example, the days of James Watt, who in 1769 patented the steam engine. The Royal Society’s strategic plan for 2012-2017 emphasizes the principle that a great deal of innovative scientific research occurs in industry, ensures that both the business community and the general public play active roles in the entity, encourages translational scientific work, and places a priority on communicating that science to society at large.
Celso Lafer summed up FAPESP Week London in positive terms. “We know it is important to promote opportunities for São Paulo researchers to interact with those of other countries. That is why, in addition to agreements with universities and the various research councils in the United Kingdom, the purpose of holding this workshop is to establish networks, develop an understanding of the importance of science, and bring together people who share the same values and world view,” he said.Republish