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Security is maintained in the field of nuclear energy

Cena advances in the study of plant improvements

When it was created in 1966, the Center of Nuclear Energy for Agriculture (Cena) became the first institution in Latin America to be directed exclusively towards the use of nuclear energy in agronomy research. Among its research lines is the improvement of plants, with the obtaining of new lineages for genetic improvement, using the bombardment of particles as a method of genetic transference, and for the induction of mutations, production and the conservation of foodstuffs and the study of tropical ecosystems. In order to carry out this research, the center, which is within the campus of the College of Agriculture Luiz de Queiroz (Esalq), needed laboratories as well as modern and safe equipment, since their work is with radioactive elements.

Thirty years after its foundation, Cena had accumulated physical deficiencies that were affecting its research. Through the Infra program, FAPESP invested R$ 4.1 million in the center, applied to the re-structuring of 19 laboratories, as well as the execution of new structural work and the acquisition of equipment. The electricity boxes were reformed with the substitution of the fuses; the lightning rod put an end the short circuiting of equipment; the leaking roof was changed, eliminating the drips that made the research apparatus unserviceable; a new plumbing system now supplies clean water. Also the central greenhouse was reformed, as well as the deposit for waste chemicals where the leftovers from all of the laboratories are stored. This sector was equipped with recipients for the classification, storage and recycling of the residues. “The impacts of the Infrastructure Program were and will continue to be helpful for many years to come”, says the director of the Center, Dr. Augusto Tulmann Neto. “The reflections were highly positive in the quantity and the quality of the research and in the extension activities of the institution.”

One of the 19 re-structured laboratories was that of Carbon-14, responsible for the determination of the age of soil samples, coal, wood, cellulose, bone collagen, shells, corals and another infinity of materials that contain this element. Based on the presence of carbon, the lesser the amount the older the sample, the laboratory reconstructs environments of the past and can even infer changes suffered by the vegetation and by the climate at a determined location. Its main line of research is the study of Brazilian paleovegetations, from the south of Brazil to the Amazon region. Throughout the world there are few research groups doing similar work. In Brazil it is only the Cena.

According to professor Luiz Carlos Ruiz Pessenda, responsible for the laboratory, close to R$ 800,000.00 of the R$ 1 million invested in this laboratory over the last few years, came from the Infrastructure Program. The remainder was re-passed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, with its headquarters in Vienna, Austria. “The production line for the synthesis of benzene, which is the heart of the laboratory, never stopped, thanks to the resources of FAPESP”, recognizes Dr. Pessenda. Between 100 and 110 samples are carbon- dated each year. Close to 70% of them deal with research, mainly basic research developed by center’s researchers, and the remainder attend to the requests of archaeologists and geologists of universities and companies.