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Shared knowledge

José Mindlin, who has died aged 95, leaves a legacy for culture and science

Eder Medeiros/Folha ImagemMindlin: valuing science, technology and culture in the positions he occupiedEder Medeiros/Folha Imagem

The phrase “Knowledge exists to be shared” would seem trite and predictable in the mouth of just any intellectual. However, when it was said by José Mindlin, it gained a strongly concrete significance. “Dr. José really did share his rich library with anyone who asked to refer to it,” says Cristina Antunes, the librarian who worked for 30 years with the businessman. “This generosity is not very common among those who collect books,” says the person who accompanied part of the formation of the collection. Over the last two decades, his fame as a bibliophile overlapped the other activities he performed as a journalist, lawyer, businessman, state secretary and member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters. Mindlin, who had four children, died at 95 in São Paulo, on February 28, from multiple organ failure.

“José Mindlin left an invaluable legacy for culture and science,” said Celso Lafer, president of FAPESP. Founder of the Metal Leve auto-parts industry, the businessman played an important role as a director of FAPESP (1973-1974) and as Secretary of Culture, Science and Technology of the State of São Paulo (1975-1976). When he was on the Board of FAPESP, he learned of a decree that had transformed research institutes into enterprises. When he left the board and became state secretary, he actively participated in the process that led to revoking this decree. “Transforming all institutes into companies was something that made no sense whatsoever because there are some institutes that can sell their services and so they should be transformed into companies, while others do research and are in no position to sell their services,” Mindlin said in the book FAPESP – A history of scientific and technological policy, organized by Shozo Motoyama.

As state secretary, the businessman was administratively responsible for FAPESP. “He was important in indicating Professor William Saad Hossne for his second tenure as scientific director of the Foundation. It was a difficult period from the political viewpoint, given the restrictions of the military regime, and Professor Saad, together with Mindlin, responded to the challenge of preserving the autonomy of FAPESP,” Lafer said. While still a state secretary, the businessman led the dialogue between literary and humanistic culture and scientific culture forward. “He was very much a man of culture, but with a great interest in science and technology.” At Metal Leve, one of his concerns was to create a research center. “The company became famous on the industrial scene in Brazil because it carried out research in partnership with universities,” Lafer said.

Mindlin played a relevant and active role during the period when he headed the Department of Science and Technology of the Federation of Industries of São Paulo (FIESP). “In his business activities he stressed both research and design, which is an important dimension, not only from the viewpoint of the functionality and quality of products but also of their aesthetic appearance,” Lafer pointed out. Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, FAPESP’s scientific director, stressed the importance of his actions in the cultural and scientific fields. “Mindlin was a great friend of FAPESP, valuing science, technology and culture in the various leadership positions he held. On several occasions he contributed ideas and suggestions to the Foundation,” he said.

Brasiliana Digital
Brito Cruz also remembered the impact of the donation in 2006 of more than 40,000 volumes (17,000 titles) from the Guita and José Mindlin Library to the University of São Paulo (USP). “Recently, FAPESP gave significant support to USP to digitize the volumes received from Mindlin as a donation, in an important initiative to provide publicity for that beautiful collection,” he said. The Foundation supported the Brasiliana Digital project, which will make available the entire collection assembled by Mindlin over an 80-year period by means of open access via the Internet, in addition to other collections from USP. The funds enabled the purchase of an integrated robotic digital book scanning system. Part of the collection is now available at <>.

According to the coordinator of Brasiliana Digital, Peter Puntoni, a professor from the History Department at USP, the basis of the initiative is the Brasiliana USP project, whose general coordinator was the historian István Jancsó (see story on page 44), from the Institute for Brazilian Studies (IEB) at USP. To house the collection donated by Mindlin and the new headquarters of the IEB, a 20,000 square meter building is being constructed in the center of the USP campus, in São Paulo. “We really miss Dr. Mindlin and it’s sad he won´t be able to see this great house of books, for which he was responsible, when it’s ready,” Puntoni told Agência FAPESP. The objective is to complete the building work within a year. Brasiliana is comprised of books, documents, maps and pictures on the history and culture of Brazil.

The researcher adds that besides the new library facilities and the entire collection being available on-line, there is an associated project that envisages the creation of the Guita Mindlin Book and Paper Restoration Center, aimed at meeting USP’s need for trained professional restorers. Guita, Mindlin’s wife, who died in 2006, was renowned as an extraordinary book restorer. “By creating this area, we want to form a center for the convergence of multiple disciplinary areas involving books,” he said.

João Grandino Rodas, president of USP, said that Mindlin thought about putting the collection on-line so it could become universal. “We accepted this idea, imagining that it should not be limited simply to the Brasiliana Library,” he said. “Mindlin showed us the need to digitize the entire collection of USP, across the university’s 41 units, as it should not be confined within four walls and limited to consultation during normal working hours.” Another important aspect of Mindlin’s contribution, according to Rodas, was the effort he made for 15 years to get USP to accept the donation of his collection. “We realized that in Brazilian public universities it’s generally extremely difficult to donate private collections.” For the university president, this situation cannot continue. “We see that today various libraries around the world receive important collections donated by Brazilians to foreign universities because they cannot do the same in Brazil,” he said. “Thanks to Mindlin, these procedures will become easier.”

The geneticist and the historian

MIGUEL BOYAYANFrota-Pessoa, a shaper of generationsMIGUEL BOYAYAN

Researcher, doctor, teacher, promoter of science, policy maker for the teaching of science and, above all, a person who formed several generations of Brazilian geneticists, Oswaldo Frota-Pessoa died in São Paulo on March 24, six days before his 93rd birthday. Frota was professor emeritus at the Institute of Biosciences, at the University of São Paulo (IB / USP) and a human and medical genetics pioneer in Brazil. He left three children.

Born in Rio de Janeiro, the geneticist graduated in natural history from the School of Sciences of the Federal District University in 1938 and from the School of Medicine of the University of Brazil (now the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) in 1941. For 20 years, he taught biology in public high schools in Rio de Janeiro.

In the 1940s, Frota-Pessoa began collaborating with the USP genetics group, led by André Dreyfus, one of those responsible for bringing Theodosius Dobzhansky to Brazil, the person who introduced the study of drosophila (fruit fly) genetics in the country. In the 1950s, he was a fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation in Dobzhansky’s laboratory at the University of Columbia in New York and worked in Washington, at the Organization of American States. During this period, he wrote the book Biologia na Escola Secundária [Secondary School Biology] at the request of the Brazilian Ministry of Education. Upon returning to Brazil in 1958, he went to USP.

This was when Frota studied a town in Goiás where there were many families with deaf-mute members and wrote his first work on human genetics. He then decided to set the fruit flies aside and plunge into the new area alongside Newton Freire-Maia, Francisco Salzano and Pedro Henrique Saldanha, all pioneers in human and medical genetics in Brazil. All of them helped shape generations of specialists, such as Mayana Zatz, from USP, who had the guidance of Frota-Pessoa.

“In the 1960s, Frota was invited by geneticist Crodowaldo Pavan to start a human and medical genetics service in the Department of Biology of IB / USP,” said Mayana in her blog. “In 2000, this service ended up becoming the Center for Human Genome Studies, supported by FAPESP, and the largest in Latin America.”

FFLCH / USPJancsó, whose career is to be celebrated in a bookFFLCH / USP

In March, Brazilian research suffered yet another loss, this time in the humanities. Historian István Jancsó, full professor of the Institute for Brazilian Studies and overall coordinator of the Brasiliana Project, died on the 23rd of  kidney failure. The Brasiliana Project is the depository of the José Mindlin book collection (see Page 42).

Born in Hungary and a history graduate of USP in 1963, Jancsó studied the problematics of national structures. Since 2004 he had been coordinating the project The formation of the Brazilian State and nation (1780-1850), funded by FAPESP. In addition to USP, Jancsó lectured at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo, at the Federal University of Bahia and at the University of Nantes, in France. He was a full professor at the Fluminense Federal University. He was also the editor of the electronic history journal, Almanack Braziliense, and a member of the editorial committee of five specialist journals.

The life and intellectual path of the historian will be told in the book, Um historiador do Brazil, István Jancsó [István Jancsó, a historian of Brazil] in which Jancsó himself actively participated, according to Agência FAPESP. Authors Andrea Slemian, Marco Morel and André Micásio Lima collected statements from the historian over the past two years. The book is being printed.