Imprimir Republish


Star gazing and illuminated texts

laurabeatrizThe visual impact of the unexpected elegance of the brilliant white dome over the SOAR telescope, against the intense blue sky over the Andes, or the acute perception of the formidable energy mustered by the planet to raise, fold and refold, in the distant past, that impressive mountain range, was most certainly very impressive for the author of the cover feature of this Pesquisa FAPESP issue, our science editor, Ricardo Zorzetto. Luckily, these things did not stand between him and his main focus on Cerro Pachón, where he planned to describe in detail the recent assembling of a huge, heavy spectrograph in the Southern Observatory for Astrophysical Research (SOAR’s full name) but without overlooking the context. Something akin to slowly observing the tree without losing track of the forest, let us say, which is really a total metaphor here, since only the occasional cactus here and there interrupts the extreme aridness of the Andean landscape.

However, let us concentrate on the spectrograph: it is, as Zorzetto tells us starting on page 16, the largest and most complex piece of astronomical equipment ever made in Brazil, with three thousand parts and weighing half a tonne. Its function is to decompose light into its different spectrums or colors, some of which, such as ultraviolet and infrared, are invisible to the human eye. Inside any spectrograph, as he notes, “the light of celestial bodies that are near or far away explode into a succession of rainbow colors, in proportions that vary according to the chemical composition of the object under observation.” However, the Soar spectrograph, after a trip of almost three thousand kilometers from Itajubá, in the state of Minas Gerais, is not just any old piece of equipment. It is well worth reading the article to find out why.

I shall now allow myself take a leap, not without risk, from star gazing at an Andean peak to inside the poetical subjectivity of a renowned American writer, Elizabeth Bishop. It is subjectivity that is unquestionably at play even when she attempts to focus her observations to speak, for instance, about Brazil, as a result of a commission from the Time-Life publishing house. The contract was to lead to Brazil, a book from 1962 that the author would shortly thereafter reject and that recently became the subject matter of some research, which our humanities editor, Carlos Haag, discusses in an article that starts on page 82. Beyond examining the comings and goings of Bishop’s relations with Brazil, where, among other things, she experienced a deep emotional voyage with a strong and lasting love, Pesquisa FAPESP offers the reader two small, previously unpublished texts by the author on the Amazon. A small sample: “A boy ran the plank and leaped up the bank, scrambling up holding onto vines and stones. It looked as if he might fall back and be swallowed up at any second. The captain appeared over our heads on his little gangway, in white pajamas, and threw what looked like a fat letter onto the bank – why he didn’t give it to the boy is a mystery.” You had better go straight to page 87!

However, I must leave this poetry-soaked terrain to enter the more solid and prosaic field of technology, where our assistant editor Dinorah Ereno, starting on page 68, narrates how two Brazilian research groups developed new processes to overcome what is currently the major obstacle to the production of so-called cellulose ethanol, namely, the chemical conversion of cellulose into glucose, a process also known as hydrolysis. In the Brazilian case, this would allow us to make use of all the sugar in sugarcane straw and bagasse to produce ethanol. The two groups propose to reach or break down the polysaccharides in which the straw and bagasse sugar are structured using diverse pre-treatments of the biomass, one at room temperature, the other a thermal process using steam. It is worth reading the article to check out all the details.

And, to close, an important piece of news for our readers: the offices of Pesquisa FAPESP, along with its distribution, circulation and marketing sectors, is leaving the Foundation’s headquarters at Pio XI street, for operating reasons, and relocating to the 10th floor at no. 272 Joaquim Antunes street, in the district of Pinheiros.

The e-mails of everyone in the magazine remain unchanged. As for the phone numbers, we will shortly release them on our website.