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Strategic investigation, promising partnerships

Research takes off in Chemistry at the UFSCar

In 1989, the Chemistry Department of the Exact Sciences and Technology Center of the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar), with serious problems of physical space, signed up an agreement with private enterprise that made possible the purchase of the current area. The new installations permit the leverage of important financing, but the new projects broadened the research demands and ended up overloading the infrastructure. “Our plumping got clogged, the circuit breakers fell all the time, and the wiring caught fire. As And , there was no financial help from the Federal government to solve these problems”, says professor Luiz Otávio de Souza Bulhões, of the Interdisciplinary Laboratory of Electrochemistry and Ceramics (Liec).

The resources of the Infra Program financed the modernization of the laboratories and guaranteed the expansion of cutting edge research. For example, the Liec is currently developing technology for the use of graphite in cellular phone batteries, in partnership with the Empresa Nacional de Grafite (National Graphite Company). The modernization of the infrastructure also made a decisive contribution to the development of research in the area of ceramics. The sector makes use of special ovens that can reach up 1,600 C°, and X-ray diffraction equipment with emission tubes that operate with 15KVA .

“With the resources from the first Infra payment, we rewired the electrical circuit and all of the cabling. We changed transformers, upgraded the gas exhaust system, solved the first X-ray, and we were able to built an appropriate room with healthy conditions for the high temperature ovens that give off dangerous gases with traces of heavy metals”, explains Bulhões. The Infra Program also financed the installation of lightning rods and circuits grounding as well as the renovation of part of the hydraulic system. After the reforms, says Bulhões, the number of students doubled and the academic production significantly increased.

The support through the Infrastructure Program allowed the Liec to house theMulti-Disciplinary Center for the Development of Ceramic Materials, directed by professor Elson Longo da Silva, one of the ten Research, Innovation and Diffusion Centers (Cepids in the Portuguese acronyms) maintained by FAPESP. The financial sum from the Infrastructure Program, added to the financing of close to R$ 1 million through the Scientific and Technological Development Support Program (PADCT), of the Ministry of Science and Technology (MCT), made possible the purchasing of sophisticated accessories to improve the performance of the teams already in existence.

For example, it was in this manner that the research into the corrosion of refractories took off, allowing an alteration in the types of protection used in this material. Also it was possible to create a magnesium carbonate refractory brick, well used in the steel industry in torpedo-cars for the transport of pig iron from the furnace to the converter and in large holders for the final treatment of steel. The main client is the Companhia Siderúrgica Nacional (National Steel Company -CSN).

For Elson Longo of the Liec, another large impact caused by the improvements was to allow for the carrying out of research into nano-technology for the creation of nano-sensors for the detection of humidity, fires, or body temperatures, for use in alarms. The reforms also permitted the development of the technology for the addition of oxygen at temperatures between 500ºC and 900ºC during heating for the production of whiter ceramics, without the defects of dark spots, caused by the inadequate oxidation of the organic material that goes to make up its mass.

In the Organic Synthesis and Liquid Chromatography of High Efficiency Laboratory (Clae), the resources of the Infra Program financed the mounting of a laboratory with safety conditions, fitted with sprinklers, stairs and rapid exit doors for emergencies, benches with granite tops, gas exhaust system, etc. With the reforms, research took off. “We developed technology for the analysis of biological fluids such as plasma, urine, saliva and for the separation of optically active compounds”, explains Quezia Bezerra Cass.

The laboratory even carried out synthetic drugs and metabolic studies of the disposition of drugs on the human organism. In the evaluation of Massami Yanashiro, of Clae, the Infra Program contributed to a decrease in the unhealthiness of the work place and brought tranquility to the development of the synthesis of pheromones, compounds exhaled by insects to attract the opposite sex, which might be used in the control of pests in crops such as corn and coffee.

The resources of the Infra Program also benefited the researchers of the Kinetics and Illumination Laboratory. “The lack of conditions made me interrupt the research during three to four years”, says Edward Ralf Dóckal. Today, with the renovation and the standardization according to safety norms, there no longer exists the intoxication risks of the past. The research is evolving the synthesis of inorganic products such as reaction catalysts – oxidation of alcohol, of sulfur compounds – and research into analytical chemistry with biosensors for the determination of the presence of substances such as ascorbic acid, peroxides and phenols.