Imprimir Republish


Synchrotron light pioneer

Argentine physicist Aldo Craievich played a major role in establishing a community of synchrotron light source users in Brazil and paved the way for glass research

Daniel UgarteCraievich at The Eagle pub in Cambridge, England, where scientists James Watson and Francis Crick developed ideas about the structure of DNA and first announced their findingsDaniel Ugarte

The importance of a research lab can be measured by the scale of its community of users. The Brazilian Synchrotron Light Laboratory (LNLS) in Campinas, São Paulo, is home to Sirius, the largest and most complex scientific project in the country, with a community of more than 6,000 regular users. Sirius is the successor to the first synchrotron light source in the southern hemisphere, UVX, which was active between 1997 and 2019 and was visited by around 1,700 researchers per year.

The formation of this community of synchrotron light researchers, which includes scientists from all over Latin America, is directly linked to the work and international coordination of Argentine physicist Aldo Felix Craievich, who died in São Paulo on April 24, at the age of 84.

“When the LNLS project began in the mid-1980s, you could count the number of people who knew about synchrotron light in Brazil on the fingers of one hand. Craievich was one of them,” says physicist Liu Lin, head of the LNLS Accelerators Division, which is managed by the Brazilian Center for Energy and Materials Research (CNPEM) in Campinas. “He was the one who spread the use of synchrotron light in the country and played a leading role in the creation of the laboratory.”

Born in the Argentine province of Santa Fé, Craievich earned a degree and PhD in physics at the Balseiro Institute in Bariloche, Argentina, and conducted research at the Solid States Physics Laboratory of Paris-Sud University, France, under the supervision of André Guinier (1911–2000), one of the exponents of crystallography and X-ray characterization techniques. Crystallography, an area to which Craievich dedicated his career, is the study of material structures at the atomic level.

He moved to Brazil in 1973, where he took on a teaching and research position at what was then the São Carlos Institute of Physics and Chemistry (IFQSC, divided into two institutes in 1994) at the University of São Paulo (USP). He came at the invitation of physicist and chemist Yvonne Mascarenhas, one of the pioneers of crystallography in Brazil.

“I met Craievich at a meeting of the Ibero-American Society of Crystallography, held in Chile at the end of 1971. I was amazed by the quality of his work. After the conference, he offered me a ride back to Santiago in his car. The excellent impression I had of him from the event was deepened during the six-hour trip,” recalls Mascarenhas.

In 1980, Craievich moved to Rio de Janeiro, where he worked as a researcher at the Brazilian Center for Physics Research (CBPF). The following year, he returned to France to do a postdoctoral fellowship in synchrotron light at the LURE synchrotron radiation laboratory in Orsay.

Synchrotron light is emitted by electrons moving at close to the speed of light. It is used to study the molecular and atomic structure of a wide range of materials (see Pesquisa FAPESP issue nº 269). “It is a technique that gained ground in the 1970s. Craievich was at one of the biggest research centers using the technique at the time, in France, and was one of the first scientists working in Brazil with practical — not just theoretical — experience with synchrotron light,” says physicist Glaucius Oliva, a professor at IFSC-USP and head of the Center for Innovation in Biodiversity and Drug Discovery, one of FAPESP’s Research, Innovation, and Dissemination Centers (RIDCs).

Back in Brazil in the early 1980s, the Argentine researcher was one of the founders of the LNLS. In collaboration with physicist Roberto Lobo, then director of CBPF, he wrote the “Preliminary proposal for a feasibility study for the implementation of a National Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory,” which was approved by the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) in 1983.

Craievich became the LNLS’s first scientific director between 1987 and 1997. He oversaw the laboratory’s creation in partnership with engineer and physicist Ricardo Rodrigues (1951–2020), who was the first technical director, and physicist Cylon Gonçalves da Silva, who was the first general director.

Craievich was responsible for encouraging the Brazilian and Latin American scientific communities to use synchrotron light in research on the molecular and atomic structure of materials and for promoting the training of professionals capable of becoming future users of the laboratory. To this end, he submitted a request in 1984 for funding from the CNPq for undergraduate, master’s, doctorate, postdoctorate, and independent research on themes related to the construction of the source and beamlines, as well as their applications.

“He was an enthusiast of scientific research with synchrotron light and encouraged many professionals to learn about and use the technique. Since there were no specialists in the country, he organized workshops with foreign speakers, promoted courses, and encouraged students to study overseas,” recalls physicist Helio Tolentino, who was Lin’s classmate after the first round of CNPq scholarships for the synchrotron project and is the current head of the Heterogeneous and Hierarchical Matter Division at LNLS.

Craievich planned and promoted the first LNLS Annual Users’ Meetings with the aim of perfecting synchrotron light techniques and discussing laboratory results and problems. These meetings are still held to this day. “The user community is what is most precious at LNLS and what gives life to the lab,” says Lin.

The physicist led the planning and implementation of the LNLS’s first beamlines, which serve as research stations with specific focuses of study. In 1997, he transferred to USP’s Physics Institute (IF) in São Paulo, where he was a professor and headed the Department of Applied Physics from 2002 to 2006.

Pioneer in glass research
Craievich also studied the physics of condensed matter and nanomaterials, with an emphasis on the structures and structural transformations of solids and crystallographic methods. He published more than 230 articles in scientific journals, contributing through studies of different materials. He was one of the pioneers of glass research in Brazil.

Edgar Dutra Zanotto, founder and current head of the Vitreous Materials Laboratory (LaMaV) at the Department of Materials Engineering (DEMA) at the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar), says the Argentine had a decisive influence on his career.

In 1972, Zanotto began studying materials engineering at UFSCar as an undergraduate student. “There were practically no specialist teachers in Brazil. Our classes were led by physics and chemistry professors,” recalls the engineer. One of the first professors of materials science was Craievich. “He was from USP in São Carlos, but was ‘loaned’ to UFSCar to teach this discipline.”

Craievich was a founding member of the Brazilian Society for Materials Research (SBPMAT) and a member of the Brazilian Association of Crystallography (ABCR) and the Brazilian Academy of Science (ABC). He was also a lover of film, classical music, tennis, and soccer. He was a widower, survived by one son.