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The challenge of sharing

Policy for publicizing the Cepids succeeds in bringing scientific knowledge home to society, supporting public policies and forming human resources

Ten Research, Innovation and Diffusion Centers (Cepids), created in September 2000 and financed by FAPESP, are carrying out leading edge investigations at the frontier of knowledge. The various multidisciplinary groups are seeking everything from the identification of genes expressed in diseases to the development of new diagnostics for the formulation of more effective drugs, on the way analyzing the structures of proteins, new ceramic materials, and even the violence that is devastating the Metropolitan Region of São Paulo.

However, one of the great challenges for these researchers is sharing this knowledge with society, in such a way as to provide input for public policies, to contribute towards the development of new technologies, and for the formation of citizens. That is why, in parallel to their research activities, the Cepids have been putting into effect, since their foundation, programs of dissemination, which range from publicity campaigns to the secondary school teacher training and educational activities carried out directly with pupils.

In the case of the campaigns, like the one for the Cancer Research and Treatment Center, which was made by two institutes, the A.C. Camargo Cancer Hospital and the Ludwig Cancer Research Institute, a strong ally is the media. In the course of two years, the center made public its advertising pieces – produced without charge by the J. Walter Thompson agency – by means of outdoor billboards, TVs, newspapers and magazines from all over the country. These had the objective of encouraging changes in habits to prevent skin, cervical and lung cancer, and, at the same time, of alerting the population of the benefits of early diagnosis. “This hospital’s level of cure is 64%. It could be more, if patients didn’t come to us too late”, says Daniel Deheinzelin, A. C. Camargo’s clinical director.

Publicity in the media has generated a search for information by content: the average number of monthly visits to the center has reached 740,000. “We were the first health website in visits in the whole of the world”, says Deheinzelin. And the results are surprising: the number of patients who arrive at the hospital already with a broad knowledge of the disease, and even of the protocols used in treating it, keeps on going up. “This contributes towards checking the quality of assistance, and it makes dialog easier”, he explains. The expectation is to do away with the stigma that surrounds the disease, to consolidate the idea that cancer has a cure, and to raise the level of remission to something like 75%.

Another Center that has availed itself of publicity campaigns was the Center for Sleep Studies, linked to the Psychobiology Department of the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp). Since the 70s, researchers have been studying sleep disorders, a disease not identified as such by a major part of the population, but which is responsible, for example, for a large number of the accidents with buses registered in the country. The interest of the media in the theme has helped researchers to take part over the last two years in a series of programs and interviews in the main television channels, newspapers and nationwide magazines. Publicity coordinator Roberto Frussa Filho estimates, for example, that something like 26 million people have received some information about sleep problems through the TV.

In the case of the Optics and Photonics Research Center – which gathers together researchers from the Institute of Physics of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), the Institute of Physics of the University of São Paulo (USP) in São Carlos, and the Nuclear and Energy Research Institute (Ipen) -, television, radio and the papers are used as vehicles for broadcasting concepts and popularizing science. In São Carlos, for example, the center set up a small studio, where three TV programs a week are produced: Nota 10 [10 out of 10], Vida e Ciência [Life and Science] and Aulas de Física [Lessons in Physics], broadcast on a daily basis by TV Educativa and TV Universitária, whose signals are also picked up in Araraquara and Ibaté.

All the programs are of an educative nature and show up to date themes, like the use of phototherapy in fighting cancer, geoprocessing, and news about new technologies as well, amongst others. “We now have over 30 programs recorded”, says Kleber Jorge Sávio Chicrala, the advisor for publicity and the press at this Cepid. This is not to mention a weekly radio program and the science columns, also weekly, published in two newspapers that circulate locally. The center also produces educational videotapes for primary and secondary schools from the public network, with the objective of making good the shortfalls in didactic material, with explanations on electromagnetic waves, the use of the laser and holograms, amongst others. The collection now amounts to 50 videotapes.

Another project carried out at the schools is called Entomoptics, a teaching methodology that couples optics and environmental education to explain the insect world to nursery school children. The educational material – microscopes, slides, etc. – is supplied by the Cepid.At Unicamp, the students and researchers from this Cepid are adapting a kit developed by the Optical Society of America (OSA), which allows a simple demonstration of elements in optics. The material is to be used in schools of the basic and medium levels. “We realize that the scientific vocation gets less and less. In the United States, there are aggressive programs to awaken the interest of students straight away in the primary school. Our intention is to do the same”, explains Hugo Fragnito, the center’s scientific director.

Young talents
The Center for Cell Therapy in Ribeirão Preto is betting heavily on developing young talents by means of a program baptized Talent Hunter, which has put together over 80 pupils from the grade 6 in fundamental schooling to the third year of medium schooling (In Brazil, kids get 8 initial years of basic schooling which is called the fundamental cycle. Then they go on to receive 3 further years of medium education). The students are selected by their teachers, so that together they can carry out activities of scientific initiation outside the classroom. They have already had lessons in fish from the streams, genetics, paleontology and evolution with teaching staff from the university.

On the courses, they often have turn to strategies like dramatization, for example, to work on and consolidate concepts that are difficult to understand, like cloning and transgenics, amongst others. The center also publishes, once a year, the Jornal das Ciências [Journal of Sciences], divided into three sections: Espaço do Aluno [Space for the Student], with news about the participation of the students in school activities; Palavra do Professor [A Word from the Teacher], with reports on classroom experiments; and the Aula de Ciência [Science Lesson] section, written by researchers, with information on lines of research and suggestions for concepts to be worked on by the teacher. he journal is also a communication channel between the school and the House of Science, maintained by the Ribeirão Preto Hemocenter, a support base for the dissemination work of the Cepid.

Making scientific information known to pupils of medium level education is also the focus of the projects carried out by the Center for Structural Molecular Biology, which brings together researchers from the Protein Crystallography and Molecular Biology laboratories of USP’s Institute of Physics in São Carlos; from the Chemistry Department and the Natural Products and Synthesis Laboratory of the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar); and from the Center for Structural Biology of the National Laboratory of Synchrotron Light (LNLS), in Campinas. The researchers have already produced ample educational material for the teachers to use in the classroom.

They have, for example, made plastic models for building nucleic acid molecules and of proteins that make it possible to assemble DNA and RNA molecules and to build the various kinds of structures of proteins. They also created an amino acid disc, which gives the pupil access to a variety of information, including the genetic code. This material attracted the attention of Amersham Bioscience, a company headquarted in Switzerland, which has plans to distribute itworldwide, as a gift to its customers.

A specialist in Research, Education and Dissemination of Science is assessing the application of the material and the results have proved to be positive: the students who handled a kit on cellular respiration, for example, made better use of the material than the others. To spread the use of the didactic material, in July the center will run the 1st Course for the Qualification of Biology and Science Teachers. “Among the various themes, we will be dealing with genomics and the structure of molecules”, says Leila Maria Beltramini, the Cepid’s coordinator for dissemination.

Didactic support
Didactic support for the teachers is one of the tonics of the programs of the Center for Studies of the Human Genome, which has now published a collection with three volumes, entitled Concepts of Biology, two extra course books on human cloning and DNA sequencing, and a guidebook of didactic support for teachers. This is not to mention the courses for teachers of the medium level of schooling, with lessons on DNA sequencing, molecular biology and basic genetics, amongst others. In the assessment of José Mariano Amabis, the center’s coordinator for Education and Dissemination, the greatest difficulty lies in adapting the didactic material to the requirements of the teachers and to guarantee that it is used on the classroom. “Teachers have great difficulty in understanding scientific procedures and do not master the philosophic view of science, which prevents them from developing the students’ skills for thinking and putting forward hypotheses”.

Interaction between teachers and pupils is also the trademark of the awareness programs of the Multidisciplinary Center for the Development of Ceramic Materials, made up by researchers from UFSCar, the São Paulo State University (Unesp/São Carlos, USP in São Carlos, the Brazilian Center for Research in Physics (CBPF/CNPq) and Ipen. But the highlight goes for the actions carried out with craftsmen and ceramic industries. Last year, for example, the Cepid took part in the Handicraft and Generation of Income project, sponsored by Community Solidarity (The social assistance arm of the federal government) in several Brazilian states.

The researchers assessed the quality of handicrafts in regions like the Jequitinhonha valley in Minas Gerais, known for the skill of its craftsmen. They characterized the clays used in making the pieces, analyzed costs, observed and assessed the conditions of firing, recommended the use of additives – such as crushed glass – to increase mechanical resistance, and even proposed new techniques for modeling. The intention was to improve the quality of the product, expand the market, redeem popular traditions and to increase family income. “The pieces gained improved quality”, says Elson Longo, the Cepid’s director.

Then the Center for Applied Toxinology, besides taking on the responsibility for courses for training pupils and teachers, traditionally provided by the Butantan Institute, also carries out activities aimed at training selected students, researchers and health professionals. Since last year, it has been carrying out a ten-day course on the theme of Innovation in Pharmaceutics and Intellectual Property, given by three specialists: a Brazilian, an Englishman and an American, with the participation of the pharmaceutical industry. “We deal with everything from the development of innovation, in the 19th century, to the way towards the protection of intellectual property”, says Antonio Carlos Martins de Camargo, the Cepid’s director.

The center has now published a book called Guia de Serpentes da Mata Atlântica [Guide to Snakes of the Atlantic Rain Forest], directed towards a more specialized public, now sold outut of print, after 4,000 copies, and which should shortly be reprinted, this time in English. In the second half of this year, another book, A Estação Ecológica Juréia [The Juréia Ecological Station], will be launched, which includes research carried out in the areas over the last 15 years, about climate, fauna and flora, amongst other information.

Public policies
In another perspective of work, the Centers for Studies of the Metropolis (CEM) and for Study of Violence are carrying out research with a view to providing input for public policies. The CEM has put together a set of research projects carried out by the Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning (Cebrap) and by the Urbanism of the Metropolis Laboratory (Lume), of USP’s College of Architecture and Urbanism (FAU), in the areas of spatial organization, environment, social structure, and culture, amongst others, about the Metropolitan Region of São Paulo (MRSP). The dissemination programs are carried out through courses for qualifying teachers from medium level education, in partnership with the Social Service of Commerce (Sesc).

“The themes are connected with the History and Geography programs in fundamental schooling”, says Argelina Cheibub Figueiredo, the Cepid’s coordinator. Information on this research will shortly be available on CEM’s website and in a series of documentaries produced by the School of Communication and Arts (ECA). Lume should also be publishing, before the end of the year, a book called São Paulo Metrópole [São Paulo Metropolis], with 40 thematic maps showing the dynamics of the urban development of the region, and which will also contain a sort of mosaic of the MRSP, made up from aerial photographs, duly processed to adjust the images to the base of georeferenced places.

“It will be a great inventory of São Paulo, with an emphasis on the transition from the metropolis of industry to the one of services”, explains Regina Maria Prosperi Meyer, Lume’s coordinator. The forecast is that the Center for Study of Violence should make public the results of its research from next year onwards. “We cannot publish before then, at the risk of interfering in the results”, says Sergio Adorno, the Cepid’s coordinator for research.

The center is carrying out five integrated projects by means through which information on the violation of human rights will be compared with indicators of economic and social rights; analyzing the bases for the public security policy in São Paulo; analyzing the process of how impunity has been built up in the country, pointing out bottlenecks in the criminal courts; testing the use of models of security contracts, in partnership with the community from selected areas; and monitoring the violation of human rights in the region. “Our goal is to contribute towards formatting policies that are more compatible and that generate in citizens more confidence in Justice”, says Nancy Cardia, the Cepid’s coordinator for the Transfer of Knowledge and Education.