The result of a scientific study in the field of the history of science that Pesquisa FAPESP is bringing to its readers in the cover feature this month deserves to be qualified as exciting, along with many others. This is so because of the description of the adventures that led to finding a powder, suggesting a material link between alchemy and chemistry, at the venerable Royal Society in England, which excites the human imagination right from the start and the inclination to unravel or at least follow the story on how the mysteries were solved.
Interest in this story is further enhanced when one learns that the substance, after lying forgotten for about 350 years in a closed envelope among other documents at the institution’s archives, was found by two Brazilian researchers. Nothing is more understandable than enthusiastically supporting our “team.” The duo, one has to say, has been dedicated for several years to examining certain periods of the history of science in order to understand how the construction of scientific knowledge is fuelled by affluence of various sorts, even by those that, to our contemporary eyes, seem so radically anti-scientific. This time, they certainly took some more important steps in their reconstruction of the history of contemporary science. It is worthwhile checking out the fine article by our humanities editor, Carlos Haag, which includes in the survey of the subject a dip, in loco, into the documents kept in London. The article starts on page 18.
Preparing this issue involved another rather less glamorous trip, that was somewhat painful, but equally important for the magazine: special editor Carlos Fioravanti and photographer Eduardo Cesar visited Araras, a village in inner-state Goias, for on-site monitoring of the work of a team from São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Goias researchers, who were trying to identify a genetic mutation that causes xeroderma in the local population. Fioravanti comments that, ironically for a place that is very hot at this time of the year and that is boiling in January, xeroderma pigmentosum, or XP for short, can be made much worse by exposure to the sun. And there is no specific medication to treat it so far. The outcome of this trip to Araras of the two Pesquisa FAPESP staff members can be seen starting on page 44.
Among other texts that I might highlight in this letter — such as the report on the ecology of the beautiful Brazilian suçuaranas [pumas] by Maria Guimarães (page 52), the article on lithium batteries developed in São Paulo to drive electric cars, by Marcos de Oliveira (page 72), and a third one on a new study about the criteria followed by the Brazilian dictatorship to censor books from 1970 to 1979 (page 82) by Gustavo Fioratti – I intend to focus on the back-and-forth interview in this issue.
Unlike our usual interviews, the one this month does not bring to our readers words from an important figure of science produced in Brazil: it offers the thoughts of the American biochemist Bruce Alberts, whose leading positions at academic institutions in the United States, over the last 20 years, have caused him to become somewhat divorced from the routine of a researcher dedicated to studying proteins and genes, impelling him to work in another field that he is passionate about: teaching and divulging the sciences. As editor in chief of Science, former chairman of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States, professor emeritus of the University of California, Alberts, aged 74, visited Brazil from late July to early August. In São Paulo, on August 3, he was responsible for the impressive overcrowding of the FAPESP auditorium, filled mainly with young researchers, when he talked about “Scientific excellence: ways and means of diffusion.” In his interview with editors Marcos Pivetta and Fabricio Marques (starting on page 28), Alberts explains in detail his ideas and all of them propose fundamental reflections for a country that wants its science and its scientific culture to advance.
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