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Letter from the editor | 90

The power of imagination

In the middle of the Argentinean desert, 100 kilometers from the Andes mountains, there are two telescopes and 150 tanks full of water, spread over 3,000 square kilometers. This is the structure that comprises the Pierre Auger Observatory, a mega project involving research institutions from 18 countries and 250 researchers, at an estimated cost of US$ 54 million. When it is concluded, probably three years hence, 24 telescopes and 1,600 tanks will contend with the clumps of prickly plants for the primacy of the landscape. All of this to detect and to interpret cosmic rays, high-energy subatomic particles, which are important for understanding physical phenomena like the constitution of matter and the formation of the universe, amongst others. The odd thing about this enterprise is that not even the researchers most conversant with the subject know how to define exactly what cosmic rays are, nor where they come from or how they are formed. Today, they have more doubts than answers. Even so, or perhaps for this reason, they do not mind spending spells in the middle of nowhere, working in the open air, assembling equipment.

What thrills the actors in this setting being mounted in the desert is precisely the possibility of deciphering mysteries that other similar but smaller observatories have not managed to elucidate. This situation, of investing many millions and an enormous effort in an apparently enigmatic project, is a crystal-clear example of how the imagination of the scientists can outdo that of the authors of stories of fiction. It is as if the adventure of science were to repeat the adventure of man, of which only a few starting points are known. Brazil has a participation in the project, with 32 researchers funded by FAPESP (R$ 1.8 million) and by the Ministry of Science and Technology (R$ 700,000). To tell the story of the construction of the Pierre Auger Observatory, still incomplete, editor Carlos Fioravanti and photographer Miguel Boyayan spent three days living the day to day of the physicists who take turns in installing the equipment produced in their countries. The article that starts on page 28 is fine witness to a work that, very possibly, will imply changes in the various branches of physics. Right away, the preliminary results suggest that the very theory of cosmic rays needs some adjustments.

Imagination was also something fundamental for the development of nanotechnology, a sector that is now bringing concrete results, and is the theme of another good story in this issue. The world of things that seemed to be infinitely small, impossible to be manipulated, has grown and become feasible. To the point of nanotechnology starting to be viewed with interest by private companies in Brazil, and not just abroad. At the moment, a group of researchers supported by FAPESP and executives from the Federation of Industries of the State of São Paulo (Fiesp) is planning to attract the attention of investors to the theme. The country is known to have the infrastructure and the personnel totake this leap forward and to get a good return in the future.

A careful analysis of the Brazilian economy is the gist of the main article in Humanities. The work has its origins in a thematic project and focuses on the economic performance of the last 25 years of the last century to try to understand why economic recovery in the country is so difficult in coming about.

Finally, some good news as well for those who are not researchers. Although it has its own website, Pesquisa FAPESP started in June a partnership with the IG portal. This means that the magazine content can be accessed by a very eclectic group of readers, different from the Brazilian scientific community. Other similar partnerships should occur before the end of the year. The goal is to offer a much larger public the articles about science and technology that are published in the magazine.