First call for projects selected 125 research proposals; Brazil’s Northeast had the highest approval rate with 48.6%
The Brazilian Center for Research in Energy and Materials (CNPEM), an organization overseen by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI), has just released the list of scientific projects scheduled to utilize the research facilities at Sirius (https://lnls.cnpem.br/sirius/), Brazil’s largest and most complex research infrastructure.
The first official call to conduct experiments at Sirius was made late last year, incorporated new more inclusive and collaborative evaluation criteria, and received 334 proposals; most came from Brazilian institutions, but also from Latin America, North America, Europe, and Asia. Roughly a quarter of the proposals were received from new users, in other words, researchers who have never used the open facilities in any of the four national laboratories that comprise the CNPEM.
In this first regular call for proposals at Sirius, 125 were selected: 108 submitted by Brazilian researchers and 17 by researchers from foreign institutions. “The regular offering of the first research stations at Sirius to the scientific community is the most important landmark for this project, in my opinion,” says José Roque da Silva, Director General of the CNPEM. “This call for proposals mobilized researchers from 15 countries and 17 Brazilian states, in a wide variety of knowledge areas such as biology, geology, engineering, physics, and chemistry.”
New evaluation process
The proposals for research to be conducted at Sirius were selected through a double-blind peer review process that considered scientific merit. Allocation of beamline time in the research stations also takes into account geographical distribution and diversity of scientific areas.
So that every proposal could be assessed from multiple specialist points of view, a new distributed evaluation system was adopted, in which all researchers who submitted their projects during a certain call for proposals also serve as potential reviewers in this same process within their specialty areas.
At least five reviewers assess each proposal. “The evaluators did not have access to the names or institutions of the proposing researchers. Gender pronouns are also removed from proposals. To keep the process anonymous, proposal authors were instructed to remove any language that might identify research previously published by the group to avoid any reviewer bias,” notes Brazilian Synchrotron Light National Laboratory (LNLS) Director Harry Westfahl Jr.
Because of this new selection process, and encouraged by the pioneering nature of Sirius itself, many of the researchers selected during this call for proposals will have the chance to use the CNPEM’s scientific facilities for the first time. Of the 82 researchers submitting proposals who had never conducted experiments at the CNPEM before, 27 (33%) were successful.
And 108 of the 125 proposals selected during this first regular call for projects at Sirius came from Brazilian researchers in 17 different states. A highlight of this process was the approval rate for proposals from Brazil’s Northeast region: 48.6%. Coincidentally, this is the exact same approval rate for proposals submitted by researchers abroad.
Brazil’s Southeast, the source of the largest number of proposals, had a 37% approval rate; next were the South and Center-West regions, with 31% and 25%, respectively. No proposals from the North of the country were approved during this call for projects.
Of a total of 930 research shifts available, Brazilian researchers will have access to 780, while foreign researchers will receive 150. Check the full report:
In this first call for projects, proposals from 90 researchers at 25 different institutions were approved; 39 are linked to state universities, 42 to federal universities, two from private institutions, and 25 conduct their research within civil society organizations.
The selected projects address research topics that are of strategic interest to Brazil, with applications intended to solve problems related to agriculture and food production, biotechnology, bioengineering, mining and production of renewable and sustainable energy, and managing waste and pollution. Successful proposals in the area of health investigate topics including cardiovascular and viral diseases and cancer.
Of the successful projects, 38 are already receiving public and private research funding in Brazil and abroad.
Daniela Santos Anunciação, of the Federal University of Alagoas (UFAL), is one of the researchers whose proposal for research to be carried out at Sirius was approved. She will use the Carnaúba beamline to study processes to enrich beans with nanoparticles of selenium. She notes that the X-ray generated within Sirius is important to “investigate how these selenium nanoparticles behave in a plant medium and how they affect the plant’s metabolism in terms of nutrients, so that we can suggest uses for them within the context of food security and nutritional gains.” She highlights that the resources available at Sirius represent a “turning point in biotechnology work and development around the topic we are exploring.”
Guilherme Fadel Picheth of the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR) has worked to develop quickly-adapting vaccines against new variants of Covid-19. His proposal for research involving the Cateretê beamline was approved. He states that Sirius will help determine “whether all parts of the vaccine are in the right place,” and that he will rely on its high resolution and swift testing as well as the “ample support for data processing and experimental design” offered by this infrastructure.
Fernanda Gervasoni, of the Federal University of Pelotas (UFPel) in Rio Grande do Sul, studies physical and chemical processes deep inside the Earth (at depths of 300 to 700 km) via minuscule mineral inclusions that tend to be found trapped within diamonds. She expects the beamlines at Sirius to provide high-resolution data on the chemical heterogeneity of these minerals, potential phase transitions, and oxidation when they were formed. “My expectation is for these groundbreaking data to provide a deeper understanding of how the Earth has chemically and physically evolved.”
Jenaina Ribeiro Soares of the Federal University of Lavras (UFLA) wants to explore the interaction between new sustainable materials, observing changes in their structure on a near-atomic scale, seeing details one thousand times smaller than a strand of human hair (nanomaterials). Mastering the engineering of these materials could make it possible to manufacture stronger sustainable products. “It is an honor to conduct experiments at Sirius, since it is a unique opportunity to use exclusive equipment with capacities that go well beyond the conventional that are available in very few places in the world.”
Researcher Felipe Faglioni’s doctoral team in mechanical engineering at São Paulo State University (UNESP) develops new materials composed of ceramic and graphene with highly impact-resistant properties. They were the first researchers to use the Ema beamline at Sirius, which was designed to investigate how samples behave under extreme conditions. The goal is to understand how each component contributes to mechanical performance in conditions that are very difficult to obtain together. “These measurements were only possible not only because of the infrastructure but also the proactive staff at CNPEM, who helped us prepare the samples and prepared the beamline for our measurements using the expertise they have acquired in recent years.”
Beamlines operating at Sirius
The first regular call for research proposals at Sirius includes six beamlines (as the experimental stations are called). These lines operate independently and simultaneously, and have already completed the scientific commissioning phase, when researchers test the parameters of the machinery and the available techniques in real experiments. The beamlines and experimental resources made available in this call for proposals are:
- Carnaúba: Micro and nano-florescence and X-ray spectroscopy and ptychography. This station analyzes a wide variety of nano-structured materials to obtain 2D and 3D imaging with nanometric resolution of soil composition and structure and biological materials and fertilizers, as well as other research in the environmental sciences.
- Cateretê: Coherent diffraction imaging (ptychography) and X-ray photon correlation spectroscopy (XPCS). This station is optimized for 3D imaging with nanometric resolution of materials for a broad array of applications.
- Ipê: X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS). This light line is optimized to combine techniques to analyze the surfaces and interface of materials and molecular systems. It is dedicated to the study of chemical composition, electron structure, and elemental excitations in materials for chemical transformation, energy conversion, and information technology.
- Ema: High-pressure X-ray spectroscopy and diffraction. The techniques offered in this beamline allow researchers to investigate materials subjected to extreme temperatures, pressures, or magnetic fields. Research on matter subjected to these conditions may reveal new properties and characteristics that do not exist under normal ambient conditions. This is the case for superconductive materials, for example, which can conduct electrical currents without resistance and have the potential to revolutionize energy transmission and storage.
- Imbuia: Micro and nano infrared spectroscopy (FTIR). This experimental station is dedicated to research using infrared light, which allows identification of functional groups of molecules and analysis of the composition of practically any material with nanometric resolution.
- Manacá: Macromolecular crystallography (MX). This line features equipment that reveals 3D structures of proteins and enzymes with atomic resolution, showing the position of each atom that comprises a certain protein and its functions and interactions with other molecules, such as those used as active components in new medications.
Research proposals for the Manacá beamline are “fast tracked”: submissions for research on this beamline are evaluated and accepted on an ongoing basis without interruption, as established during the scientific commissioning phase.
Notice that the next regular call for research proposals at Sirius will take place from the 3rd to the 24th of April. The call will include the same beamlines included in the first call.
For the future: new lines
Besides the 6 beamlines that are open for regular operations, this year 5 new lines will receive users as part of the scientific commissioning phase, in which users conduct experiments that can help assess the parameters of the beamline.
MOGNO: X-ray micro and nano-tomography.
PAINEIRA: X-ray diffraction in polycrystals.
CEDRO: Circular dichroism.
SABIÁ: Absorption spectroscopy and soft X-ray imaging techniques.
Additionally, the SAPÊ beamline (angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy) will receive regular proposals for offline use of the spectrometer, which has not yet been connected to the synchrotron light source.
Funding and next steps
It is important to note that Sirius is a strategic government project which has a greater impact on the science, technology, and innovation system when more beamlines are available. For this reason, public support for funding to maintain and expand its beamlines is essential to provide more opportunities for research to advance, contributing to national sovereignty and the country’s scientific and technological development.
According to José Roque da Silva, the CNPEM and the entire scientific community are excited at the prospect that resources from FNDCT (the Brazilian National Development Fund) will no longer be subject to government control and will be liberated. These resources will permit Phase 1 of Sirius, which will include 14 beamlines, to be concluded soon, and will allow work to begin on ten more beamlines (described in the Multiannual Plan 2020-2023) in Phase 2. “Since the start of the Sirius project, even amid serious budget problems, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation [MCTI] always supported and understood Sirius’s importance for the country. We are confident that the current administration in the MCTI will continue along the same path,” says the Director General.
Sophisticated and effervescent environment for research and development, unique in Brazil and present in few scientific centers in the world, the Brazilian Center for Research in Energy and Materials (CNPEM) is a private non-profit organization, under the supervision of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI). The Center operates four National Laboratories and is the birthplace of the most complex project in Brazilian science – Sirius – one of the most advanced synchrotron light sources in the world. CNPEM brings together highly specialized multi-thematic teams, globally competitive laboratory infrastructures open to the scientific community, strategic lines of investigation, innovative projects in partnership with the productive sector and training of researchers and students. The Center is an environment driven by the search for solutions with impact in the areas of Health, Energy and Renewable Materials, Agro-environment, and Quantum Technologies. As of 2022, with the support of the Ministry of Education (MEC), CNPEM expanded its activities with the opening of the Ilum School of Science. The interdisciplinary higher course in Science, Technology and Innovation adopts innovative proposals with the aim of offering excellent, free, full-time training with immersion in the CNPEM research environment. Through the CNPEM 360 Platform, it is possible to explore, in a virtual and immersive way, the main environments and activities of the Center, visit: https://pages.cnpem.br/cnpem360/.
Note: Of the total of 334 proposals submitted, 11 involved experiments using beamlines that will begin testing operations, known as the commissioning phase. For this reason, the submission and acceptance data above were calculated from a total of 325 proposals (not including these 11 involving equipment in the commissioning phase).