One of the differentials of the CNPEM as a science and technology institution is its capacity to develop and operate large-scale research infrastructure that offers complex and unique techniques to carry out a wide range of scientific experiments. Today, the Center is involved in structural projects that include designing sophisticated research facilities as well as initiatives for scientific outreach and dissemination and to firmly establish the Ilum School of Science.
Projects for the future
Sirius, Brazil’s new synchrotron light source, is the largest and most complex scientific infrastructure constructed in Brazil. This large-scale set of equipment utilizes particle accelerators to produce a special type of light that is used to investigate the composition and structure of all types of matter.
Sirius was designed to produce the brightest synchrotron light out of all the devices in its energy range, and the scientific research conducted with the help of this light has applications in various knowledge areas. Sirius is an open facility that is available to the Brazilian and international scientific communities, allowing hundreds of academic and industrial studies to be conducted each year.
Through these studies, Sirius helps find solutions to major scientific and technological challenges such as developing vaccines, medications, and treatments for diseases, new fertilizers, plant species that are more resistant and adaptable, new agricultural techniques, and renewable energy sources, among many other potential applications with economic and social impacts. Throughout its development, Sirius has proved to be a defining project for Brazil.
Not only does it position the country on the cutting edge of global science, but it has also positively impacted innovation in domestic industry, which was involved in constructing a substantial portion of its sophisticated components. Six light lines are currently in the process of commissioning, in which CNPEM staff and outside researchers conduct experiments to test all the functionalities and performance of the equipment, as well as the four support labs. Another eight light lines are in the development and assembly stage, and will soon be available to the scientific and industrial community.
Biosafety Level 4 Laboratory (NB4)
Maximum biological containment laboratories (biosafety level 4) are scientific structures with the highest level of biological safety for laboratories that work with highly contagious organisms. Level 4 laboratories are designed keep microorganisms from being released into the environment, and provide maximum safety to researchers who work in these labs; their construction requires sophisticated architectural and engineering techniques to ensure the safety of users and the surrounding community.
The Brazilian level 4 laboratory is being planned as an environment where diagnostics, research, and evaluation of new diagnostic and therapeutic tests can be carried out with pathogenic microorganisms considered to be biological threats that impact the country’s epidemiological surveillance system. The plan for the level 4 laboratory to be installed at the CNPEM involves integration with the Sirius light lines, which will make it possible to explore interactions between pathogens and host cells, allowing potential advances in the understanding of the pathogenesis of diseases caused by highly contagious organisms.
The activities to plan the level 4 laboratory at the CNPEM (which are still in the early stages) include conducting technical studies, prototyping, development and testing of specialized instrumentation, conceptual, basic, and executive plans for this undertaking, constructing a building to house laboratories with various biosafety levels (including 4) and integrating them with Sirius, and commissioning and training the technical staff to operate this new infrastructure.
Industrial Biotechnology Platform
The Industrial Biotechnology Platform will encompass integrated R&D infrastructure rooted in the instrumentation and the unique competencies at the CNPEM in order to expand the capacity of industrial biotechnology in Brazil, and will be accessible to the academic and industrial communities. This platform will promote the discovery, design, and engineering of enzymes and microorganisms and the development of processes at technology readiness levels 3 to 5, supported by technical, economic, and environmental assessments of the sustainability of the biotechnologies developed in the CNPEM’s programs.
The objective of this platform is to support the competitive domestic development of microorganisms and enzymes, essential inputs for transforming biomass and producing biotechnological products for application in industrial processes; this process takes advantage of the potential offered by Brazil’s microbial biodiversity, one of the richest in the world. The platform also is intended to reduce the technological risk involved in biotechnologies developed in Brazil, and to create a bridge between scientific advances and demands for innovation among companies in various sectors, such as biofuels and food and beverages.
The platform has two crucial elements for implantation: a high-throughput infrastructure for developing industrially relevant enzymes and microorganisms, and an infrastructure to scale up processes.
Center for Health Technologies (CTS)
The Center for Health Technologies is an initiative intended to meet demands from the R&D&I chain in health, acting as a means to carry out highly complex tasks required to validate and transform fundamental scientific knowledge into technologies and solutions to challenges facing the Brazilian healthcare system.
This initiative seeks to establish new competencies dedicated to clinical biomanufacturing of pilot batches of cell lines that produce monoclonal antibodies, vaccines, and materials used to produce therapies based on gene editing, three such demands from the Brazilian health system. The Center for Health Technologies will also incorporate the complementary competencies of the CNPEM into its processes of discovering and developing pharmaceuticals, tissue engineering, pre-clinical development, bioimaging, and computational biology.
The expansion of this platform will include installing and commissioning equipment for in vivo bioimaging, expanding the laboratory to produce genetically modified animals, and creating and maintaining wild and genetically modified murine lines.
Platform to Combat Emerging Viral Diseases (PCVE)
The fight against emerging human viral diseases (such as Covid-19) that will continue to threaten public health requires the permanent incorporation of multidisciplinary scientific competencies. In response to these challenges, the CNPEM’s Platform to Combat Emerging Viral Diseases (PCVE) involves establishing a set of technologically pioneering scientific platforms to promote and support a strategic research agenda dedicated to the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of emerging human pathogenic viruses. This initiative receives funding from the Brazilian federal government’s program to support activities to face the international public health emergency resulting from the coronavirus.
The PCVE’s activities include establishing a biosafety level 3 laboratory and research related to synthetic biology and genetic engineering, molecular and structural virology, molecular immunology and antibody engineering, nanobiology and diagnostic devices, molecular pharmacology and pharmaceutical development, biological computation, and artificial intelligence. Work to implement the infrastructure for the platform is currently underway; equipment has been procured and commissioned, and basic and executive plans are being drawn up to adapt the CNPEM buildings to install the biosafety level 3 laboratory.
With the strengthening and expansion of research and development activities at the CNPEM, including the start of operations in Sirius, public interest in the Center’s work has grown notably. In response, new CNPEM initiatives include elaborating, planning, and carrying out activities for scientific outreach and dissemination that will be added to the CNPEM’s previous successful efforts in this area.
Work is also being done on the initial planning for a Visitor Center on the CNPEM campus, inspired by similar spaces in research institutions abroad. The idea is to assess how the space can be utilized as a multimedia and museum exhibition space, with rooms to conduct hands-on activities with school groups in supervised experiments, in line with national curriculum standards, and an auditorium for outreach activities and teacher training.
Shared Experience Center
One of the most important questions today that has captured the attention of researchers and educators is related to training young people to work in an environment of technological innovation marked by swift transformation of the sociocultural relations that have shaped new forms of employment and work. The progress of scientific activities during the second half of the twenty-first century and the beginning of this current century shows that research activities as well as the search for innovations must be interdisciplinary.
The mission at Ilum is based on two pedagogical foundations: basic instruction with solid knowledge in applied mathematics and computer science, and an interdisciplinary approach with regard to biology, physics, and chemistry and their technological applications. The Bachelor’s Program in Science, Technology and Innovation also is part of the social function of producing knowledge and training scientists who will work to construct a more sustainable society and are committed to national development.
In this way, one of the main differentials at the Ilum School of Science is integrating its students into the R&D activities carried out at the CNPEM, which requires establishing a space for shared experience large enough to house and integrate students and researchers during their stay on the Center’s campus.