São Paulo bridges gap between science and industry

Publicado em 18/09/2014
Physics Today, em setembro de 2014


In 2012 the Brazilian economy took its place as the seventh largest in the world. Brazil’s most populous state, São Paulo, accounts for 40–50% of the country’s scientific output and will host one of two new facilities that will bring Brazil to the forefront of physics research by 2020.

To help bring the projects to fruition, the Brazilian government has invested more than $800 million. But first, Brazil must overcome a gap between academic and industrial physics that has lingered since Brazil began offering graduate physics programs in the 1960s, says Sérgio Ferraz Novaes, a professor at São Paulo State University (UNESP) and collaboration board member for the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid (WLCG).

“The association of [academia] with industry in challenging projects of R&D is really going to be the major step forward that Brazil can [take] toward innovation,” Novaes says. “It is really important to construct a solid team that could play a part [in] global instrumentation.”

Last Friday, 5 September 2014, the Foundation for Research Support of the State of São Paulo (FAPESP), in partnership with the Funding Authority for Studies and Projects (FINEP), announced a call for companies throughout São Paulo to offer their services and resources toward 20 sub-projects for Sirius, one of the largest scientific endeavors in Brazil’s history.

In 2018 Brazil’s National Synchrotron Light Laboratory (LNLS) will unveil the first of 13 eventual beams from Sirius, a third-generation synchrotron light source that will generate twice the energy of its predecessor with the world’s smallest, most precise beam of synchrotron radiation.

“It will generate x rays one billion times brighter than its predecessor,” says Antonio José Roque da Silva, director of LNLS.

The companies chosen from FAPESP’s call will each construct different sections of Sirius, such as its ultrahigh vacuum chambers, cryogenic systems, and high-power current supplies.

LNLS’s efforts to bring Brazilian companies together to complete a science project like Sirius is sparking connections between academic and industrial physicists hitherto unknown in Brazil.

“This is the first time in Brazil that we have a major facility project associated with an active effort that will offer R&D funds in a structured manner for small companies to perform research and to develop parts and processes,” says Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, scientific director of FAPESP, a foundation that has been funding public and private research, education and innovation projects, and companies since it was founded in 1962.

Furthermore, a challenging project of this magnitude offers prime opportunity for institutes like LNLS to attract industrial companies to its cause, da Silva says.

“Our first synchrotron was small enough [that] we could develop and construct everything in- house, but the sheer size of Sirius will prevent this approach,” says da Silva, who has directed LNLS for five years. “It’s important, given the better economic situation today than 25–30 years ago, that we should try to interact to find companies.”

Other states in Brazil like Santa Catarina are already on course in helping to develop certain parts of Sirius, “but the structured call from FAPESP aims to change the scale of partnerships to a new, higher level,” da Silva says.

As Brazil focuses on constructing powerful instruments at home, it also continues to build participation with international projects like the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland, Pierre Auger Observatory in Argentina, and Large Latin American Millimeter Array, which will also be located in Argentina.

Innovation with Intel

Earlier this year, chipmaker Intel selected the São Paulo State University (UNESP) to host one of 40 Intel Parallel Computing Centers in the world. The centers focus on optimizing software capabilities to meet future scientific computing demands. Other centers are located at Stanford University, Bristol University in the UK, and the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich in Switzerland.


The Intel Parallel Computing Center at UNESP. CREDIT: UNESP and its Center for Scientific Computing

Right now, physicists and engineers at the newly-established center at UNESP are working on specific software for high-energy physics in preparation for LHC’s return to operation early next year. The project is part of a larger $152-million investment Intel has committed to Brazilian research and development over the next five years, and the Brazilian government has agreed to match a portion of the amount.

“That software, [called] Geant, is a set of programs used for the simulation of the passage of particles through matter, and is used to analyze the Large Hadron Collider outsource,” says Fabio Tagnin, the director of research and development at Intel’s Brazilian headquarters. “The goal for this project is to have people working on parallelizing their code with groups of international researchers at CERN and around the world,” Tagnin says. Parallel computing enables faster data processing but is more difficult to write because of the complexity in dealing with multiple tasks and data dependencies. Padtec, an optoelectronics company based in São Paulo, is another major player in UNESP’s research and computing infrastructure, says Novaes.

“We participate in a worldwide computing infrastructure for LHC computing grid. The bandwidth for data transmission is an essential ingredient for this concept of computing architecture to really work,” Novaes says. “Padtec provides our network equipment … and supports our R&D activities in the tracker trigger upgrade of the CMS detector.”

Padtec is known as the first company in Latin America to offer the division multiplexing wavelength equipment used in fiber-optic networks, which required the company to overcome a scientific problem with how optical fibers transport information over long distances.

“Breaching the academic market is very excellent because we can address in an efficient way solutions to scientific problems,” says Padtec’s President Jorge Salomão Pereira. “Some companies don’t have the same level of understanding of the problem, so by closing the academic and industrial gap we can understand problems much better.”

In 2006 under FAPESP’s program for Joint University-Industry research (PITE), Padtec and FAPESP combined efforts to jointly fund research projects which had “promising results for the company,” Cruz says. Through PITE, founded in 1995, FAPESP has partnered with more than a dozen Brazil-based companies and jointly awarded over 200 research grants.

Competitive with LLAMA

Another project FAPESP is funding in partnership with the University of São Paulo (USP) is the Large Latin American Millimeter Array (LLAMA), a radio telescope based in Argentina where construction began last July. When Brito Cruz first assumed position as FAPESP director in 2005, one of his goals was to promote FAPESP partnerships with companies and funding agencies outside of Brazil.

“Today, we have agreements where FAPESP reaches funding agencies in other countries so they can jointly fund a project,” he says. “So part of the research project is done here and another part is done in the other country.”


Members of the Instituto Argentino de Radioastronomia participating in the LLAMA project. CREDIT: IAR

LLAMA is one example of FAPESP’s new agreement. The project is a joint endeavor between Brazil and Argentina with the ultimate plan of joining LLAMA with the more powerful Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, which could increase ALMA’s resolving power by a factor of 10.

Because of this, LLAMA’s antenna and receivers, which will collect and store the data, will be similar to ALMA’s. And it’s Brazil’s responsibility to obtain the antennae and part of the receivers. To do this, they are partnering with companies and research institutes around the world to obtain the necessary parts.

“We intend to develop a lab in Brazil for integration of all these parts,” says Jacques Lepine, a professor of astronomy at USP. “We’re buying the antenna from a German company and we’ll get the receivers from different institutes and then put them in cryostats, which we plan to get from Japan.”

Right now, Lepine and his colleagues are deciding from which companies to purchase the receivers. The endeavor has connected Brazil with many companies, research institutes and universities worldwide and when completed in the next two to three years will offer Brazilian radio astronomers increased observing time. Argentina and Brazil will share 50% of the telescope’s overall observing time.

“This will be a very big step for radio astronomy in Brazil,” Lepine says. “We have few radio astronomers in Brazil and Argentina and finally have a good location for PhD students to do their work closer to home. We’re going to be very competitive with LLAMA.”

From 28 September through 3 October, the American Institute of Physics, in collaboration with FAPESP, ICTP, and UNICAMP will host an Industrial Physics Forum at the University of Campinas in Campinas, Brazil. The forum will address, among other topics, the many opportunities available to physicists in industry, how to conduct business in industry in Brazil, the important points for developing a start-up company in industrial physics. Speakers will include physics Nobel laureate Eric Cornell (JILA and CU Boulder), and scientists & leaders from Agilent Technologies, Intel, IBM, Medtronic, Schlumberger, SwissRe, and many other organizations. For more information, visit the IPF website.

Jessica Orwig is the physics resources program associate at the American Institute of Physics in College Park, Maryland.