Friday, December 3, 2010

ScienceMag New Focus - Science in Brazil

There are three articles in this week's Science magazine penned by Antonio Regalado, talking about current challenges for Brazilian research. This is the same issue where the famous arsenic bacteria were announced. The abstracts follow below.

Brazilian Science: Riding a Gusher (Vol. 330 no. 6009 pp. 1306-1312 DOI: 10.1126/science.330.6009.1306):
Over the past 8 years, Latin America's largest nation has begun to boom. Its economy is growing fast, and it has become a player in world affairs, reveling in an unprecedented bout of self-confidence. It will host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics 2 years later. The good times are lifting science, too. Between 1997 and 2007 the number of Brazilian papers in indexed, peer-reviewed journals more than doubled to 19,000 a year. Brazil now ranks 13th in publications, according to Thomson Reuters, having surpassed the Netherlands, Israel, and Switzerland. Brazil's universities awarded twice as many Ph.D.s this year as they did in 2001, and thousands of new academic jobs have opened up on 134 new federal campuses. It's a reversal of fortune for a nation that during the 1990s was beset by dire economic problems. But Brazil is not formidable yet; its scientific output trails its ambitions. The country produces few high-impact papers and only a trickle of patents. Its primary and secondary public education system is in shambles, leaving the nation of 195 million chronically short of technical workers.
Talented But Underfunded: Brazil's Future Scientists (Vol. 330 no. 6009 p. 1311 DOI: 10.1126/science.330.6009.1311):
Twenty-five-year-old Reinaldo Sousa dos Santos is a Ph.D. candidate in biochemistry at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and a resident of Parque União, a crowded favela where residents live under the thumb of a drug gang. Dos Santos owes his journey from shantytown to lab bench to his mentor, Leopoldo de Meis, a 72-year-old professor of biochemistry at UFRJ. In 1985, de Meis began offering a hands-on science course for low-income adolescents called Young Talents. Dos Santos enrolled when he was 14, a year after his father died, leaving him orphaned. Brazil must write thousands more stories like Dos Santos's if it is to overcome deep social divisions and achieve its dream of becoming a major player in scientific research. Many say the task must begin with improving public schools, where poorly paid teachers offer rote lessons.
Tapping a Deep, 'Pre-Salt' Bounty (Vol. 330 no. 6009 pp. 1308-1309 DOI: 10.1126/science.330.6009.1308):
Three years ago, a drill bit struck immense oil deposits deep off the coast of Brazil. Petrobras, the national oil company, tapped undersea fields now estimated to hold about 80 billion barrels of oil and natural gas—about three times the size of the reservoir under Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. It brought the promise of new wealth and expectations that Brazil will climb to the world's top rung of achievement in science and technology. Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva once termed the oil strike "a second independence for Brazil" and promised to use the oil revenue for education and public health. But Brazil's R&D sector has been first to benefit.

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