08 October 2006

Brazilian Physical Society: 40 years

On October 2 and 3 the Brazilian Physical Society promoted a meeting to celebrate its 40th birthday. Several talks were presented showing that Brazilian physicists work almost in all areas of physics. It is a great development of the area since serious research started in Brazil just before World War II. During the presentations it became clear that many groups were very keen to show that their research could produce applications for the Brazilian industry development. Sometimes this connection was really forced. This is a result of the research agencies policies supporting applied sciences. Brazil needs to do more applied science. No doubt about that. But in the last years this has been done in detriment of basic research. Federal agencies have been supporting applied research in many key areas but they are not paying attention to the needs of research in basic sciences.

It was really interesting that on October 3, the last day of the meeting, the Nobel prize was awarded to the COBE satellite people. A work in basic science got the prize. I gave a talk on string theory and I mentioned the Nobel prize during my talk. I also said loudly that research in high energy physics and string theory is basic research and as such it should be understood, not for its applications. I hope the message was clear.

At the end of the meeting a round table to discuss the "Physics for Brazil" was held. Four physicists working in research agencies were invited. One of them, the Minister of Science and Technology, which is also a physicist, did not show up and sent a representative. Just one of them, the Scientific Director of FAPESP, the Sao Paulo State research agency, said clearly that basic and applied sciences are equally important. The others just pressed that applied physics is important for the Brazilian development.

I hope that the federal research agencies wake up from this dream. It is not possible to develop applied sciences without a solid foundation in basic research. We need both of them strong and healthy.

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