Author: Belinda Ongaro
Institution: University of Alberta
With the FIFA World Cup now in full swing, Brazil’s government has allocated extra funding to scientific studies in physics. Years of preparatory investment stand behind the FIFA World Cup, and Brazil is funneling its ensuing economic boost into bringing the nation’s top game in both the soccer field and scientific fields. Due to a history of limited funding, emphasis was traditionally placed on theoretical studies instead of more costly experimental research. Not until recently did Brazil achieve a near even split between the two domains. In preparation for the World Cup, the government implemented a four-fold increase in science funding through deliberate monetary investment over the last ten years. Between 2000 and 2011 the allotted funding rose from R$12bn (5.4bn USD) to R$50bn (22.4bn USD).
According to Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, physicist at the University of Campinas and scientific director of Brazil’s prime funding agency, FAPESP (Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo), Brazil intends to involve itself in physics on a grander scale.
“Our expectation is that Brazilian scientists should take a leadership role in large research projects and not just watch on as mere participants,” Cruz said.
Although the expenses of hosting the colossal World Cup have affronted many, Brazilian physicists are taking full advantage of the boost to enhance the education and research aspects of their field. Despite the delayed start, Brazil is taking major strides towards becoming a world leader in physics; the country is in the process of joining Geneva’s CERN particle-physics lab as an associate member and is also taking on a leading role with the Pierre Auger Observatory based in Argentina.
Brazil has undeniably made remarkable progress in recent years, given that the first physics university-level graduate programs only emerged in 1960. However, the country’s weakness still lies at the level of High School education, which has proven insufficient in preparing students for success with further studies. According to astrophysicist Vitor de Souza, only ten of the one-hundred and twenty students who start a four-year physics degree at the Physics Institute at São Carlos actually graduate. Souza claims that about 30% of the students drop out after the first semester.
Brazil is striving to strengthen the educational underpinning on which their physics involvement stands. The country’s growing emphasis on science funding has led to physics education programs such as the newly introduced two-year masters degree in physics teaching, which twenty-one universities have signed off on. Scholarships such as Science without Borders are also available to students pursuing higher education in physics. For Brazil, scientific involvement appears to be increasingly akin to World Cup soccer—physics research is a global competition in itself.