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Brazilian scientist wins disputed Marie Curie research grant |  Sciences

Brazilian scientist wins disputed Marie Curie research grant | Sciences

Plastic is an integral part of human life. Although it helps in many aspects, improper disposal, without recycling, makes this waste suffer from the effects of sun, rain and wind. As a result, they decompose and seep into the environment in the form of microplastic particles, less than 5 mm long.

Brazilian researcher Amanda Gouveia is studying ways to make these small polymer molecules degrade more quickly. In February, her research received support from the renowned Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) programme, the European Union's leading research funding initiative. According to the Center for the Development of Functional Subjects (CDMF), the scholarships are very competitive and less than 15% of applicants are able to receive them.

For 24 months, Gouveia will work at the Sorbonne University in France, where Polish scientist Marie Curie (1867-1934), a two-time Nobel Prize winner who gave the name of the funding program won by the Brazilian, also studied.

With a budget of €211,000, the research entitled “Theoretical engineering of photocatalysts for the degradation of microplastics” will be carried out in the Laboratory of Theoretical Chemistry (LCT) led by Professor Mónica Calatayud.

“The current problem is microplastics and nanoplastics, which are found in wastewater on Earth, in the placenta, and in human feces. There is indiscriminate neglect.” [dos plásticos] Unfortunately, we still do not have a law that governs this recycling issue very well,” Gouveia analyzes in an interview with Galileo.

Search for semiconductors

The research also includes work on semiconductors, which are materials capable of degrading elements such as viruses, fungi and pollutants, including microplastics. “The goal is to find materials that are able to carry out this decomposition, and that can also produce value-added products,” says the scientist.

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With the possibility of eliminating the presence of these wastes, the quality of water and soil would improve, for example. However, in order to be applied in nature, it is necessary to simulate a type of microplastic and analyze whether the decomposed semiconductor material works in experimental tests.

Everything is done in stages, until sustainable and effective degradation of a real specimen in nature is achieved. “If we can find a semiconductor that is truly able, in a sustainable way, to degrade microplastics to be applied to soil or water, we will bring many benefits to society and the environment,” says Gouveia.

From chemistry lessons to laboratories

Gouveia was born in Marilia (SP), graduated in chemistry from the Universidad Estadual Paulista (UNESP) and studied for his master's and doctorate at the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCAR), both in the interior of São Paulo. The scientist also obtained a postdoctoral degree in Theoretical and Computational Chemistry (QTC) from the Jaume I University in Spain.

Amanda in the laboratory at the Jaume I Spanish University, in Spain – Photo: Disclosure

His interest in chemistry arose during his third year in high school. “I had a very good teacher, who explained chemistry with great passion,” Amanda recalls. “That's how I decided to enter this field, because when we stop and think and observe things, we see that there really is chemistry in everything.”

The desire to work in research came during graduation. In her first year at university, Amanda began her scientific upbringing, after coming into contact with a professor who was working on computer simulations involving mathematics and chemistry concepts. Although she was approved to work as a temporary military police officer – an attractive financial opportunity – she continued with her goal of becoming a scientist.

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“When the feeling of investigation arises, we want to discover everything. In the second or third year, I stopped doing only theoretical research and went into the laboratory. “So I combined theory and experiment,” he recalls. “I saw one aspect of chemistry as going to benches.” “On the other hand, I already knew how to see atoms on a computer.”

She's from Brazil!

During her undergraduate studies, Gouveia received two scholarships: one from the Program Institutional des Initiation Scholarships (PIBIC), from the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq); and another from the São Paulo State Research Support Foundation (Fapesp).

Amanda Gouveia holds samples – Photo: Disclosure

In 2014, while still pursuing her PhD, she was awarded a scholarship from the Coordination for the Improvement of Personnel in Higher Education (CAPES), to the Sandwich Doctoral Program Abroad. With this he went to Spain. Four years later, when she returned to Brazil, she earned her doctorate, but continued to conduct research across the country.

Thanks to a postdoctoral fellowship from CNPq, Amanda worked at Piauí State University for a year. After that, he spent ten months at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), in the interior of São Paulo, and received another post-doctoral scholarship, from the Universidad Fabesp. “Brazilian funding agencies and universities, as well as teachers, helped me in my training and journey to where I am now. There were five years of undergraduate study, an additional two years for a master’s degree, and another five years of doctoral study,” Gouveia points out.

In 2020, Gouveia obtained a two-year contract as a postdoctoral researcher at the Spanish University Jaume I. This year, until September, she will remain in Spain. But he will soon leave for French territory. “this project [com a bolsa MSCA] It has an economic, social and scientific impact. In addition to the great potential that benefits the university and society.

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