The only private institution aiming to fund cutting-edge research in Brazil faces the biggest upheavals in its short history. However, the problem is not the lack of money, but the fact that some of the young scientific talent in which you invest are leaving the country, even with guaranteed funding.
“It’s scary. For me, it’s a cry for help,” sums up geneticist Hugo Aguilanio, CEO of the Rio de Janeiro-based Serrabelera Institute, whose resources come from a BR $ 350 million equity fund.
Since 2017, when we started, we’ve only had one runaway case. In the last two years, we have already had three people who decided to leave and six or seven who were shocked at receiving their proposals. It’s very worrying because we are talking about people who are leaders in their field, young people who have just passed out. He is exactly the type of person you don’t want to see leaving the country. “
Serrapillera uses international residents to select the researchers whose work will support. The disagreement is usually fierce – out of around 2,000 candidates who present themselves annually, just over 20 are selected.
The numbers are relatively small, but the goal is to think of researchers who have the potential to stand out internationally in the field of science in Brazil. Initially, those who are approved receive an initial grant of R $ 100,000, which can be increased to R $ 1 million and then renewed. Publicly funded research projects that reach similar values in the country are very rare.
“Serrapilheira is designed to be the icing on the cake in the Brazilian system. The problem is that the cake is over,” Aguilaniu compares. “We were under the illusion that a million reais involved people. The lack of perspective melted that down. For the world, instability kills.”
“What motivates me to leave is the instability of some processes in the scientific field,” says Edgard Pimentel, 38, who worked in the mathematics department at PUC-Rio and received funding from the institute in 2019.
This is evident in the successive cuts and emergencies affecting the country’s science and technology system. Recently, there was talk of a CNPq scholarship call [principal órgão federal de fomento à pesquisa] That served only 13% of the eligible application. This kind of thing breaks the scientific order and creates bottlenecks in the assimilation of high-quality professionals. Science generates wealth and, above all, improves people’s lives – but it takes time. “
Pimentel goes to the University of Coimbra in Portugal as a doctoral researcher, a research position he will not need to teach. He says the departure is temporary at first, and that he wants to return to PUC-Rio and Brazil.
Physicist Mario Leandro Oletta, 42, born in Argentina and a professor at UFRJ, has taken an unpaid leave from the Federal University of Brazil and is setting up his research group in the United Arab Emirates, at the Abu Dhabi Institute for Technological Innovation. Although he continues to direct students associated with the Serrapilheira project he left behind in Rio, he considers a return to Brazil rather unlikely. In addition to financial problems affecting research in the country, he points to structural problems, such as unstable physical structure and the need to deal with a large amount of business and administrative classes, which he will not have to face in the new. The institute.
“The political situation in Brazil is appalling, but it has something more fundamental, and maybe the fact that I’m a foreigner allows me to see it more clearly,” says Oletta. “Here, there is not much appreciation for the world in general. The Bolsonaro government was in line with the Trump government, who also wanted to reduce research resources. But in the United States, unlike what happened here, Congress prevented it, because there is already an understanding of the importance of science.”
A researcher in the same field as Aolita, so-called quantum computing (which investigates the use of properties of subatomic particles to perform mathematical operations), theoretical physicist Rafael Chávez, 39, spent seven years in Spain and Germany (in the second country), married with two children) before Coming to UFRN in 2016.
He says that the trip to Río Grande do Norte, as well as the possibility of a family’s quality of life, was driven by “anomalies in space-time” to create the institute, which has emerged specifically for research, by the power of international interaction, including many Nobel Prize winners. “It was a bold, modern proposal, and there was a feeling of being able to grow with the institute, to create something important from scratch,” he explains.
He says he has received surveys and proposals from Australia, Chile, Canada and also from the United Arab Emirates, such as Aolita. The departure has not yet been decided.
“If not for Serrapilheira, I would have already given up. It is not just the lack of investment, it is the carnage that has occurred: for many people, the professor is a communist, and a parasite, and the Brazilian research carried out in public institutions is of no value. The Brazilian public debate is unfortunately very bad, “he said with sadness.
a Leaf He consulted SBPC (Brazilian Association for the Advancement of Science) and ABC (Brazilian Academy of Sciences) on the phenomenon of Brazilian researchers going to institutions abroad. Both groups claim that there are no standardized surveys on the scale of the problem, although there has been a perception that it is getting worse in recent years. We are a family owned and operated business.