|Alexandra Ozorio de Almeida
Science & Technology Officer
British Consulate-General São Paulo
1) What are the latest estimates of levels of public and private investment in nanotechnology over the last ten and next ten years? And what is the relative emphasis between basic and applied research?
Brazilian research in nanoscience and nanotechnology (Nano S&T) is carried out in decentralised research networks. Brazilian investment in this area is recent and precise figures are difficult to obtain, due to multiple funding sources within the Federal Government as well as individual State programs. Over the last ten years, according to the Ministry of Science and Technology (MCT), direct public (federal) investment earmarked for Nano S&T has not reached R$ 10 million 1. Estimates of total national spending up to 2001 point towards an investment of R$ 50 million, according to Labjor, a science communication research group in Unicamp (State University of Campinas, SP).
In 2000, CNPq (national research funding agency) launched a bid for the creation of Cooperative Networks for Basic and Applied Research in Nano S&T. This move was based on the observation of a worldwide tendency in the field of Nano S&T towards centralised coordination of articulated research. This system allows for integrated efforts and the maximisation of research, as the necessary equipment is very costly. The other objective of the announcement was to identify national research groups and institutes dedicated to this specific area. Twelve proposals were approved in a first stage and in 2001 they were joined up into four big networks.
These networks engage 40 Brazilian research institutes and six from abroad as well as two companies (France Telecom and PQSD – Ponto Quântico Sensores e Densímetros), have around 260 researchers (and 500 post-graduate students) and have published more than 1.000 research papers. The consolidation of the networks received R$ 3.2 million in the first year, and this figure increases in the 2004-2007 Pluri-Annual Plan (government spending plan).
Another federal investment in Nano S&T are the Millennium Institutes. The 15 Millennium Institutes are the offspring of a partnership between MCT and the World Bank, initially programmed to stay in effect until 2003. The total investment in the 15 centres is of R$ 90 million. Three Millennium institutes are related to the field under discussion: one specifically for Nanotechnology, one for Microelectronics and one for Complex Materials.
Investment estimates for long periods of time are not common in Brazil due to economic uncertainty. The Federal government has recently released its Pluri-Annual plan (2004-2007), with estimates of the MCT’s investments. The Development of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology programme is scheduled to receive R$ 77.7 million (currently equivalent to £16.1 million), being R$ 9.3 million in 2004 (£1.9 million); R$ 20.7 million in 2005 (£4.3 million); R$ 22.7 million in 2006 (£4.7 million); and R$ 25 million in 2007 (£5.2 million).
Also within the PPA, the programme for Research, Development and Application of Synchrotron Radiation and other Accelerators, closely tied to nano S&T research in Brazil, is programmed to receive R$ 72 million during the next four years. Other funds, such as the R$ 125 million set aside for Pronex (Programme for Assistance to Excellence Nuclei); the R$44.7 million for assistance towards Scientific and Technological Development and R$ 21.2 million for Development of New Research Areas in Scientific and Technological areas can also be used for sponsoring research in Nano S&T, as well as CNPq scholarships and research grants.
São Paulo, the most sophisticated State in terms of R&D, also invests regionally in Nano S&T. Fapesp (São Paulo State Research Funding Agency), with a budget second only to CNPq, supports Nano S&T research groups within various programmes, such as the Programme for Technological Innovation within Small Companies, the Programme for the Support of Intellectual Property and its standard research grants.
Brazilian activities in Nano S&T have been mainly focused on basic research. Fapesp’s assessment is that Brazil has good infra-structure and qualified personnel in this area and must now attract private investments with an aim to apply their know-how on applied research and thus become more competitive. With this objective, Fapesp is preparing a joint project with the Federation of Industries of the State of São Paulo to try and identify the private sector’s needs so as to direct applied research, as well as stimulating and amplifying scientists’ and researchers’ entrepreneurial participation and potential.
However, some commentators firmly believe that support for basic research must not be interrupted, only complemented by incentives towards technological research. Some say that, though the current focus is on basic research, the tendency is that the focus on applied research will increase.
Most of the researchers in Nano S&T are placed in universities. Available data on research being carried out in the private sector indicate the existence of few projects, usually with small teams. Data from the Defence sector is confidential. Most of the research funds come from the federal government. MCT is also dealing with the World Bank US$ 250 thousand towards the creation of a Nano S&T observatory, with an aim to prospecting, supporting, verifying indicators and retro-analysis of the programme. Brazil is also negotiating US$ 30 million with Japan Bank for International Co-operation for the acquisition of equipment for diverse research areas in Nano S&T.
In 2000, CNPq created a National Programme on Nano S&T that mapped all the scientists then working in these areas. The outcome showed that three years ago 99 scientists worked in Physics, 51 in engineering, 16 in Chemistry, 14 in Biology and 9 in Pharmacy.
The four federally sponsored Nano S&T research networks reach out to various Brazilian States, such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, Federal District, Rio Grande do Sul, Pernambuco and Rio Grande do Norte. Each includes a variety of research areas:
Nanostructured Materials (coordinated by Prof. Israel Jacob Rabin Baumvol, Physics Institute, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul – IF-UFRGS):
Interfaces and Molecular Nanotechnology Network - RENAMI (Prof. Oscar Manoel Loureiro Malta, from the Centre of Exact and Nature Sciences, Federal University of Pernambuco – UFPE):
Nanobiotechnology (Prof. Nelson Eduardo Duran Caballero – Chemistry Institute, State University of Campinas – IQ-Unicamp):
Semiconductor nanogadgets and nanostructured materials – NanoSemiMat (Prof. E. F. da Silva Jr., Physics Department, Federal University of Pernambuco – DF-UFPE):
Apart from the networks, various other groups have ongoing research. Some of the most interesting ones are listed below:
EMBRAPA (Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation) in São
A joint research project started eight years ago with the University of São Paulo and the University of Pennsylvania led to the development of an “electronic tongue”. Made from nanostructured conducting polymers, the apparatus is a sensor used for tasting and the analysis of beverages such as indentifying differences between different brands of mineral water, types of coffee and wines, with sensibility 10 thousand times greater than a human being. A patent has been taken out and the group plans to adapt the “tongue” to orange juice, grape juice and milk. The specific investment reached R$ 32.500, plus US$ 31.800.
UnB (University of Brasília, Federal District)
Since January 2001, 20 researchers from UnB, the Federal University of Goiás and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro have been involved in the creation of nanomagnets to be used in programmes for cleaning up water after petrol spills.
UFSCar (Federal University of São Carlos, SP)
The Multidisciplinary Centre for the Development of Ceramic Materials is one of the ten Centres of Excellency towards innovation research sponsored by Fapesp for 11 years, receiving around R$ 1.2 million a year. The lab has been working since 1999 with nanostructured materials (ceramic oxide nanocrystals and nanostructured thin films) with an aim to create Liquid Crystal Displays and nanocomposite catalysers. UFSCar also has a Laboratory for Amorphous and Nanocrystalline Materials
USP (University of São Paulo\Ribeirão Preto
After ten years of work with nanostructured systems, the Medical School created last August an incubator company within the campus called Nanocore Biotechnology. The research group started off by producing biodegradable nanoparticules in the shape of nanocapsules that contain the active principle of a drug or vaccine only to be released when the target has been reached – such as in chemotherapy or cosmetic treatments. They are currently investing in an industrial plant that will allow them to carry out clinical trials on drugs.
PUC-RJ (Pontifical Catholic University – Rio de Janeiro)
With 8 PhDs, the Van de Graaff Lab (in the Physics Department) coordinates the Nanoscopy Lab and the Protective Coating Lab. The latter began in 1994 and is focused on the production and characterization of nanostructured carbon films. The Nanoscopy Lab studies tribology and mechanical properties such as elasticity in thin films used as protective coating. They seek to establish a relation between the tribology and mechanical properties of a given material and its chemical and structural composition. The group also works with nanolithography. The Van de Graaff Lab works with a Digital AFM nanoscope III and concentrates on topographic analysis of the surface of thin films. They work in collaboration with the Engineering Department at Cambridge University.
CBPF (Brazilian Centre for Research in Physics – Rio
The federal research centre has four projects in the area of Nano S&T:
Unicamp (State University of Campinas – Physics Department)
The Nanostructures group researches solid-liquid and solid-solid interfaces, developing scientific and technological know-how for the description of these systems. Their aim is to train human resources in the area of surface treatment, corrosion and selective etching.
UFRGS (Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul)
A partnership with oil giant Petrobras’ research centre led to the development of nanocatalyzers that remove oil compounds that pollute the environment during the refining stage that produces gasoline and benzene. A patent has been taken out.
USP (University of São Paulo – Physics Department)
One of the main Nano S&T research groups in Brazil in the area of nanoelectronics. The group studies gold nanowires with an aim to build components for the next generation of computers.
LNLS (National Synchrotron Energy Lab – Campinas, SP)
The only synchrotron energy source in South America began to build their microscopy infrastructure in 1999. The main equipment available is an electron microscope with resolution of 0.17 nanometre, the most powerful electron microscope in South America. They also have two other scanning microscopes with a resolution of up to 1.5 and 3 nanometres. LNLS carries out its own research, but 90% of the capacity of the equipment is used mostly by research groups from other institutions (Brazilian and foreign, both public and private).
Research institutions and the Private Sector
FAPESP + FIESP
An assessment made by Fapesp (São Paulo State Research Funding Agency) evaluates that Brazil has good infra-structure and qualified personnel to carry out significant work in nanoscience and nanotechnology. To become competitive, it has to add up qualities. One of the paths chosen by Fapesp is to attract the attention of investors: businessmen from Fiesp (Federation of Industries in the State of São Paulo). The idea is to promote seminars and expose already existing programmes and projects supported by Fapesp. The aim is to identify the needs of the private sector so that research can be conducted with that objective in mind. An exhibition on nanotechnology in Fiesp’s HQ, for the general public, is also programmed.
Multivácuo – Unimep (Methodist University of
Piracicaba - SP)
A researcher from Unimep set up a company to carry out the application of his research. A small scale plant is being set up to produce daily 1 kg of carbon molecular sieve – used for control and purification of atmospheric air and for gas separation processes. The investment made by Fapesp has been of R$ 307 thousand.
Research related to Nanotechnology risks towards human health and the environment
are still very incipient. There are still no conclusions on the effects of nanoparticules
on the human body over a large period of time. The University of Brasilia is
concerned with the need to identify the impact of new nanomaterials in health,
and its research group is carrying out studies to better determine the biological
behaviour of these new materials. Regarding possible effects on the environment,
scientists complain that the commercial use of carbon in a nanometric scale
is not subject to regulation or laws that control the use of this new technology.
Safety and ethical impacts have not been given much attention.
More attention has been given to research on (possible) positive uses of nanotechnology. A group of researchers is working on the development of magnetic composites and magnetic fields for removing oil spills in water. Another team develops nanocatalyzers that reduce the concentration of composites that contribute towards the formation of acid rain.
There are no specific regulations on R&D in the field of nanotechnology.
Currently there are no Government bodies involved in the creation of laws or
guides for conduct in this area. Currently the Congress is discussing a draft
bill called Law for Technological Innovation, facilitating an interaction between
universities and enterprises, that would cover the field of Nano S&T.
5) What has the a) media b) public and c) NGO interest in nanotechnology been? Has science fiction (e.g. Prey) had any effect on public interest or attitude to nanotechnology?
Media has displayed growing interest in Nano S&T, specially in the technical areas, but Nano S&T penetration is still incipient. The population as a whole is basically unfamiliar with this particular field. NGOs that participate actively in debates on GMOs or cloning have not included Nano S&T in their agenda, at least not in a detectable way.
Science fiction in general has small impact in Brazil, as the public is not a great consumer of this kind of literature, so Sci-Fi on Nano S&T has not had any significant effect on the public. It is important to note that effects on public interest have also been slightly misleading, as Sci-Fi tends to treat nanotechnology as tiny and extremely complex machines that will enter human beings and dominate the world (as shown on the “Star Trek” TV series).
Sci-Fi tends to re-inforce the idea that nanotechnology is reduced to high technology for computers and robotics, when many times the great revolutions in Nano S&T are in more simple matters, such as incredibly resistent carbon nanotubes. Sci-Fi and media coverage tend to concentrate on more “exciting” aspects, thus ignoring more practical advances. In a smaller scale, the issue is similar to the link between biotechnology and GMOs.
MCT – Ministry of Science and Technology
SBPC – Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science
Com Ciência – Electronic Journal on Scientific Journalism
Fapesp – São Paulo State Research Funding Agency
Folha de S.Paulo – newspaper
1 Please note that Brazilian currency has fluctuated enormously, so the conversion of investments over the past ten years from the Real into Pounds is virtually unfeasible. The Real was implemented in 1994 and was pegged to the dollar until 1999. After that, the currency rate has fluctuated. As an example, during the current year (2003), £1 has been worth between R$4.54 and R$5 and the current exchange rate is R$4.8.