Saturday, September 18, 2010

Life and Science in Brazil

I’ve just returned from a trip to Brazil in support of one of BioTek’s local dealers for Brazil. We stayed in Sao Paulo, a city of 23 million people, where much of the scientific research for the country of Brazil is performed. As we arrived on a weekend, there was not much to do except visit the Museum of Football at the local municipal stadium and attend a game the following day, where, Palmeiras and Vasco in the Campeonato Brasileiro league played to a 0 to 0 tie. To understand Brazil one needs to appreciate the effect that the game of football has on the country and its citizens. The culture of Brazil is centered on football (also known as soccer in the US). Everyone has a favorite team that they root for with passion; every conversation starts with the results of the last game or the standings of the team, and ends with friendly bantering on upcoming matches. To talk science is to first talk football. One researcher summed it up by simply saying “Football is like life”.

Not surprisingly, the actual science at these universities is very similar to what one sees in the US. The lab space is generally very cramped as space, particularly in the city of Sao Paulo, is at a premium. There always seemed to be a real lack of open bench space, more so than in the US labs that I’ve visited. Office space for students was either a tiny desk right in the lab itself or a shared space that could only be construed as a closet with several other students. Most of the buildings I visited were reminiscent of government lab buildings in the US in that they tended to be older and in need of some refurbishment. While equipment did not seem to be lacking, space certainly was. Another interesting feature of the labs was the use of granite or other stone for counter surfaces. While cost prohibitive in the US, as Brazil is the world’s source for much of the stone for counters, so I guess the use of granite and other stones is probably cost effective.

Research funding in Brazil is somewhat different than is the case for the US. Most of the monies derive from the state government rather than the federal government. As such approximately 70% of the research funding takes place in the state of Sao Paulo. As the city of Sao Paulo comprises the greater part of the population of the state, probably 70% of the state of Sao Paulo’s funding actually takes place in the city itself, with the remaining 30% occurring in the numerous state universities, such as the one we visited in the city of Araraquara.

We also visited the Sao Paulo city Hospital, which was described to me as the largest hospital in South America. The complex was at least 1 mile square, with virtually no green space. This massive complex is primarily involved in direct medical care, but also has clinical research and is a medical teaching facility.

We attended the 56th CONGRESSO BRASILEIRO DE GENÉTICA scientific conference near Sao Paolo in Guaruja. Although it had started on Monday, we did not arrive until Thursday afternoon. We spent that day walking through the vender exhibition. Friday was the day of our workshop demonstrating BioTek’s Epoch Microplate Spectrophotometer and Take3 microspot accessory. Despite being towards the tail end of the show, the vendor display floor seemed to bustle with activity. Later that day it was time to head back to Sao Paulo and brave the traffic on the Marginal highway (12 lanes in each direction) and head to the Guarulhos International Airport and return to the sates.

Brazil is a large country and I only visited Sao Paulo and a few surrounding cities, but there are a few observation that I made while I was there. Due to the vast differences in economic status in the country, private security in Brazil is ever present. Office buildings will have sign in with security with visitor badges and electronic photos being taken. Hotels, shopping malls, restaurants, and businesses all have security guards visibly present. Public research institutions were no exception. Even when visitor sign in and badges were not required, security guards were omnipresent. Even more interesting to me was the automobile driving and parking in and around Sao Paulo. As one can imagine traffic is congested and parking is tough in a city of 23 million people. Fortunately for me I did not have to drive, as our local colleagues or taxis ferried us around. Once I got over the feeling that an auto accident was imminent I was much better. Every public institution had a dearth of parking. However on every street were entrepreneurial individuals that more or less controlled parking in a small area. Some of these individuals had been in these locations for years. One individual was described to me as having monitored a street for 20 years! For a small fee (negotiated beforehand) they would allow parking in the zone of the public streets and more importantly watch your car and prevent vandalism. Dependable individuals built up customer loyalty. If one made routine trips to specific locations they would utilize the same person’s region much like a return customer to a traditional business.

1 comment:

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