Representing the IOP at Brazil’s biggest gathering of physicists


One of the pleasures of being editor of Physics World – apart from working with a great bunch of talented science journalists here at IOP Publishing’s offices in Bristol – is that I get to travel the world reporting on physics all over the globe.

It’s not just a self-indulgent wheeze. By criss-crossing the planet, my colleagues and I have helped to develop the international outlook of Physics World – whether it’s through news stories, features, blogs, videos and podcasts. Those efforts have also led to us publishing a successful series of regional special reports on China (in 2011 and 2016), India (in 2012 and 2014), as well as Brazil, Japan, Korea and Mexico.

Physics World is editorially independent of the IOP – indeed, that’s been one of the principles of its success – but my colleagues and I do make sure on our travels that we tell the world what the IOP’s up to. So when an invitation came through from SBF president Ricardo Galvão for me to represent the IOP in a round-table debate on the future of physics at the 50th-anniversary meeting of the Brazil Physics Society (SBF) earlier this month, I jumped at the chance.

The IOP has developed close links with the SBF in recent years. Next month, for example, the IOP is helping to arrange a workshop on entreprenuership for scientists in São Paulo, while in 2013 IOP Publishing created a special magazine for the SBF to showcase its scientific impact on the world.

brazil1The SBF meeting was held in the north-eastern coastal city of Natal, which enjoys more than 300 days of sunshine a year, with the conference venue just metres from stunning sandy, white local beaches. More than 2,000 delegates from across all branches of physics had registered for the meeting, although most of them – as far as I could tell – were not sunning themselves or sipping agua de coco, but were indoors in the hotel conference rooms, where there were more than 230 symposia to pick from.

The idyllic setting seemed far removed from the political strife that has been tearing Brazil apart in recent years, which culminated days before my arrival with the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff in what was (or was not, depending on who you talk to) a political coup.

Politics, thankfully, was not the focus of the SBF meeting, and nor did it crop up much in the round-table debate, which involved representatives of other leading physical societies.

It featured Christophe Rossel from IBM’s Zurich lab, who’s current president of the European Physical Society, Roger Falcone from the University of California, Berkeley who’s vice-president of the American Physical Society and will take over as head honcho in 2018, as well as Carlos Pinto de Melo from the Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, who was SBF president from 2009 to 2011. A late entry to the panel was Valentin Areviev from the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia.

After outlining the work of the IOP, I took the opportunity to look at some of the big questions in physics, the potential most significant spin-offs from physics research, as well as changes in the way physics is carried out, based in part on some of themes tackled in Physics World‘s 25th anniversary issue.

Physicists, I argued, will need to improve how they communicate, especially through video, do more to involve the public, particularly through citizen-science initiatives, and increase their cooperation with researchers from other countries, especially in emerging nations. Physics will also have to become more interdisciplinary and more diverse, though it was disappointing to note that the SBF panel was all-male despite current SBF president Belita Koiller being in the audience.

Brazilian research has certainly progressed in recent years, thanks in part to the country quadrupling its investment in science in the decade up to 2011. But research funding has dipped badly, with a revolving door of science ministers and Michel Temer angering researchers by merging the science ministry with telecommunications after he took over as acting president in May.

Now installed as the country’s permanent leader, it was not a promising start to his stint in power. With much of Brazilian politics engulfed in financial scandal, my hope is there is still money on the table for science in Brazil. For without decent funding, there can be never be a bright future for physics.

  • You can read more about Matin’s travels to Brazil in this collection of articles at the Physics World blog
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Matin Durrani

Matin Durrani

Dr Matin Durrani is editor of Physics World.
Matin Durrani

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