Collaboration among different knowledge areas is fundamental for increasing the impact of research
April 08, 2020
By André Julião | Agência FAPESP – Astrophysics, artificial intelligence, biology and statistics are some of the knowledge areas that have been combined to generate impactful research in recent years. In the Brazilian state of São Paulo and the United Kingdom, collaboration among researchers in different disciplines and countries is a key driver of growth in partnerships such as these.
“It’s very important to be able to envisage new research scenarios, create new collaborations and undertake more complex projects in order to address the future challenges we face, from biodiversity and climate change to energy and other fields that affect society. Hence the strategic significance of internationalization,” said Ronaldo Pilli, Vice President of FAPESP, during the UK-Brazil Frontiers of Science symposium held on March 10-13 in Itatiba, in the state of São Paulo.
The event was organized by FAPESP and the Royal Society. Researchers from Brazil and the UK delivered presentations on projects in several areas.
“Brazil is a key global science player, producing research of consistently high quality in various disciplines. Brazil and the UK have strong links in this field, and this event is just one example of the scientific collaborations that exist between our two countries, whether in universities, industry or biotech,” said Richard Catlow, the Royal Society’s Vice President and Foreign Secretary.
Integration between artificial intelligence and astrophysics was the focus for the symposium’s opening session, which showed how machine learning-based technologies can help identify stars and galaxies.
“We try to solve questions in which there are many images and it’s necessary to recognize what they contain. Human vision is very good at this, but making a computer give this answer is very hard. That’s where machine learning comes in. I give the machine an image and it tells me whether it’s a galaxy or a star. To get there, however, I have to ‘train’ the machine, which requires a good deal of mathematical formulas,” said Nina Hirata, a professor at the University of São Paulo’s Mathematics and Statistics Institute (IME-USP).
The other speakers in the opening session included Mike Walmsley, an astrophysicist at the University of Oxford and a team member of Galaxy Zoo, a project that seeks to classify millions of galaxies, and Clécio de Bom, a professor at the Celso Suckow da Fonseca Federal Center for Technological Education (CEFET) in Rio de Janeiro who uses the same tools to study galaxies.
“We brought researchers from the UK and from all over Brazil. Although FAPESP only funds research projects conducted at institutions in the state of São Paulo, researchers from other parts of Brazil and other countries can partner with researchers based in São Paulo and benefit from this environment,” said Euclides Mesquita Neto, a member of FAPESP’s Adjunct Panel for Special Programs and Research Collaboration and one of the organizers of the meeting.
A session on the role of forests in strategies to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change featured a presentation by Paulo Artaxo, a member of the steering committee of FAPESP’s Research Program on Global Climate Change (RPGCC). Artaxo stressed that in addition to the outstanding significance a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would have for humanity, some 25 gigatons of carbon dioxide must be removed from the atmosphere by 2050, and finding ways to sequester CO2 from the air is therefore vitally important.
One of the possible solutions was presented by Saulo de Souza, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Exeter and former recipient of a PhD scholarship from FAPESP at the University of São Paulo’s Luiz de Queiroz College of Agriculture (ESALQ-USP).
Souza is conducting an experiment in Alta Floresta, an area in the north of Mato Grosso state, to measure the extent to which growing Inga edulis (ice cream bean) helps rehabilitate degraded soil.
“We also do rural extension using this and other species to bring back forest to pasturelands with the aim of increasing cattle yields, covering the soil and capturing carbon from the atmosphere. It includes sustainable logging and timber production as an economic incentive to small farmers to hold on to their land in the face of advancing soybean plantations,” Souza said.
With the help of large genome databases, precision medicine seeks to predict whether a drug is effective for a specific population, among other goals. The Brazilian Initiative on Precision Medicine (BIPMed) is supported by FAPESP.
“We’re compiling data on healthy populations and patients with specific diseases. We plan to use these data to deepen our understanding of the diseases in question and to improve their diagnosis and treatment,” said Benilton de Sá Carvalho, a professor at the University of Campinas’s Institute of Mathematics, Statistics and Scientific Computation (IMECC-UNICAMP) and a member of BIPMed’s management committee.
Daniel Martins-de-Souza, a professor in UNICAMP’s Institute of Biology and one of Carvalho’s collaborators, studies biomarkers for schizophrenia and depression. In his case, working with statisticians is essential to discovering proteins potentially linked to mental health problems.
“Half of all patients with schizophrenia don’t respond well to medication the first time they’re treated. This is because we don’t understand the disease from a biochemical standpoint. At my lab, we’re looking for a protein that can be detected in blood samples to show whether the patient will respond well to a particular drug,” said Martins-de-Souza, the principal investigator for a project on the subject supported by FAPESP.
Materials, mathematics and cancer
The participants in the symposium also discussed new methods of manufacturing and using porous materials. Daiane Damasceno Borges, a professor at the Federal University of Uberlândia (UFU) in Minas Gerais state, spoke about computer simulations used to explore the properties of such materials. Borges did a postdoctoral internship at UNICAMP with a scholarship from FAPESP.
Jaqueline Godoy Mesquita, a professor at the University of Brasília (UnB) and winner of a 2019 L’Oréal-UNESCO-ABC Women in Science Award, chaired a session on mathematics whose other speakers were Leandro Cioletti (UnB), Katrin Gelfert (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, UFRJ) and Vinicius Ramos (Institute of Pure and Applied Mathematics, IMPA).
Cancer immunotherapy research was the focus of a session co-chaired by Tim Witney (King’s College London, KCL) and Debora Foguel (UFRJ). The other speakers were Martin Bonamino (National Cancer Institute, INCA) and Gilbert Fruhwirth (KCL).
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