A balance of the institute’s three years of activity shows a continuous increase in publications in high impact magazines. In 2011, researchers surpassed the 200 milestone.

Focused on strategic areas, institute on Astrophysics sees productivity soar

June 13, 2012

By Fábio de Castro

Agência FAPESP – With investments focused on strategic targets, the National Institute of Science and Technology in Astrophysics (INCT-A) saw a leap in the productivity of its researchers, with a major increase in publications in high impact scientific magazines. These results appear in a recently released report evaluating INCT-A’s activities during its three years of existence.

According to the scorecard, researchers connected to the institute published 202 articles in indexed scientific journals in 2011. Some 85% of these articles were published in journals defined as Qualis A according to CAPES. The report also notes that productivity per researcher at INCT-A has increased by an average of 8% per year since the beginning of the program.

Funded by FAPESP and the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), the INCT-A has 173 PhD scientists active in research across a virtual network of 31 institutions throughout the country.

The research areas with the greatest number of publications are optical spectroscopy and infrared stars, star systems and galaxies, and theoretical cosmology with models involving black energy, according to INCT-A coordinator João Steiner, professor at the Universidade de São Paulo’s Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics and Atmospheric Sciences.

According to Steiner, one of the main explanations for the results revealed in the report is the institute’s strong strategic sense, with investments focused on long-term objectives.

“INCT-A’s main difference is that we set five strategic objectives and restricted all our investments to them. We opted to invest in the future of science instead of diluting resources into the daily needs of researchers, which can be supplied by support agencies,” Steiner commented in an interview with Agência FAPESP.

The five strategic objectives are maximizing the return on investments in the Gemini and SOAR telescopes; preparing Brazilian astronomy for the advent of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), which is under construction; installing virtual observatories in Brazil; developing infrastructure projects; and implementing distance learning programs for science professors.

“The creation of INCT-A was one of the factors that contributed to the increased productivity of its researchers. Due to the strategic focus that we have adopted, our objective is for this productivity to have long-term sustainability,” Steiner explained.

To meet this objective and maximize returns on investments in the Gemini and SOAR telescopes, one of the main focuses has been investing in the formation of emerging research groups.

“Brazil has made significant investments in these international telescopes, and that is why we want to increase scientific returns, producing more and better scientific articles, and to take advantage of these resources with the support of emerging groups. It is a form of guaranteeing the long-term access of these Brazilian groups to the telescopes,” Steiner said.

According to Steiner, the U.S. LSST project should have a profound impact on Brazilian astronomy. Preparing the country for this undertaking was considered one of INCT-A’s strategic objectives.
 
“The LSST is a large telescope that will survey the skies of the entire Southern Hemisphere every five days in five different bands of the spectrum. The instrument will be capable of showing the temporal variability in the optical band. Brazil is not involved in the project, but the force of Brazilian astronomy is precisely within the optical band, and we are in the Southern Hemisphere. The project will have a very profound impact on our astronomy, and a negative one, if we are not prepared,” Steiner asserted.

The importance of the installation of a virtual observatory, according to Steiner, is to provide an outlet for the enormous quantity of data accumulated by major telescopes around the world.

“We have a major reserve of data available, and much of this incredible wealth of information that has never been analyzed. The scientific community will receive an enormous benefit if it can take advantage of the database by virtual access,” he said.

Telescopes and computing

In developing infrastructure projects, the INCT-A has supported the elaboration of the Projeto Latin-American Millimetric Array (LLAMA).

“In partnership with Argentina, we intended to install an antenna in the Argentinean Andes to conduct interferometry with the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (Alma), which is being constructed in Chile,” said Steiner.

The distance-learning course developed by INCT-A has already graduated its first class, with 100 science teachers registered. The second class, with 200 registered, is underway. “Science teachers have an enormous interest in astronomy. The idea is to expand the course based on the experience acquired in other states,” Steiner declared.

According to Steiner, the greater part of the institute’s investments has been directed toward the instrumentation of the SOAR telescope and to support for emerging groups.

At SOAR, there are three high-performance spectrographs, each with very different but complementary characteristics. “These are very sophisticated, world-class instruments that will broaden the limits of the research of our scientific community,” he said.

Another important investment focus has been high-performance computing, which is fundamental for the future treatment of enormous quantities of data.

“This investment is being conducted at IAG-USP, but the equipment will be used by all of the external community,” said Steiner. FAPESP’s Multi-user Equipment Program supported these investments.

For more information, visit: www.astro.iag.usp.br/~incta