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Science and Technology as Modernization in Brazil

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Brazil Science and Technology as Modernization

Science and Technology as Modernization, 1945-64
After World War II, it was generally believed that Brazil was becoming a modern, industrial society, and science and technology were to be important components of this trend. Two diverging patterns were already taking shape in the development of science, technology, and higher education in Brazil, roughly corresponding to the broad cleavage in Brazilian society between the economic and political centers of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The first was more entrepreneurial and associative, with strong civilian institutions. The second was more hierarchical, relying on the civilian and military bureaucracies, and was linked to the country's poorer regions through patronage.

São Paulo already had the country's main university, and after World War II the Southeast (Sudeste) Region's scientists organized two leading institutions, the Brazilian Society for Scientific Development (Sociedade Brasileira para o Progresso da Ciência--SBPC) and the São Paulo State Federation to Support Research (Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo--FAPESP). The SBPC became Brazil's main voluntary association for Brazilian academics and has been very influential in voicing the scientific community's concerns on national issues, such as protection of intellectual freedom in the years of the military regime, promotion of a national computer industry, and opposition to strict patent legislation. The FAPESP was organized as a very efficient and respected grant-giving agency, which ran according to strict peer-review procedures. It received about 1 percent of the state tax revenues. In addition to the USP, FAPESP, IPT, and SBPC, the state of São Paulo had sixteen other research institutes linked to different branches of the state administration. It also had another research-oriented university, the Campinas State University (Universidade Estadual de Campinas--Unicamp), and a statewide university devoted to professional education, São Paulo State University (Universidade Estadual Paulista--Unesp).

The national government, meanwhile, embarked on its first attempt to muster the power of atomic energy. This effort was made through the combined creation of the National Research Council (Conselho Nacional de Pesquisas--CNPq), now called the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico--CNPq), which kept the traditional acronym, CNPq; the National Nuclear Energy Commission (Comissão Nacional de Energia Nuclear--CNEN); and the Brazilian Center for Physics Research (Centro Brasileiro de Pesquisas Físicas--CBPF). Together, these three institutions were supposed to develop the full cycle from the production of nuclear fuel to its application in energy generation, and eventually the technology of atomic weaponry. Beleaguered by limited resources, lack of qualified leadership, and international pressures, the atomic energy project was effectively abandoned at the end of the second Getúlio Dorneles Vargas government (president, 1930-45, 1951-54) in 1954. The CNPq was turned into a small, underfunded, grant-giving agency. After its reorganization in the 1970s, the CNPq absorbed the CBPF, by then an academic research center, as one of its institutes (see Nuclear Programs).

One of the most successful institutes of the 1950s, the Aeronautical Technology Institute (Instituto Tecnológico de Aeronáutica--ITA), was placed in the city of São José dos Campos, between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. The Brazilian Air Force (Fôrça Aérea Brasileira--FAB) organized the ITA with the support of the United States government, working in close association with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. However, the ITA was not restricted to military students and subjects; it became Brazil's leading engineering school, recruiting students from all over the country. ITA graduates went on to occupy central positions in Brazil's industries, research institutions, and main science and technology agencies. The ITA's research branch, the Aerospace Technical Center (Centro Técnico Aeroespacial--CTA), became the basis for Brazil's airplane industry and made São José dos Campos the hub of Brazil's most sophisticated technological industries. What was unique about the ITA was this combination of strong government support, qualified institutional leadership, and civilian orientation. The latter gave it the ability to tap some of the best talent among the country's researchers and students. As a result of the military governments after 1964, the ITA gradually lost its autonomy and civilian character and entered a period of decline.

Data as of April 1997



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