Intercontinental collaboration

Posted on Monday 14th April 2014

By Adam Greenhill and Isobel Romero-Shaw

The Universities of Birmingham and Nottingham have been in collaboration with Brazilian research institutions for the past several years, including the São Paolo Research Foundation (FAPESP) and the Brazilian National Cancer Institute (INCA). Across all schools, ties have been made between Brazilian institutions and departments at the University of Birmingham. Within the university's EPS college, research collaboration has included investigating the surface properties of stainless steel (School of Engineering) and the development of new quantum sensors for inertial sensing and underground mapping (School of Physics and Astronomy).

FAPESP first officially began research in 1962 in the School of Medicine at the University of São Paolo. However, it is actually a formalised descendent of the University Research Funds for National Defence, a program created when Brazil entered the Second World War in 1942. FAPESP is now described on its website as “an independent public foundation with the mission to foster research and the scientific and technological development of the State of São Paolo”. Visit their website here:  

In October last year, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the University of Birmingham and INCA, marking the University's accession as first principal British partner of the Brazilian institution. This partnership exists to encourage the exchange of ideas and of academics between the two organisations. The São Carlos Instituto de Fisica (IFSC), an interdisciplinary research centre in the south-east of the country, hopes to arrange a similar Memorandum with the Universities of Birmingham and Nottingham (the latter with which the Birmingham cold atoms group is already aligned due to mutual involvement in the Midlands Ultracold Atom Research Centre, the Midlands Physics alliance, the Manufacturing Technology Centre, and the Midlands Energy Consortium). Vice-Chancellor of Birmingham, Professor David Eastwood, has described these and other institutions in Brazil as “critically important” to future research, and both Birmingham and Nottingham are building strong links with all the leading universities in Brazil in order to expand opportunities for students and to establish beneficial international relations. 

March marked one year since the first FAPEST funding instalments. This development follows the existing Brazil Visiting Fellows programme, through which Brazilian researchers are able to work at the same level with their equivalents in the UK. At Birmingham, funding money went to many departments in all fields of research. One such field was in the quantum physics research performed by the cold atoms research group in the School of Physics and Astronomy at Birmingham, which is working with Brazilian groups at the IFSC, focussing on cold atoms for time standards and inertial sensing. If you would like to read more about how cold atoms influence time standards, view this publication. If you would like to read more about inertial sensing and how cold atoms are beginning to influence this technology, view this article.

The collaboration between Birmingham and Brazil has already brought more than 200 per annum in joint research publications between academics over 2005-2012. But what does this collaboration mean for students?

Currently, potential opportunities include summer internships and extended projects for undergraduates, extended study opportunities for post-graduates, and dual PhD programs. All involved parties agree that this could lead to students with better training and a higher level of motivation. Students are likely to be more focussed and fully immerse themselves in both their subject and a new culture when studying abroad, as a similar EPS and Social Sciences partnership between FAPESP and the University of Bath has shown. Participating exchange students are eager to continue studying at a higher level in both the UK and Brazil. 

Though this partnership is still in its early stages with regard to student engagement, already there are many exciting projects coming to fruition as a result. It is likely that the future holds many further opportunities for our students to study abroad in Brazil and otherwise broaden their horizons. Sugarloaf Mountain, here we come!