Featured scientist: interview with Leonardo Mathias Leidens, winner of the national award for undergraduate research works.

Leonardo Mathias Leidens.
Leonardo Mathias Leidens.

When he answered the telephone on that May afternoon, Leonardo Mathias Leidens, 24 years old, thought it was a hoax. The president of CNPq (the Brazilian federal organization dedicated to the promotion of science and technology) was giving him the news that his undergraduate research (iniciação científica in Portuguese) had been chosen as the best in Brazil in the area of Exact, Earth and Engineering Sciences, in the sixteenth edition of the Prêmio Destaque na Iniciação Científica e Tecnológica.

However, in hindsight, if Leonardo had contained his excitement and looked back at that moment, he would have realized that the prize was in fact a likely consequence of a steady path through scientific knowledge, and a well-deserved recognition of his competency and dedication.

Leonardo was born in 1995 in Caxias do Sul, municipality of the Brazilian State of Rio Grande do Sul, of about 500 thousand inhabitants and an important industrial pole. After attending a public school in the city, always with excellent school performance, in 2013 Leonardo joined the undergraduate course in Chemical Engineering of the University of Caxias do Sul (UCS), a community university headquartered in Caxias do Sul, which has its campi in eight municipalities of the region.

In the first half of 2014, Leonardo found an opportunity to start doing science. He became a scientific initiation fellow, under the guidance of Professor Carlos A. Figueroa, leader in the UCS of a group of fundamental and applied research in Surface Science and Engineering, which would later receive the name of “Epipolé Group.” In this group, and always with the same advisor, Leonardo worked in several studies concerning the adhesion of amorphous carbon films as a scholarship holder of the university and then of the CNPq programs for undergraduate research. As a result of this work, Leonardo has today nine scientific papers (one of them as first author) published in international peer-reviewed journals, including some of the best journals in the area of surfaces and thin film.

In August 2016, Leonardo left the country for the first time to attend two semesters at the École Supérieure des Industries Chimiques (ENSIC), in the city of Nancy (France), after being selected as a fellow of BRAFITEC, a Brazilian federal program that supports the mobility of engineering students between institutions in Brazil and France. In this period, in addition to attend the courses, Leonardo presented, for the first time, a work in an international scientific event, the E-MRS 2017 Spring Meeting, held in the French city of Strasbourg.

After this enriching experience abroad, in mid-2017, Leonardo returned to Caxias do Sul and resumed his academic activities at UCS, including the undergraduate research in the Epipolé Group. In December 2018, he completed his bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering with a 3.96 average out of a maximum of 4 in all of the subjects studied. As a result, on graduation day, Leonardo was awarded the Academic Laurel by the Rector of UCS.

Due to his experience in more than four years as an undergraduate research fellow, Leonardo decided to pursue a doctorate without undertaking masters studies (Masters degree is the usual step before PhD in Brazil). Thus, earlier this year, he became a doctoral candidate of the Postgraduate Program in Materials Engineering and Science (PGMAT) of UCS, again under the guidance of Professor Figueroa.

On July 23, Leonardo will receive his CNPq award at the ceremony to be held in the city of Campo Grande (State of Mato Grosso do Sul) during the 71st Annual Meeting of the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science (SBPC).

See our interview with Leonardo.

box englishB-MRS  Bulletin: Could you tell us briefly how and when you started and developed your interest in science/research? And your desire to become a scientist?

Leonardo Mathias Leidens:  Curiosity has always been a perceivable characteristic of my personality. The will and concern to know the origin of “everything”, the whys and how things work led me to science, even if in a somewhat unconscious way. My parents always encouraged me to read and this was essential in the search for answers to my questions and in the development of creativity. More than that, as a child, I loved to work on simple experiments I learned on TV shows (unfortunately, the internet was not widely available in the 90s) or to create my own awkward experiments when I got a children’s chemistry kit (but with the simple instructions I would soon lose interest). Curiously, it took me quite a while to realize that combining all these things I did naturally and enjoyably could shape my career. It took a few years until, in high school, the penny dropped, and from there on I set out to achieve a new goal: to become a scientist. I entered the Chemical Engineering course with the intention of participating in Undergraduate Research activities and follow the academic career.

B-MRS Bulletin: Very briefly, what were the main competencies you have developed over the years as an undergraduate research fellow?

Leonardo Mathias Leidens: Basically, the greatest personal and professional development was the training in the “scientific method,” that is, the initial competency for training a scientist. Asking questions, seeking the state of the art and the answers already available for comparison with the presented reality and questioning/comparing the results became daily activities. In order to be able to develop all these research steps, training in complex equipment, data analysis and the proposal of ideas and projects were skills that I had to developed. In addition, throughout my scholarship I was able to improve languages, such as English (the language of science), as well as writing papers more meticulously and aptly for international journals, congresses, reports and projects.

B-MRS Bulletin: In your view, what were the most important factors that contributed to the achievement of the award-winning work?

Leonardo Mathias Leidens: Initially, it was the group’s trajectory, structure and experience in different approaches to minimize the adhesion problem of amorphous carbon films in ferrous alloys that allowed the work proposal and the result achieved, because with broad knowledge of the material system studied, it was possible to investigate in a meaningful way the problem and the positive modifications generated with the use of the hydrogen plasma. In my view, the success was the integration of basic science (the study of physicochemical mechanism of the treatment) with a real problem (to deposit the coatings under milder and efficient conditions on previously problematic substrates), which made the work complete and interesting in the scientific (knowledge generation) and industrial (applications with energy efficiency appeal) scopes.

B-MRS Bulletin: In another interview, you talk about being a scientist as a lifestyle, not just a profession. Tell us about that lifestyle that attracts you.

Leonardo Mathias Leidens: That expression has, fundamentally, two justifications. First, and as I said earlier, the scientific method was one of the most important learning aspects I have experienced over the years. It is applied not only in research but in various activities. Questioning and verifying everything (by tests and comparisons) are a scientist’s requirement, both inside and outside the laboratory. For example, in a society where never-ending information (of different qualities) is available, rigor becomes necessary to compare, select, and verify just how true or secure the sources are. On the other hand, science as a way of life means living science broadly. Integrating a diverse community, participating in projects and partnerships, and being able to make a difference in any area (no matter how small it looks) is much more than a profession. Finally, being part of a group of people who, with different backgrounds, stories and goals, come together and work for the generation of knowledge and advancement of humanity, even with so many difficulties, attracts me, encourages me and is a source of pride.

B-MRS Bulletin: You are currently in the first year of your doctorate. Have you thought about any project or career path after your PhD?

Leonardo Mathias Leidens: My advisor always suggests planning the next five years (at least)… It’s not always easy, especially in very unstable times. Regarding the doctorate, I would like to participate in a sandwich period at a university abroad because, having lived through this experience during my undergraduate studies, I realize the greater importance it would have in my scientific training as a doctor. Later, I intend to follow in the academic career, as researcher, in some institution here in Brazil or abroad.

B-MRS Bulletin: We invite you to leave some tips for our readers who are carrying out scientific initiation work in the area of Materials, answering the question “How to develop a national outstanding work.”

Leonardo Mathias Leidens: It’s not easy to directly suggest ways to produce a distinguished work because, to a certain extent, this is a consequence of a job well done and not the result of a “formula.” However, to reach the goal, I can say that one must take an active role in the research, proposing, without fear or apprehension, well-founded ideas for a problem of the area, even if at the beginning it is difficult and challenging for a undergraduate student. As we produce our own questions, we are encouraged to seek the answers and if they are not available, offer ways to obtain them Thus, with lots of work, dedication and scientific discussion, it is possible to transform a project into an outstanding work that can contribute to the advancement of a specific area and, more extensively, of society. However, one thing is fundamental: do not get absolutely discouraged when things do not go as planned. When we are on the frontier of knowledge, the result is not always the expected result – but this cannot curb the advance for further attempts.

With regards to me, as an undergraduate researcher in the Epipolé Group, I have always had the opportunity to participate actively in projects and discussions (and not only follow graduate students or do “mechanical” work, although these activities are also part of any undergraduate research grant and are important), even as a student of the initial undergraduate periods, and I enjoyed all these moments. This was instrumental in understanding how science is made and integrate with the group. Although greater responsibilities are created in these interactions, they were instrumental in the growth, encouragement and formation of a basis that allowed me to propose my own ideas, after a period of study and practice. For this, reading many scientific articles was also fundamental, besides being always abreast of the innovations of the area, but not forgetting to pay due attention to the scientific foundations, that is, the fundamental concepts.

Interview with a winner of the CNPq award for undergraduate research.

foto1We interviewed Gleison Adriano da Silva, one of the winners of the 13th edition of the Special Award in Scientific and Technological Initiation (undergraduate research) of the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq). The young man, who in November graduated in Physics from the Federal University of Amazonas (UFAM), won the scientific initiation research award in the area of Exact Sciences, Earth and Engineering for his work on structural, thermal and optical characterization of semiconductor systems. The CNPq award highlighted six papers (the best in scientific initiation research and the best in technological initiation research in each area of knowledge) out of 467 works submitted, sent by 167 education and research institutions in Brazil.

The work that earned Gleison the award was developed over three scientific initiation projects that he developed within the Materials Group of the Physics Department of UFAM, under the guidance of Professor Sérgio Michielon de Souza, with funding from the Amazonas Research Foundation (FAPEAM) and CNPq. In these projects, nanostructured semiconductor materials were synthesized by a simple and low cost process. The materials were analyzed using X-ray diffraction, differential scanning calorimetry, micro-Raman spectroscopy, and photoacoustic absorption techniques, and showed good potential to be used as thermoelectric materials in the direct conversion of heat into electricity.

Gleison received a scientific initiation grant (first from FAPEAM and later from CNPq) shortly after beginning the Physics course at UFAM in 2011. His advisor, Sérgio Michielon de Souza, was a new professor at this institution that year and was putting together the Materials Laboratory at the Physics Department, a process in which Gleison actively participated. The first work phase was dedicated to the manufacture and study of Cd-Se system, and its results were published [http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.molstruc.2014.06.023] in September 2014 in the Journal of Molecular Structure (Elsevier), while he worked on the second work phase, focused on the Ni-Sb system. Also in September 2014, Gleison presented the partial results of the second phase of this work at the XIII SBPMat Meeting held in João Pessoa (PB). His poster received the Bernhard Gross award for the best presentation of the symposium S, dedicated to posters on advanced materials. In May 2015, the final results of the research on the Ni-Sb system were published [http://dx.doi.org/10.3139/146.111211] in the International Journal of Materials Research (publisher Carl Hanser Verlag GmbH & Co.). In September 2015, Gleison presented the third work phase, dedicated to the Sn-Se system, at the XIV SBPMat Meeting in Rio de Janeiro (RJ).

Finally, in July 2016, Gleison had the honor to receive the Scientific and Technological Initiation Outstanding Award, in Porto Seguro (BA), during the 68th Annual Meeting of the Society for the Advancement of Science (SBPC). It was the third time he was indicated by the Dean of Research and Post Graduation program of UFAM to compete for the CNPq award, and this time he won the award, with the final research results on the Ni-Sb system and the partial research results on the Sn-Se system. Three months later, Gleison defended his completion course work (TCC), from the studies of Ni-Sb and Sn-Se systems, and obtained a bachelor’s degree in Physics from UFAM.

See our interview with Gleison.

SBPMat newsletter: – Where were you born? Where did you live until starting university at UFAM?

Gleison Adriano da Silva: – I am originally from Central Brazil, Brasilia (DF), and it all started in 2008 when I applied to be a missionary/community worker of the Roraima Diocese in the North of Brazil, under the command of former titular bishop Dom Roque Paloscci, to work in communities in the lower Rio Branco up to its mouth in Rio Negro.

In 2009, I successfully passed the ENEM exam in Forest Engineering at UFAM, campus Manaus (AM). Without financial assistance, I lived in a hostel in Manaus (AM), however, after the selection process in the Secretary of Community Affairs, moved to the University’s Student Housing, UFAM. In 2011, due to the lack of affinity with the Forest Engineering course, I changed to the Physics course at the Institute of Exact Sciences of UFAM.

SBPMat newsletter: – Could you tell us briefly how your interest in science and research began? Was it at the university, during your childhood, in school?

Gleison Adriano da Silva: – It all happened very fast. Soon after I began the physics course in UFAM, I was invited to do scientific research by Professor Sérgio Michielon de Souza and upon joining the Materials Research Group in the Physics Department of UFAM, I had the opportunity to conduct scientific research focused on the determination of crystal structures, micro/nano-structural evolution and phase transformation in intermetallic materials using computer software and analytical techniques in the Materials Laboratory.

SBPMat newsletter: – In your opinion, what is the main contribution of the winning work? Or, what are the main contributions of the winning works?

Gleison Adriano da Silva: – An interesting observation is that the awarded investigations were coincidentally related to the 2014 and 2015 UNESCO celebratory themes –  International Year of Crystallography and International Year of Light. From this perspective, the main contributions in the award-winning works were related to X-ray diffraction techniques, that is, changes and stability of crystallographic phases of samples of the Ni-Sb and Sn-Se semiconductor system during the solid state synthesis, where strong structural stability of nickel antimonide crystals (NiSb) and remarkable metastability of tin selenide crystals (SnSe) were observed.

A simple work that presents microstructural and thermodynamic characteristics of two new nanostructured materials of scientific and technological interest subjected to non-complex synthesis route and of low cost.

SBPMat newsletter: – What were the guiding criteria to conduct outstanding quality research at the national level? To what factors do you attribute this achievement?

Gleison Adriano da Silva: –There is no Columbus’ egg or success recipe, only hard work. Nothing happens without effort. As an undergraduate with a scientific initiation grant, I was always the first to arrive and the last to leave the lab. The achievement is the recognition of work, however, nothing can be done alone.

SBPMat newsletter: – Please leave a message for our readers who are conducting scientific initiation research work in the Materials area.

Gleison Adriano da Silva: – Believe in your potential and in the potential of your investigations. It is the dream that moves us, but it is not enough to dream, you must chase the dream. I also urge you to consider this as encouragement to disseminate your research results in scientific events in Brazil, especially in the SBPMat Annual Meetings.

SBPMat newsletter: – What are your plans now that you have graduated?

Gleison Adriano da Silva: – After this long process, I will probably look for a Graduate Program at the University of Brasilia (UNB) or at some renowned SP institution.

SBPMat newsletter: – Feel free to make another brief comment.

Gleison Adriano da Silva: – I would like to thank the congratulations letters and praise I received from the Head of the Physics Department of UFAM, Professor Marcílio de Freitas; from the Director-President of FAPEAM, Professor Maria Olívia de Albuquerque Ribeiro Simão; and from Senator Vanessa Grazziotin, Brazil’s National Congress (http://www.senado.leg.br/atividade/rotinas/materia/getPDF.asp?t=195150&tp=1).

I would also like to thank the city of Manaus (AM), the UFAM and all who directly or indirectly contributed to my personal and academic background.