History of Materials Research: 30 years of LIEC – UFSCar.

The Interdisciplinary Laboratory of Electrochemistry and Ceramics (LIEC) of the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar) is completing 30 years of scientific research, development of innovative products and processes, training of scientists and extension activities.

The idea of creating an interdisciplinary laboratory emerged in 1988, from discussions of three research professors, two from UFSCar and the third from UNESP – Araraquara, with education background in chemistry, physics and physical chemistry. These professors were Elson Longo da Silva, Luís Otávio de Sousa Bulhões and José Arana Varela (deceased in 2016). “The idea came about because we had obtained equipment from funding agencies, but there was not enough space in our respective departments to allocate them,” recounted Elson Longo, now professor emeritus of UFSCar, during the commemoration of the anniversary of LIEC, on March 23.

The idea was materialized thanks to a partnership with Companhia Brasileira de Metais e Metalurgia (CBMM) to finance the construction of the building that would house the equipment. The company, Longo said, was interested in the future laboratory developing some products. “Fortunately, we secured their support for the construction of the building at UFSCar,” explained Longo

Soon after, the laboratory began to receive students interested in participating in the research. The first ones, recalls Longo, were Edson Roberto Leite (now professor at UFSCar), Carlos Alberto Paskocimas (currently at UFRN) Ernesto Chaves Pereira (UFSCar) and Maria Aparecida Zaghete (UNESP). “It can be said that over the past 30 years there have been hundreds of students who have completed their studies at LIEC,” said Longo. In addition to students from various UFSCar courses, LIEC has received young people from other institutions in Brazil and abroad for classes, courses and research at all levels of education.

Partnerships with the industrial sector have marked the history of LIEC in the following years. “The various research themes have been developed, and also changing, from theoretical reflections and from contacts with various companies,” declares Longo. “I emphasize that it was not the production of reflexive knowledge of business needs; on the contrary, such needs have given rise to new interpretive models and dialogues with other theories,” he clarifies.

One of the longest-standing industrial partners is Companhia Siderúrgica Nacional (CSN), with which the laboratory continues to work. Initially, LIEC helped the company eliminate the corrosion that the ceramic burner experienced. “The solution to this problem put the team to research and solve problems related to blast furnace, race channel, torpedo car, converter etc.,” Longo recalled.

Another example cited by Longo is the partnership with 3M of Brazil. LIEC collaborated with the company in the implementation of a varistor plant in Ribeirão Preto, some 100 km from São Carlos. “This collaboration allowed us to open another research sub-area, whereby we produced the first tin oxide varistor,” added the professor emeritus.

Parallel to the projects with companies, LIEC carried out, from the beginning, research in structural ceramics based on zirconia oxide stabilized with rare earths and alkaline earth metals. Thus began the collaboration of the laboratory with the theoretical chemist Juan Andrés, professor of the Universitat Jaume I (Spain) – a cooperation that has lasted for 29 years.

As for the extension activities, LIEC also has successful examples, such as the project through which it brought technical knowledge to artistic ceramics artisans from 9 Brazilian states.

In the 21st century, from multidisciplinary laboratory to materials development center

The year 2000 was a turning point in the scientific trajectory of LIEC. The laboratory was approved in the call for FAPESP CEPID projects, and denominated as Multidisciplinary Center for the Development of Ceramic Materials (CMDMC), and with the guarantee of continuous financing for 11 years. Consequently, the area of diffusion of knowledge was created, international collaborations multiplied (covering more than a dozen countries), and support was given to creating spin-off companies. From this environment came Nanox, specialized in bactericidal nanoparticles, and CosmoScience, dedicated to the characterization of cosmetics.

“This is when LIEC initiated comprehensive modifications in the research of ceramic semiconductors using the Pechini method,” Longo said. “There has been significant expansion in the research on piezoelectric materials, sensors, nanometric particles and thin films for non-volatile memory applications,” affirmed LIEC’s founder.

In 2013, LIEC was again contemplated with the FAPESP CEPID project, now denominated the Center for the Development of Functional Materials (CDMF). In this phase, which continues to this day, the diffusion of knowledge has grown remarkably through the use of social networks and the creation of videos, educational games and radio and television programs. In addition, LIEC researchers have established two spinoffs, NChemi Nanomaterials, of nanomaterials, and Katléia, which specializes in capillary diagnostics. In the scientific research activities, the laboratory has concentrated efforts in obtaining semiconductor nanoparticles with controlled reaction kinetics and morphology.

During the event of the 23rd, Professor Longo thanked everyone who built and still builds the history of LIEC, as well as UFSCar and the funding agencies CAPES, CNPq, FAPESP and FINEP. Finally, Longo addressed a few words to the new generations of researchers who will continue the work. The emeritus professor recommended that they plant new seeds for other crops, and that they create their own models and reinvent themselves.

The emeritus professor’s speech ended with this message: “In these moments of moral and ethical crisis that our country experiences, allied to a silent project of dismantling research and public education at all levels, it is imperative that we gather energies for many present and future confrontations”.

In the first line, from the left, LIEC professors. In the other lines, staff and students of the lab. Photo taken in 2004, at the Chemistry Department of UFSCar.
In the first line, from the left, some LIEC professors. In the other lines, staff and students of the lab. Photo taken in 2004, at the Chemistry Department of UFSCar.

José Arana Varela: Note of Condolences.

It is with deep regret that SBPMat announces the passing of Prof. José Arana Varela of the Chemistry Institute of Unesp, Araraquara, on 05/17/2016. Professor Varela was one of the founders of SBPMat, and its president from 2010 to 2011.

SBPMat sympathizes with the family of Professor Varela, in a sad day when Brazilian science loses one its exponents.

Interview with Professor Jose Arana Varela, honored with the Bridge Building Award from American Ceramic Society.

Professor Arana Varela (to the left) receiving the award. Photo by American Ceramic Society.

On the last January 27th, in Daytona Beach (Florida, United States), during the 38th edition of International Conference and Exposition on Advanced Ceramics and Composites, the Bridge Building Award of the American Ceramic Society was given to a Brazilian for the first time, Professor José AranaVarela, president of our SBPMat from 2010 to 2011. The honor annually distinguishes people from outside the United States who have notably contributed to the field of engineering ceramics.

Graduated in Physics from University of São Paulo in 1968, Arana Varela also has a Master’s Degree in Physics for the Instituto Tecnológico de Aeronáutica (ITA), becoming a Master in 1975. He took his PhD from 1977 to 1981 at University of Washington (United States), conducting research in the field of ceramic materials.

Currently, Arana Varela is Full Professor at Universidade Estadual Paulista Julio de Mesquita Filho (UNESP) and president-director of the executive board of São Paulo Research Foundation (Fapesp), as well as member of the council for competitivity and innovation at São Paulo Federation of Industries (FIESP). Professor Arana Varela is also full member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences (ABC), among other associations, and member of the editorial body for the journals Ceramics International, Science of Sintering, Cerâmica and Materials Research. Besides, he coordinates the innovation division at the Multidisciplinary Center for Development of Ceramic Materials.

His scientific papers gather over 6,500 citations. In the last 13 years, he has been the author of more than 500 articles, published in international journals. Up to this moment, he has advised and co-advised assignments for over 30 masters and over 40 doctoral theses.

Throughout his career, he has received more than 20 awards from organizations such as American Ceramic Society, Sociedad Española de Cerámica y Vidrio, CNPq, Associação Brasileira de Metalurgia e Materiais and Associação Brasileira de Cerâmica.

A brief interview with the researcher can be seen below:

SBPMat Bulletin: – Tell us a little bit about your story: which were the opportunities and choices that led you to become a researcher in the field of ceramic materials?

José Arana Varela: – Our choice of being a scientist in mateirals started during the Master’s at ITA, in  1972. During this period (in 1975), I met Professor O. J. Whittemore from the University of Washington, Seattle, during his visit to Universidade Federal de São Carlos for a year. As my master’s research was related to a physico-chemical view of thermal decomposition of talcum, which is a ceramic material, Professor Whittemore became interested in it and made some remarks regarding ceramic processing (his specialty). Thence the invitation for a doctorate in Seattle (from 1977 to 1981).

SBPMat Bulletin: – In your own analysis, which were your main contributions to the science and technology of materials? Specifically, can you comment on your main contributions to the field of engineering ceramics, the focus of Bridge Building Award?

José Arana Varela: — As the main theme of our doctoral theses was related to sintering models, we performed a simple study about variable effects, such as water vapor and heating rate in densification and microstructure of magnesium oxide ceramic. We created a model to take into account the structural rearrangement in sintering process.

Considering the evolution on application of ceramic materials in Microelectronics, due to functionality of these materials, we started the Electroceramic line in the 90’s. The functionality initially chosen was resistivity variation with electrical field (ceramic varistors) due to its application, mostly with lightning rods and electric circuits protectors. After understanding and contributing with varistor’s system based on zinc oxide (ZnO), we proposed to change the system considering another semi-conductor (stannous oxide). In this case, we developed throughout the years a stannous oxide varistor with properties that were much superior to traditional ZnO varistors.

Other contributions are related to development of thin ceramic films with Perovskite structure, with the purpose of optimizing their dielectric, piezoelectric and ferroelectric properties by using chemical deposition. We have advanced in the knowledge of chemical deposition, which we call polymeric precursors methods. One of the applications of these films are related to the manufacture of ferroelectric memories. With this, our students have worked in characterizing thin films with ferroelectric properties in some systems such as barium titanate, lead zirconate titanate, as well as strontium niobate and tantalate. A patent in ferroelectric memories, licensed to Panasonic, was proposed by a group led by Professor Carlos Paz de Araujo, at University of Colorado.

The latest contribution is related to sensors with nanometric structure, in collaboration with a group led by Professor Harry Tuller at MIT. Recent results were very promising and they showed great sensitivity in nanosensors based on stannous monoxide. It is important to point out that we have recently applied for patent regarding this study.

SBPMat Bulletin: – “Bridge building”, building bridges. Can you share with us a retrospective on the main bridges built throughout your career and the ones you would like to build?

José Arana Varela: — Our bridges have been built from the moment we finished our PhD at University of Washington. I continued to collaborate with Professor Whittemore for decade and I started other partnerships with Professor Gary Messing at Penn State University e then Professor Richard Bradt at University of Alabama.

Concurrently, we had joint projects in Europe with Professor João Baptista at Universidade de Aveiro, Portugal and with Doctor José Fernandez from Institute of Ceramics and Glass in Madrid, related to the subject of Electroceramics. We began to collaborate with groups in Bordeaux, France (Professor Marc Onillon), as well as André Perrin at University of Rennes. The collaborations proceeded with groups led by Professor Paolo Nanni at University of Genoa, concurrently with group led by Professor Danilo Suvorov at Josef Stephan Institute, in Slovenia and Professor Harry Tuller at MIT, in Boston.

SBPMat Bulletin: — Would you like to leave a message for our readers who are developing their academic or industry career as materials researchers?

José Arana Varela: — Science of Materials is fundamental to developing new useful technologies that will resolve society’s greatest problems. Great advancement in knowledge of ceramic materials, mostly their application in production of energy, communication, environmental control, etc., has been increasing in the past 20 years, mainly because of increased collaboration among researchers in different parts of the world. Science of Materials stopped being polarized between the United States and Europe (Germany, England and France) and it relies on contributions from other players in Asia and certainly Brazil. Fundamental knowledge of mass and charge transportation mechanisms, as well as structure of materials in nanometric scale, is essential to new developments and advances in technology.