A biomimetic invention that became metonymy.


Guess what it is.

It is perhaps the best known among biomimetic products (products developed by humans to imitate living beings that have been “developed” by nature over many millions of years).

It is an invention that became innovation (entered the market) and after some time it was widely accepted by consumers. Its use spread on planet Earth (on land, water and air) and reached the Moon

It is an invention that was the seed of a multinational company that today markets thousands of products.

Have you guess it? Here’s another clue.

The word popularly used to designate this product actually corresponds to a trademark, not to the object itself. It is a case of metonymy.

Do you know what invention we’re talking about? Not yet? Then, carefully read the history of this invention.

Fruits of a plant of the genus Arctium, similar to those that inspired the invention. Credits: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bur#/media/File:Burdock_Hooks.jpg
Fruits of a plant of the genus Arctium, similar to those that inspired the invention. Credits: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bur#/media/File:Burdock_Hooks.jpg

It all began in 1941 in the Swiss Alps. George de Mestral, a thirty-something Swiss electronics engineer, was back from a walk in the mountain with his dog, removing the burrs that had stuck to the dog’s hair and his clothing during the walk. These small spiked balls are the fruits of some plant families, and their ability to attach to animal hair is an advantage of these species as it helps to disperse the seeds that are inside the fruit.

The story goes that at that moment Mestral wondered why the burrs stuck and decided to look at them with a microscope in his house. The engineer then noticed that the fixation occurred between two elements. On the one hand, tiny loops formed on the matted coat of the dog or on the surface of the tissues. On the other hand, the tips of the little thorns, which were shaped as a hook. These flexible little “hooks” were tangled in the loops and only loosened by pulling them out with some force. With a biomimetic look and inventive spirit (Mestral presented his first patent at age 12), he saw in this natural system of reversible fixation, a model to artificially develop a very useful product.

Have you guessed what the invention is? Whether yes or no, see how the rest of the story.

Figure included in patent US2717437A, representing the method for producing the fabric with hooks at the ends of the threads.
Figure included in patent US2717437A, representing the method for producing the fabric with hooks at the ends of the threads.

For some years, George de Mestral faced the challenge of creating a prototype of this system of tiny hooks and loops. The main problem was to develop a method which would allow manufacturing a strip of fabric that could push upward, perpendicularly, a considerable amount of flexible hooks.

It seems the process was not easy, and that Mestral had a hard time finding people to help him produce this fabric. However, in 1952, he filed a patent application with the United States patent office about such a fabric and how to fabricate it. In the document, Mestral presented a “velvet-like fabric,” as it was covered, like velvet, with a dense “forest” of upright wires. However, unlike velvet, in the new fabric the threads were made of nylon (a newly created material), and a good part of the threads had hook-like tips. The manufacturing process proposed in the patent was similar to traditional velvet, using a loom, but with a few additional tricks to shape the hooks at the ends of the nylon strands.

Granted in 1955, this seems to be the first in a series of patents by the Swiss engineer around the invention that is the answer of our guessing game.

Mestral then founded a company to manufacture and market the product. However, the manufacturing system he had proposed in the patent was not fully mechanized and did not allow it to be produced at an industrial scale. The finishing process to produce the hooks was manual… and quite time consuming. The engineer had to wait about 20 years from his “eureka!” for a loom capable of mass producing the fabric with the tiny hooks.

When coupling the fabric with the hooks with another fabric covered by a tangle of loops, Mestral obtained a reversible fixation product with a thousand and one utilities, and with potential to revolutionize the market of zippers and buttons.

At first, the system invented by Mestral did not look very attractive. But little by little he gained visibility (from newspaper columns to futuristic films) and was adopted by various segments. In the late 1960s, for example, the invention began to be used by sports shoes manufacturers, replacing shoelaces and stood out in the NASA space program “Apollo” as a system to attach small objects to the walls of the spacecraft, preventing them from floating.

Currently the product is incredibly widespread. It helps solve small day-to-day problems in offices, shops, residences, hospitals, laboratories, walkways, schools…

Need another clue to guess what the invention is? Here goes the last one:

In 1956, George de Mestral obtained the trademark registration for his company. The name invented by the Swiss is the combination of two words in French (predominant language in the region of Switzerland where he was born and died): “velours” (velvet) and “crochet” (hook).

We do not need to pronounce the name of this invention, do we? Mainly because it’s forbidden to use the term “Velcro ®,” as it is a registered trademark of this multinational company which markets this and other similar products, and is also the trademark used for all the company products, not just for “hook and loop fastener.” Go explain this to the children, who really like V________, especially in sports footwear…

Microscope image showing how the hooks are entangled in the loops in this invention. Credits: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Micrograph_of_hook_and_loop_fastener,(Velcro_like).jpg
Microscope image showing how the hooks are entangled in the loops in this invention. Credits: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Micrograph_of_hook_and_loop_fastener,(Velcro_like).jpg

People from SBPMat community: Prof. Aloísio Nelmo Klein.


Aloísio Nelmo Klein
Aloísio Nelmo Klein

Aloísio Nelmo Klein was born on December 5, 1950 in Passo do Faxinal, a small village populated by German descendants in the state of Rio Grande do Sul (south of Brazil). During his childhood in this rural environment, he cultivated a special taste for solving technical problems of everyday life, quite like his father. Still a child, he started working on steel and constructing mechanisms for toys. At the age of 14, he moved to the nearby town of Cerro Largo to complete his secondary studies in a boarding school. In 1969, he moved to Viamão, on the outskirts of Porto Alegre, about 500 kilometers from his home, after successfully passing a selection process to study technical education at the competitive Technical School of Agronomy (ETA). This environment sparked a strong interest in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. He graduated from ETA at the end of 1971.

Klein graduated in Physics from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS) in 1976. He received his master`s degree in Mining, Metallurgical and Materials Engineering at this same university in 1979. In 1983, he defended his PhD thesis in Engineering, in the area of powder metallurgy and sintered materials from the Technical University of Karlsruhe (Germany), now the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT).

Klein has been a professor at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC) in Florianópolis since 1979. He was one of the leaders in introducing Materials Science and Engineering at this institution. He has been in charge of the Laboratory of Materials (LabMat) since 1984, a well-known multidisciplinary space, mainly due to its research and development work carried out with companies. Relying on the team and infrastructure consolidated around LabMat, Klein led the creation and was the first coordinator of the postgraduate program in Materials Science and Engineering (PGMAT) at UFSC, responsible for producing masters and doctors since 1994, and also the Materials Engineering course at UFSC, which began its activities in 1999.

Throughout his career, Klein has made relevant contributions to the development of equipment and processes for manufacturing materials from powders and the applications of plasma technologies, considering that some of these developments have been successfully introduced in the market through partnerships with companies.

Klein has been an active participant in SBPMat since it began. He was part of the committee responsible for creating the society in 2001, and was also the scientific director on two occasions (2004-2005 and 2010-2011) and member of the Deliberative Council and coordinator of the annual meetings of the society in 2006 and 2012, both held in Florianópolis.

Klein also participated in the creation, in 1993, and governance of the Ceramic Center of Brazil (CCB), dedicated to certifying the quality of ceramic products.

CNPq Productivity Fellow – Level 1 A – Professor Aloísio Klein is the author of more than 60 patent applications filed in offices in Brazil, Europe, the United States, China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and Australia, and at least 8 of these patents have already been granted (the others are under examination). According to the SCOPUS database, Klein is also the author of more than 130 published articles, which have more than 700 citations.

Regarding the training of human resources, Professor Klein has already supervised 41 master’s and 27 doctoral students, as well as dozens of undergraduate and postdoctoral studies, and has mediated more than 100 UFSC student participation abroad for internships , exchanges and postgraduate courses.

Many of his works have been honored with awards from Finep, Brazilian Ceramic Association, Brazilian Metallurgy and Materials Association and UFSC, in addition to other entities.

Here is an interview with the researcher.

SBPMat Bulletin: – Tell us what led you to become a scientist and eventually work in the Materials area.

Aloísio Klein: – The technical area always fascinated me, especially as my father who had no advanced education, was so interested in solving technical problems and fixing things, including watches, musical instruments, guns, cars, tractors, agricultural tools and so forth. I was still a child when I started to be interested in this and lend a hand.  I helped making toys like for instance wheelbarrows with steering, brakes, springs, and traction levers, things that did not exist 55 years ago. Before primary school, I helped to make helical springs for toys, rolling the steel wire, quenching and tempering in the fire, surrounded by charcoal. The temperature reading was done by the color of the heated object. At the age of 14, I entered the São Jose Seminary boarding school in Cerro Largo (RS), where I stayed for 5 and a half years. It was an excellent school, the teachers were well prepared. The principles and values I had acquired from my family and where I was born and raised were further reinforced in the Seminary – which I still hold. I learned other things at the boarding school, which were very important in the future: how to live in a group environment and learn how to share, despite having little; help those in need and so forth. Furthermore, Greek and Latin classes gave me the opportunity to learn how to express myself well orally and in writing. In fact, I have never regretted having studied there, because I learned humility and how to deal with the work environment. I believe that living in boarding school helps develop the ability to get along in groups and understand early on that this is really important. After leaving the Seminary I went to study at ETA (Technical School of Agronomy) in the municipality of Viamão (RS). This was a state school, where you could live (boarding school) and study for free, which is why I pushed myself to study there. ETA was a disputed public school (as were most public schools at the time!). There were about 20 candidates per vacancy in 1969, when I was accepted.  The years I spent at ETA were excellent. However, the disciplines that interested me the most were not those related to Agronomy, they were Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. I graduated from ETA in December 1971 and in March 1972 I started the Physics course at the Institute of Physics at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS).  I graduated in December 1976 and started a master’s degree in the post-graduate program in Mining, Metallurgy and Materials Engineering at UFRGS in March 1977, which I conclude in January 1979. On February 5 of 1979 I was hired as a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC). Also in November of 1979 I went to Karlsruhe, Germany, to enter the PhD program in Materials, in the Subarea of Powder Metallurgy and Sintered Materials. In August 1983, after completing my doctorate, I resumed my duties at UFSC. And in March 1984, I became the coordinator of the Materials Laboratory (now LabMat) A post I still hold and which I will pass on to my successor, already prepared for this, once I retire.

SBPMat Bulletin: – What do you believe are your main contributions to the Materials area?

Aloísio Klein: – Throughout my career at UFSC, I coordinated many research projects, most of them in partnership with companies. Most of the projects had more technological than scientific goals. This was not by chance but out of conviction. I have always believed (and still do) that science is one of the main driving forces for the development of a nation, in addition to education and quality schools. It is from scientific knowledge that new processes are developed, new engineering functions, new materials and other products, that is, innovation results from scientific knowledge. These projects have always been proposed considering a larger group of people as a team, around 8 to 12 professors (in addition to students and engineers) in order to integrate the knowledge-based specializations necessary for the high-quality development of projects. In addition to colleagues from the departments of Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Chemical Engineering, professors from the Physics and Chemistry departments were involved, resulting in a multidisciplinary team. However, the project is successful if the multidisciplinary team interacts interdisciplinarily in order to have a synergistic effect. It’s useless merely dividing the money and the tasks. This aspect has never been very easy to manage. Achieving this has always been much more difficult than the technical-scientific part, because a team is made up of individuals, each with his/her particularities, ambitions, egos, and so on. I personally believe that learning to deal with this was very useful to arrive at the LabMat we have today at UFSC.

Due to developing projects with defined technological goals, many patents have been achieved over the last 30 years, currently included in my curriculum, totaling about 65 patent letters, including processes and products (new components, materials and equipment). In addition to the patents, I am also the author/co-author of 135 international articles in journals and 203 articles in Annals of Conferences. I have mentored about 64 IC students, 41 master’s students, 27 doctoral students and 20 post-doc fellows.

In addition, I led the creation of a postgraduate course in Materials Science and Engineering (PGMAT) which began its activities in 1994, currently a 6 score in Capes, and the undergraduate course in Materials Engineering, which began its activities in 1999, currently with a maximum score in Capes. In fact, success means work and in 2010, as a sign of recognition, I was awarded the prize for outstanding researcher at the Technological Center of UFSC.

I think my main contributions (generally with the participation of doctoral or master’s students) are related to the development of processes and new materials and equipment such as:  a) Conceptual project of the extraction process of organic binders and sintering assisted by DC plasma components produced via injection molding, known as “Plasma Assisted Debinding and Sintering – PADS”. b) Conceptual design of the Hybrid Plasma Reactor. This reactor, besides the anode-cathode system to open the electric discharge, has a set of electrical resistances to maintain the control of the thermal cycle independent of the energy used in the plasma. Then, the energy of the ions and electrons in the plasma environment can be adjusted to assist the reactions of interest, while the additional heat needed to achieve the programmed thermal cycle is supplied by the resistive heating system. The coexistence of these two systems in the same environment, without the electric discharge in the electrical resistances, is very important. This (thermal cycle not dependent on plasma energy) allowed a significant advance in the use of plasma to assist various processes, such as thermochemical and metallurgical treatments, including the processing of materials from powders (powder metallurgy and ceramic processing). c) Conceptual design of plasma nitriding equipment that allows cleaning organic waste and its nitriding in the same thermal cycle, for example, used in parts containing oil residues, such as sintered parts after calibration and machined parts. d) The in situ generation of phases of interest in powder metallurgy, such as the generation of turbostractic graphite from the disintegration of sintered steel carbides, leading to the development of new types of dry self-lubricating sintered steels.  e) Development of new types of non-cobalt hard metal, in which nickel alloys generated in situ during sintering are used as metallic binder phase. f) The constant effort to integrate multidisciplinary teams and work in partnership with the productive sector in my projects. The partnership with EMBRACO, for example, has been going on uninterruptedly for 28 years and will certainly continue after my retirement, given that the successor is fully engaged in this partnership.

It is equally important to mention the intense participation in analysis committees and other activities that are important for the development of science and technology, such as: 1) Member (1989 to 1995) of the technical group of the PADCTII new materials subprogram (MCT/FINEP/CNPq); 2) Two times member of the CA-MM – Advisory Committee on Mines, Metallurgy and Materials of CNPq (1997 to 1999) and (2007 to 2009); 3) Member (1997 to 2001) of the technical group in Sciences and Engineering of Materials (CEMAT) of the PADCT III new materials sub-program of the Ministry of Science and Technology;  4) Member of the evaluation and monitoring committee program of the PRONEX / MCT (1998 to 2003); 5) Member (2007 to 2010) of the study group of the CGEE (Center for Management and Strategic Studies) – Prospective study in Materials;  6) Member of the evaluation committee of the postgraduate courses in the Materials area. Trienal 2010 – CAPES; 7) A total of 32 invited lectures throughout my career as researcher (in companies, conferences and research institutions); 8) I was able to send more than 100 students abroad (undergraduate, master’s and doctorate) to carry out internships, exchanges, masters and doctorates; 9) Ad hoc consultant, mainly the development-funding agencies CNPq, CAPES, FINEP, FAPESC and DAAD (Germany); 10) I participated in the creation and was a full member of the deliberative council of CCB (Ceramic Center of Brazil) from 1993 to 2003; 11) I was vice president of the Ceramic Center of Brazil from 1996 to 2001; 12) I participated in the creation of CTC (Criciuma Ceramics Center, now called CTCma); 13) I led the creation (1994) and was the first coordinator of the postgraduate program in Materials Science and Engineering of UFSC ( PGMAT); 14) I led the creation (1999) and was the first coordinator of the undergraduate course in Materials Engineering at UFSC.

SBPMat Bulletin: – Please leave a message for the readers who are starting their scientific careers.

Aloísio Klein: – The career of researcher is possibly the best career in the world. When we have ideas, society approves the resources so that we can develop our ideas. Even when an idea did not work out, we advanced and reformulated the idea with the acquired knowledge. The environment we work in is a very good environment. There are a lot of smart people and a lot of young people, smart and qualified, full of enthusiasm. When we have a good idea, we soon have plenty of people willing to participate in its development. We’re never alone. When we go to a conference, we also find a very select group of people where you can exchange high level ideas, not only with senior people in the area, but also with very creative and intelligent young people. No competent young person is not funded to attend a conference.

SBPMat´s community people: interview with Fernando Galembeck.


To Fernando Galembeck, Director of the Brazilian Nanotechnology National Laboratory (LNNano) from 2011 to 2015, the interest in research started to appear during his adolescence, when, working in his father’s pharmaceutical lab, he realized the economic importance that new products, resulting from efforts in scientific research, had on the company. Currently aged 72, Fernando Galembeck, looking back at his own scientific path, can tell us several stories in which the knowledge produced by him, jointly with his collaborators, is not only transmitted through scientific papers, theses and books, but has taken form as licensed patents and new or improved products.

Galembeck received his Degree in Chemistry in 1964 from the University of São Paulo (USP). After graduating, he stayed at USP, teaching (1965 – 1980) and, simultaneously, conducting his doctoral studies in Chemistry (1965 – 1970) with a research work on the metal-metal bond dissociation. Once his doctoral studies were completed, he held post-doctoral fellowships in the United States, at the universities of Colorado, in the city of Denver (1972-1973) and California, in the city of Davis (1974), working in the field of Physical Chemistry of biological systems. In 1976, back at USP, he had the chance to create a colloids and surfaces laboratory in its Chemistry Institute. From that moment, Galembeck has been increasingly involved in the development of new materials, especially the polymeric ones, and their manufacturing processes.

In 1980, he started teaching at the University of Campinas (UNICAMP), where he became a Full Professor in 1988, position he held until his retirement in 2011. At Unicamp, he held management positions such as University Vice-Dean, as well as Director of the Institute of Chemistry and Coordinator of its graduate studies program. In July, 2011, he took over the recently created LNNano, at the Brazilian Center for Research in Energy and Materials (CNPEM).

Throughout his career, in Brazil, he held management functions at the Brazilian Academy of Sciences (ABC), Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCT), National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), Brazilian Chemical Society (SBQ), Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science (SBPC) and Brazilian Society for Microscopy and Microanalysis (SBMM), among other entities.

Holder of a 1A-level fellowship for research productivity at CNPq, Galembeck is the author of almost 250 scientific paper published on international peer reviewed journals, which count with over 2,300 citations, as well as 29 deposited patents and over 20 books and chapters in books. He has advised almost 80 Master’s and Doctoral researches.

He has received numerous awards and distinctions, including the 2011 Anísio Teixeira Awards, from CAPES, the Brazilian agency for the improvement of graduate courses; the 2011 Telesio-Galilei Gold Medal, from the Telesio-Galilei Academy of Science (TGAS); the 2006 Almirante Álvaro Alberto Award for Science and Technology, from CNPq and the Conrado Wessel foundation; the 2006 José Pelúcio Ferreira Trophy, from Finep (Brazilian entity for funding of studies and projects); the 2000 Grand Cross of the National Order of Scientific Merit and the 1995 National Commendation of Scientific Merit, both from the President of the Republic of Brazil. He has also received several awards from companies and scientific and business associations, such as CPL,  Petrobras, Union Carbide do Brasil, the Brazilian Paint Manufacturers Association, the  Brazilian Chemical Industry Association, the Union from the Industry of Chemicals for Industrial Use from the State of Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian Polymer Association, the Brazilian Chemical Society – which created the Fernando Galembeck Award of Technological Innovation, the Engineers Union from the State of São Paulo and the Electrostatic Society of America.

What follows is an interview with the scientist:

SBPMat Newsletter: – Tell us what led you to become a scientist and work on issues in the field of Materials.

Fernando Galembeck: – My interest in research work started during my adolescence, when I comprehended the importance of new knowledge, of discovery. I found this when I was working, after school, at my father’s pharmaceutical laboratory, as I could see how the newest, latest products, were important. I also saw how costly it was, for the lab, to depend on imported products, which were not produced in Brazil, and that in the country there was no competence to manufacture them.  Then I realized the value of new knowledge, as well as the importance and the economic and strategic significance of such breakthroughs.

This feeling was increased when I took my major in Chemistry. I enrolled into the Chemistry course because one of my school teachers had suggested that I should seek a career related to research. He must have seen some inclination, some tendency of mine. So I attended the Chemistry course provided by the Philosophy School, in an environment where the research activity was very vivid. Because of that, I decided to conduct my Doctoral studies at USP. At that time, there were no regular graduate studies in Brazil yet. The advisor with whom I defended my dissertation, Professor Pawel Krumholz, was a great researcher, who also had built a very important career working on a company. He was the industrial director of Orquima, a major company by that time. That boosted my interest in research.

I worked with Chemistry for some years and my interest in materials came from a curious occurring. I was almost graduating, in my last vacations during the undergraduate studies.  I was at an apartment, resting after lunch. I remember looking at the walls of this apartment and noticing that, with all I had learned in the Chemistry course, I did not have much to say about the things I could see: the paint, the coverings etc. That was Chemistry, but also Materials, and there was not much interest in Materials in the Chemistry course. Actually, Materials became very important in Chemistry mainly because of plastic and rubber, which, at the time, did not have the importance they have today. I am talking about 1964, approximately.

Well, then I started to work with Physical Chemistry, to later work a little in a field that is more oriented to Biochemistry, that is Biological Physical Chemistry and, in 1976, I received a task from the USP Department, which was to build a colloids and surfaces laboratory.  One of our first projects was to modify plastic surfaces, in that case, Teflon. Then I realized that a major part of the colloids and surfaces Chemistry existed due to Materials, because the subject lends itself to create and develop new materials. From that moment on, I was getting increasingly involved with Materials, mainly polymers, a little less with ceramics, and even less with metals.

SBPMat Newsletter: – What are, in your own opinion, your main contributions to the field of Materials? Consider, in your answer, all aspects of your professional activity, including cases of knowledge transfer to the industry.

Fernando Galembeck: – I will tell the story in order, more or less. I think that the first important result in the field of Materials was exactly a technique intended to modify the surface of Teflon, that material in which it is very difficult to stick something. There is even that expression, “Teflon politicians”, the ones for which does not matter what you throw at them, they do not stick to anything. But, in certain situations, we want the Teflon to have adhesion; we want some things to stick. So, by a somewhat complicated path, I managed to see that I already knew how to modify Teflon, but I had never realized that is was important. I knew the phenomenon; I had observed it during my PhD defense. I knew that there was a change happening in Teflon. But it was during a visit to a Unilever laboratory in 1976, when I was talking to a researcher, that I saw that there were people striving to modify the surface of Teflon and achieve adhesion. Then, bringing the problem and the solution together, as soon as I returned to Brazil, I tried to see if I what I had previously observed was really useful, and it worked. That led to the first paper I wrote by myself and my first patent application, at a time when almost nobody talked about patents in Brazil, especially in the university environment. I was very enthusiastic about this: I was approached by companies that were interested in applying what I had done; one the modification in Teflon itself, the other in a different polymer. So I felt great, because I had made a discovery, I had a patent, and there were companies which, at least, would like to know what it was to see if there was a way to use it. One more thing:  soon after the paper I wrote was published, I was invited to attend a conference in the United States, which addressed exactly the issue of modifying surfaces. Polymers, plastic and rubber surfaces, a subject with which I was involved for pretty much the rest of my life, up until now.

I will mention a second fact that did not have the same effects, so far.  I discovered a method that enables the characterization and separation of very small particles. That was a very interesting paper. It was released, also produced a patent, but had no practical consequences. Recently, there have been some issues related to nanoparticles, which is a very important subject in Materials now, offering a chance to apply what I did over 30 years ago. The name of the technique is osmosedimentation.

Next there was some work that I did by collaborating in projects with Pirelli Cabos. With all this story of surfaces and polymers, I think I had become more or less known and was approached by Pirelli, which contracted me as a consultant and commissioned projects I had at Unicamp. An outcome of these projects, that I think is the most important, was the development of an insulator for very high voltages. This work was not only mine, but rather of a very large team, in which I took part. There were several people from Pirelli, and several from Unicamp. The result of this project was that the Brazilian Pirelli managed to be hired to provide high voltage cables for the Eurotunnel, back in the ‘80s. I think this was a very important case, as it led to a product and brought substantial economic results. I would like to stress that this was done in Brazil, by a Brazilian team. They were not a Brazilian company, but the team was based here.

Then, there were several projects with nanoparticles, at a time when we did not even call them nanoparticles; we used to call them fine particles, or simply small colloidal particles. The first paper I released on nanoparticles was in 1978. There were other things after that, which, ultimately, led to a paper on aluminum phosphate, which resulted in dissertations and papers, as well as a license by a company named Amorphic Solutions, from the Bunge group, that basically explores aluminum phosphate. The subject started at my lab, stayed there for many years, then a company of the Bunge group here in Brazil got interested, started participating, and we collaborated. That became a major development project. Later, Bunge found it infeasible to carry on with the project in Brazil and today is in the United States. I think it is a shame that they are there, but there were some other issues involved, including a disagreement with Unicamp, who holds the patents. If you check Amorphic Solutions page on the internet you may see many applications of the product. As far as I know, they are currently emphasizing its use as an anti-corrosive material to protect steel.

About the same time, in another project on nanoparticles, clay/natural rubber nanocomposites were developed. This was licensed by a Brazilian company called Orbys, which released a product called Imbrik, a product that the company provides, for example, in order to make rubber rolls for paper manufacturing.

Another case with a product. I had done a project with Oxiteno, which manufactures raw materials for latex, the surfactants. They wanted to get an ideia of how much you can change the latex changing the surfactant. I conducted a project with them that I consider one of the most interesting among those in which I have been involved. In the end, we realized that, by changing the surfactant a bit, we changed the latex a lot. These are used in paints, adhesives, resins. So we realized we had a great variability. This work was published and promoted. It did not result in a patent because it was a comprehension project. So, another company, Indústrias Químicas Taubaté (IQT) approached me to produce cationic latex, but using a new path. Cationic latex in general is made of quaternary ammonium salts, which have some environmental restrictions. The company wanted an alternative that did not have those restrictions. By the end of the project, we produced cationic latex without environmental restrictions, and the IQT put the product on the market.

There was another case that was also very interesting, even though it was canceled. Here in Brazil, there was a large manufacturer of polyethylene terephthalate, PET, which is used for many things, including bottles. They knew about the work I had done with nanocomposites, the one with Orbys I mentioned before, so they approached me wanting to produce PET nanocomposites. We had to find out how to escape from what was already patented abroad and discovered a whole new path. The company was called Rhodia-Ster, and today it is part of another Italian company, called Mossi e Ghisolfi. The company was enthusiastic and ended up patenting it in Brazil, and then later abroad. At a certain point, they decided that they would conduct the work internally, and so they did for some years. One day, my contact within the company called me to tell this: “look, we were working with two technologies; the one held by Unicamp and another one, in another country. Both are working, but the company has reached a point where it has chosen to complete the development of only one”.  When coming to the final stage in developing materials, the projects costs are too high. One have to use large amounts of materials, run many tests with customers. So, the company decided to take one project further, and, unfortunately, it was not the one in which I had worked. At the end, it was a little frustrating, but I think that it was interesting, because, during this whole time, the company invested a lot in the path we had started here. Not only that, each project brings resources for the laboratory, brings money to hire people, more jobs etc. So, these projects result in many benefits, even when they are not concluded.

Now, skipping some bits, I will reach the last result, which is fairly recent, happening after I left Unicamp and came to the CNPEM. One of CNPEM’s goals is to explore renewable source materials to produce advanced materials. There is a whole philosophy behind this, based on the depletion of natural resources, sustainability…  We have worked hard in order to make new things with materials derived from biomass, and the main focus is cellulose. It is the most abundant polymer in the world, but it is very hard to work with it. You cannot process cellulose as you process polyethylene, for example.  One of our goals has been to find ways to laminate cellulose, i.e., work it as closely as possible to the way we use to work synthetic polymers. A recent outcome, built upon this idea, is that we managed to produce cellulose adhesives having it as the only polymer, which is new. A patent application was entered in the beginning of the year, and we are submitting a paper on it, while aiming to work with companies that are interested in the subject. We are already discussing a project for a specific application of this modified cellulose with a company.

This is the latest case. In the middle of the way, many other projects were conducted with companies, for issues of their interest. Coating something, gluing another, modifying a polymer to achieve a certain result. But these were answers to demands from companies, instead of researches started at the laboratory.

SBPMat Newsletter: – Leave a message for our readers who are starting their careers as scientists.

Fernando Galembeck: – First of all, in any chosen career, there must be a dose of passion. It does not matter if you are going to work in the Stock Market, Healthcare or whatever you may do; above all, your taste must decide. If a person chooses a career because it will give them money or status… I think it is a bad choice. If you do things with pleasure, with interest, the money, prestige and status will come from other paths. The goal is to do what makes you happy, what makes you feel good when you do it, what makes you feel accomplished. It is true not only for the scientific career, but also to any other career. In science, it is crucial.

Another point is that you must be prepared to work hard. There is no easy way. I know some young people who are constantly seeking the great idea that will bring them success with relatively little work. Well, I’d better not count on it. It may even happen, but waiting for it is almost the same as wait to win the Lottery and get rich.

I’m over 70, therefore I have met many people and seen many things happen. Something that strikes me is how young people who seemed very promising end up not working very well.  Frankly, I think it is bad for youngsters to achieve success too early, because I have the impression they get used to this idea that things will always work out fine. And the problem is that there isn’t anything, anyone, any company that will always work. There will always be the moment of failure, the moment of frustration. If the person is prepared for that, when the times come, he or she will overcome it, while others are crushed – they cannot move one. That is why we must be careful not to be deceived by our success and think that, because it worked once, it will always work. You must be prepared to fight.

When I was in college, thinking about doing research seemed a very strange thing to do, crazy talk. People did not know very well what it was, or why would someone choose to do it. Some people said that research was something like priesthood. I have always worked with research, associated with teaching, consulting and, without having ever sought to become rich, I managed to have an economic status that I deem very comfortable. But I insist, my goal was to enable the development, to produce material, not the money I would receive. Money came, as it does. So, I suggest you to focus on your work, on the results and the contribution that said work may give to other people, to the environment, to the community, to the country, to knowledge. The rest comes as a bonus.

In short, my message is: work seriously, earnestly and passionately.

Finally, I would like to point out that I think the research work, the development work, really helps you to grow as a person. It will depart you from ideas that are not very fruitful and guide you towards attitudes that are really important and helpful. A student asked Galileo once: “Master, what is the method?”, and Galileo’s answer was: “The method is the doubt”. I think it is very important in the research activity, which, for Materials in particular, is especially interesting because the final product is something you can hold in your hands. In the research activity you have to always wonder, “I’m thinking like this, but is this right?”, or “This guy wrote this, but what are his bases to write it?”. This attitude is very different from the dogmatic one, which is common in the realms of politics and religion, and very different from the attitude of someone who has to deceive, as the lawyer who works for a mobster or drug dealer. The researchers have to commit themselves to the truth. Of course there are also people who call themselves researchers and spread disinformation.  Some years ago, people were talking about something called “Bush science”, an expression referring to President Bush. This Bush science was the arguments fabricated by people who gained money as scientists, but who produced arguments to sustain Bush’s policies. In other words, the problem exists in science as well, but then we get back to what I said earlier. You cannot enter this field because of money, or to achieve prestige, or to be invited to have dinner with the president; you must enter this field because of your interest in the subject itself.