SBPMat’ s community people: interview with Oswaldo Luiz Alves.

Professor Oswaldo Luiz Alves. (Credits: Gustavo Morita)

It was in the science clubs from the public school and from the neighbourhood, in the city of São Paulo, that Oswaldo Luiz Alves took an interest in sciences during his teenage years, conducting chemistry and biology experiments. At the age of 20, he graduated from one of the first technical courses in Industrial Chemistry in South America, at the Oswaldo Cruz Technical School, relying on a scholarship from the São Paulo State Education Office. During the course, he did an internship at the Biological Institute, ran by the government of the State of São Paulo, where he first got in touch with the infrared spectroscopy technique.

After a one-year experience working in the industry, he was accepted to the undergraduate course in chemistry of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), and completed it in 1973, obtaining the titles of “bacharel” and “licenciado”. During his undergraduate studies, he acted in teaching and research at the Unicamp´s Institute of  Chemistry. As soon as he graduated, Alves, who was 25 years old at the time, was hired by that institute and, at the same time, started his doctorate, carrying out research on the application of vibrational spectroscopy (both Raman and infrared) in molecular complexes. In 1979, he left for France on a scholarship from the São Paulo State Research Foundation (Fapesp) for a post-doctoral internship, in which he again worked with vibrational spectroscopy. In that opportunity, he could use one of the first Fourier transform infrared spectrometers. Thus, Oswaldo Alves experienced firsthand the beginning of a time in chemistry of fruitful development of new analysis techniques, especially spectroscopic, and their applications. In addition, Alves was also motivated by another movement, which began in the 70s and which occurred mainly in the chemists’ community in Europe: the development and study of new materials within the so-called “solid state chemistry”.

Back in Brazil after almost two years in France, in which he worked as invited professor at the University of Lille, he found a scenario different from the European one. In Brazil, almost no chemist worked in the Solid State area yet. Thus, Alves dedicated himself to introducing the area and, in 1985, he founded the Solid State Chemistry Laboratory (LQES) at Unicamp’s Institute of Chemistry. Since then, the scientist has been making relevant contributions to materials science and technology, in sundry themes such as vitreous materials for telecommunications, two-dimensional materials synthesis techniques, development of integrated chemical systems, purification of carbon nanotubes and interaction between new carbon-based nanomaterials and biosystems.

Currently 67 years old, Oswaldo Alves is a full professor at Unicamp, where he works as a scientific coordinator of the LQES and the Laboratory of Nanostructure Synthesis and Interaction with Biosystems (NanoBioss/SisNano). In his 40 years of teaching, he was advisor to over 50 master’s and doctoral dissertations. He has authored over 200 articles published in scientific journals, which have more than 2,400 citations. He have also authored over 20 patents, 5 of them granted and one licensed, the latter refering to a technology aimed at the remediation of effluents from paper and textile industries. In the scientific dissemination field, he works as scientific editor of two news bulletins, “LQES News” and “Nano em Foco”.

Oswaldo Alves is a member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences and of the Academy of Sciences of the State of São Paulo, as well as a commander of the Brazilian National Order of Scientific Merit. He is also a fellow of TWAS (The World Academy of Sciences for the advancement of science in developing countries) and of the Royal Society of Chemistry. He has received awards from different entities, such as Unicamp, the Brazilian Association of Chemical Industries (Abiquim) and the Brazilian Society of Chemistry, which he chaired from 1998 to 2000, in addition to being a founder and first director of its materials chemistry division.

See our interview with the scientist.

SBPMat’s Bulletin: – How did you become interested in science? What led you to become a scientist and work in solid state/materials chemistry?

Oswaldo Luiz Alves: – It has been many years. Before I got into University I took part in science clubs of my public school and my neighborhood in the city of São Paulo (Perdizes district). In the neighborhood’s science club we had a small laboratory with materials donated by one of the grandchildren of scientist Vital Brazil, where we conducted several chemistry and biology experiments. Soon after that, I got an internship at the Biological Institute, as a formal requirement of the Industrial Chemistry technical course, where I worked with infrared spectroscopy and polarography (dropping mercury electrode) applied to the determination of pesticides. When I got into Unicamp, in 1969, after a period of experience in the industry (Bayer), it was already clear for me that I would continue studying after graduating, which made me engage in research on rare earth compounds, through a research scholarship from FAPESP, already thinking of becoming a university professor and researcher. I went straight to doctorate, withouth having a master´s degree (that was not very common in the 70s in Brazil), working with Raman-laser and infrared spectroscopies and theoretical calculations of molecular force fields. In 1979, I went to France for my post-doctoral internship at the Laboratoire de Spectrochimie Infrarouge et Raman of the CNRS to work with Raman spectroscopy with spatial resolution, SERS and CARS effect and to commission one of the first infrared spectrometers that operated with Fourier transform. At that time, there was in Europe and especially in France (Bordeaux, Rennes and Orsay) an extremely prolific activity in solid state chemistry, within the materials perspective. I was taken away!

Upon returning to Brazil, I saw the opportunity to found the Solid State Chemistry Laboratory – LQES (1985), with a lot of difficulty, for almost all of the Brazilian chemists worked with solutions. Due to that, I migrated to the Physics community, where I remained for approximately 10 years, even getting to the point of coordinating materials-related activities at the famous meetings of the Brazilian Physics Society (SBF) in the city of Caxambu. Since then, I have always been involved in solid state and materials chemistry, taking part in the Optical Fiber Project (Telebras), where I worked with quantum dot-doped glass for telecommunications, glass for non-linear optics and, in the LQES, on activities connected to two-dimensional (lamellar) materials, nanocomposites involving conductor polymers, integrated chemical systems, glass-ceramics and porous glasses, silicon nanoparticles with complex functionalities, carbon nanotubes, graphene oxide and carbon dots. In the last three themes, my efforts are geared towards the study of the interaction between such new carbons with biosystems, from a viewpoint of assessment of the risks of nanotechnologies (regulation).

SBPMat’s Bulletin: – Which are, in your own assessment, your main contributions to the field of materials?

Oswaldo Luiz Alves: – It is always very hard to make such assessments, but I believe that some points could be listed.

In terms of scientific research, my main contributions have been the research works on quantum dot-doped glass and glass for non-linear optics, the development of synthesis techniques of several two-dimensional materials and their intercalation chemistry, the development of integrated chemical systems (conductor polymer glass, semiconductor glass), purification of carbon nanotubes (effect of oxidized debris) and interaction of new carbons with biosystems (protein “corona” effect and aggregation) and silicon nanoparticles with antagonistic functionality for drug delivery.

I created the Solid State Chemistry Laboratory (LQES), a pioneer in solid state chemistry research in Brazil, where I have worked to this day as scientific coordinator. Another contribution that I believe deserves to be highlighted was my work as coordinator of the “Chemistry Program for Electronic Materials” by FINEP (Funding Authority for Studies and Projects) (late 80s). Several of the more important materials research groups that worked, or still work, in Brazil at a high level, in several states, received funding from this successful program. My participation as founder and first Director of the Materials Chemistry Division of the Brazilian Chemistry Society is worthy of mention. I coordinated the FAPESP project that funded the construction of the first line of EXAFS (XAS) at LNLS (Synchrotron Light Brazilian National Laboratory), and I had direct participation in the user formation programs in a spectroscopic technique that had never been used in Brazil. I am currently working as scientific coordinator of the Laboratory of Nanostructure Synthesis and Interaction with Biosystems (NanoBioss/SisNano).

In 2014 I completed 40 years of teaching at Unicamp’s Institute of Chemistry, where I supervised over 50 students (both for master’s and doctorate degrees), many of whom are, today, leaders in research that stand out in the national and international scenario, and who exercise their activities in several Brazilian states.

I have worked as scientific editor of two news bulletins. The first one is the LQES News, a fortnightly publication that has been running for 14 years, with its editorial line connected to the developments in science and technology (general) and innovation and nanotechnologies. The second one is the “NANO em Foco” bulletin, edited in partnership with the Brazilian Agency of Industrial Development (ABDI), published on a monthly basis and running for 7 years, with an editorial line connected to commercial products, risks and regulation of nanotechnologies. In addition to that, I have published, also in partnership with the ABDI, the “Nanotechnology Guidebook (two editions), aimed at introducing nanotechnologies for the general public.

The several systems and materials studied and developed at the LQES have allowed the filing of 27 patents of process and application, including international ones, and a licensing of an innovative technology for the industry. In addition to that, I have taken part, as a consultant, in two processes related to the Program of Economic Subvention for Companies (Nanotechnology) by FINEP, which led to the development of 8 commercial products.

Along these many years, I participated in several activities connected to the Brazilian scientific policies, out of which we can highlight: coordinator of  councils (Chemistry) at CNPq and Fapesp. Member of the Deliberating Council at CNPq (2 terms of offices) and of the Nanotechnology Council (MCTI/SisNano) in all of its compositions. I have worked, until this time, as consultant for the nanotechnology segment of the Brazilian Agency of Industrial Development and the Management and Strategic Studies Center (CGEE). I have provided consultancy to the State Council for Science and Technology of the Economic Development, Science, Technology and Innovation Office of the State of São Paulo, for the nanotechnology segment. I am part of the scientific council of APAE São Paulo – a non-governmental organization for prevention and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.

SBPMat’s Bulletin: – Leave a message for our readers starting their careers in science.

Oswaldo Luiz Alves: – First of all, I would like to say that a scientific career is fascinating, especially in the times we live in, where paradigms are frequently broken. Another aspect, no less fascinating, is living with the intermulti and transdisciplinarities that, at the same time as they expand our knowledge, point out our limitations. In such relations, it is clear that a sound and in-depth knowledge of concepts, techniques and tools is fundamental. It is a process based on an attitude of openness and the acquisition of a “common language” that allows the interaction of different experts and expertises in the solution of problems, very well identified, in science, technology and innovation. Thus, we must, whenever possible, seek a balance between paper-oriented and knowledge-oriented research stances and, particularly, not forget to make a second reading of our research results, therefore seeking to examine their possible connection with the needs of the Brazilian citizens and of the national development.