Just over half way through our Atlas of Ideas fieldwork in Brazil, we’ve been to six cities and interviewed around 70 scientists, policymakers and business people about the future of science and innovation in Brazil. We’re working in partnership with Brazilian strategy and innovation think tank, CGEE. And it still feels like we are barely scratching the surface...

Last week James and I met Sergio Rezende, the Brazilian science minister – a physicist hailing from the North Eastern state of Pernambuco (on our itinerary for next week). He emphasised a point to us made several times elsewhere: despite the media’s current preoccupation with biofuels, Brazil’s future impact in science and innovation will be far more diverse.

We’re beginning to get a good flavour of this diversity. Although the might of science and innovation in the State of Sao Paulo, by far the biggest spender, is clear from its publications tally, its industrial profile and its shiny synchrotron, the story doesn’t begin and end there. Rio de Janeiro for example, known for Copacabana and Carnival, is also home to a wealth of academic and research institutes. Just look at CENPES, the research centre for the giant Brazilian oil company, Petrobras. It is currently constructing a 183,000m sq new extension to house its growing research on alternative energy.

And then there’s Florianopolis in Santa Catarina. The island, a popular tourist destination, is planning to develop the first “urban biosphere,” centred on a science and technology park that is integrated into the life of the city. The plans would make any budding entrepreneur parcelled off to a prefab on a UK industrial estate green with envy...

There is an extremely over-used joke in Brazil that appears to feature in almost every article ever written about the country: “Brazil is the country of the future...and it always will be.” This pessimism flows from a sense that Brazil has never quite fulfilled its potential as a global player. But what should we expect from Brazil over the coming years? How can we quantify the monetary value of the Amazon – in water production as well as biodiversity? Will Brazil’s investments in biofuels succeed in turning the country into a ‘green Saudi Arabia’? Can Brazil address persistent and striking economic inequalities?

As I told Minister Rezende, this is going to be a very challenging report to write...

 

 

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