Category Archives: Science

Blog, a Brazilian invention

Photo by Josef Stuefer/ Flickr
Photo by Josef Stuefer/ Flickr

Way before the explosion of blogs (over 156 million according to the latest statistics), way before they were named blogs (web+log), there were “open diaries” written by young techies willing to expand the limits of the web.

The following was one of the first online open diary entries posted by Claudio Pinhanez on the MIT Media Lab website, who is considered the pioneer of this type of communication:

“Vanya on 42nd street”, the movie by Louis Malle, was a blast. Such a long time since I have watched a group of actors performing a text with so much intensity. Saw it on Sunday, but on Monday night I was still excited, and couldn’t take it from my mind. Simple shots, no cutting, and great theater. Actors showing the best of the profession, an step beyond being naturalistic: as a great performance of an actor or actress is achieved when he/she is able to include non-natural reactions which tell you all the conflicts of the characters. Doing that while reciting the long lines of Chekov is extremely hard, but essential. Magic, pure magic.
(Nov. 30th, 94)

Pinhanez, who wrote  a few posts during a 1.5 year period, starting on 14 November 1994, got first a Math degree at Universidade de São Paulo and then his PhD at the MIT. Today he works for IBM. In a recent interview to Veja weekly magazine, he said he conceived his open diary (which didn’t include a mechanism to accept comments) to communicate in real time with other researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

So, were blogs invented by a Brazilian? Yes. I rest my case.



Padre Landell, Father of Radio


Roberto Landell de Moura in 1898

How a Brazilian priest – accused by the Church of devilish practices, and considered insane by president Rodrigues Alves – patented the first wireless telephone and radio wave transmitter

by Ray Adkins, from American Heart, Brazilian Soul blog

Roberto Landell de Moura, a priest born in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, in 1861, is among the biggest inventors in the field of communications. He was a key inventor of radio, being the first to accomplish the transmission of the human voice by a wireless machine, that is, by irradiating an electromagnetic wave, modulated by an audio signal.

It was common for traditional Brazilian families at the time to have at least one son in the military and one in the priesthood. So, Landell, one of 14 children of a family with Scottish roots, made his early studies in Rio and São Paulo and was later sent to Rome to prepare to become a priest. There he studied Chemistry and Physics at the Colegio Pio Americano and at  Universidade Gregoriana. On his return to Rio de Janeiro, he met emperor D.Pedro II, a good friend of Alexander Graham Bell, whose work he helped finance.

Patent registered in 1901

Landell exchanged many ideas with the emperor, who was fascinated by communications. He was later transferred to Porto Alegre, then to the state of Sao Paulo, where he worked at several churches in the cities of Santos, Campinas and  São Paulo.

At the time, the only available means of communications were the telegraph invented by Samuel Morse (1837), the telephone by Graham Bell (1876). The next great challenge was to transmit an audio signal without the aid of wires. Several scientists were trying to accomplish this at that time, but Father Landell was the first one to succeed. He built his first wireless device and conducted a public experiment on 1894, witnessed by journalists and the General Consul of Great Britain, C.P. Lupton, in São Paulo. The points of transmission and reception were a hill in the northern suburb of Sao Paulo called Santana and Paulista avenue, close to downtown, 8 kilometres apart. Continue reading Padre Landell, Father of Radio

Maquiné, the cradle of Brazilian paleonthology

Paleontology was introduced in the country by Danish naturalist Peter Wilhelm Lund, that arrived in the country in the 1820s. In the following decades, he visited at least 200 caves in the region of Minas Gerais and described over a hundred species, most of them extinct, such as the saber tooth tiger. Two of his exploits were particularly important: he identified human vestiges of an individual that lived 12,000 years ago, later named Homem de Lagoa Santa, that obviously coexisted with extinct animals; and he described the beauties of one of the greatest caves in the country, Maquiné. But Lund also diligently sent all his finds to Copenhagen and published his works exclusively in Danish – it took almost one  century for them to be published in Portuguese.

Lund explored Maquiné cave in 1834, where he found human remnants and petrified animals. It is an amazing speleological complex in Cordisburgo, 120 kilometers from the capital of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte. It has seven huge rooms, connected by hallways – in total,  it has a depth of 18 meters depth and an extension of 650 meters. For millennia the water sculpted the calcium carbonate, producing formats that remind you of bats, bears, candelabra, a huge wedding cake and the atomic mushroom. You can also find a few 6,000 old wall paintings. It has nice pathways and good artificial lighting that allow very easy access. Continue reading Maquiné, the cradle of Brazilian paleonthology

The mythical Jaguar, biggest feline of Americas

Courtesy of the authors

Liana John*

It is easy to see a beast as a link between life and death, but the mythical jaguar goes far beyond and closes the circle by connecting death with life.

Talismans for the newborn

Among the Tupinambas of Brazil, when a male child was born, the father would cut the umbilical cord with his teeth and take the baby to the river for a bath. Then the father would flatten the baby’s nose with his thumb and place it in a small hammock, hung with jaguar claws, beside a small bow and some arrows, so that the child would be courageous and eager to fight. Continue reading The mythical Jaguar, biggest feline of Americas

Earthquakes in Brazil

Compared to some of his neighboring countries, Brazil is practically immune to natural disasters. All Brazilians volcanoes have been extinct for several million years (more about that here). As far as registers go, the country never witnessed a hurricane, although a first cyclone, dubbed Catarina, killed a few people and destroyed 1,500 houses in 2004. Floods are the only recurrent natural drama and produce several deaths every year, but they cannot be attributed to an unexpected amount of rain. Most of the losses are associated to the inadequate occupation of mountains and river banks, plus government neglect.

Even earthquakes are discreet if compared to those registered in another country of South America, Chile. The reason is simple. Earthquakes normally occur in the borders of the tectonic plates, the huge rocks that lay under the surface of the earth. Chile is more exposed because it is on the edge of the South American plate while Brazil is on the middle of the same plate, a much stabler place.

Check this image produced by the US Geological Survey and you will see that Brazil has only a few yellow circles – quakes with almost negligible impact. Continue reading Earthquakes in Brazil

Where to find Brazilian academic studies

A few Brazilian repositories of scientifical papers are among the most complete in the world. One – Scientific Electronic Library Online (Scielo) – even ranks on top of the list in a recent international evaluation elaborated by the Cybermetrics Lab, research group that belongs to the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, the largest public research body in Spain. In this ranking, Scielo is ahead of repositories organized by reputed organizations, such as the university of Berkeley or French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS).

Coordinated by Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo (Fapesp), Scielo offers contents in Portuguese, English and Spanish.

If you are interested in searching in other Brazilian academic data banks, try these other repositories highly ranked:

  • The Digital Library USP (Universidade de São Paulo)– beside the languages mentioned above, it has contents in French
  • BDJur (Biblioteca Digital Jurídica) – specialized in legal studies
  • IBICT (Instituto Brasileiro de Informação em Ciência e Teconologia)

Thanks for the tip, Luis Nassif.

UFOs over Brazil

Oscar Niemeyer's Contemporary Art Museum in Niterói. Photo by Rodrigo Soldon, Flickr

Brazil has its own Roswell – a widely documented episode in which hundreds of people declared they witnessed the presence of extraterrestrial aliens during a four-month period on the coast of the state of Pará, in the Amazon region. In 1977, several locals reported seeing very strong flashing lights. Many of them felt an extraordinary pain and lack of energy. The rumor was that these UFOs were extracting their blood for some sort of experiment. At least 400 people testified the phenomenon, that happened simultaneously in different villages, some of them 100 kilometers apart. The experience generated panic and  mysticism.

The Brazilian Air Force sent twenty officials to investigate these strange occurrences in a secret mission, named Operação Prato (Saucer Operation). Its leader, colonel Uyrangê Hollanda Lima, now deceased, took 20 years to reveal his conclusions (full report here, in Portuguese). He was fully convinced that some sort of alien civilization was actively investigating earthling activities.

Continue reading UFOs over Brazil

In the Amazon, one new species every three days

Billions of species were never described by Science – but most of them are microorganisms. Discovering a new mammal or bird is considered a rare event. Nevertheless, in the last 10 years, 39 mammals, 16 birds, 55 reptiles, 216 anphibeans, 257 fish and 637 plants were found and described in the Amazon, in one more blatant evidence of the almost infinite biodiversity of this region. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has just published a report of a decade of  Biological research in the basin, home to 10% of all the species of the planet.

A few discoveries were considered particularly relevant. The snake Eunectes beniensis, for instance,was the first new sucuri (a giant boa) identified since the thirties. A new pink porpoise, Inia boliviensis, was the first in its genus identified since 1830.  Check some of their pictures.

Brazil, 20 years from now

From the Chrystal Ball series:

The Brazilian Ministry of Science and Technology released today a study that outlines how the country and the planet will (probably) evolve in the next 20 years. Produced by the Centro de Gestão e Estudos Estratégicos, the document offers a time line based on several sources. It is meant to help government plan its future strategies.

Part of its content is easily predictable, considering recent tendencies. But there are some surprises.

Among its main forecasts:


  • In four years, Brazil will go back to its tradition of successive commercial balance deficits
  • Brazilian Gross Domestic Product will be 925 billion dollars in 2015 (which means, less than our present GDP, around 1.6 trillion dollars. It is not very clear how Goldman Sachs, the original source of this information, came up with this number)
  • Brazil, the brand, will increase its value. The demand for products associated to the country’s cultural diversity will grow

Keep reading