Serrapilheira renews support for researchers with R$12 million investment

Serrapilheira has announced the names of the first grantee researchers to receive renewed support of up to R$1 million each. Twelve scientists selected in the Institute’s First Public Call for Scientific Research (2017) will be awarded additional funding to invest in their projects over the next three years, and will be able to use those resources as they see fit. At this stage, in order to receive the full amount, the researchers will have to demonstrate efforts to promote diversity in science.

The projects supported by Serrapilheira seek to answer the major questions in their fields. The Institute supports bold proposals, even when they involve a degree of risk, and strives to provide the freedom that is essential for scientists to develop their projects over the long term.

“We want to invest in creative, productive minds because we are absolutely convinced that knowledge is a fundamental value,” says Serrapilheira’s Director President, Hugo Aguilaniu. The institute works by devoting significant resources to a few projects with high potential, Aguilaniu underscores, focusing on investigations that foster the development of internationally competitive science in Brazil.

This is Serrapilheira’s largest investment in researchers to date. During the first phase of Call 1, 65 scientists were selected from a pool of 1,955 submissions to receive up to R$100,000 each for a one-year period. The idea then was to map the research being conducted by young PhDs in Brazil and offer seed money to kick-start the development of their projects.

During the second phase, national and international evaluators, alongside Serrapilheira’s Scientific Advisory Board (AB), evaluated the group of researchers. “These twelve were chosen out of nearly 2,000 proposals, representing just 0.6% of all submissions,” says the chair of the board, Edgar Zanotto. “This was an extremely competitive process.”

Strengthening diversity in science

Of the R$1 million made available to the grantees, R$700,000 are provided unconditionally. The remaining R$300,000 will be conceded after project leaders incorporate researchers from underrepresented groups into their teams and train them. This step is voluntary: researchers may choose whether to accept these funds, which are earmarked for promoting diversity.

“We recognize that the problem of diversity and inclusion in science is a complex one, with a long history. With this small step, we’re looking to encourage grantees to engage with the issue and actively contribute to sowing more diversity in Brazilian science,” says Director of Scientific Research Cristina Caldas. “As new faces enter the field, people who might not have seen research as a viable career path will see that they, too, can become scientists.”

In 2019, Serrapilheira will consolidate its diversity policies, which are currently being developed by a dedicated committee. The institute has previously invested in specific initiatives: it provided an additional R$10,000 to women scientists who had children during the period of the grant, and the open calls extended the time window for the conclusion of one’s doctorate up to two years for female applicants with children. Serrapilheira has also supported events on the topic. “Diverse science,” Caldas says, “is better science.”

Meet the 12 researchers who will receive up to R$1 million from Serrapilheira:

Alexander Birbrair
Life Sciences
Institution: Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais – MG
Proposal: Regulating cancer through the peripheral nervous system
It is widely known that the peripheral nervous system is essential to the growth and maintenance of organs. However, less is known about the function of nerve projections and associated cells in speeding the progress of cancer through organs. The objective of the study is to investigate the peripheral nervous system in the tumor microenvironment, the components of which play a role in regulating the behavior of cancer cells.


Ayla Sant’Ana da Silva
Life Sciences
Institution: Instituto Nacional de Tecnologia – RJ
Proposal: Biotechnological paths to converting the seeds of the açaí palm (Euterpe oleracea) into energy and high value-added products
Every year, production of açaí purée in Brazil generates over 1 million tons of seeds, which account for 85-95% of the mass of the açaí berry. The seeds are rich in mannan, a carbohydrate with unique properties, as well as antioxidants, making them a valuable and overlooked resource. The aim is to evaluate the conversion of açaí seeds into energy and products that may be applied in the food, pet food and cosmetics industries.


Carlos Ganade
Institution: Companhia de Pesquisa de Recursos Minerais – RJ
Proposal: Orogenic superposition, shear zone nucleation and escape tectonics in the Brazilian Northeast
The geodynamic evolution of the Brazilian Northeast some 600 million years ago resulted in two continental collisions, the combined tension of which created a broad network of shear zones (zones of intense deformation), forcing a northeasterly extrusion of mass. The project seeks to develop models for this superposition of continental collisions and understand the role of shear zones in absorbing tension resulting from said collisions, thus understanding how continents deform at complex collision zones.


Daniela Barretto B. Trivella
Chemistry, Computational Science and Life Sciences
Institution: Centro Nacional de Pesquisa em Energia e Materiais/LNBIO – SP
Proposal: NP3: a computational platform for the iterative interpretation of experimental data, designed to rapidly identify new naturally occurring bioactive compounds
Natural compounds are the most valuable source of chemical skeletons for the development of pharmaceutical products. This study proposes to create a computational platform to accelerate the process of identifying new bioactive compounds and their binding sites on target proteins.


Daniel Youssef Bargieri
Life Sciences
Institution: Universidade de São Paulo – SP
Proposal: Identification of compounds with malaria transmission-blocking activity
The protozoan parasite Plasmodium, which causes malaria, is transmitted to human beings when they are bitten by infected mosquitoes. This project aims to identify new drugs to prevent the mosquitoes themselves from being infected, thus breaking the chain of transmission. We have created experimental models that can test over 5,000 drugs at the same time in order to find new compounds that can help eliminate the disease.


Guilherme Ortigara Longo
Life Sciences
Institution: Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte – RN
Proposal: Are Brazilian reefs ready for global changes?
This project seeks to analyze the impact of climate change on corals and reefs, including a historical study of the marine animals in said environments (fishes, corals, and algae); forecasts of these animals’ response to climate change through mathematical models and laboratory experiments; scientific monitoring of coral reefs through 3D models and molecular biology; and participatory monitoring through social media, where anyone can take part in the scientific process and help support the monitoring and protection of our reefs.


Guilherme Zepon
Institution: Universidade Federal de São Carlos – SP
Proposal: Design of high-entropy alloys for hydrogen storage applications
The search for mechanisms for storing hydrogen in a safe, efficient, cost-effective way is one of the greatest technological hurdles toward implementing an energy system based on renewable sources. The objective of the project is to project metallic alloys with an optimized capacity for hydrogen storage.


Karín Menéndez-Delmestre
Institution: Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro/ Observatório do Valongo – RJ
Proposal: A lighthouse in the darkness: using extragalactic observations to lift the veil on dark matter
The study turns to the shapes of galaxies to identify clues as to the distribution of dark matter – which, “invisible” as it is, we now know represents 85% of all matter in the universe. We also try to understand how distant galaxies united to form the largest structures in the universe: galaxy clusters.


Marco Antonio Zanata Alves
Computational Science
Institution: Universidade Federal do Paraná – PR
Proposal: Efficient smart memories for data-intensive computing
The objective of this investigation is to unite the capacities of processors, which are able to carry out a variety of logical and arithmetic operations, with those of memories, which store large volumes of data. We are attempting to create smart memories that can enact both functions, so as to improve computing performance and reduce energy consumption.


Narcizo M. Souza Neto
Institution: Centro Nacional de Pesquisa em Energia e Materiais/ LNLS – SP
Proposal: An X-ray look at superconductivity
The study seeks to understand and discover superconducting materials, especially those that work close to room temperature. A superconductor functioning at room temperature would make for extremely low-cost energy applications, in the absence of losses due to the material’s zero electrical resistance.


Tiago Pereira da Silva
Institution: Universidade de São Paulo/ICMC – SP
Proposal: Reconstructing complex networks: prediction of critical transitions
The goal is to develop a mathematical theory to describe emerging behaviors in complex networks of non-dynamic systems, such as the brain, social media, and sensors in smart cities, which cannot be grasped by the ordinary range of tools. In short, this is about understanding “how nature brings order to things.”


Vinicius Ramos
Institution: Instituto de Matemática Pura e Aplicada – RJ
Proposal: Symplectic geometry, contact dynamics and billiards
Symplectic geometry is the natural geometry used to study classical mechanics in any space. The project investigates the interactions of this geometry with the theory of billiards by way of Hamiltonian dynamics, also known in certain contexts as “contact dynamics.” The goal is to understand how what is known about billiard balls’ trajectories on different tables can be brought to bear on the type of symplectic geometry and hence the Hamiltonian dynamics of an associated space, as well as to determine whether symplectic geometry can help clarify open questions as to the existence of billiard paths on complicated tables.