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Activities of the first edition of the IEA Sabbatical Year Program get started

by Richard Meckien - published Jan 15, 2016 03:40 PM - - last modified Apr 24, 2017 04:44 PM
Rights: Original version in Portuguese by Sylvia Miguel.

To make a philosophical reflection on the history of algebraic thinking, showing its relationship to the social and scientific development, is a starting point for a long-breath research. It takes time and commitment to its realization. That is why this and the research projects of five other professors of USP will be developed during 12 months, requiring full dedication at the first edition of the IEA Sabbatical Year Program.

Recepção aos participantes do Ano Sabático 2016 - 2

Directors of the IEA and board members host the professors on sabbatical

At the first meeting of researchers on sabbatical, held on January 7, the professors presented a brief summary of their projects and talked about their expectations for the program.

Mathematics, music, art history, archeology, sociology, oceanography and the interfaces of these with many other disciplines are some of the research areas of the sabbatical period in 2016. The studies will result in the publication of works such as books, public policy proposals or artistic works.

The initiative is unprecedented at USP and the Brazilian academic environment. By having the institutional and financial support of the University's Dean of Research, which will allocate a specific amount of aid for each selected proposal, the program will allow the selected professors to leave their original educational units in order to develop their individual projects.

In addition to the researchers, the meeting has been attended by the director and deputy director of the IEA, professors Martin Grossmann and Paulo Saldiva; USP's provost for research, Professor José Eduardo Krieger; journalist Eugenio Bucci, member of the Institute's board and a professor of USP's School of Communications and Arts (ECA); and Hamilton Brandão Varela de Albuquerque, vice-coordinator of IEA's hub in São Carlos, technical adviser to the office of USP's Dean of Research and a professor at the Institute of Chemistry in São Carlos.

Recepção aos participantes do Ano Sabático 2016 - 3

On their first meeting, the researchers talked about their projects and expectations for the sabbatical year

The researchers and their projects

Professor Flávio Ulhoa Coelho, from USP's Institute of Mathematics and Statistics, was the first to present his topic of study: "History of Algebraic Thinking and its Didactic Splits." "There is a moment of rupture between the concrete and the abstract in the history of algebraic thinking, with philosophical developments that impact our societies. Until today, this has not been very well studied and with this program it will be possible to deepen this subject," he said.

Dária Gorete Jaremtchuk, a professor at the School of Arts, Sciences and Humanities (EACH-USP), spoke about her work "Artistic Exile: Movement of Brazilian Artists to New York during the 1960s and 1970s" via videoconference. "I started wanting to understand that movement of our artists to the United States and I was led by the findings. The work has grown to unexpected directions. I needed to study the Cold War, cultural diplomacy, diplomatic relations and other subjects. This sabbatical will be a good opportunity to consolidate these studies," Jaremtchuk said.

Lúcia Maciel Barbosa de Oliveira, a professor at USP's School of Communications and Arts (ECA), believes that there is a mismatch between academy theories about the current artistic scene and the dynamics of cultural movements involving especially youngsters and new technologies. To understand the subject, she proposes to study the "Contemporary Cultural Dynamics: Overlapping of Singularities, Collectives, Technologies and Cultural Institutions in the Common Perspective". "The time for research demands a dreamy thought, which then shapes into something more concrete. But this is a little bit on the side of everyday life and I believe that it will be possible to exercise this dream during this sabbatical period. Interaction with people from different areas will be very important and I believe the program consolidates the IEA as an interdisciplinary interaction platform," she says.

To consolidate data from several surveys conducted throughout the career is also the goal of Maria de los Angeles Gasalla, from USP's Institute of Oceanography (IO), during her sabbatical leave. She will develop the study "The Future of marine-dependent societies: climate change, innequalities and cooperation in complex socio-ecological systems". According to Gasalla, there are many data generated from previous studies; diverse issues between natural, social and physical sciences; models for natural populations and the researcher's own experience with people who depend on the sea for their livelihoods. "I have drawn incredible knowledge of the fishermen's experience of the sea and learned a great deal about the social and cultural aspects of these communities. I will be able to develop a deeper reflection on the future of ocean-dependent societies in view of the scenarios of climate change impacts," she said. For the professor, it is feasible to establish relations on the context of inequalities in Latin America and the cooperation that emerges as social technology for the benefit of the planet. "The goals of the research are ambitious, but I believe that it will be possible to achieve them due to the time this program gives us."

A former professor of the School of Arts, Sciences and Humanities (EACH-USP), and current professor of the Museum of Archeology and Ethnology (MAE), Astolfo Gomes de Mello Araújo proposes archeology as a case study to understand interdisciplinarity. "We see that interdisciplinarity in the University does not really exist. I saw it happen at EACH, but overall it is still very much shallow. Archeology is the most interdisciplinary field I know and my idea is to scrutinize the process vision and how this discipline operates in time and space," said Araújo. "Ontology and epistemology of an (inter)discipline: Archaeology as a Paradigm of Interdisciplinarity and its Theoretical and Practical Implications" is the title of Araújo's work, who sees in the experience of the sabbatical year program the opportunity "to think new things." For him, acting in an interdisciplinary way "is the possibility of returning to a context similar to what I had at EACH," he said.

Professor Rodolfo Nogueira Coelho de Souza, a civil engineer from USP's Polytechnic School (POLI), ended up directing his career to music. He is a professor at the Music Department of the Faculty of Philosophy of Literature at the USP campus in Ribeirão Preto. He will develop the project "Invention of an Opera: Pascal's machine in Pernaguá". Coelho de Souza says that his invention is still a work of research. He will work on set theory looking for an algorithmic composition that is not motivated by human desire. However, human desire is projected into music through something abstract, which is the algorithm. The way to do this is to operate in the cinematographic dimension, making sound clippings, he said. "Few operas have been composed in a year and I know the project is ambitious. But it is the chance to develop more creative and technological, and essentially interdisciplinary work. It is like a dream to have a place where interdisciplinarity is well seen, unlike what happens in our departments," he said.

“Out of the box”

For IEA's director Martin Grossmann, the experience of the sabbatical program represents the discovery of a "missing link with the Dean of Research". The institutional relationship of these units comes to exist concretely with the support given by the provost to the program. In addition, the presence of Professor Hamilton Varela, who is an adviser to the Dean of Research and chair of IEA's Research Committee, is helping to structure that relationship, he said.

Recepção aos participantes do Ano Sabático 2016 - 1

José Eduardo Krieger, Paulo Saldiva and Hamilton Varela

The provost for research, José Eduardo Krieger, recalled the importance of "inductive mechanisms to make think outside the box, or outside the comfort environment." Providing support and contributing with resources even in times of crisis is something managers need to see to enable even more important advancements than routine allows, Krieger said.

The institutes of advanced studies founded in various universities around the world in recent years represent an experimental tip; a transdisciplinary attempt and an outpost by definition, which runs "very interesting risks" precisely because of their methods and approaches, said journalist Eugênio Bucci, who is a member of the IEA's Board and responsible for the Superintendence of Social Communication (SCS) of USP.

"The necessary innovation and experimentation need to be considered at a time when the university in Brazil and in the world rethinks its role. We have to think about the next decades, what relationship the university will have with society and in what perspectives it will contribute to the future. The IEA is a fringe of contact with the future. You need to get out of disciplinary rigor and try different paths," said Bucci.

IEA's deputy director recalled the variety of topics covered at the IEA. "Particle physics, water, philosophy, urbanity, the Amazon, well, everything happens here. I come from a very dense, relatively monothematic area. In contrast, the IEA is very free and independent. And freedom is fascinating, but it is frightening. You who now start the sabbatical year will have the chance to give the program a keynote. Complex systems are now dominating the real world. Maybe the IEA could become a point where a real-world exercise is possible," said Saldiva.

Regina Pekelmann Markus, a member of the Institute's Board and of the Scientific Committee which has coordinated the work of the Intercontinental Academia, said the sabbatical "rest" is "loaded of clouds; a way to carry dreams forward." For the scientist, "it is good to have a provost who believes we have to work outside the box."

Faced with the difficulties of instrumentalizing and practicing transdisciplinarity, perhaps the IEA can be a platform capable of adapting to this approach, because it is an "institute of free thinking, without frontiers or departments," said Varela.

Photos: Mauro Bellesa/IEA