Career Scientist


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On 27 November 2005, the Público newspaper presented as part of its main Sunday edition, the booklet "Career: scientist. Portraits of a generation on the move" .The work carried out by the Viver a Ciência team highlighted 14 young Portuguese scientists at the beginning of their career (up to 40 years old) and was distributed free of charge by the paper, to a circulation of 80,000.

The preface, written by Carlos Fiolhais, powerfully explains the concept of the book « in science, young people are an inexhaustable source of creativity». The introductory note, written by the VaC scientists responsible for the project, highlights the fact that the booklet features work of exceptional quality but that is little known by the public in general, work which impacts on our day to day lives and work that shows great promise, that generates great expectations for the future.

They are all presented, in this publication, in a language and a style that makes them accessible to the general public. As for the scientific areas involved, diversity and multidisciplinary approaches are key. We decided to show a range of scientific discoveries that stand out for being recent and made by Portuguese scientists, emcompassing areas such as Life Sciences, Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics.

From "remote control" flies to the use of mathematics to help in the fight against infectious diseases, via an explanation of why Venus turns the "wrong" way, they are stories of discovery that distinguish science. Made in Paris, Washington, Aveiro, Braga or Boston. The themes range from the conservation of nature to the evolution of the universe and mechanisms of memory. The applications of the research of these 14 scientists allow, for example, the prevention of blockages in petrol pipelines in the sea bed or the explanation of why certain medication is effective against AIDS. The ‘worlds' that are unveiled range from the most elementary particles ‘surfing' plasma to chick embryos that tell us about their own development, via the secrets of cell division and the ocult genetic evolution in the patterns on butterfly wings.

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Career Scientist

  1. 1. CAREE R : Portraits OF A GENERATION ON THE MOVE Sponsors
  2. 2. 01 Editor: Joana Barros Team coordinator: Margarida Trindade Editorial assistant: Rita Caré Project design: António Jacinto, Sheila Vidal, Julie Contreras and Ana Paula Coutinho Liaison with European Commission: Sheila Vidal Text and interviews: Joana Barros, Margarida Trindade, Rita Caré and Vítor Faustino Photography and illustrations: See individual captions Proofreaders: Ana Coutinho, Leonor Saúde, Paula Macedo and Sheila Vidal Scientific proofreaders: Researchers responsible for featured work Design and creative production: Atelier Formas do Possível ( Illustrations of scientists: Rodrigo Prazeres Saias Printing and production: M2, graphic arts The contents of this publication are the exclusive responsibility of Associação Viver a Ciência and do not in any way represent the official position of the European Commission, who is not responsible for any subsequent use of this information. All rights are reserved according to the law. An Associação Viver a Ciência publication Edifício Egas Moniz, Sala B-P3-40 - Av. Prof. Egas Moniz -1649-028 Lisboa Tel. +351 217 999 513 Mob. +351 965 847 410 E-mail: Website: Distribution: 80,000 copies November 2005 Free distribution with the Público newspaper and electronic version available at English translation available at English translation: Julie Contreras
  3. 3. 02 index 02 Preface 03 Introduction 04 Scientists Ana Rodrigues 05 Alexandre Correia 06 Gabriela Gomes 07 João Coutinho 08 Isabel Palmeirim 09 Luís Oliveira 10 Helder Maiato 11 Miguel Sousa Costa 12 Rui Loja Fernandes 13 Patrícia Beldade 14 Susana Lima 15 Ana Cannas da Silva 16 Miguel Remondes 17 Miguel Castanho 18 Acknowledgements 19
  4. 4. 03 Pr ef ace Great scientific advances are, as a rule, made by young people. In 1905, 100 years ago, the young Einstein – who was just 26 – changed our ideas about the nature of light, what makes up the world, about the properties of space and time and even about the nature of material and energy. This flurry of revolutionary ideas was proved to be true. However, having been the father of quantum theory in his youth, Einstein then distanced himself from it. He was overtaken by new young blood: in 1925, a small group where Heisenberg, 24, and Schroedinger, 28, were studying, established the quantum physics that has come to accurately describe the atomic world which led us to the computer and the Internet, among other things. They did it by “standing on the shoulders of” Bohr, who was 40 at the time but had proposed his model of the atom when he was just 28. Bohr suggested to some of his students that they try to understand what life was. This was the beginning of Molecular Biology, which immediately turned out to be a new frontier of science and came to change our lives. Crick was 37 in 1953 when he identified the molecular structure of DNA together with his friend Watson, who was then 25. It is not just in Physics, Chemistry and Biology that youth has triumphed: it is also true in Mathematics. In 1993, Wiles, who was then 40, announced that he had demonstrated the famous “Fermat’s last theorem”, narrowly missing out on winning the Fields Medal, the highest distinction in Mathematics which is only given to mathematicians under the age of 40... Young people in science are an inexhaustible source of creativity. It is they who come up with new ideas and carry out new work, continually building the future. All over the world as well as, it goes without saying, here in our midst. The young organisation “Associação Viver a Ciência” (barely a year old but we hope with a long and brilliant future) has therefore acted wisely in choosing fourteen young Portuguese scientists to represent what is best, most creative and most innovative in Portuguese science. They are merely given as examples, and several others, in either the chosen disciplines or others, could have been highlighted. The main resource of a country that wants to develop is its grey matter. Luckily, as this booklet shows, this is not something that we lack. What is lacking is a greater care of them. We must give them and other young people the opportunities and the means that they clearly deserve. In an age where wealth comes before knowledge, encouraging and supporting careers in science is a national obligation. Science may be costly but the lack of it would be much more so. Delaying or interrupting the path that these young people are following would mean delaying or interrupting the future. They are on the move – and we with them- towards the future. Carlos Fiolhais
  5. 5. 04 Intr oduction This booklet has come about because of the desire of a group of scientists to communicate what they do, by going beyond their own laboratories and institutions. Here we reveal works of incredible ingenuity but little known by the public in general. Work with a direct impact on our day-to-day lives and work that is very promising and is generating great expectations for the future. For all these reasons and others, they are putting Portugal on the map of competitive and quality science that is, and cannot afford to stop being, increasingly international. These scientists – the men and women of this generation who are, by their nature, constantly on the move – are here and there, jumping between laboratories, projects, topics and fellowships. They are everyday, curious, interesting and interested, well-travelled, persistent and hard-working people who believe in what they are doing. It will be worth getting to know them (and us)! When Associação Viver a Ciência – a non-profit organisation formed by scientists in 2004 - accepted the challenge of taking on this project, we came across numerous difficulties. How to choose? Who to choose? Which subjects to choose? So we had to establish criteria and make decisions. We decided to include a range of recent scientific discoveries, made by Portuguese scientists, from the areas of Life Sciences, Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics. We were faced with cases that were difficult to categorise because modern science is increasingly multidisciplinary and often the scientist’s skill lies in being able to link two previously distinct branches of knowledge which have until then remained separate. We wanted to select scientists at the beginning of their career – up to 40 years old – and a range of profiles, alternating between young promising scientists and group leaders recently initiated in the adventure of heading their own research groups. We looked for cases of scientists who had decided to return to Portugal, after long periods abroad. We also looked for stories of scientists who had never felt the need to leave but who nonetheless had remained in close contact with the best research being carried out in their areas in other countries. And cases of scientists who will never come back. For these are the dilemmas that all those who, motivated by the desire to do good science, end up facing. We consulted members of the scientific community itself so that they could nominate, from their own respective areas, work that stood out as excellent. We consulted science journalists. We searched on the Internet and tirelessly used programs that identify publications most cited by peers, papers most recommended, scientists most highly awarded... in short, the things that matter in the world of science today. We were helped by a group of personalities from the world of science, who guaranteed scientific excellence and impact on an international scale for all the work presented here. Many other stories have, for the meantime, been left out. Which can only mean that we will have material for a “Career: scientist” I, II, III... The conception, research and elaboration of this booklet was a pleasure for all those involved. We wanted to share with you all our enthusiasm for science and, in particular, for science that is ‘made in Portugal’. This is the result. It is yours to enjoy. Margarida Trindade and Joana Barros Associação Viver a CiêncA
  6. 6. 05 Career path: path 1996 - Degree in Biology at the Faculty of Science, Universidade de Lisboa 1999 - Masters in Mathematics Applied to Biological Sciences at the Instituto Superior de Agronomia, Universidade Técnica de Lisboa 2002 - PhD in Conservation Biology at the University of Sheffield, UK 2002-2005 - Researcher with the non-governmental organisation Conservation mmkInternational in Washington DC, USA Present - Travel in Brazil and Thailand. In January she will begin a post-doctorate at the mUniversity of Cambridge, UK Free time: “Spending time with friends anywhere green” time Find out more… IUCN red list - AN A RODR I GUES Biodiversity Hotspots - Global Amphibian Assessment - Age: 32 BirdLife International - Ana Rodrigues wanted to be a paramedic. However, she has spent the last few years studying birds, amphibians, mammals, reptiles...and how they depend on each other and on us to ensure the sustainability of ONE PLANET FOR ALL the Earth. Since completing a placement during her degree at the Faculty of Sciences in Lisbon, Ana has focussed on developing methods to select priority areas for conservation. While working as a researcher in the non- governmental organisation Conservation International, based in the USA, she lead a project to evaluate on a global scale the representation of land vertebrate species in protected areas all over the world. In collaboration with 21 other scientists from 15 organisations across 8 different countries, she helped to identify the regions where expanding conservation areas is a priority. This incredibly wide-ranging study is based on data collected by thousands of researchers all over the world. More than 11,000 species of birds, amphibians, mammals and reptiles were analysed from more than 100,000 protected areas. The study, published in 2004 in the prestigious journals Nature and BioScience, coincided with the international announcement that more than 10% of the earth’s surface is protected. There was a feeling in the air that the mission had been accomplished – we did not need any more protected areas. In the meantime, Ana Rodrigues proved the opposite. Not only do we need more protected areas, we need them to be strategically placed – quality rather than quantity. These new data were used to put pressure on the approval of the Programme of Work for Protected Areas, by the signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity. In this programme, nearly all the countries of the world have committed to evaluating the gaps in their networks of protected areas (by 2006 for protected areas on land or 2008 for marine protected areas) and expanding them strategically (by 2010 for protected areas on land or 2012 for marine protected areas). This kind of political commitment to create protected areas is without precedent, and vital for the planet. The variety and quantity of living beings inhabiting our planet is dramatically reducing. Nobody knows for certain the rate of extinction but we know that 12% of bird species, 20% of mammals and 31% of reptiles are currently under threat of extinction forever. Historically, direct capture (for example for food) and the introduction of exotic species (such as predators) were among the main causes for the extinction of various species. Today, however, the reason for the unprecedented disappearance of biodiversity is the loss of habitats – or rather the locations and specific conditions that each species need to survive. More than a third of the surface of the planet is occupied by urban or agricultural areas and this area is rapidly growing. The loss of habitats reduces and fragments populations, leaving them particularly vulnerable to other threats – climate change, human exploitation, natural disasters and diseases – which can be the final cause of their extinction. Instead of becoming a paramedic, Ana Rodrigues has ended up giving us another great contribution. Her work allows her to contribute towards the preservation of something that is incredibly valuable for us all - biodiversity. In her own words “in the end we all want to try to change the world for the better...”.
  7. 7. 06 Career path 1997 – Degree in Physics at the Universidade de Lisboa 2001 – PhD at the Institut de Mécanique Celeste, Paris VI University 2002 – Post-doctorate at the Institut de Mécanique Celeste, Paris VI University 2002 2002 – Researcher at the Centro de Astronomia e Astrofísica do Observatório Astronómico mmmmde Lisboa 2003 – Researcher at the Observatoire de Genève, Switzerlan Present: Invited Lecturer and Researcher at the Department of Physics of the Universidade mmmmmde Aveiro Free time Swimming, reading and travelling. If he had all the time in the world, he would devote it to another scientific discipline such as the evolution of the species or history Find out more… ALEXANDRE CORREIA Portal do Astrónomo - Institut de Mécanique Céléste – Age: 30 Astronomy Picture of the Day - He was about six when he saw “Cosmos” on the television. “I was practically hypnotized, I wanted to know more and more”. When he was ten, he asked for a telescope. His parents asked him if he was prepared to ON TH E BEACH IN VENUS sacrifice other presents in order to have it, Alexandre Correia didn’t hesitate, his fascination for the heavens was too strong. Now, with a PhD from the Institut de Mécanique Celeste, Paris VII University, he reveals the secrets of the dynamics of the solar system without gazing at the heavenly vault. Hunched over his computer, Alexandre reconstructs the orbits of Venus, Mercury, Mars and the Earth. Contrary to what common sense has told us since the time of Galileo, the elliptical orbits of the planets around the sun are not fixed. Gravitational games, of attraction and repulsion, between celestial bodies, disturb their orbits around the sun (translation) influencing their rotation and consequently, their climate. “The system is chaotic, we can only manage to anticipate scenarios or reconstruct positionings within a margin of 20 million years”, the astrophysicist explains. Nevertheless, this “only” on a cosmic scale, allows astronomers to help their geologist colleagues calibrate measurements when studying climatic alterations in the Earth’s past. When dealing with periods of time over 20 million years ago, it is the geologists who, in turn, supply data to the astronomers. By studying sediments, geologists are able to say when changes in climate occurred on a large scale; astronomers in turn are able to deduce the exact inclination of the axis of rotation of the Earth at that time. This is why, explains Alexandre Correia, it is a stimulating challenge to study the rotation of Mars and from that draw conclusions about the history of its climate. The axis of rotation of the red planet presents a variation of 60 degrees (the axis of the earth only varies by two degrees, between 22o and 24o, enough to cause ice-ages), which is more than enough to cause ice to migrate over time from the poles to the equator. But perhaps the major challenge that Alexandre has been faced with and solved is the mystery of the rotation of Venus, which had intrigued scientists for centuries. Why is it that Venus rotates on itself in the opposite direction to all the other planets? When, in the “disk” which forms the solar system, the future planets all spin in the same direction around the sun as if in a tropical storm. The answer lies in the result of a combination of different factors. Firstly, the tidal effect caused by the gravitational pull of the sun on the permanently cloudy Venus, as happens with the Earth-Moon system. Secondly, another tidal effect caused by the differential heating of the atmosphere of Venus by the Sun (the parts of the atmosphere facing the Sun become hotter) which causes a redistribution of air mass, from hotter to colder parts, causing friction on the surface. This effect also happens on Earth, but with the atmosphere of Venus being 90 times denser than our’s (equivalent to having 1 km of ocean on top of our heads) this effect is much, much less on Earth. A third factor, friction between layers of the planet (nucleus and mantle), causes heating, releases energy and also contributes to modifying the rotation of the planet, which was previously much quicker and is nowadays at 243 days. And lastly, the effect of disturbances from other planets, which had not until them been considered. It was also when Alexandre and his colleagues from the Observatory of Paris introduced the variable of disturbances from other planets on the orbit of Mercury, that we understood why it is that this planet turns three times on its own axis for every two orbits of the Sun, instead of one rotation each time as would be expected. Now, Alexandre is exploring a new area: extra solar planets. The first was discovered about ten years ago. Since then nearly 150 new planets have been found, in stellar systems with dynamics very different to our own. All are very different to the Earth – big, gaseous, situated very close to their star. “ In a few years, we will probably discover planets the size of the Earth”, predicts Alexandre Correia, bearing in mind the rate that detection equipment is developing. The young astrophysicist is awaiting the first data to create models that explain the waves on a beach, somewhere millions of light-years away.
  8. 8. 07 Career path 1987 – Degree in Applied Mathematics at the Universidade do Porto 1990 – Masters in Mathematics at the University of Warwick, UK 1993 – PhD. in Mathematics at the University of Warwick, UK 1997 – Post-doctorate at the University of Warwick, UK 1998 – Invited researcher at the University of Minnesota, USA 1999 – Post-doctorate at the Universidade do Porto 2000 – Postgraduate diploma in Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Public Health at the mmmmLondon School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK 2002 – Researcher at the University of Warwick, UK Present - Principal Investigator at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, in Oeiras Free time Her last holiday was spent on a windsurfing course with her three daughters and her husband, in Scotland. Find out more… GA BR IEL A GOM ES Personal website – Age: 40 GripePT – the journeys of a virus – For Gabriela Gomes, researcher at the Gulbenkian Institute of Science in Oeiras, Mathematics began as a way of compensating for her “bad” memory. It was comforting to feel that she could work out, in the middle of an exam, formulas that were possibly forgotten. Today, she uses Mathematics as an epidemiological weapon in the fight against diseases such as tuberculosis, which is responsible for the death of two million people MATHEM ATIC S IN THE FIGHT AGAINS T IN FECTI ON every year. In Africa, the rate of tuberculosis is growing daily at an alarming rate, being associated with infections linked to the AIDS virus that weaken the body’s defences enormously. In Portugal the rate is one of the highest in Europe. Scientific research is becoming increasingly multidisciplinary, with knowledge from very different areas meeting to produce extraordinary results. The study of infectious diseases is one such area, in which Mathematics perfectly complements Biology, Chemistry, Sociology and Medicine, in order to build a more accurate picture of the causes and effects of the spread of these diseases. Gabriela uses mathematical models as tools to help devise and test strategies to control diseases, giving public health services crucial information in the fight against disease. A good vaccine or programme of control must take into account numerous specific characteristics of the target group, as what may be effective in one given situation may be completely ineffective in others. For this reason, they resort to mathematical models that take into account a large number of possible factors. In the models developed by Gabriela, groups of individuals that are infected, recovering and vulnerable to becoming infected are represented by compartments that fill and empty according to parameters associated with biological or socio-economic factors of the disease which affect the way it spreads in a given population. We are right in the midst of the mathematics of dynamic systems and differential equations, an area of mathematics that Gabriela fully explored during her PhD. at the University of Warwick, in England. In 2004, she coordinated a study on the variability of the effectiveness of the vaccine against tuberculosis in different areas of the world – in the UK it was 77% effective, while in India the same vaccine is practically useless. Gabriela and her team identified for the first time the threshold for re-infection, above which the potential for the spread of the disease is so high that it overwhelms the body’s defences (the immune system is not efficient in fighting infection) making re-infection a certainty. Above this threshold, a vaccine would only be effective if extra immunity was given, on top of the natural immunity of the individual, which is not normally the case. In such cases, it is not worth vaccinating. Diseases with recurrent infections such as whooping cough, flu or malaria are also being analysed using this model. Thanks to this discovery, Gabriela was last year awarded 1.9 million euros in European funding – a Marie Curie Excellence Team – in order to set up her own laboratory to work on Theoretical Epidemiology for four years. This highly prestigious prize was given to only 19 other scientists in the whole of Europe, none of whom gained as high a mark as Gabriela. This prize came as a result of the quality of her work but also through her arduous efforts to obtain funding in order to attract good scientists from other countries and by doing so, overcoming the scientific isolation she feared on returning to Portugal. The fruits of her work and dedication are obvious: massive international financing, and one Dutch, two German, one Brazilian, one Mexican and two French scientists on the way. With them will also come new ideas, one of which Gabriela has already seized on. A project which brings together science communication and an epidemiological study of the flu in Portugal.
  9. 9. 08 Career path: path 1992 – Degree from the Faculty of Engineering at the Universidade do Porto 1995 – Doctorate at the Technical University of Denmark 1996 – Researcher at the Institut Français du Petrole 1997 – Post-Doctorate at the Faculty of Sciences, Universidade do Porto Present - Senior Lecturer and Researcher at the Department of Chemistry, Universidade de Aveiro Free time: time “I have various passions: photography, architecture, archaeology, jazz, cartoons… but my vice is reading“ Find out more… WAXtracker – Adventures in Energy – IFP waxtrack – JO ÃO COUTIN HO Innovative Pigging Solutions For Pipelines – Age: 36 Thermodynamics was for Einstein the only theory that he did not believe would ever change. This theory, which originated in the study of steam engines is, at heart, a transversal and very basic science that can be applied to any branch of knowledge — from biological processes to the formation of the universe, or even to FR OM THE BOTTOM OF TH E SEA social organisation. It was exactly this last application that awakened João Coutinho’s passion for thermodynamics. Nowadays it is used to explain “if molecules like or hate each other, how much they like or hate each other and how this affects the way they are distributed between different states (solid, liquid and gas) or in different divisions of an ecosystem (air, sediments, water, biomass etc.)”. His main area of study is petroleum, a mixture that originates from biological molecules of micro organisms and plants that existed a long time ago that, by a strike of destiny, happened to decompose in the right place at the right time. The result is a compound that is very rich in hydrocarbons, which are able to release large quantities of energy when they combust. The way an engine works is basically not that different from the way our bodies work, our bodies also obtain energy by burning molecules. Engines use hydrocarbons, we use carbohydrates. “They are similar molecules”, explains João. However, petroleum’s potential goes beyond this. It can easily be broken down and transformed into many everyday products and objects, from plastics to textiles, fertilizers and detergents. Among the different components that can be obtained, “waxes” (long-chain molecules) can be used to produce food additives, lubricants and even medication – because of this they represent a highly lucrative business for petroleum companies. On the flipside of the coin, these “waxes” could well be the source of many headaches and some billions of dollars of damage. The main problems can occur during transport of petroleum via pipelines from the sea platforms to land. Low temperatures at the bottom of the sea and differences in pressure mean that the wax component of petroleum loses solubility and ends up crystallising. In the same way as cholesterol gets deposited in our arteries, wax crystals get deposited on the walls of pipelines and end up blocking them if precautions are not taken. As the vast majority of deep sea petroleum is very heavy, this problem affects a large number of refineries. Blocked pipes hundreds of meters deep in the sea are not easy to access for repairs. The best option is definitely prevention. At the Universidade de Aveiro, João Coutinho has been developing methods based on thermodynamic models that allow us to predict the formation of these “waxes” in a particular type of petroleum and the conditions in which deposits build up. This valuable information thus allows petroleum companies to plan pipelines in a more appropriate way as well to take steps to take adequate measures to maintain pipelines. His work resulted in the development of software that has already been adopted by one of the biggest simulators in the petroleum industry, Multiflash from the British company Infochem, and is used by companies such as Total, Repsol, Petrobras, Schlumberger, and Esso among others, with whom this researcher collaborates closely. João is also studying the dispersal of hydrocarbons in marine environments, in order to understand the dynamics of oil spills, that can cause so much devastation and to find solutions to remedy them. João Coutinho loves studying petroleum but did not originally think about becoming a researcher. He considered working for an oil company and, with this in mind, went to the Institut Français du Petrole (IFP). It was there that he understood that “I valued my freedom too highly to allow myself to be subject to the rules of a company”, he says. So he decided he wanted to be a researcher. “What I really enjoy is coming here everyday and deciding what to do. We have to create our own path”. The Thermodynamics group at the Universidade de Aveiro, which was founded in 1998 in conjunction with Isabel Marrucho, is very active with various collaborations with foreign companies and universities. Apart form studying petroleum, this group is involved in other adventures such as developing artificial blood from perfluorocarbons (compounds capable of dissolving large quantities of oxygen), and discovering environmentally friendly insulating materials that can be used in fridges.
  10. 10. 09 Career path: path 1988 – Degree in Medicine at the Faculty of Medicine, Universidade de Lisboa 1989 – General internship at the Hospital São Francisco Xavier, Lisbon 1993 – Placement at the Paediatric unit, Hospital de São Marcos, Braga 1994 – Academic year of the Gulbenkian Biology and Medicine PhD. Programme 1998 – PhD. at the Institut d’Embryologie Cellulaire et Moléculaire, Paris, France 1999 – Researcher at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência Present - Lecturer and Researcher at the Escola de Ciências da Saúde, Universidade do Minho Free time: time Devoted to her family (husband and two children), reads and travels (when she can!). Loves dancing Find out more… Nature Milestones Development – Embryo Images Normal and Abnormal Mammalian Development – ISA BEL PAL M EIR I M The Cloning of Dolly – Age: 39 The visible Embryo – Isabel Palmeirim studied Medicine, but always with a view to being a scientist. Little did she know that she THE CLOC K would spend hours on end looking at chick eggs. It was worth it: her discovery is one of the great milestones in developmental biology in the last 100 years. Developmental biology is the study of how we are made – how we become the complex human beings that we are, with a head, torso and limbs. If we think about how it all begins, we have to realise that our existence has a very humble beginning. Just one cell is enough to set in motion a series of events, that results in us! A remarkable fact and as you would imagine, extremely complex. With the objective of learning more about our own development, scientists concentrate on the study of other animals, who share similar processes in the embryo with human beings. Contrary to what you might think, there are many to choose from. We can count on chicks, mice, flies, frogs and even zebra fish whose development, incredible as it may seem, begins in a way that is very similar to our own. Isabel’s lot was to spend hours peering down the microscope observing the development of chick embryos, analysing in particular the role of c-hairy1 gene – initially isolated by another Portuguese researcher – in a crucial phase of the development of an embryo, the formation of somites. After fertilisation, the egg enters a frenetic process of cell division and within the space of a few days gives rise to millions of small cells that, after migrating and reorganising themselves, begin to form the future chick. At a certain point somites appear all along the future backbone of the chick – these are extremely important collections of cells that go on to form muscles, vertebrae and ribs. The intervals when somites are formed is a process that is strictly regulated and on which depends the success of subsequent stages of development. However, until Isabel’s study, there were no experimental data on the possible mechanisms involved in the regulation of these intervals. During her PhD. in France, Isabel demonstrated that each cell involved in making somites is instructed from early on when the right time to do it is. The number of times that a cell begins and ends reading the c-hairy1 gene (1 cycle), helps it to determine how old it is and thus, when to begin forming a somite. This process works like an internal clock, with the programmed cell passing through a number of determined cycles, before becoming ready to form a somite. Each cell goes through these cycles in way that is coordinated with all of the remaining cells involved in the formation of somites. What is surprising is that each one of them does it completely independently. It would be like being able to do a giant Mexican wave in a football stadium while blindfolded, each person holding a clock telling them the exact moment to stand up and sit down. This pioneering study revealed a new regulatory mechanism and, as usually happens in science when answers are found, gave rise to new questions. Now Isabel is interested in understanding the specific role of this gene in the clock. What signal triggers cyclical behaviour? What effect does it have in chemical terms? Dividing her time between teaching and research at the Universidade do Minho, Isabel is getting closer to these answers every day. Understanding the mysteries of embryonic development could also help us to understand the origin of embryonic malformations and from that, how to correct them.
  11. 11. 10 Career path: path 1992 – Degree in Physics Engineering at the Instituto Superior Técnico in Lisbon 1997 – PhD. in Physics at the Instituto Superior Técnico in Lisbon 1997 a 2001– Post-doctorate at the University of California, in Los Angeles, USA Present - Senior Lecturer at the Department of Physics, Instituto Superior Técnico and researcher in the Laser and Plasma Group of the Centro de Física dos Plasmas do Laboratório Associado para os Plasmas e a Fusão Nuclear Free time: time Collects records, books and modern Portuguese paintings. Likes theatre and cinema. Passionate about lomography and plays squash. Interested in science communication. Find out more… Perspectives on Plasmas – Grupo de Lasers e Plasmas – LU ÍS SILVA Centro de Física de Plasmas – Centro de Fusão Nuclear – Age: 35 When he was little, Luís Silva wanted to be an archaeologist but he ended up being enchanted by the fascinating world of physics. Today he heads a research team at the Instituto Superior Técnico in Lisbon, with THE FOUR TH STATE OF MATT ER the curious name of Extreme Plasma Physics. In order to have a better understanding of what this means we need to recap on some basic principles. Matter exists in three states: solid, liquid and gas. If we think of water, we can easily identify these three states in ice (solid), rivers (liquid) and clouds (gas). So far so good. But what is surprising is that there is a fourth state of matter. Plasma. Although unusual on our planet, the reality is that 99% of the visible universe exists in this form. The stars, including the sun, are giant balls of ‘bubbling’ plasma and interstellar space is a huge mass of ‘cold’ plasma. Each one of these states of matter has unique properties. Atoms of solid materials are firmly fixed in a rigid network. As temperature rises and the material approaches a liquid state, this rigidity reduces and the atoms can move more easily (this is why liquids can alter their shape). If the temperature is increased even further, the material will become a gas with all the atoms completely detached from one another and moving freely. Finally when the temperature is extremely high, the components of the atoms themselves begin to separate. The electrons are released and with the loss of negative charge the atoms, that were previously neutral, become positive ions. A great deal of energy is needed to free these electrons. It also needs to be maintained or else the electrons will return to atoms and the plasma will return to gas. That is what happens with the Auroras Borealis (Northern Lights) and Aurora Australis (Southern Lights). The poles attract solar dust charged with energy. This collides with atmospheric gases on reaching the Earth and ionizes them (releases electrons). As this energy is not constant, the electrons end up turning back into atoms and in the process release energy in the form of light, giving us an extraordinary display of light. The same mechanism explains lightning, where a large discharge of energy crosses the air, ionizing the gases on its way. After passing, the atoms recover their electrons and energy is released in the form of light. This is also the principle of the neon lights that light up our corner café and the plasma screens of new televisions. But plasma has many other interesting properties that are at the basis of an increasing number of new technologies, with the most varied applications. Luís Silva and his team study, in particular, the possibility of plasma being used as a base for developing new particle accelerators, which already earnt him the IBM science prize in 2003. Particle accelerators have a very wide range of applications, from cathode ray tubes in televisions, to the study of the fundamental forces of the universe, as sources of light to visualise molecules or for treating tumours using radiotherapy. However, the technology used at the moment has various limitations. Accelerators used by Physics researchers are an example of this, they can reach tens of kilometres in length. The Extreme Plasma Physics team are making important steps in the production of a new generation of accelerators that are more compact and efficient (they could end up fitting on a desk), more powerful and much less costly. The technology uses high power lasers to leave a wavy trace when crossing the plasma, like a boat leaves waves behind itself when sailing across water. Luís Silva focuses on searching for a more efficient way to use this trace to accelerate particles. Or rather, to help the particles to ‘surf’ the waves in the most efficient way possible. At the moment he has already developed a model, with a laser confined in a plasma optical fibre to prevent diffraction of the laser, in which the particles are capable of reaching in just 1 centimetre the speed that they would have taken 100 meters to reach in conventional accelerators. The application of plasma physics and the interests of Luís Silva do not stop at particle accelerators. Among other ‘small things’, he is researching the application of lasers for nuclear fusion in plasmas. It is hoped that this process, capable of generating huge amounts of energy (‘cleaner’ than that produced by nuclear fission and fossil fuels), could be a source of energy in the future. In collaboration with a group studying Plasma Simulation at the University of California in Los Angeles, where he spent four years , this researcher is seeking new ways to turn this energy into a reality.
  12. 12. 11 Career path: path 1998 – Degree in Biochemistry at the Faculty of Sciences, Porto 1999 – Academic year on the Gulbenkian Biology and Medicine PhD. Programme 2003 – Doctorate at the Universidade do Porto (experiments carried out at the Instituto de Biologia Molecular e Celular – IBMC, Porto and at the University of Edinburgh, UK. 2003 – Post-doctorate at the Wadsworth Centre, New York, USA Present - Principal Investigator at the IBMC, Porto Free time: time Climbing Find out more… Mitosis World – unc . edu/ f ac ult y / s almon/ lab/ mit os is / mit os is . ht ml HE LD ER MA IATO Microscopia - www.mic ros c opy .f s u. edu/ index . ht ml Mitosis tutorial - www.biology .ariz ona. edu/ c ell_bio/ t ut orials / c ell_c y c le/ main .ht ml Age: 29 The first time that Helder Maiato saw a cell divide he was fascinated. From that moment on he has dedicated himself to the study of this biological ‘miracle’. Given that all cells originate from previously existing cells, cell THE MIR ACL E OF MULTIP LICATI ON division – which allows one cell to divide in two – is at the basis of all pre-existing life. If we go back far enough in our own development, we can see that it all started with one cell. This divided in two, and these divided continuously, giving rise to the trillions of cells that make up a human being. Then, throughout our lives, we continue to be completely dependant on this process. It is estimated that 250 million cells in our body are dividing at any given moment to, among other things, substitute tired cells and defend us against infections. During cell division, the genetic information of the cell, compacted in the form of chromosomes and containing all the instructions necessary for life, must be correctly distributed to the two new cells, in a process called mitosis. Errors in the distribution of this information usually have dramatic effects. Too few chromosomes can lead to the loss of fundamental pieces of information. While too many chromosomes cause instability at a cellular level, with serious consequences for the body. Down’s Syndrome, also know as Trisomy 21, is an example of this. It happens when three copies of chromosome 21 are made, instead of only two. In the same way, while a normal human cell has 46 chromosomes, the majority of cancerous cells have an abnormal number of chromosomes. We do not yet know whether this is a cause of some cancers or a consequence. At any rate, it is important to understand that any cell with missing or extra copies of chromosomes will acquire special qualities… which as a rule is never a good thing. The mechanism which distributes chromosomes to daughter cells involves movement. We know that this movement starts and is controlled by a tiny structure called the kinetochore which forms where chromosomes and microtubules meet, in a temporary structure known as a mitotic spindle. But how does this spindle form? How does the kinetochore coordinate the movement? How is the force for this movement generated? These continue to be some of the fundamental questions of Cell Biology, the answers to which have great implications for human health. Helder Maiato has spent the last five years between Portugal, Scotland and the United States, perfecting his knowledge of various important techniques in the study of these processes. Among these, a revolutionary micro-surgery technique using sub-cellular laser combined with high resolution microscopy of living cells, which allowed him to analyse a new dimension in the process of chromosome distribution: time. Thus, in the same way that an art critic would learn much more about a painting if they were present when it was being painted, this researcher learnt a great deal by observing mitosis in real-time and interfering with the process. During his doctorate, Helder discovered a protein with a fundamental function in chromosome distribution. The original combination of approaches that he used to study its function allowed him to reveal very important details about how the process works. The inevitable results of his work, already presented in a long list of publications, resolved an age-old controversy in the scientific world, by giving a molecular explanation for the microtubule dynamics that allow the movement of chromosomes. Now back in Portugal, but still maintaining close collaborations with foreign laboratories, Helder Maiato, who is just 29 years old, heads a group of young scientists at the Instituto de Biologia Molecular e Celular, in the city of Porto, in the discovery of more of the secrets of the miracle of multiplication.
  13. 13. 12 Career path: path 1994 – Degree in Physics and Applied Mathematics at the Faculty of Sciences, Universidade do Porto 1995 – Certificate in Advanced Mathematical Studies at the University of Cambridge, UK 1998 – PhD. at the University of Cambridge, UK 1998-2000 – Post-doctorate at the University of Princeton, USA 2000-02 – Post-doctorate at the Laboratoire de Physique Theorique de L’École Supérieure, mllFrance Present - Lecturer at the Department of Physics, Universidade do Porto Free time: time Travelling MIGUEL SOU COSTA SOUSA OSTA Find out more… On Super String Theory - Age: 35 Another link: One big initial “bang”. A universe that is expanding, where stars are born and die between dark matter and clouds of dust. What more do we need to know about the origins of the cosmos? Miguel Costa, a physicist at BIG? BANG. BLACK HOL ES! the Universidade do Porto, recognises that science has progressed a great deal since Copernicus: “The present cosmological model represents one of the biggest successes of modern science”. In fact, we now know that the universe is continuously expanding, which means that it was much smaller in the past. Cosmology manages to describe in quantative terms the evolution from the primordial era to the present day by explaining, for example, the appearance of structures such as galaxies. Obviously, there are still questions to be answered. One of these hinges on the initial state of the universe. When it was extraordinarily small, dense and full of energy, the laws of physics as we know them ceased to be valid. In order to understand its origins, we need to put together two well-known theories. On one hand Quantum Mechanics, the physics of the atomic world and of high energies and on the other hand Gravitation (which comes from the Theory of General Relativity), which has a fundamental role in describing the dynamics of the universe. From the combination of these two theories, was born a third: Super String Theory, which Miguel Costa has been working on since the time of his PhD. in Cambridge. Apparently, this merely involves changing the way that we view elementary particles, that are usually represented by dots. “In the first place, from a philosophical point of view, there is no reason for choosing dots over structures with dimension. In fact, if we look at a small piece of elastic from a long way away, it looks like a dot. Then, if we use binoculars, we can see that it is a piece of elastic, that is to say an extended object. Something similar happens with elementary particles. If these were incredibly small pieces of string, or even membranes, we would not be able to distinguish them from dots,” explains the young physicist who was awarded the Gulbenkian Prize for Science in 2004. His enthusiasm for this small detail is justified: “From a theoretical point of view, something fantastic happens if we assume that elementary particles are pieces of string— it is possible to derive Einstein’s equations to describe the field of gravitation. Moreover, it is possible to describe the quantum process of interaction between gravitons — the particles responsible for gravitational interaction. This result is very important, as for the first time we have a quantum description of gravity and we can begin to investigate questions such as the origin of the universe.” Currently Miguel Costa is trying to apply Super String Theory to the area of cosmic singularities, such as the famous “Big-Bang” (the moment of the big explosion that initiated the universe), to understand the evolution of the universe in its present form. “We manage to show that the interactions involving gravitons, can be well- defined in the presence of such singularities. We also put forward the theory that a cosmological singularity will be apparent, due to what we call a cosmic horizon”. To make the challenge more enticing, observations of supernova (explosions of stars with an elevated mass) allow us to conclude that the universe is not only expanding but that this expansion is very rapid! “This acceleration could be due to the cosmological constant, associated with the so called energy of empty space. However, there is not yet any satisfactory theoretical model that allows us to explain this constant”, explains Miguel Costa, who hopes that Super String Theory, which is still incomplete, will be for Cosmology what the Rosetta Stone was for Egyptology.“ Another question that Miguel is dealing with is related to the physics of black holes, that Super String Theory can also help to understand. The theoretical science of Miguel Costa is done with pencil and paper. The most important methodology is, in his opinion, talking with colleagues, “the Super String Theory community in Portugal is incredibly small and this means several trips overseas and lots of phone calls...”. Cosmology, the physics of black holes and high energy are merely laboratories to understand physics in limited situations.
  14. 14. 13 Career path: path 1988 – Degree in Physical and Technical Engineering at the Instituto Superior Técnico, Lisbon 1991 – Masters in Mathematics at the University of Minnesota, USA 1994 – PhD. at the University of Minnesota, EUA 2002 – Further PhD. in Mathematics at the Instituto Superior Técnico, Lisbon Present - Senior Lecturer and Researcher at the Department of Mathematics at the Instituto Superior Técnico, Lisbon Free time: time Playing with his children, being with friends and open-air sports. Find out more… RUI LOJA FERNANDES Atractor: PlanetMath: A brief excursion down Mathematicians Street: Age: 40 Rui Loja Fernandes is a serene scientist. He knows that he speaks a ‘language’ that very few people understand and is used to this kind of intellectual solitude. And this happens, paradoxically, when it is precisely THE SOLITARY ARTI ST his kind of science that is the universal language par excellence: mathematics. Rui began in the real world, where the laws of physics rule. “The problems that interest me originate in physics”, he explains. However, while physics explains the forces in play when a pen thrown up in the air over a desk traces an arc and then falls, mathematics is concerned with the geometry of the space where it happens. Newton summarised: mathematicians want to find out something more fundamental than the impulse or effect of mass. They increase the degree of sophistication and give themselves the luxury of ‘playing’ with Planck’s constant– a constant in the world of quantum mechanics -, but in the parallel world of mathematics anything, or almost anything, is possible. Changing Planck’s constant to start with nothing and transforming linear into non-linear phenomena, are sure ways of creating complex problems. Rui Loja acknowledges that although the initial motivation comes from the attempt to solve concrete problems, sometimes he finds himself pursuing more aesthetical aspects: “we are a bit like artists, selfish in a way”. The scenes described mathematically ‘ring so true and are so beautiful that we end up convinced that we are discovering something that already exists and that is truly overwhelming”. However, mathematics does not provide the solution to everything. “If we have learnt anything in the last hundred years, it is that there are things that we simply cannot do”, says Rui. An example? “It is not possible to create a computer programme which checks without fail, the errors in other programmes; it would have to check itself and be faced with the possibility of finding at least one programming error, the result would be contradictory”, replied the mathematician who, in his youth used to swim 50 kilometres a week, in his home town Coimbra, just for the pleasure of challenging himself because “school wasn’t stimulating enough”. Today, after winning the Gulbenkian Prize for Science in 2001 and author of a “ISI highly cited paper”, Rui considers the traditional division of mathematics into large areas to be artificial. Great advances in the discipline, he says, come about through the “intelligent combination” of algebra (which involves manipulating equations and formal structures), analysis (which involves variations of quantities), geometry and topology (which study shapes, be it a solar system or a bar of soap. This methodology implies that within one research department, the concern is to cover the maximum number of different areas of research, not involving more than one or two mathematicians from each area. However, scientific solitude is not a good way to produce knowledge. For this reason, international collaborations are common practice in science, either through exchanges between scientists from two different countries or through frequent thematic programmes in institutions spread all over the world, where a critical mass of mathematicians gather to study a very particular problem at a given time. His office at the Instituto Superior Técnico, is, for Rui Loja Fernandes, an space for reflexion before leaving for the United States, or Japan, or China ... it doesn’t matter where; after all, the language is not the problem, or Mathematics would not be the Esperanto of the Universe.
  15. 15. 14 Career path: path 1995 – Degree in Biology at the Faculty of Sciences, Universidade de Lisboa 1996 – Extra-curricular placement at the Universities of Paris and Montpellier, France 2002 – PhD. at the Universiteit Leiden, Holland 2004 – Post-doctorate at the University of California in Irvine, USA Present - Assistant Lecturer at the Universiteit Leiden, Holland Free time: time She does not have a “favourite hobby”. At the moment, she likes moving to the sound of music and on the two wheels typical of Holland (bicycles). More recently, she has taken up climbing, on high walls with coloured holds, and diving, preferably in tropical waters. Find out more… Personal Page - EvoNet – PATRÍCIA BELDADE PATRÍCIA European Society for Evolutionary Biology – Society for the Study of Evolution – Fórum de Biologia Evolutiva português – Age: 33 By “designing” butterfly wings, the biologist Patrícia Beldade reveals to us some of the secrets of the evolution of living things. GENES AND BU TTER FLY WINGS The process of evolution requires changes in the genetic code. If a new alteration brings benefits to the carrier – in its social or environmental context – this will be more likely to survive and reproduce, passing this new characteristic on to its offspring. This is how populations evolve by natural selection. In natural populations there generally exists a considerable variation in characteristics between individuals. If this was not the case, there would nothing to select. However, the type and number of variations likely to occur seem to be limited, which suggests the existence of hindrances to their development. For example, a pig with wings has never been seen in the wild! Why this is, is subject to heated debate between evolutionary scientists. As the process of building an organism is highly organised, there are certain alterations which may not be feasible. In the same way that when building a house you cannot begin with the roof, you need to build the foundations first – and they cannot be made of jelly! If one gene was responsible for the development of more than one structure, it would be difficult to alter one without altering the other. Patrícia Beldade approaches these fundamental questions by studying the circles of colour on butterfly wings. Using this animal as a model, which can have spectacular morphological variations (there are butterflies with very different wing patterns), Patrícia tried to understand if there really were limitations on the variety of designs that are available on the market, and exactly which genes are altered to give rise to the diversity of patterns in nature. With much dedication, Patrícia spent days crossing and selecting butterflies. In the end she managed to produce patterns that had never before been seen in the wild, demonstrating that they are possible. An important conclusion that supports the non-existence of limitations to the creative power of nature is that it is natural selection itself that moulds the existing variations. At least as far as the wing patterns, that were previously considered “restricted”, are concerned. Although it is clear that a genetic alteration needs to occur for evolution to take place, we hardly know anything about which (and how) genetic alterations are responsible for the appearance of certain characteristics. While still completing her PhD. in the Netherlands, Patrícia established a series of collaborations with other laboratories to learn molecular genetics techniques which allowed her to reveal the origin of several variations of wing patterns. In a piece of work praised by her peers, she discovered that the variation in the level of activity of one single gene (called Distalless), known for having an important role of the embryonic development of all insects, is enough to cause alterations in the size of the circles on butterfly wings. In this way, Patrícia showed for the first time the relationship between pattern variations – source of evolutionary change, and a gene. That is, she made a connection between genetic alterations and morphological variations. Patrícia is now focusing on exploring the genetic mechanisms which are at the origin of specific behaviour, such as courtship and sexual selection. One thing is for certain, we will be hearing much more about Patrícia Beldade in the future.
  16. 16. 15 Career path: path 1999 – Degree in Biochemistry at the Faculty of Sciences, Universidade do Porto 2000 – Academic year on the Gulbenkian Biology and Medicine PhD. Programme 2005 – PhD. at the Sloan Kettering Institute, New York and at the Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, EUA Present - Post-doctorate at Cold Spring Harbor, New York, USA Free time: time Walking, cooking, travelling, snorkelling. SUSANA LI M A Find out more… FlyBase – Database of the Drosophila genome– Age: 29 Society for Neural Interfacing - A fly controlled by laser? No, it’s not the plot of a science-fiction film, merely a genetic modification designed to OBEDIENT FLIES provide a remote control which uses a well-known molecule and ultra-violet light. Welcome to the world of Susana Lima. Scientists are always looking for ways to reproduce biological phenomena, in order to be able to study and test them in minute detail in the laboratory. In the field of Neuroscience this task is particularly challenging because of the nature of the object being studied – the nervous system. Susana Lima has ended up making this challenge a little easier. During her recent PhD. at Yale, USA, she developed an ingenious tool which came to revolutionise the study of neurological processes. Our nervous system works by electric impulses that carry information. In order to activate nervous conduction in a controlled manner and study the areas of the brain responsible for determined behaviour, scientists traditionally had to resort to inserting electrodes in the brains of the animals being studied. Apart from being extremely invasive, this method did not allow a very careful selection of the areas to be activated. A new tool developed by Susana Lima allows a single type of neuron (or nerve cell) to be activated, using a genetic trick. The technique has already been tested in fruit flies but in the future it is hoped that it will be optimised for the study of more complex animals. The technique consists of genetically modifying flies, in such a way that the neurons being studied, and only these, have an extra structure which allows them the possibility of producing nervous impulses in the presence of an ATP molecule (Adenosine Triphosphate). In turn, the form of ATP used is encapsulated in a chemical compound which is only released when shined upon with an ultra-violet laser light. In this way Susana controls the availability of ATP in the brain of the fly. When ATP is released, nervous conduction is inactivated only in the genetically modified neurons. A clever trick indeed. Susana tested this new tool in neurons of a giant fibre responsible for the response in flies to situations of imminent danger. She managed to achieve that a considerable percentage of flies started jumping and agitating their wings – behaviour associated with response to danger– without there being any kind of danger present, simply by shining a laser on them. In this way, Susana confirmed the direct relationship between the activity of certain neurons and specific behaviour. The test was also successfully carried out on another type of nerve cell, this time those involved in the production of dopamine. This test was particularly interesting because a lack of dopamine is at the origin of various neuronal syndromes, including Parkinson’s Disease which affects millions of people all over the world. Susana Lima, together with her PhD. supervisor, thus developed a technological advance that will allow neuroscientists to clarify the functions of different types of neurons in determined behaviour, from small movements to very complex behaviour such as memory, aggression or even abstract thought. For this new challenge, Susana has left flies behind and is now seeking to develop her technique in rats, in a laboratory in Cold Spring Harbor, USA. The partnership with these animals promises to be interesting, Susana explains that these docile animals are gifted with great intelligence and are very patient when learning new tasks.
  17. 17. 16 Career path: path 1990 - Degree in Applied Mathematics and Computing, Instituto Superior Técnico, Lisbon 1996 - PhD. in Mathematics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, USA 1997 - Member of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, Berkeley, USA 1998 - Lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley, USA 2001 - Member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, USA Present - Senior Lecturer at the Instituto Superior Técnico, Lisbon Free time: time Community work in the local community centre where she lives in Lisbon Find out more… Personal webpage - ANA CANNAS DA SILVA Gulbenkian Programme "New Talent in Mathematics" - Centro de Anállise Matemática Geometria e Sistemas Dinâmicos - Age: 37 Degree in Applied Mathematics and Computing - Beauty seems to be inseparable from mathematics. At least for Ana Cannas da Silva, one of the few Portuguese women who dedicates her life to the search for universal mathematical concepts. Dividing her time GRAS PI NG AT SPAC E between the Instituto Superior Técnico in Lisbon and the University of Princeton in the United States, Ana could not quite suppress a smile when commenting that we are living in the golden age of mathematics, and it is obvious she is joking. In the last century, the major areas of mathematics benefited from a major boost thanks to the Cold War. The rivalry between the two great powers of the time – the United States and the Soviet Union – resulted in enormous investment in algebra, analysis and geometry, with applications for studying codes, building submarines and controlling missiles in mind. Traditionally considered a noble activity in Eastern countries, combined with the fact that it requires little more than paper and pencil to produce, and therefore cheaper than all other sciences, Mathematics flourished in these countries. In the USA, mathematics benefited from the large-scale exodus of European scientists, namely mathematicians, during the Second World War. The recent phenomenon of globalisation, especially in the areas of telecommunications and the mobility of people, has given a new boost to this golden time: mathematicians that did not previously have the possibility of leaving the country or contacting their colleagues can today work anywhere in the world and get a reply to a mathematical question instantly, from any other part of the world. The result is obvious. We are in contact everyday with the product of such grey matter and clear thinking. In the supermarket, it is impossible not to come across a thousand and one bar codes – a pure application of the theory of codes. Watching the latest stock market news on the TV, we are seeing dynamic systems in action. And if we go to hospital for a CAT scan (Computerized Axial Tomography), we can take our hat off to analysis and geometry. Ana Cannas’ interests focus on understanding spaces. This is symplectic geometry, an area of science that has seen enormous growth since the 60’s. This researcher is fascinated by the universality of mathematical concepts – in her words ‘at the end of the day, mathematics was the language chosen by Nature”. Perhaps because of this, she is interested in describing and studying space geometrically. That which we know exists and that which we do not yet know. Space in its various dimensions. Space can be a linear circle, where at any point you can only go forwards or backwards (one dimension), or it can be a surface, of a tyre for example, where you can move in more directions (two-dimensional space). Dimension is one of space’s inherent properties, independently from the point you are looking at or the measurements that you take. The space of the world we know apparently has three dimensions but, for mathematicians, space can have four, five, six thousand dimensions. For each dimension, there can be universal structures – structures that any space in this dimension allows. For example, the most universal geometric structure is called metric: any space (within reason) allows systems to measure length and angles. In one, two and three dimensions other very useful structures are known, now Ana has found a universal structure which is common to all spaces of four dimensions: a double symplectic structure. This structure has great potential for among other things, helping to analyse spaces of four dimensions, highly sought after especially in interactions with physics. Ana’s dedication to mathematics goes beyond research. Teaching, both here and overseas, has been a very important element of her career path. In Portugal she is one of the instigators of the “Gulbenkian Programme for New Talent in Mathematics”, which since 2000 has supported and encouraged young people to carry out research in this area. In 2005 she helped make possible the “Diagonal School – Summer Mathematics School”, open to all those interested, which happily have been many. This first session was a sell-out! Who said Mathematics wasn’t fun?
  18. 18. 17 Career path: path 1993 – Degree in Veterinary Medicine at the Universidade Técnica, Lisbon 1993-1998 – Vet 1998 – Academic year on the Gulbenkian Biology and Medicine PhD. Programme 2004 – Ph.D. at the Faculty of Medicine at the Universidade de Coimbra (experimental work carried out at the California Institute of Technology - Caltech, USA) Present - Post-doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA Free time: time “I really like reading, going to the cinema, listening to music, talking and eating”. Find out more… Wikipedia – free encyclopaedia– The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory – MIG UEL REM O NDE S Society for Neuroscience – Neuroscience for children (worth a visit whatever your age)– Age: 37 Where is information kept about the things that we live and learn? How do we retain the memory of a smell? These questions go beyond the boundaries of biology, crossing-over into areas of humanities such as THE PATH S OF MEMO RY philosophy and religion and the quantative fields of physics and mathematics. For Miguel Remondes, a researcher in the USA, the social and cultural implications of the debate on ‘the brain and the mind’ are so vast and interesting that he ended up leaving his previous job as a vet to devote himself to researching the subject. Nowadays we know that the process of memory is based on a network of connections between nerve cells (or neurons) in different areas of the brain. For this, our brain has at its disposal 100 billion neurons – approximately the same as the number of stars that exist in the Milky Way – capable of communicating between themselves, and each with more or less the same processing capacity as a computer! When we memorise things, we modify connections between specific neurons, thus facilitating the passage of a nervous impulse along a determined circuit. However, there is not just one kind of memory, the process involves several types of memory that come together. When we need to call the bank, we look at the phone number, dial and then forget it. In this kind of situation we are making use of what we call short-term memory, that “is living” for only a few minutes or hours. If used or expressed repeatedly, the information may be consolidated and remain for months and years, as with long- term memory, such as childhood memories and things we learn at school. Miguel Remondes is interested in understanding how the brain manages to acquire short-term memories and, in particular, maintain long-term memories. There are people who, after suffering brain damage, are incapable of creating and retaining short or long-term memories. These patients have been one of the main sources of data on the areas of the brain involved in the mechanism of memory retention. We know that there are two areas of the brain that are essential for this process – the neocortex and the hippocampus. During his PhD. in California, Miguel Remondes managed to refine this crude knowledge, by carrying out a series of experiments involving extremely meticulous surgery on the brains of mice. The surgery training he had while working as a vet proved invaluable in order to make this study possible. Miguel managed to block the only direct nervous passage in these animals’ brains between the neocortex and the hippocampus (the temporoammonic pathway or TA), without causing any damage to the animal. At the end of the experiment, the animals remained healthy… but without the ability to make memories! Therefore he stated that interrupting the TA pathway is sufficient to prevent the animals from having long-term memories, even when an alternative (indirect) pathway between these two areas of the brain remains in tact. This was the first time that it was shown that the TA pathway is fundamental in making memories and therefore Miguel’s work, which earned him two articles in the journal ‘Nature’, meant a new piece could be added to the intricate puzzle of memory-making mechanisms. Currently completing a post-doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge (USA), Miguel is becoming more and more interested in the complex phenomena of memory. He is currently trying to understand how neuronal activity arises and how this activity evolves as an animal learns a new task. Miguel confesses that he did very much enjoy working as a vet but the old desire to “discover” new things proved to be a stronger pull and, at the moment, he is not contemplating leaving science.