Like the cosmos, science must encompass everything and everyone – basic research

By Wyllian Torres

The astronomer Alan Brito is looking for a new scientific culture

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Alan Alves Brito knew early on that he wanted to be an astronomer. When Comet Halley stopped by at the age of eight, he was sure. In his backyard in the small town of Valença south of Bahia, the eco-friendly sky of urban centers piqued his curiosity and fueled his imagination. “Science is also an exercise in creativity,” he says today at the age of 42.

Brito is at the forefront of important guidelines such as anti-racism in science and scientific dissemination. He shares his experience in research projects that promote gender equality in education.

The astrophysicist has been a professor and researcher at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul since 2014 and coordinates two initiatives. The first, “Akotirene: Kilombo Science,” aims to increase the participation of black women in science. It was published in 2018 as part of the public announcement “Elas nas Exatas” – a partnership between the Instituto Unibanco, the ELAS Fund, the Carlos Chagas Foundation and the UN Women. Even with the end of the announcement, which lasted a year, the work will continue under his coordination and that of the Matriarchs of Morada da Paz, a quilombo in the Triunfo municipality inland.

Through the “enchanting pedagogy” the project creates a place where learning and teaching are mixed in with the traditions of African thought. The Orixás, deities of the Yoruba religion, are also the teachers, as they teach about nature and origin.

The “Zumbi Dandara dos Palmares” is an applied research project that, under the coordination of Brito, mobilizes a team of professors and researchers from various fields. The idea is ambitious. “It includes social movements, the Rio Grande do Sul Ministry of Education and 15 schools – half of them host students from urban quilombos in Porto Alegre and the other half from quilombola areas across the state,” he says. The work, which should take 18 months, proposes the formulation of public policies that encompass the racial justice agenda.

Through the science curriculum, he works on ethnoastronomy and explores the cultural and ancient relationship with the stars. His intention is to build knowledge that is anchored in the popular wisdom of the quilombos, “historically unprofitable due to structural racism,” comments Brito.

The astrophysicist emphasizes the constant dialogue between astronomy and various fields of knowledge. To answer questions about the appearance of stars, for example, we need physics to understand the process of gravity and chemistry to explain molecular structures. “Astronomy attracts students of all ages. People are curious, they want to understand how everything came together, what galaxies are, what stars are. It encourages this scientific curiosity, ”says Brito.

In addition, astronomy humanizes the processes of science by giving us the perspective that we are all citizens of the cosmos. “It brings us this responsibility to take care of planet earth, in this intrinsic relationship between subject and nature.”

For Brito it is necessary to articulate a new scientific culture in the country that will help to think about a different construction of science and technology. “We need more observatories, planetariums and science museums that tell stories over millennia of all the peoples who have walked through the earth and looked at the sky and told stories,” says the researcher.

Brito sees no way in the future to answer the questions of modern and contemporary science without a direct contribution from astronomy. Are we alone? For example, it is astrobiology, with advances in biology research, that is helping to find this answer. The pluralization of narratives is also important in building our worldview. Science, like the cosmos, must encompass everything and everyone.

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Wyllian Torres is a journalist.

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