“It’s a disaster if you don’t listen to scientists,” says physicist Angela Olinto – 06/06/2021 – Science

The physicist Angela Olinto is dedicated to deciphering the energy that comes from space. Using experiments with radio telescopes and giant balloons, the scientist tests theories about astrophysics of subatomic particles – parts of the energy that travel through the cosmos and can help to tell the story of the universe.

The Brazilian Olinto was born in Boston (USA) to Brazilian parents and moved to Rio as a child. He graduated from PUC-Rio with a degree in physics and returned to the United States at the age of 21 to do his PhD at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), a mecca of exact science where his father had already studied.

Olinto was elected that year as Dean of the Department of Physical Sciences at the University of Chicago (USA) to be a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences of the United States – a testament to her recognition among physicists in that country and the rest of the country.

The physicist Angela Olinto is dedicated to deciphering the energy that comes from space. Using experiments with radio telescopes and giant balloons, the scientist tests theories about astrophysics of subatomic particles – parts of the energy that travel through the cosmos and can help to tell the story of the universe.

The Brazilian Olinto was born in Boston (USA) to Brazilian parents and moved to Rio as a child. He graduated from PUC-Rio with a degree in physics and returned to the United States at the age of 21 to do his PhD at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), a mecca of exact science where his father had already studied.

Olinto was elected that year as Dean of the Department of Physical Sciences at the University of Chicago (USA) to be a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences of the United States – a testament to her recognition among physicists in that country and the rest of the country.

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What made Mrs. choose a physics degree and a career as a scientist? When I went to the PUC in Rio to go to college I was 16 years old. I had and still have many interests, not just in science. The first thing I thought of much earlier was going to the architecture page. I ended up taking several entrance exams, but when I made it to physics, which was one of the toughest entrance exams, I was excited. I thought: ‘Then I have a chance!’

We get answers from life to our passions that show the way. For example, my ability to play guitar didn’t go very far, but my ability to do physics did. I think the first teachers we meet are always very important, and I have had wonderful undergraduate and high school teachers. It was also a feeling of being able to do something relatively well, which helps us want to do more.

Is studying physics as difficult as it sounds? In reality, it is difficult for each area to find a new path. You don’t wake up and yell: Eureka! You discover a new path by trying multiple paths that go nowhere. So patience has to be great.

Many questions in science are still open, so we are curious. These are questions about dark matter, dark energy, and the gravitational waves of the early Universe – the latter will have a great measurement that we can hopefully take in the next decade or so.

This year, Ms. has been elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the US National Academy of Sciences. How important is it to have women and South American representatives in these institutions? It was a great surprise and an honor. For me personally, it’s the recognition of my career.

There is one side of being a woman that is very difficult, regardless of whether you are Brazilian. When I graduated from PUC-Rio I had teachers and colleagues. It wasn’t most, but there was enough for me not to feel uncomfortable. When I got to the United States it was a shock: no professors in physics at MIT and very few students.

Years later, I was the first woman to win the tenure track [processo de promoção acadêmica de professores em universidades americanas] in my department of physics and astronomy at the University of Chicago; a department with a very long tradition [foi o departamento do astrônomo americano Edwin Hubble]but all men.

Even today it is not very comfortable. I ran the department for about eight years in total, making sure to hire the best woman for the areas we needed. But it’s not easy, people think that you are stupid because you are a woman or that you only won the position because you are a woman. If you didn’t deserve the job, you didn’t deserve it, and if you got the job, you didn’t deserve it. So there is no way to win with these people.

We need to break down these barriers and show that it is possible to be a woman, have a husband, have children, and live an interesting life.

For Brazil, [a eleição para as academias] shows that everyone, everywhere, is capable of high-level science. I had brilliant colleagues at graduation and whenever I go to Brazil to visit my family, I try to connect with people. The professionals are at the highest level.

How can diversity in science be expanded? There must be a variety of race, gender, mindset, ability, and background. I had a dad in college so I knew what it was like. If someone at university has no one and is the first in his family to arrive there, he has to discover everything and comes up with other ideas.

In science as a whole, there is a notion that merit is linear. For me, the reality of science is multidimensional. You need to be able to understand math and pass exams well, but you also need to be creative, patient, and know how to work together. It has many properties for long-term success that are not taught and people are not trained to do so.

I think the effort has to be on maintaining the achievement society by trying to do the best science possible, but also opening up to other possibilities.

How has the pandemic affected your production and that of your colleagues? Last year I already had a great deal of responsibility with more than 2,000 people at the university. I asked the team to scan everything and switch to online early on. Some thought I overreacted, but when it closed we were ready. The first was to try to keep the university going.

However, the more theoretical professionals who have managed to work from home, the more experimental ones rely on laboratories that have been completely closed for a month. The first laboratories to resume work were those that had research related to Covid-19. My research, in collaboration with scientists from other countries, is more than six months behind, but everyone is safe and sound, which I consider a great success.

It was amazing how quickly the vaccines were made and many people worked non-stop to get us to where we are now. everything is quieter here. I hope people are proud of scientists.

During the pandemic, terms that were very typical of the scientific community became popular. We want to know the effectiveness of vaccines, the likelihood of contracting the virus in certain situations, etc. Has science become fashionable? Unfortunately we are in a very polarized age. People who are very proud of scientists used to like science, that’s my impression. But there are still people who deny science, for example vaccines. I think some more neutral ones have turned to the scientific side.

Science is one of the most democratic things. It is of no use to have an infinite amount of money, you do not change anything in the law of gravity. She is what she is.

I hope the younger generation can get excited and see the life saving power of science, or see that if scientists are not heard, it is a disaster. This is the case in Brazil and, more recently, in India.

People say what they want and don’t know the difference between an idea that scientists would agree with and something that someone just made up.

We saw several young Brazilian scholars give up their country to pursue their careers abroad. How can we reverse this situation? One of the problems is instability. There were times when scientists made more money in Brazil than they did here, and many who were in the US returned to Brazil. But it looks like a wave going up and down. It’s the lack of stability, of a structure that won’t go away just because the president has changed. This feeling is less common in the USA and Europe.

Another factor that is very present in the United States is innovation, the encouragement of new technologies to develop new products. Many researchers and professors not only want to develop the technology, they also want to build the company that develops the products. So if you can get everything going you will have more stability and independence. It’s not easy, and instability is getting even more difficult in Brazil. It is not impossible, but there is a lack of investment.

Brazil has an intellectual capacity and an area of ​​the world that gives visibility, we are not a small island that no one pays attention to, we have intellectual and natural capital.

Something that could help is prioritizing the science academies that we run here with a plan of what can be done [projetos de pesquisa] within a decade. In this way, with a realistic budget, it is possible to predict what the science of the country will look like in the future. This helps the students themselves, who know what options they have.

I believe that government and business must act together, as is happening here. Brazil has some research infrastructure, but there is still a lot to be developed.

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Angela Villela Olinto, Dean of the Department of Physical Sciences, University of Chicago (USA)

She is an astroparticle physicist with a degree in physics from PUC-Rio and a PhD in theoretical particle physics from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). In 2021 she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.

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