History of Physics and History of Science
in Brazilian Universities

By Olival Freire and Silvia Figueirôa

In Brazil, students may get a PhD involving history of science in at least seven different graduate studies programs. Those programs are scattered in different departments. Most important, in Brazil, graduate studies are regulated by a federal agency, the CAPES, and under the classification of that agency most of the programs conferring doctoral degrees in history of science fall in one of three fields: history; science education; or multidisciplinary. Below is a list of these programs. After the name of the university or institution are the names of the programs, which in general are the names of the doctoral degrees.

Universidade Federal da Bahia
History, Philosophy, and Science Teaching

Universidade Estadual de Campinas
Geoscience Education and History of Geoscience

Casa de Oswaldo Cruz/Fiocruz — Rio de Janeiro
History of Science and Health (mainly history of biomedical sciences)

Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro
History and Epistemology of Science and Technology

Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo
History of Science

Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais

Universidade de São Paulo

In addition it is possible in a few cases to get a PhD degree in programs which do not have history of science as a formal field. This is the case, for instance, with Physics at the Universidade Estadual de Campinas, and History at the Universidade Federal Fluminense (Niteroi, Rio de Janeiro), or History and Philosophy of Science at the State University of Rio de Janeiro.

At the undergraduate level the situation is rather diverse, including history of science courses offered by history departments and by science departments (mainly physics and mathematics). Universidade Estadual de Campinas offers History of Natural Sciences.

Brazilian historians of science founded the Sociedade Brasileira de História da Ciência (SBHC) in 1983. Every two years this society holds a national meeting bringing together about 400 people. The number of scholars working on history of science is not, however, that high, but is closer to sixty. Fifty-one Brazilians attended the international congress for history of science in Budapest in 2009. Among those, around 30 may be considered senior researchers. A smaller figure (20) of them are fellows of the Brazilian CNPq (Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Cientifico e Tecnológico, the National Council of Scientific and Technological Development). The fellowships are granted on a very competitive basis.

The twelfth meeting of the SBHC was in Salvador, Brazil in November 2010. Alexei Kojevnikov, a former post-doc at AIP’s Center for History of Physics, was a keynote speaker. This meeting was held in conjunction with a Latin American meeting in history of science. The society publishes the journal Revista Brasileira de História da Ciência (http://www.sbhc.org.br/revistas_anteriores.php) twice a year. Other journals published in Brazil dedicated to the history of science are Manguinhos (http://www.coc.fiocruz.br/hscience/) and the Revista Brasileira de História da Matemática (http://www.sbhmat.com.br/rbhm/).

Brazilian historians of science also attend and present papers at other meetings, such as the History meeting Associação Nacional de História (ANPUH) and some meetings of scientific societies. All the same, journals like the Revista Brasileira de Ensino de Física [physics teaching], Química Nova (chemistry) and Química na Escola [chemistry teaching] have sections dedicated to history of science papers.

Historians working with history of physics include 8 to 10 scholars, in addition to doctoral students. Prof. Olival Freire, and his two students Fabio Freitas and Indianara Silva have conducted research at AIP. Some of the graduate students in history of physics are:

Fabio Freitas – history of quantum decoherence, in particular concerning the role played by phyisicists A. Leggett, W. Zurek and H-D Zeh.

Indianara Silva – history of the vicissitudes around the concept of photon, in particular about the debates stimulated by the Hanbury-Brown and Twiss experiment and the approach to radiation in terms of Glauber’s coherent states.

José Clemente – history of the institutionalization of graduate studies in Brazil, in particular courses of geophysics and chemistry at the University of Bahia.

Climério Paulo Neto – history of the introduction of quantum optics in Brazil and analysis on the contributions of the physicist Herch Moyses Nussenzveig to that field (a masters thesis).

Mayane Nóbrega – history of the contribution from physicists to the study of chaotic and complex systems, with particular attention to the development of this field in Brazil.

Leyla Joaquim – study of how, in the last fifteen years, physicists have been crossing boundaries to approach biological phenomena.

Gustavo Rocha – analysis of how physicists themselves have contributed and interacted with “quantum mysticism”. Analysis of the work of H. Stapp.

Wanderley Vitorino – history of the first work in solid state in Brazil, especially the work of physicist Joaquim Costa Ribeiro (a masters thesis).


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