Few people who observe the giant structure erected in a rural area of Campinas, 93 km from São Paulo, have an idea of what it is about. The circular and glazed construction resembles a mall or the new Brazilian soccer arenas. Not even some local officials know how to explain what is the Sirius Project, a work of the federal government estimated at R $ 1.8 billion.
“They even told me, but I can not tell you. You better ask a scientist,” a forklift operator told BBC News Brazil.
Sirius, built and maintained by the National Center for Research in Energy and Materials (CNPEM), will be the largest and most advanced source of synchrotron light, a type of high-flux, high-brightness electromagnetic radiation produced when charged particles accelerated at near speeds at the speed of light, have their trajectory deflected by magnetic fields.
But why is this so important and costs so dearly? In a simplified way, Sirius, unique in the world, is an ultra-radiographic apparatus capable of analyzing in detail the structure and functioning of micro and nanoscopic structures, such as nanoparticles, atoms, molecules, and viruses.
Scientists have explained to the report that this is essential for doing research in an unprecedented way. This can lead, for example, to the creation of a mobile battery that, when charged only once, lasts five years.
Today, Brazil has a particle accelerator called UVX, but that, according to scientists, is already out of date. The UVX is also at the CNPEM, on the ground next to the Sirius. The innovation in the new accelerator will be expressive: a process that now takes hours to be done in UVX, for example, will be done in a few seconds on Sirius.
For the successful construction of Sirius, dozens of scientists and engineers have been engaged in the development of synchrotron-type light sources that have colossal dimensions but require millimetric precision.
One of them is the Chinese Liu Lin, 54, who was born in Hong Kong and came to Brazil at the age of two. As a scientist, she has spent 33 years developing the Brazilian particle accelerators.
“I started on this project before it was even created. Brazil wanted to build a synchrotron and I traveled with the first team formed by four Brazilians in 1985 to Stanford, USA (to study the American accelerator),” he says.
The following year, scientists began designing the first Brazilian accelerator in a room at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp). He was then transferred to a house and moved into a shed, where the UVX accelerator components, the size of a sports gym, were being built, where hundreds of people are currently working, including scientists, engineers, technicians and administrative staff.
Lin was 22 years old and the only woman on the team who came to the United States in 1985.
“We spent three months there, we learned a lot and when we came back, the project was undefined. We did not know if we would have.” The researcher finished the master’s degree, won a scholarship to do a doctor’s degree in the USA and was already with a ticket purchased when the decision was announced that they would accelerate in Campinas.
“I was in a dilemma. I ended up opting to stay on the project and did my doctorate at USP,” he recalls.
Her family did not agree with the decision and thought she should have gone abroad. Lin says he does not regret it.
“It was different from a normal academic career,” she says, who today is the leader of the National Synchrotron Light Laboratory (LNLS) Accelerator Physics Group, one of CNPEM’s four national laboratories.
UVX, the current particle accelerator in operation in Brazil, is already out of date and is classified as a second generation device. The Sirius will be the second in the 4th generation world but will be the most modern due to several factors, mainly for emitting light with the most intense brightness.