Finding solutions together

“I do believe we need all ways of thinking together in order to solve problems,” says Professor Marcia Barbosa, when asked about her career and how she managed to make her incredible discovery. The Brazilian physician and her team discovered one of the peculiarities of water which may lead to better understanding of how earthquakes occur, how proteins fold, and may also allow us to produce cleaner energy.

DiscovHER - At what point in your life did you know you wanted to be a scientist?

Marcia Barbosa - I was raised in a family that praised education. My father was an electrician and since very young I was helping him at home with electrical devices. Experimentation fascinated me. At high school I did work at the school lab during the evenings. Again the hands on approach developed my interest in physics. When I did reach the age in which I had to decide a career to choose, I was already in love with physics.


D/H - Education was the root of your passion for Physics, so in your opinion, what role does education play for science?

MB - Education is an instrument for solving the major scientific subjects such as pollution, energy, clean water, health, etc. The world faces interdisciplinary challenges that require the best brains thinking together in order to be solved. It will not be possible to solve these problems selecting the scientists within a specific population sector. Consequently, education has to become plural. It has to be accessible for anyone regardless of gender, race, economic background, nationality or religion.


D/H - What do you think is the most pressing challenge our planet is faced with today?

MB - Energy is our biggest challenge. The increasing numbers of people having access to industrialized products and technologies leads to an increase in the energy consumption. New resources for energy and new ways to obtain the traditional forms of energy are urgent.


D/H - What is the current situation of your home country, Brazil, in this field?

MB - Brazil is on the edge of making the transition from being a crop producer to becoming a producer of technologically based products. Our major concern in Brazil is to be able to make this transition in a sustainable way. We are the world authority in ethanol fuel. However, the production needs to change to use the residues of the crops, instead of using the crops, otherwise we will face the option between eating and using energy which is not acceptable.

Second generation ethanol, the ethanol produced from crop residues, involves knowledge of chemistry, biochemistry, physics and engineering. This interdisciplinary thinking is our biggest challenge.


D/H - From your perspective, what is an important cause to fight for, and how can we do this together?

MB - Obviously, the cause of highlighting women in science is worth fighting for. We are a minority which implies that we are ignored, transparent. In order to circumvent this difficulty we have to make ourselves visible. Also we have to identify obstacles together. Prejudice is not a fight that one wins by him or herself. We have to prevail together.

I do believe we need all ways of thinking together in order to solve problems. We cannot exclude women, but also we cannot exclude people for racial, religious, cultural or financial issues. Obviously, there are differences between men and women, but I also observe that there are differences between the way the orient and the occident bring new ideas to solve problems. One characteristic that I do appreciate while working with other female scientists is that we enjoy talking and that sometimes by exploring a wide range of possibilities it is easier to identify the solution of a problem.


More about Professor Marcia Barbosa:


L’Oréal–UNESCO
For Women in Science

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