Where Experiments Meet Reality

In Brazil there is a special word that is apparently often used. “Imprensado” means to be pressed (in between) and is given to those awkward days that fall between holidays and weekends. Today was one of those days.

Remember how I mentioned that Brazilians know how to have a good time? Well, since it was Corpus Christi yesterday and tomorrow is Saturday then many figure, “What’s the point?!” and took today off too.

I love Brazil.

Having yet another day off allowed for a makeup lesson with my Paulo - my harmony teacherharmony teacher, Paulo, who had to cancel earlier this week due to illness. It seems like its been so long since I’ve taken classes in theory and harmony… Paulo reviewed things for me and then started a discussion of Brazilian harmony that will extend to the following lesson. Combining this with the flute and voice lessons, I’ll be a mini-expert on Brazilian music by the time I leave here!

The free day also allowed me to see my Tio (uncle) Gilberto. The last time I saw him was in 2003, when I came to visit Rio for a few days before moving on to visit other family. I took the ferry from Niteroi to Rio and met Tio by a restaurant along the water. How nice it was to catch up (despite my still fairly-broken Portuguese)! We ate lunch together and went to visit Pavilhão Mourisco in Fiocruz.

The view while taking the ferry across Guanabara Bay from Niteroi to Rio.
The view while taking the ferry across Guanabara Bay from Niteroi to Rio.

 

My uncle and his wife
My uncle and his wife.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Moorish-style building was built in 1905 by Portuguese architect Luis Moraes Junior. According to my uncle, all the parts were shipped from Europe basically already made and then were put together once they arrived into this majestic building. We have found the predecessors of IKEA!

Pavilhão Mourisco - the top floor was being renovated.
Pavilhão Mourisco – the top floor was being renovated.

The building was used as the headquarters of Oswald Cruz, a forward thinking scientist and doctor of the early 1900s. It was his vision and desire to bring better medicine and health awareness among the people in Rio de Janeiro and encouraged research and education in these areas. Sadly, he was seen as a madman by many of the people of his time, but his works are greatly recognized today as some of the most important advancements made in Brazilian public health.

Bust of Oswald Cruz in front of Pavilhão Mourisco.
Bust of Oswald Cruz in front of Pavilhão Mourisco.

The building has become a museum in memory of the great strides of Oswald Cruz and a foundation, known as the Fiocruz Foundation, was created in his honor. Today, the Foundation employs over 7,000 people who continue to research and experiment on better ways to treat public diseases, particularly those that affect the poor.

Follow the links below to learn more about the museum and Oswald Cruz:
http://www.museudavida.fiocruz.br/cgi/cgilua.exe/sys/start.htm?infoid=60&sid=214https://www.flickr.com/photos/cmarino/541484816/

My Tio Gilberto is a part of this exciting and adventurous work. The project he is currently working on involves discovering how certain enzymes in plants produce substances that we use as medication for specific illnesses and then encourage the enzymes to create more of these substances in order to produce more medication, all with the help of mathematics and computers! Seems to me like computational biology and bio-technology at its best.

Another project that the Fiocruz Foundation is working on involves  decreasing the population of dengue carrying mosquitoes in a unique way. Male mosquitoes will be captured and injected with a certain natural element (an enzyme or something) that changes its capability to produce. When it mates with a female mosquito, the female will only produce male offspring. (With mosquitoes laying 100,000 or so eggs at a time – that’s a lot of dudes…) Since only female mosquitoes bite, as they need nutrients from blood during gestation, a increase in male mosquitoes means an overall decrease in the specific mosquito population and therefore less dengue fever. Quite a bit different from the “Take this pill and see me in a week” approach, huh? I wondered if there was discussion as to what this could do to this species of mosquitoes’ population decades into the future. What do you say, those bio-ethicists of you out there?

Overall, I have to say I was hugely impressed by the work that is being done by this foundation. Its things like this I wish Brazil would show more pride and support for. People like my uncle are working on projects that could potentially change the world – for the better. Someday, I hope that all of Brazil, and other countries like it, will recognize its potential for greatest and strive to achieve it. That would be a wonderful world to live in.

-Wandering Minstrelette

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