This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site you agree to our use of cookies. To find out more, see our Privacy and Cookies policy.
Skip to the content

Share this

Free weekly newswire

Sign up to receive all our latest news direct to your inbox.

Physics on film

100 Second Science Your scientific questions answered simply by specialists in less than 100 seconds.

Watch now

Bright Recruits

At all stages of your career – whether you're an undergraduate, graduate, researcher or industry professional – can help find the job for you.

Find your perfect job

Physics connect

Are you looking for a supplier? Physics Connect lists thousands of scientific companies, businesses, non-profit organizations, institutions and experts worldwide.

Start your search today


Postcard from Rio – a paradise for physics?

Photo of Sugar Loaf Mountain

View towards the Sugar Loaf Mountain from the CBPF in Rio de Janeiro. (Courtesy: Herman Pessoa Lima)

By Matin Durrani in Rio de Janeiro

Having flown almost half-way round the world from Bristol to Rio, you might think there is little in common between Physics World‘s home city and the Brazilian metropolis.

But on my trip to the Brazilian Centre for Physics Research (CBPF) in Rio today, it soon became clear from the statistical physicist Constantino Tsallis, who hosted my visit, that there is indeed a link between the two cities. That connection lies with the Brazilian physicist César Lattes, who was the founding director of the CBPF.

As Tsallis explained to me, Lattes had worked in the late 1940s at the University of Bristol with Cecil Powell, with the pair discovering the particle known as the pi-meson. Powell went on to win the 1950 Nobel Prize for Physics, although Lattes (for some reason) missed out.

Lattes returned to Rio in 1949 to head the new CBPF, which has since gone on to become one of the top physics research institutes in Brazil (if not the best).

With views towards the cable cars climbing up and down from Morro da Urca – the hill that’s a staging point to the even higher Sugar Loaf Mountain – the CBPF is certainly a beautiful place to be a physicist, especially on a day like today with the Sun burning down. The building is also lined with old photos of physicists who’ve had links with the lab, including Richard Feynman, who made a number of lengthy visits to Brazil early in his career.

In his book Surely You’re Joking Mr Feynman!, the great theorist wrote a withering description of the problems facing physics education in Brazil, where students in the country were great at memorizing physics problems by rote, but seemed to have little practical understanding of the consequences of the things they’d learned.

But sitting in his director’s office, Fernando Lazaro – the current successor to Lattes as CBPF boss – thinks that there are still challenges for physics education in Brazil. The problem, by all accounts, lies largely with a lack of good quality physics teachers, with poor pay being a big detriment to attracting bright students into the profession. Another big issue is that it’s not possible for physicists later in their careers to retrain as teachers unless they go back and take a full four-year physics-teaching degree. That’s surely shutting the door to potential recruits.

As Lazaro explained to me, he can teach 18-year-old students doing a physics degree, but it would actually be illegal for him to teach physics to the same 18-year-old students at high school in the weeks before they go to university.

Surely you’re joking Professor Lazaro?

This entry was posted in Brazil visit 2013 and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile


  1. junaid

    Well this is the irony for the developing nations around the world. Most countries have had laws to hinder the actual progress of sciences. Even those who claimed to be servants of science and their respective countries did more harm then good
    Lets hope this new year starts to give to those who have not yet tasted science ….
    ‘the obsession of life’.

  2. Trackback: Blog -


  • Comments should be relevant to the article and not be used to promote your own work, products or services.
  • Please keep your comments brief (we recommend a maximum of 250 words).
  • We reserve the right to remove excessively long, inappropriate or offensive entries.

Show/hide formatting guidelines

Tag Description Example Output
<a> Hyperlink <a href="">google</a> google
<abbr> Abbreviation <abbr title="World Health Organisation" >WHO</abbr> WHO
<acronym> Acronym <acronym title="as soon as possible">ASAP</acronym> ASAP
<b> Bold <b>Some text</b> Some text
<blockquote> Quoted from another source <blockquote cite="">IOP</blockquote>
<cite> Cite <cite>Diagram 1</cite> Diagram 1
<del> Deleted text From this line<del datetime="2012-12-17"> this text was deleted</del> From this line this text was deleted
<em> Emphasized text In this line<em> this text was emphasised</em> In this line this text was emphasised
<i> Italic <i>Some text</i> Some text
<q> Quotation WWF goal is to build a future <q cite="">
where people live in harmony with nature and animals</q>
WWF goal is to build a future
where people live in harmony with nature and animals
<strike> Strike text <strike>Some text</strike> Some text
<strong> Stronger emphasis of text <strong>Some text</strong> Some text