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Burkhalter to hand over supercomputer in Brazil

Didier Burkhalter visited the Paul Scherrer Institute in Villigen on August 24 to inaugurate the new SwissFEL X-ray laser Keystone

Swiss Interior Minister Didier Burkhalter is on a six-day visit to Brazil, which will focus on science and health issues.

This content was published on August 25, 2010 - 16:14

During his first official trip outside Europe, Burkhalter is due to meet senior ministers, top researchers and other officials to discuss cooperation between the two countries. He will also hand over a supercomputer.

"Our main goal is to strengthen bilateral research cooperation with Brazil, which belongs to the group of eight non-European countries, alongside India and Russia, that Switzerland considers a priority," interior ministry spokesman Jean-Marc Crevoisier told swissinfo.ch.

The Brazil visit follows a series of formal scientific accords between the two countries. On August 14, 2008 Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey signed a memorandum of understanding with her Brazilian counterpart, Celso Amorim, aimed at boosting scientific cooperation. And in September 2009 Brazilian Science Minister Sergio Machado Rezende and former Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin put their names to a scientific cooperation agreement.

"We must now take stock of these agreements and also open doors in Brazil for representatives of our scientific community," added Crevoisier.

This explains the presence among the Swiss delegation of leading experts, such as Fritz Schiesser, president of the board of Switzerland’s federal institutes of technology, Marcel Tanner, director of the Swiss Tropical Institute in Basel, and Miguel Nicolelis, a top Brazilian neurobiologist, best known for his pioneering work in "reading monkey thought".

Capital talks

The visit will start in the Brazilian capital, Brasilia, where Burkhalter is due to hold meetings with the Brazilian health minister, José Gomes Temporão, the science and technology minister, Sérgio Rezende, and the foreign minister, Celso Amorim.

Talks will centre on bilateral relations, but will also take a closer look at Brazil’s programme to combat epidemics. The Swiss delegation will also meet researchers and representatives from Brazilian universities and research institutes, like the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) and the Brazilian Innovation Agency (FINEP).

Burkhalter will then travel to Rio de Janeiro to attend a Swiss-Brazilian symposium on the “Challenges for metropolitan cities in the 21st century", jointly organized by Zurich’s Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ) and the Brazilian Architects Institute (IAB).

A roundtable event, entitled "Science and higher education in Brazil and Switzerland, and possible collaboration", led by the Swiss delegation and members of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, is also planned in Rio.

Blue Gene

The third part of the trip centres on the Swiss community in Brazil. In addition to meetings with Swiss school representatives, Burkhalter will dine with business executives from Swiss multinationals and other firms based in Brazil, as well as officials from the Swiss-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce, to discuss the role of business for science and technology.

At the São Paulo University, Brazil's largest, Burkhalter will officially hand over the IBM Blue Gene supercomputer, donated by Lausanne’s Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL), to Brazil’s education minister.

The machine, which is the equivalent of a network of several thousand ordinary computers, is capable of performing 46 trillion operations per second.

The supercomputer will be installed at the Edmond and Lily Safra International Institute of Neuroscience, one of Brazil’s most innovative research institutes. According to Nicolelis, the Blue Gene will be the first supercomputer in the southern hemisphere.

Burkhalter and Haddad are also due to sign a scientific agreement to develop new studies on Parkinson's disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.

During his hectic schedule, the interior minister hopes to find time to pursue one of his personal interests: watching a football match in Brazil.

Burkhalter makes no secret of his passion for the sport, which he played enthusiastically as a young boy. In 2007, he published a book dedicated to the new football stadium in his hometown of Neuchâtel.

Alexander Thoele, swissinfo.ch (translated from Portuguese by Simon Bradley)

Current Swiss-Brazilian bilateral research programme

Brazil is one of eight non-EU priority countries, with which Switzerland wishes to broaden and deepen bilateral scientific ties.

State Secretary Charles Kleiber led an exploratory mission to Brazil in May 2007. Brazilian Science and Technology Minister Sergio Rezende led a high-level scientific delegation to Switzerland on September 28-29, 2009, during which he signed a bilateral research cooperation agreement and action plan.

Brazil has one of the highest annual growth rates in terms of the number of scientific papers published – up 10.4 per cent from 2000-2006 - behind China, Turkey, South Korea and Taiwan.

Priority research fields 2008-2011: neuroscience, health, energy and environment.

A first call for joint research was issued on November 13, 2009 by the EPFL and the CNPq. Of the twenty proposals received, ten were awarded grants worth SFr3.5 million, mainly for neuroscience and health.

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