The science afoot in Brazil's most populous city

Image Credit: Paul Hoppe

Stark juxtapositions define São Paulo, a sprawling metropolis surrounded by ocean and rainforest. Despite high crime rates and widespread poverty, the city has nourished the arts and constructed the premier research institution in Brazil, the University of São Paulo (the very school that launched the career of renaissance man Paulo Vanzolini, renowned herpetologist and composer of the samba classic, “Ronda”). The University’s Science Station, a gigantic multidisciplinary museum, was built in an abandoned factory warehouse&emdash;an act of reinvention typical of São Paulo today.

Nearby, in the neighborhood of Bixiga, the world’s only science-specific professional theatrical troupe, Arte Ciência no Palco (Science Art on Stage), is staging their latest play, “Oxygen.” Written by celebrated chemists Roald Hoffmann and Carl Djerassi, it will run through June at the Teatro Ruth Escobar. Paulistanos looking for a more otherworldly performance can visit Jon McCormack’s “Eden,” an interactive artificial ecosystem that’s part of this summer’s Emoção Art.ficial, a biennial celebration of art, science and technology.

For those seeking to explore some of the area’s natural riches, the Brazilian Meeting of Birdwatching kicked off at the end of May with the hope of spying on the nearly 300 astonishingly diverse species nesting throughout the city. The open-air snake pit at the Butantã Institute, the foremost snake research center in South America, is also a perennial favorite. In 1913, Teddy Roosevelt described the Institute as “one of the most interesting evidences of the modern advance in Brazil”—a part played these days by São Paulo itself.

Originally published July 10, 2006


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