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Millie's Influence on Carbon Science in Brazil

Ado Jorio concludes the session on Carbon by discussing Millie's influence on the study of carbon in Brazil.

Published onMar 20, 2018
Millie's Influence on Carbon Science in Brazil

Ado Jorio
Millie’s Research In Carbon Session, MIT Memorial

Photo credit: Paul McGrath

We’re at the end of this carbon section. However, I cannot let it finish without showing you the impact that Millie had on Brazilian science.

You can see, here — 178 papers with Brazilian coauthors and over 21,000 citations. Also, the first nanotube conference that was organized in Brazil had a very nice push from Millie.

Of course, we are happy about all of this. Antonio showed you that UFC was the first Brazilian university to give Millie an honorary degree. We (UFMG) were second.

And we are very happy that we could do it.  We are thankful that we could honor Millie. Here is another example of Millie's impact: our university is 90 years old (although, at that time, it was only 85), we’d had eight Honoris Causa, but Millie was the first woman. Again, she breaks the glass ceiling.

Another example — remember I told you about the “magic touch of Millie”? This guy was the president of our university. After Millie touched him, he became the Minister of Science.

Before ending, I would like to point out the dedicatory that we wrote to Millie, when she received her honorary degree.  I would like to read it, because I think it's a beautiful summation of Millie’s character, drive, poise, and contribution. It goes like this:

We know what is science, don’t we, Millie, but do we know what is art? I've read experts saying art is something so full of meaning that it does not belong anymore to the creator. The concept that was into creation is no longer important because art is transcendent. It belongs to humanity. Art is something that people over and over time will discuss, but they will never close up the meaning. Times change, people change, and the piece of art remains, always meaningful, always teaching us something, always inspiring human being. Like everybody, Millie, I have so many questions to ask you, so many things to tell you. But the more I think the more they all seem useless because you, Millie, you are a piece of art.

This brings us back to our questions. Now, we finally know the answers:

Where did we come from? From carbon!

What are we? We are carbon!

But where are we going now?

I have this cartoon. The first one here, the graphenium, was, from my understanding, proposed by Sir Novoselov, one of the Nobel Prize Laureate for graphene. But if we were to create a cartoon based on Millie’s work, we’d have more than graphenium!  We would have graphitium, fullerenium, and nanotubium — we would have everything!

I have one more story that I think represents Millie.

This is a map of part of the Amazon region. I do some research on carbon deposits in the Amazon, and there’s one aspect that's very interesting.

You probably heard about the Incas and the construction of Machu Picchu. For a long time, anthropologists assumed that the sophistication of a culture is directly related to the quality of its ruins.  If you have great ruins, it means it was a very fancy civilization. And in the Amazon, there are no ruins. So we were always taught, when we were kids, that the indigenous Brazilians were just lazy. You know? Just grab a banana. And you eat it. And that's it.

But then, at some point, anthropologists found that there are regions in the Amazon where the indigenous population purposely altered the soil, in a very sophisticated way, in order to improve their agriculture. Now, remember, this is 1,000 years ago!  Consider farming in Europe, 1,000 years ago — farmers lacked chemical fertilizers and were often too poor to afford the animals needed to produce manure, all of which combined to create a massive problem of soil exhaustion.  But the Brazilians had already solved this problem!

My point is that changing the soil in order to improve agriculture and solve the problem of soil exhaustion was quite sophisticated for the time. Can you guess what they were doing to alter the soil? They were burning material to add carbon to the soil!

So I am very touched by this science. You know, it's agriculture, materials science, anthropology — everything put together.

The science of this soil and detecting where ancient cultures used to be is something I’m extremely interested in, and I try to show my research to others in Brazil.  It’s unfortunate that you don’t have too many people who are interested.  They all say, “Oh, it’s just charcoal.  I don’t want to study charcoal.  Charcoal is too dirty.”

But when I showed this to Millie, Millie found it wonderful.  She put me in contact with people that are doing archeology at MIT, et cetera, et cetera.

This sort of encouragement was nothing new.  She worked this way every time.

This slide is the answer to the last question: Where are we going?

Well, we’re going to carbon — specifically, conferences about carbon!

Here is the last nanotube conference, which we organized in Brazil. We were hoping to have Millie there, but, sadly, she passed away before it took place.  We decided that no group picture of an NT conference would be quite right without Millie, so we printed out a poster of Millie’s face and placed it in our group photo, to honor her and keep her with us.

Marianne has offered to hang the poster in Gene’s bedroom so that it’s the first thing he sees every morning and the last thing he sees, before bed.  That way, Gene can keep Millie with him, the same way we did at the carbon conference.

Millie didn’t just give us jobs or attention or edits to our papers.  She created a carbon family of collaborators. Millie gave us so many connections, so many friends. She created a community.  This is something we really have to thank her for.

Now, although we thank Millie a lot, we also have to thank Millie's family. We also have to thank MIT. And we also have to thank the United States for sharing Millie with everybody.  Thank you, to all of them, and thank you to all of you, for being here, today.

Millie works with Ado. Photo credit: Being
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