Marcelo de Olivera Souza, National Coordinator, Brazil
by Peggy Walker

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In the northern part of the state of Rio de Janeiro, about 286 km (178 miles) from the city proper, lies a municipality and city—Campos dos Goytacazes. Here you will find AWB’s National Coordinator for Brazil, Marcelo de Olivera Souza. A professor and Dr. of Physics, Marcelo is a natural networker and a champion of teamwork.

Campos dos Goytacazes has a population of 463,545 in an area of 4032 square km, (1557 square miles) and is the largest in the state. At an elevation of 14 meters and with a tropical climate, you will find this region with flat fields—hence the name campos. Originally inhabited by the Goytacazes Indians, it was colonized in the 16th century, and officially founded on May 29, 1677 as the village of Sao Salvador de Campo de Goytacazes. It wasn’t until March 28th, 1835, that it was promoted to a city status.

It is 56 km (35 miles) up the Paraiba do Sul River from its mouth on the Atlantic Coast of Eastern Brazil. It is considered an important commercial city because it produces sugar cane, coffee, rice, corn/maize, beans and livestock products. This region is not just agrarian in nature, for it does have a petrochemical industry based on the oil reserves in the deep water field basins. In addition, Campos de Goytacazes focuses on higher education since it has several universities which warehouse the many high school students that not only speak Portuguese, but English and Spanish, both of which are offered in the high school curriculum.

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Marcelo and Eponine

As a child, Marcelo loved the night sky and would do naked-eye observing whenever he could. However, it was not until he attended college that he actually looked through the eyepiece of a telescope. What kept Marcelo going was the book and television show Cosmos, by Carl Sagan. Soon he found himself interested in the area of cosmology, studying topological defects in the early universe, specifically with cosmic strings. His thesis title is, “Analysis of the gravitational field of infinitely long cosmic strings.”

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Marcelo introducing Mike Simmons at the International Meeting of Astronomy and Astronautics 2008

Marcelo was introduced to Astronomers Without Borders in 2008 by Manoj Pai of India, after they had met on the internet. Manoj was so impressed with Marcelo and his impact in Brazil that he introduced him to Mike Simmons.

Marcelo had an opportunity to meet Mike in person when Mike came to Brazil in 2008 and helped to organize a conference which helped to gear up for IYA 2009. From there, Marcelo was not only the National Coordinator for Brazil but also the Regional Coordinator. Mike and Marcelo did meet up on the few occasions when Mike would visit Brazil, which further fueled Marcelo’s drive to connect with others in the global network of AWB.

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(left) Some members of the Louis Cruls Astronomy Club and (right) few of the international participants of "International Meeting of Astronomy and
Astronautics".

Marcelo hosted his first conference in April of 2008 with a focus on how the international community is conducting activities on space, astronomy and physics. Some of the topics that have been covered are: History of Astronomy and Archaeoastronomy Astronomy Education, Astronomy and Astronautics Popularization, Astrophotography, ATM Astronomy and Cosmology. Marcelo added that, "Here in our city we also organized four International Meetings of Astronomy and Astronautics, special International Events and many other activities including the launch of small rockets."

Starting off with just a couple of international speakers for the International Meeting of Astronomy and Astronautics, Marcelo has secured many notable guests such as U.S. astronauts, cosmonauts, representatives from various international space agencies, planetarium directors, observatory directors, the Sky & Telescope Editor -in-Chief, the TWAN Coordinator, and the AWB CEO—as  well as AWB National Coordinators and affiliates, directors and coordinators of international education programs, fellow astronomers and astrophysicists. (For a full list see end of article.) This conference has grown to where now there are 20 countries that attend and it has had people from every continent except Africa (and Marcelo hopes to change that very soon).

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Mike Simmons and Marcelo in Paris at UNESCO

On the local level, Marcelo said that, “For sixteen years the Louis Cruls Astronomy Club organized many events of Astronomy and Astronautics for the public. We partnered with the Instituto Federal Fluminense—IFF and the three observatories in Campos dos Goytacazes.”

One very creative idea was conducted in the summer of 2008, where Marcelo organized an activity in a boat, called the “Science Boat.” Marcelo explained, “We showed earth and moon movements during the boat trip and talked about the tides having an astronomical origin. It was a great success because we had to make 8 trips. Now the municipal government is organizing new activities on the boat.”

In March 1998, Marcelo started an Astronomy Club section for children called, “Clubinho de Astronomia” and developed projects to teach Astronomy and Astronautics for youngsters as a participant team in the UNAWE program. He is the coordinator for the UNAWE program in Brazil (http://unawe.passeiopeloceu.org). In the second 2008 semester he participated in the organization of the “Earth and Sky” Astrophotography Contest with the AWB and TWAN project support.

In 2008 Marcelo also developed the first Brazilian Digital Planetarium with an Inflatable Dome and inaugurated a virtual Science Center in Second Life located in “Ilha Brasil Rio.” Now this space is closed so he secured a new space on another island. In addition, Marcelo organizes an international video-conference for astronomy clubs from other countries on a regular basis.

When asked about how he accomplishes all that he does, Marcelo commented that, “It is easy to find support.” Although he pays for his own personal travel, Marcelo’s reputation has grown because of his dedication to focusing on the next generation. Lots of doors have opened up because of forging new friendships in the ever-growing AWB global network.

He also said that his club and his events do get sponsorships from the local and federal governments due to the coverage he gets for his events. Currently he is partnering with three media avenues. Since September 2003, Marcelo has written and presented a weekly 30-minute television program in Brazil about astronomy and astronautics, called, “Um Passeio pelo céu” (“A Walk through the Sky”). Marcelo said, “It is carried by regional cable TV, TV Litoral, and produced in ‘IFF’ studio. It is the first weekly program about astronomy and astronautics on Brazilian television.” To check out the interviews presented in the program go to: http://passeiopeloceu.blogspot.com/ And for videos go to: http://www.youtube.com/clubedeastronomia His second media outlet is a weekly column on astronomy and astronautics in the regional newspaper, “Diário,” something he has done since September of 2005. Lastly, he also has a weekly spot that is only a one minute and 30 second segment on the radio station.

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Marcelo and Eponine (image credit by Babaek Tafreshi)

Marcelo said that he could not do this alone, and he credits his lovely wife of 12 years, Eponine, with providing the support that keeps him going. He explained, “Although she is an advisor and conducts impact surveys in regard to potential industry planning in the city, she likes astronomy too and participates in it with me every chance she gets.”

When asked why he is dedicated to AWB Marcelo said, “The idea of without borders means we can share with others the experience of other people from around the world. It is amazing that people have the same mission, same ideas, and share projects with each other—this is a big motivation for me in AWB.”

 

 

CONFERENCE SPEAKERS:
In the events organized by Marcelo we had the presence of:

  • Apollo Astronauts Dr. Buzz Aldrin and Dr. Charlie Duke; Brazilian Astronaut Marcos Pontes; Russian Cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov and Oleg Kotov; as well as Space Explorer Anousheh Ansari.
  • Dr. Narendra Bhandari (India Space Agency), Dr. Rosaly Lopes (NASA), Dr. José Bezerra (Brazilian Institute of Aeronautics and Space), Mr Virgiliu Pop (Romanian Space Agency), Dr Robert Zubrin (Mars Society - USA).
  • Dr. Jin Zhu (China - Director of Beijing Planetarium).
  • Mr. Robert Naeye (Editor in Chief of Sky & Telescope magazine).
  • Mr. Babak Tafreshi (TWAN - Iran).
  • Mr Tamas Ladanyi (TWAN - Hungary).
  • Mr. Mike Simmons (President, Astronomers Without Borders), as well as numerous AWB National Coordinators including Mr. Nazar Sallam (Abu Dhabi - UAE), Mr Johannes Stubler (AWB - Austria), Mr. Julio Vannini (AWB - Nicarágua), Dr. Manuel de la Torre (AWB - Bolívia), Mr. Michael Uberty (AWB - New York), and AWB affiliates such as Mrs. Joan Chamberlin (Leader of Southern Gems Project - Citizen Sky), Mr Dirk Ross (Japan), Mr. Manoj Pai (India - Ahmedab Astronomy Club)
  • Dr. Malcolm Smith (Cerro Tololo - Chile), Dr. Ronaldo Rogério de Freitas Mourão (Brazil - National Observatory), MSc. Marcomede Rangel Nunes (National Observatory)
  • MSc. Rosa Doran (International Coordinator of Galileo Teacher Training Program - GTTP), Prof. Julio Blanco (Coordinator of GTTP in Uruguay), Dr. Carolina Ödman (Coordinator of UNAWE program).
  • Prof. Enrique Torres (Coordinator of Educational Programs in CIDA - Venezuela), Dr. Oscar Alvarez (Cuba), Dr. Gonzalo Tancredi (Uruguay), MSc. Andrea Sanchez (Uruguay), Dr. Mário Novello (Institute of Cosmology, Relativity and Astrophysics - ICRA - CBPF), Dra. Maria Elizabeth Zucolotto (National Museum), Dr. Martin Makler (ICRA-CBPF - Brazil) and many other Brazilian Astronomers and representatives of Brazilian Institutions and Astronomy Clubs.


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