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Professor Glaucius Oliva

President, Brazil National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq)

(Elected 2013)

Professor Glaucius Oliva gained his PhD in Protein Crystallography from Birkbeck in 1988, where he worked with the renowned scientist Sir Tom L Blundell, then a Professor at the College.

As President of CNPq, Professor Oliva oversees the promotion and quality of science and technological research across Brazil. He is Director of Brazil’s prestigious Science without Borders programme, and was previously Director of the Institute of Physics of São Carlos, University of São Paulo (IFSC/USP) where he has taught since 1982.

Professor Oliva’s main research interests are the structure and function of biological macromolecules and their application to the development of new drugs to treat tropical and infectious diseases. He currently leads a team of some 80 researchers, including physicists, biologists and chemists.

In May Professor Oliva returned to Birkbeck to deliver the 2013 Bernal lecture, in which he described the enormous changes that have taken place in Brazil as a result of its investment in science and technology.

He has said that his time at Birkbeck ‘changed his life’. He adds: ‘Birkbeck is where I started my scientific career. The 1980s were a time when Brazil wanted to build up its science, and to promote change in the country. Many people were sent abroad to pursue careers in science. But more than the science I learned, I remember how kind people were towards me.

‘I was invited to people’s homes, and remember lively discussions in the College tearoom. That left a mark on my life, in the sense that I learned to see science as an instrument within society, and that helped not only myself but also my generation to build the changes that my country needed.’

As Director of Science without Borders, Oliva has been keen to reinvigorate the country’s programme of sending students abroad. He adds: ‘In the 1980s we came here to learn everything we could. Now we have a very strong science base in Brazil that allows us to go abroad again in a more collaborative way, and to look at problems that can be solved together.

‘After I came to Birkbeck I encouraged other Brazilian students to come here. I am delighted that Birkbeck is part of the Science without Borders scheme, and I hope that there will be many more Brazilian students at Birkbeck in the future. I also look forward to continuing my association with Birkbeck as a College Fellow.’