Mathematics in Brazil: past and present, with a view to the future

Participants of the first Brazilian Mathematical Colloquium (source: IMPA archives)

Brazilian Mathematics is a young endeavor. Pioneer works can be traced back to the mid 19th century, but regular activities took off only in the 1950s, when Brazil joined the International Mathematical Union, the Brazilian Mathematical Colloquium was first held, and a number of important institutions were founded. We will highlight some of the most relevant initiatives in this history.

The first graduate programs in Mathematics were launched in the 1930s, with the creation of the Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters of the University of São Paulo, and the National Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro. Among the generation trained in the latter, were Mauricio Matos Peixoto and Leopoldo Nachbin, who helped create the Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics (IMPA) and were also the first Brazilian mathematicians to give Invited Addresses at the ICM 1962 and ICM 1974, respectively.

Shortly before that, the first Brazilian Mathematics Colloquium was held in 1957. The Colloquium was conceived as a broad meeting congregating the whole national mathematical community, and has been held biennially ever since. Several important books in the national mathematical literature, both elementary and advanced, started out as lecture notes for the Colloquium.

In the 1950s and 1960s, aiming at promoting scientific and technological development in Brazil, federal agencies supported talented students to pursue high level scientific training abroad. As a result, a new generation of mathematicians emerged and new regular graduate programs in Mathematics were initiated, irradiating from IMPA and the University of São Paulo.

The Brazilian Mathematical Society (SBM) was founded in 1969 and became the country's adhering organization to the IMU. The Society has about 2,000 associates, young and senior, is a nonprofit publishing house for mathematical books and journals, and runs several initiatives of broad interest, such as Klein Project Brazil and the nationwide Master's program for secondary school teachers (PROFMAT). Starting from 2002, the Brazilian Mathematical Society has been organizing the Bienal da Matemática, a biennial meeting with over 2,000 participants, devoted to the teaching and popularization of Mathematics at all levels.

Development accelerated in the 1970s, when definite policies for expansion and consolidation of the national scientific system, including strategic planning of graduate studies, were put in place by the federal government. The importance of Mathematics for the overall development of science and technology in the country earned it a special treatment at that stage.

Other mathematical societies were then established, including the Brazilian Society for Applied and Computational Mathematics (SBMAC), the Brazilian Statistics Association (ABE), the Brazilian Society for Mathematical Education (SBEM), and the Brazilian Society for the History of Mathematics (SBHMAT).

Brazil has two major mathematical olympiads. The Brazilian Mathematical Olympiad (OBM) has been promoting regional and national mathematical olympiads, as well as Brazil's successful participation in International Mathematical Olympiads, since 1979. The Brazilian Mathematical Olympiad for Public Schools (OBMEP) was started by IMPA and the federal government in 2005, and now reaches almost 20 million children every year - as a sign of the prestige of the event, the President of Brazil is usually the one who chairs over the award ceremony.

Education, with a special role for mathematical education, has been a consistent top priority for the Brazilian government for many years. Among other initiatives, PROFMAT was launched in 2010 by the Brazilian Mathematical Society and a nationwide network of universities and institutes, with the support of the federal government, and has since granted Master's degrees to about 2,000 secondary school teachers.

There are now over 50 graduate programs in Math and Statistics from North to South Brazil, which train an increasing number of Brazilian students and a substantial amount of foreigners, especially from Latin America and, increasingly, Asia, Europe and North America. When it comes to international cooperation, we highlight the program Science without Borders, another large scale initiative of the Brazilian government to foster international scientific exchange, kicked off in 2010. Its main route of action is to award 100,000 scholarships every year to Brazilian students - graduate and undergraduate - and researchers going abroad and to distinguished foreign scientists young and senior visiting Brazil.

In the upcoming months, we will have the opportunity to tell you more about the paths of mathematics in Brazil. Anyway, we can anticipate the expectation that the organization of the International Mathematical Olympiads in July 2017, and the International Congress of Mathematicians in August 2018, in Rio de Janeiro, will bring a new era of development in this area in the country.