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Descobrindo a Terra: TU’s New Partnership in Brazil!

Update from CGE Vice Provost, Dr. Cheryl Matherly

Natal, RN, Brazil

BODY-cge-willis-matherly-brazilMy colleagues Dr. Bruce Dean Willis, professor of Spanish, Comparative Literature, and Portuguese, and Dr. Jingyi Chen, associate professor of Geophysics, and I have spent the past week in Natal, Brazil. The purpose of the trip was to meet with faculty at TU’s first partner university in Brazil, the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN) to make plans for a summer school program for US freshmen and sophomore students, Descobrindo a Terra: Exploring Geology and Geophysics in Brazil. During our conversations here, we learned that the students who enroll in the Terra program will be following the footsteps of another prominent US geoscientist who began his career in Brazil almost 150 years ago.

Renowned geologist John Casper Branner, president of the Geological Society of America, president of the Seismological Society of America, consultant to commissions studying the Panama Canal, and second president of Stanford University, was an undergraduate student at Cornell Univeristy in the 1870s where he studied under Charles Frederick Hartt, a distinguished scholar who also happened to be the imperial geologist of Brazil. Branner traveled with Hartt as a student assistant in 1874, completing what amounted to his 19th century version of study abroad to Brazil. After Hartt’s death, Branner stayed on in Brazil to work as a translator and engineer for the São Cyriaco Gold Mining Company in the state of Minas Gerais. In 1881, he returned to the United States, but was sent back to South America by Thomas Edison in search of a vegetable fiber for use in the newly invented incandescent electric lamp. Branner went on to conduct three major scientific expeditions to Brazil that resulted in some of the earliest geological mapping of the country.

Branner remained passionately interested in Brazil for his entire life. In addition to his writings on the geology of Brazil, he also wrote an early book on the grammar of Portuguese language. In 1919 he published an article titled, “The Importance of Study of Portuguese Language,” where he notes that “As intelligent people we should recognize the importance of the language and should face the problems it presents. For we cannot get into real touch with any people unless we can use their language, or they can use ours, with some sort of facility.”

BODY-cge-brail-2015This week, my colleagues and I visited some of the geological outcrops that were mapped by Branner during his stays in Brazil, reminding us that Brazil provides a rich laboratory for the study of geology and geophysics. But we were also reminded, as Branner knew, that people who are prepared to address global scientific problems are knowledgeable about culture and language, as well as technology. The Terra program, funded by the Partners of the Americas Fund/100,000 Strong in the Americas, and developed in cooperation with the Society of Exploration Geophysicists, will provide students with a unique opportunity to study energy geology and geophysics and an immersion introduction to Portuguese. The legacy of Branner continues.

Read more about the Terra program here!