Coppe was born in March 1963, under the name Master’s Course in Chemical Engineering, at the University of Brazil, which is the former name for the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).
This course was created thanks to the initiative and determination of Professor Alberto Luiz Galvão Coimbra and his colleagues, giving rise to the biggest Latin American institution for education and research in engineering in just a few decades.
Coimbra was a chemical engineer and professor at the Brazilian National School of Chemistry and was dissatisfied with the quality of undergraduate courses in Engineering in Brazil at the time. As he used to say, to meet the needs arising from the expanding industries and our country’s development process, there was a need to further develop technologies and project methods. According to him, it was necessary to combine basic scientific principles in mathematics, physics, and chemistry with the practical nature of an engineer so that we could achieve the full potential of science in engineering. Otherwise, Brazilians would be forever doomed to import technology – on an ever-larger scale and not always suited to our specific needs.
Having obtained a master’s degree at Vanderbilt University in 1949, in the United States, Coimbra was familiar with the North American graduate system, which combined teaching with research – something that barely existed in Brazil at the time. He quickly became aware that reproducing that model in our country was the fastest and most efficient way to improve the training of our engineers since the standards of quality and rigor for our graduate studies would then spread throughout the undergraduate courses.
That is how, in the early 1960s, he chose three of his best students who were close to graduating from the undergraduate course in Chemical Engineering – Affonso Silva Telles, Giulio Massarani, and Maurício Leonardos; provided them with scholarships from the Organization of American States (OAS) and sent them to the United States to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Houston. On their return, they became professors in the graduate program that Coimbra would come to create. Such a course, as he so dreamed, would contribute to changing Brazilian universities and, from then on, our country as a whole as well.
At that moment, this graduate system with master’s and doctoral programs in force in the United States had still not been discovered by Brazilian universities. In addition, with few exceptions, our universities did not carry out any research. Higher education courses were seen only as spaces for teaching. There were some graduate courses, although they generally were short specialization/non-degree courses, a type of graduation that would later be called a lato sensu graduate course. In the engineering field, professors used to teach part-time; teaching was only one of the many occupations of such professionals, suffering from competition from activities that they carried out in their project offices, companies, and other institutions.
It was a very different scenario when compared to the two most advanced countries at the time: the United States and the Soviet Union, which were the protagonists in the Cold War, the geopolitical struggle of when both of these powers that had emerged from the Second World War clashed. In 1957 the Soviets shocked the world by taking the first crewed vehicles into space. Caught by surprise, the Americans mobilized themselves to make up for lost time and undertook a major reform in their system of education and research in science and technology.
Fascinated with how Russian engineering was strongly based on mathematical principles and with the prompt reaction of American universities to the technological feats of their opponents, Professor Alberto Coimbra realized that it was the right moment to try something similar in Brazil. At that time, the country experienced euphoria from the developmentalism that began at the end of President Vargas’s era, which became even stronger in the second half of the 1950s under Juscelino Kubitschek. With the slogan “Fifty years’ progress in five”, the new capital city, Brasilia, was built, and there was an intense focus on replacing imports via industrialization as the key to economic development. In the arts, cinema novo and bossa nova helped make Brazil known to the world.
Coimbra thus set out in search of support for creating a master’s program in Chemical Engineering. Frank Tiller, who had been his advisor during his master’s degree at Vanderbilt University and who was, at the time, head of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Houston, agreed to come to Brazil and teach in the new program temporarily; convinced other North American professors to do the same, and contacted foreign foundations to obtain scholarships for our students. Athos da Silveira Ramos, president of the Institute of Chemistry at the University of Brazil, provided him with two small classrooms on the sixth floor of the School of Chemistry, whose building was on the old Praia Vermelha campus, in the Southern Region of Rio de Janeiro.
The first classes for this program began in March 1963. Its faculty consisted of Coimbra himself, the Americans Donald Katz and Louis Brand, and the Brazilians Nelson de Castro Faria, Affonso Silva Telles, and Giulio Massarani, the latter two of which had only recently arrived from their master’s degree at the University of Houston, where Coimbra had sent them on a scholarship. Its students, selected among the brightest recent graduates from various Brazilian universities, were: Gileno Amaral Barreto, Walmir Gonçalves, Túlio Bracho Henriques, Jair Augusto de Miranda, Carlos Augusto Guimarães Perlingeiro, Paulo Ribeiro, Nelson Trevisan, Edgard Souza Aguiar Vieira, Liu Kai.
Coimbra had a kind of mantra that he would often say and that would become one of the pillars of the institution in the following decades: full-time and exclusive dedication from both professors and students. Conditio sine qua non, as he used to say, for ensuring an improvement in quality that effectively changes the scenario of Brazilian universities. He himself set an example as he quit six out of the seven jobs that he had up until then, thus fully committing himself to the university.
In order to ensure that the brilliant professors and students were able to remain on a full-time and exclusive dedication regime, it was necessary to have enough money to pay salaries comparable to those offered by companies in general. The scholarships obtained from different Brazilian and foreign institutions indeed helped attract students but were not enough to keep them at the university as professors. Moreover, it would also be necessary to set up adequate laboratories so that they were able to carry out their research.
At that moment, Coimbra met the economist José Pelúcio Ferreira, head of a division at the then National Bank for Economic Development (BNDE), which still did not have the “S” (meaning “Social”) that would later be added. Created in 1952 with the purpose of promoting the country’s development by stimulating industrialization, the BNDE financed the installation and expansion of industries. It also had a budget dedicated to funding human resources training programs in many companies. However, as this concept was still uncommon in Brazil at the time, these funds ended up not being fully utilized.
Pelúcio and Coimbra jointly proposed that the BNDE used such resources to provide non-refundable loans for the training of high-level professors and researchers at universities. Thus, the Technical and Scientific Development Fund (Funtec) was created in 1964. Its first loan was granted to the Master’s Program in Chemical Engineering.
In 1965, Funtec’s resources encouraged Coimbra to create another master’s program, this time in Mechanical Engineering. As such, he needed to come up with a name that would encompass both courses and the next ones that had yet to be created. This is how Coppe – Coordination of Graduate Programs and Research in Engineering – came to be.
Coimbra, with the purpose of recruiting students, devised a method that consisted in sending professors in pairs on a mission to cities where there were undergraduate courses in Engineering. The envoys would place an advertisement in the local newspaper, inviting students who were close to graduating to meet at a hotel at the appointed time. There they would explain what a master’s degree was, introduce and describe Coppe, and interview those who were interested. If the young student looked promising, they would be informed that there was a scholarship available for them in Rio de Janeiro.
From that time forward, rapid growth could be seen. In 1967, when Coppe moved to larger premises in the Cidade Universitária campus, located at Ilha do Fundão, it already had seven established programs. In 1968, when the system of our universities was remade by the Ministry of Education, graduate studies were made official in Brazil in accordance with what was already put into practice by Coppe.
In 1969, inspired by the experience with BNDE and Funtec, the Ministry of Planning created the National Fund for Scientific and Technological Development (FNDCT). José Pelúcio was nominated for managing this body from within the Funding Authority for Studies and Projects (Finep), a state-owned company under the ministry in question. This achievement greatly increased the resources available for funding research in science and technology.
By the end of the decade, 7 out of the 13 current graduate programs had already been created. Many master’s theses had been written, doctoral programs had just been implemented, and companies started looking for professors to ask for solutions to their technological challenges.
Coppe had so much power that not even the strong anti-communism of the military dictatorship established in Brazil since 1964 could prevent it from doing what it considered best for its academic excellence: for instance, managing to get renowned names in Soviet science to teach at its campus. In 1968, while the Brazilian government prepared Institutional Act No. 5, which suppressed civil liberties and effectively established the military dictatorship, Soviet professors would arrive in the country, invited by the founder and director of Coppe, Alberto Luiz Galvão Coimbra, with the blessings of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Soviet embassy in Brasília. We were visited by Victor Lenski, an international expert in strength of materials, and Dimitri Vastvoscev, a well-recognized name in marine engineering, among others.
The success that Coppe attained in its first years would eventually be the root of the crisis that befell the institution in the following decade.
Golden age, years of lead
The second decade of Coppe’s existence was defined by the great crisis that resulted in the removal of its founder, Alberto Luiz Galvão Coimbra, from his position in 1973. The military dictatorship was at its highest point. Internal conflicts and power struggles found, in the national context of fear and denunciations, a favorable environment for threats and accusations that crossed the walls of the university, finding their way to the doors of the dictatorship’s public security bodies.
The traumatic removal of Coimbra put Coppe’s very survival at risk. For some time, there was a fear that the institution would be extinguished within the university, with its programs being distributed among the departments of the Schools of Chemistry and Engineering. Professors were discharged as they were accused of being lenient with students suspected of being involved in political activities; others would resign due to their frustrations.
Nonetheless, the seeds sowed by Coimbra were able to withstand the dictatorship. The principles of commitment to academic excellence and to the best interests of Brazilian society that he passed on to professors and disciples were stronger than its obstacles. In the following years, Coppe not only managed to survive but also experienced a major improvement in its academic outputs – a transformation that would later allow it to consolidate its position as an institution that produces knowledge and technology for the country.
A big milestone was the signing, in 1977, of a cooperation agreement with Petrobras, which provided for the development of the technology needed so that this company would be able to produce its own oil production rigs. Since then, the cooperation between Coppe and Petrobras has established Brazil as one of the leading countries in offshore oil production technology.
The pioneering spirit of Coppe
The early 1970s were defined by the so-called “Brazilian miracle”. The government’s strategy was to further develop its import substitution policies and increase investments in infrastructure. The economy grew at around 10% per year. As a result, the demand for technology increased, and opportunities for highly qualified engineers multiplied themselves, benefitting research institutions in science and technology such as Coppe.
With the concern of safeguarding the principles that guided its creation – academic excellence, and full-time and exclusive dedication –, Coppe came up with an unprecedented initiative in Brazil. It created Coppetec for regulating the services provided by its professors regarding projects that the industries and public bodies had an interest in. The purpose was to ensure that their academic activities would not be jeopardized by project orders and, at the same time, that they would keep researchers in touch with the needs of companies and society. Another objective was to generate resources for Coppe itself that could be applied more freely, without the bureaucratic constraints of government funds.
The model used by Coppetec (which would become a foundation decades later) worked so well that it inspired the creation of similar bodies in other universities.
Also in 1970, there were created yet another four courses, thus increasing the number of programs to 11. The first doctoral thesis produced at Coppe was also approved, which defined the starting point of a new academic level. This research work, made by Alcebíades de Vasconcellos Filho, was called “The finite element method: theoretical foundations – automation – applications to plane elasticity and plate problems”, and was presented to the Civil Engineering Program.
In 1973, a project conceived and worked on since 1971 became a reality. With support from the Ministry of Planning, the first Brazilian graduate business school, called Coppead, was created within the Production Engineering Program. It was inspired by the courses that multiplied themselves at the time in the United States and which are widely known as MBA (Master of Business Administration) today. Before then, Brazilian business administration schools only offered undergraduate degree courses. Coppe, a graduate institution in engineering, innovated by bringing such novelty to Brazil. In the 1980s, Coppead gained autonomy and separated itself from its mothership.
This type of independence would also happen with other initiatives that were born in Coppe in the 1960s and 1970s and which managed to conquer their own space at UFRJ: the Urban Planning (URP) area originated the current Institute of Urban and Regional Planning and Research (IPPUR); the Engineering Mathematics Program was transferred to the Institute of Mathematics; the Scientific Computing Division, where the large computer donated by IBM in the 1960s was housed at, became the current Electronic Computing Center (NCE/UFRJ); and from Ecotec came the graduate course at the Institute of Economics/UFRJ.
On May 18, 1973, the rector of UFRJ, Djacir Menezes, removed Alberto Luiz Galvão Coimbra from his position on Coppe’s board of directors. It was the result of internal conflicts between totally different worldviews. The cultural euphoria surrounding the innovations that defined the years between the late 1950s and the early 1960s was objected against by those who rose to power with the 1964 military coup d’état.
Coimbra was well-known for his boldness which had led him to bring the best scientists to Rio de Janeiro, whether they were from the Soviet Union or the United States, and that did not align with the government’s ideas. Always willing to do what he thought was best for Coppe, he kept on moving forward, ignoring ideological polarizations.
In the early 1970s, invited by Coimbra, three professors from other institutions arrived at Coppe to oversee three programs: Biomedical Engineering, Systems Engineering, and Electrical Engineering. One of them, the coordinator of the Electrical Engineering program, was a general.
The three of them clashed with Coimbra regarding his progressive vision, as his goal was to create an innovative institution that would encompass its programs, instead of repeating the formula of isolated departments. They questioned his management methods and brought about the creation of a commission of inquiry at the university. It did not take long for the existence of such a commission to be reported to the dreaded Federal Police.
That is how an internal dispute ended up involving the dictatorship’s suppression bodies and resulted in Coppe’s founder being removed from his position.
And so, on May 18, 1973, after dismissing Coimbra, Rector Djacir Menezes appointed Sydney Martins Gomes dos Santos, who was a professor at the School of Engineering and at Coppe’s Civil Engineering Program, as vice-rector of UFRJ.
Sydney, now a director, chose as his vice director Carlos Alberto Perlingeiro, from the Chemical Engineering Program, one of the professors who were closest to the founder and who strived to help Sydney administer Coppe and, most importantly, to make it peaceful once again. He demonstrated the intentions and worth of Coimbra’s ideas and actions to the director, while also helping him put out the fires ignited by the constant conflicts in relations within the faculty.
However, there were still rumors that Coppe would come to an end and that its programs would be shared between the School of Engineering and the School of Chemistry. Being apprehensive or frustrated with this situation, several professors quit. Students became displeased and in mid-1973 they went on strike against late payment of scholarships. The atmosphere on our campuses grew even more turbulent.
Following these events, new conflicts broke out in a multidisciplinary field under the Production Engineering Program, called Urban and Regional Planning (URP). In practice, URP operated as a program and had its own coordinator. It had been created with support by the federal government, through the Brazilian National Housing Bank. Unlike the other programs, which were mainly made up of engineers, the URP was dominated by professors and students from the Architecture, Urbanism, and Social Sciences courses. They had a more critical stance regarding the government’s policies.
In 1976, a professor from the URP accused their colleagues of teaching Marxism in their classes. Coppe’s director, Sidney Santos, decided to remove 7 out of the 12 professors who worked in that field. Dissatisfied with this situation, three professors quit and, consequently, that field was discontinued.
Regarded as an interventionist and now distrusted by students and professors who had a stronger connection to Coimbra, Sydney Santos’s reputation was worn out even more with the URP crisis. Not even appointing Perlingeiro as vice director and dismissing the three coordinators who had triggered the crisis that removed Coimbra from his position were enough to increase his popularity.
Coimbra, at that time, had been relocated to an obscure advisory position at Finep and faced charges before the Federal Court. On August 12, 1976, the Judge José Gregório Marques of the 4th Federal Court, following the recommendation of the Public Prosecutor José de Oliveira Bastos, closed the case against Coppe’s founder.
Coimbra remained ostracized until 1981, which is when the dictatorship dwindled and the Minister of Education himself, Colonel Rubem Ludwig, granted him the Anísio Teixeira Award. In 1984, with the military regime already in its final moments, Finep brought him back to UFRJ. Coimbra then went back to being a professor at Coppe. At 60 years of age, he returned to his origins: the Chemical Engineering Program. He taught in this program for almost a decade, until he retired for good with the title of emeritus professor at UFRJ, in 1993.
In December 1973, in a text celebrating the tenth anniversary of Coppe, Sydney wrote: “[…] we are greatly indebted to Professor Alberto Luiz Coimbra, […] who gave his everything to Coppe in these ten years: his work, his devotion, his dedication, his efforts, and even his health”.
In 1995, the institution built and dreamed of by Coimbra gave him one of the greatest acknowledgments that one can receive in life: it was renamed the Alberto Luiz Coimbra Institute for Graduate Studies and Research in Engineering. Nevertheless, the acronym he had chosen 30 years earlier remained: Coppe.
Celebrating our freedom, and the empty wallets
Those were hard times. On the one hand, we lived through turbulent times caused by conflicts, political rearrangements, and struggles for our country’s re-democratization. On the other hand, we would endure the economic difficulties that defined the so-called “lost decade” in Brazil.
When dealing with a scenario of high inflation rates and an explosion in foreign debt interest, while also being heavily dependent on imported oil, the federal government gradually let go of the role of stimulating scientific and technological development. While it is true that the support system for science and technology set up during the military regime even improved with the creation of the Ministry of Science and Technology in the first civil government in 1985, in reality, the funds intended for this sector dwindled.
In need of resources, Coppe had to further dedicate its activities for the benefit of companies and government bodies proportionally to their demands, while also learning to do so without compromising its independence and academic rigor. Having to partake in our new democratic freedom, which included being able to choose our leaders by direct voting, was also an arduous learning experience.
As such, the political and economic turmoil brought about new leaders who would lead our institution in the following decades. Not only did Coppe survive without losing its identity and excellence, but it also strengthened its relationship with society. In the 1980s, strategic issues such as the relationship between energy and the environment gradually became part of its agenda.
It was also in that decade when the momentous partnership between Coppe and Petrobras gained strength, whose first project had been carried out in the 1960s. However, it was in 1977 that such a partnership gained traction, as it allowed for the company to develop the technology it needed, so that it could design its own rigs and manage to extract oil from the depths of the Campos Basin. This technology put Brazil at the forefront of deep-sea exploration and saved the country billions of dollars in foreign exchange. Such cooperation generated more than 3,000 projects until 2013 and hundreds of theses and dissertations.
In 1982, while the presidency was still held by a member of the military, the transition to democracy had already begun. Those who had been punished under the military dictatorship were amnestied in 1979, and the Institutional Act No. 5, the main instrument for enforcing the conditions for such punishments, had been terminated a year earlier. Trade union movements were growing and reorganizing themselves. New political parties emerged; old parties resurfaced.
Even at Coppe, a new cycle began: Paulo Alcântara Gomes (1979 to 1981) became the director of Coppe, succeeding Sergio Neves Monteiro (1976 to 1978). Its Deliberative Council, a body comprising all its professors and student representatives and which had been previously discontinued by Sydney Santos, was re-established under Professor Sandoval Carneiro (1982-1985). In 1986, Professor Luiz Pinguelli Rosa became the first director elected by direct voting at Coppe.
Pressed by the need to cut costs, the government ordered Finep to withdraw the support given to Coppe. Meanwhile, CAPES and CNPq, who were traditionally the providers of scholarships, had the amount and value of their scholarships reduced. It was becoming difficult to attract students.
Nonetheless, in the end, we managed to keep both the saddle and the horse. Despite the persistent economic difficulties, some good opportunities were seized. Coppe promoted important cooperation projects with companies, which would later result in vital scientific and technological gains for the country.
To the sea: the success of the partnership between Coppe and Petrobras
In the early 1980s, no country had yet mastered the technology needed to extract oil from very deep waters. Since 1974, Petrobras has made successive oil discoveries in the depths of the Campos Basin. The only remaining challenge was extracting it from that location. And it needed to be solved urgently. One of the biggest problems of the Brazilian economy at the time was how much it depended on imported oil – imports comprised 70% of the national demand.
The imbalance in the external accounts caused by the expenditures in oil, which began with the two major increases in international oil prices, in 1973 and 1979, worsened in the 1980s with the Latin American debt crisis. Interest payments on foreign loans went from $514 million in 1973 to $9.5 billion in 1983. There was not much that Brazil could do. Nonetheless, a rapid increase in domestic oil production would ease the situation quite a bit.
It was in this context that Petrobras and Coppe signed, in 1977, the historic cooperation agreement that helped change the situation of the Brazilian oil industry. Considered an example of successful collaboration between a company and a university, they set in motion a lasting partnership that has benefitted Brazil and its society for decades.
Alongside Petrobras, the professors, students, and technicians from Coppe dived straight into the sea. And thus they helped build, in the ocean, the technology that would place Brazil in the current position of a world leader in deep-sea oil exploration and production.
Such cooperation, which remains active today, generated more than 3,000 research projects by 2022, as well as resulted in thousands of graduations in masters’ and doctoral programs and the creation of specialization and lato sensu graduate courses.
The agreement between Petrobras and Coppe for the development of rig design technologies was born out of the efforts of researchers from the Civil Engineering Program, who were able to convince the company’s technicians to invest in such a partnership. It consisted in making the accumulated competence at Coppe available for Petrobras, in an engineering area called structural analysis. By means of such an agreement, Coppe would develop specific computational systems for designing complex structures that operate under dynamic conditions, such as offshore oil rigs. With these systems, Petrobras was then able to design its own platforms. And, even better, those would be projects for the specific conditions of the Brazilian sea – a service that no foreign office could provide.
In 1985, there were already 33 operating fixed rigs, located in offshore fields in the Northeast Region and near Espírito Santo, whose design was based on Coppe’s research for shallow water exploration (10 to 48 meters). In that same year, Petrobras was already designing the first seven entirely national rigs for operating in the deep waters (100 meters deep) of the Campos Basin.
For Coppe, the success of such an agreement with the Civil Engineering Program opened up a wide front of cooperation opportunities with the company, still in the 1980s. As new and different projects emerged, other programs were mobilized, such as Marine Engineering, Metallurgy and Materials, Chemical Engineering, and Electrical Engineering.
For Brazil, the collaboration helped change the face of the oil industry. The 1980s and 1990s saw successive record breaks in Petrobras’ production in ever deeper waters. And so, our country joined the front ranks of the select group of countries with offshore oil production technology.
Technology to advance straight into the sea
When the depth of offshore operations in the sea of Campos reached that of hundreds of meters, it was necessary to abandon the fixed rigs, which were nailed to the bottom of the sea, and resort to floating structures. First, our focus was on semi-submersible rigs. Then we also started using drillships (former oil tankers that were repurposed).
In this process, the Marine Engineering Program increased its participation among the pioneering researchers from the Civil Engineering Program. As they were knowledgeable in marine hydrodynamics, they helped expand our specific knowledge of the Brazilian sea.
An important part of Coppe’s work for Petrobras is developing monitoring techniques regarding the behavior of offshore structures, as well as reporting such information to the company’s project designers. One of these techniques, developed in the 1980s, is still used today for the numerical simulation of cathodic protection systems against equipment corrosion. Another one of them resulted in a sophisticated fatigue monitoring system for tube joints.
The cooperation agreement signed in 1977 ended up being extinguished in the early 1990s. It no longer made sense to keep it in effect, as cooperation with Petrobras already took place on many fronts, with multiple forms of financing and with the participation of many Coppe programs.
Visibility and popular recognition
Despite the scarcity of government funding for research, which lasted for the first five years, the 1990s ended up defined by two major achievements.
The first of them was the consolidation of Coppe as an institution that is open to economic and social demands. Such a fact soon became part of the theses produced by us. These publications, in turn, provided academic support to the institution’s growing involvement in discussions regarding controversial topics which are relevant to our society – almost always with government officials and technicians on the opposing side of the debate.
The discussed topics ranged from specific issues to the federal government’s privatization strategy and to the risk of a crisis in electricity generation and transmission, which culminated in a nationwide “blackout” due to failures in energy planning. Coppe gained visibility outside of academic contexts. It became better known on a national scale and was further acknowledged by society.
At the same time, it started adjusting its laboratory infrastructure to be compatible with the scale of its operations. In 1996, it inaugurated the I-2000, the largest laboratory complex in Latin America in the engineering field. With support from Petrobras, 82 laboratories were installed throughout a built area of 10 thousand square meters. With that, we established a new modality of cooperation with companies: the joint construction of laboratories.
In the second half of the decade, new official mechanisms in support of research were finally implemented, such as the Support Program for Excellence Centers (Pronex), and sector funds for research composed of mandatory contributions from oil and telecommunications companies. Coppe was ready to seize these new opportunities. Its directors and professors quickly prepared a collection of projects and replaced its network of laboratories that had been set up over the previous 30 years with modern and very well-equipped facilities.
Coppe was thus preparing itself for the 21st century.
The role of Coppetec
Coppetec was a sector from Coppe created in 1970 – which would later become a foundation – for managing service provision to companies and public bodies. During the hardest years of low federal funding, Coppetec had become an important source of resources, especially thanks to the agreements with Petrobras, which had gained momentum from 1977 onwards. In the late 1980s, Coppetec guaranteed 25% of Coppe’s budget. It was then that the federal government, pressured by the need to increase its budget, gave heed to all of the funding sources in the public administration that were not subject to surveillance by the Brazilian National Treasury.
Two federal audits confirmed the probity and honesty in Coppetec’s resources, however requiring changes in administrative procedures, which, in practice, meant taking away Coppe’s freedom to invest the funds it received through Coppetec. Its entire budget would be restricted.
The solution was to convert Coppetec into a foundation, which happened in 1993. The Coppetec Foundation manages service provision contracts, regulates time allocation for the professors, and distributes the obtained resources, all while complying with clear and rigid rules. Since then the foundation has had more than 17,000 signed contracts with national and foreign companies, public and private entities, and non-governmental organizations. A significant portion of these contracts has helped fund the installation of the laboratory network across the campus in the 1990s and 2000s.
The Interdisciplinary Energy Area – formally created in 1979 by the Systems, Nuclear, and Production Engineering Programs – had grown to the point of becoming an autonomous program. In 1992, the then Energy Planning Program (PPE) became Coppe’s 12th graduate program and the first one in the country in such a field. With a strong environmental approach, the PPE stimulated new projects that sought answers to one of the greatest challenges of the contemporary world: reconciling the growing demand for energy with the need to protect the environment.
The intensive use of computing led to the purchase, in 1995, of a Cray supercomputer, the first of its kind at Coppe. The equipment facilitated research at other UFRJ units and at several large academic institutions in Brazil: Brazilian Center for Research in Physics (CBPF); Brazilian General Command for Aerospace Technology (CTA); University of São Paulo (USP); State University of Campinas (Unicamp), among others.
Another example is the Health Systems Engineering Area from the Biomedical Engineering Program. This area is in charge of producing diagnostics and solutions to increase management efficiency for public and private health systems, which generally struggle with the pressure to keep up with the continuous advancements in medical technologies and the corresponding cost increases. In cooperation with health authorities, the program has encouraged the application of advanced management techniques in such a sector.
Brazilian technology development institutions had to deal with the frustration of the fact that it was hard to see the results of their work in use. There were relatively few Brazilian technologies that actually reached the production and consumption industries.
Coppe’s response was to create, in 1994, its own Technology-based Business Incubator, the first of its kind in Brazil at the time. They are environments that stimulate and enable the creation and development of new companies, by housing such new businesses for a limited period, thus guaranteeing that they have enough infrastructure and support until they reach maturity for surviving on their own in the market.
The business incubator receives new ventures which stem from research groups from various areas at UFRJ, mostly from Coppe. By the late 2000s, 50 companies had already graduated, that is, they joined the market with due autonomy.
The determination to use academic knowledge to guide the country’s agenda and the policies and actions from the various sectors of the government gained momentum at Coppe in the 1990s.
In the second half of the decade, supported by studies from the Energy Planning Program, the institution publicly warned that Brazil was heading towards a serious crisis in the supply of electricity because the privatization strategy for the energy sector had neglected the planning for the expansion of the hydroelectric power plant network. The federal government constantly questioned Coppe’s data and analyses, and this discussion went on for a long time with intense moments. Unfortunately, the facts were the ones that ended up proving the integrity of the assessment and warnings made by Coppe researchers. In 2001, the federal government enacted an electricity rationing policy for the entire population, under penalty of temporary shutdown for homes or companies that did not comply with the restrictions in consumption.
Other more specific issues, albeit equally relevant to the population, were also the subject of heated debates with the government. In the mid-1980s, professors at Coppe warned that the state government of Rio de Janeiro was neglecting the maintenance of bridges and elevated highways, which were threatened by the corrosion of its steel structures.
In 1988, such a problem was detected on the Joá elevated highway, an important route between the Southern Region and the Barra da Tijuca neighborhood. The emergency repair was only carried out in 1991, after intervention by the legal system, and even then it did not completely solve the problem at hand.
The initiative for a longer-lasting result was taken only in 1996. On February 13 of that same year, a violent storm in the city of Rio de Janeiro killed over a hundred people and left more than 6,000 people homeless. Coppe then held the seminar on the Prevention and Control of Storm Effects in Rio de Janeiro. The event arose from a partnership with the National Social Mobilization Network – Coep, created in 1993 by sociologist Herbert de Souza, also known as Betinho. It was a rare experience at the time, as it mobilized technicians who worked in the government, together with scientists, politicians, and NGO activists to jointly discuss a burning issue for society.
Its results were technical recommendations in the form of a report with assessments and recommended solutions for the main problems in Rio de Janeiro. This work was later published as a book called Tormentas Cariocas (“Climate Hardships of Rio de Janeiro”), which was then distributed to government authorities, public bodies, and other institutions.
Several of the recommendations contained in the publication were put into practice, such as creating a multi-hazard early warning system, “Rio Alert”; creating cooperation measures between the various local, state, and federal bodies; using the watershed concept as the basis for assessment and intervention; intensifying studies for solutions and risk prevention on slopes; and implementing environmental education projects in communities.
In the following years, Coppe’s programs expanded their knowledge on the phenomena associated with rain and its effects on cities, a fact that would prove to be vital given the increase in frequency and intensity of storms.
Many other studies and technologies were developed for solving important issues in our country. Among dozens of examples, there were projects for improving mobility in cities; cleaning up rivers; making energy generation and usage more efficient; reducing environmental impacts in Brazilian urban agglomerations, estuaries, and other ecosystems; and making medical care more effective and accessible to the population.
While in the previous decade we had become more visible and strengthened how established we were in Brazilian society, in the 2000s we, as an institution, intensified our internationalization process; delving deep into the main topics and dilemmas of the globalized world. These were mainly the challenges from the growing demand of the global energy market and from the worsening environmental crisis, with ever more intense climate changes.
Here at Coppe, our first ten years of the 21st century were defined by the start of operations in several of our large-scale laboratories – which were similar to those from the most prestigious European and North American research institutions –, and also by the participation of our researchers in national and international bodies in charge of preparing policies, such as the Brazilian Forum on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC/UN).
We also promoted cooperation between the government, companies, and civil society organizations, which made the construction of oil rigs in our country feasible while also enabling the recovery of the Brazilian marine and naval industry.
In 2009, as the first decade of the new millennium came to an end, Coppe inaugurated its first formal institution for direct and systematic cooperation with a foreign country: the China-Brazil Center on Climate Change and Energy Technology Innovation. This institution, created with the support from the governments of both countries, is headquartered in Beijing, at Tsinghua University. Since then, the scope of this partnership has been to promote and develop projects focused on the energy and environment areas.
The 21st century at Coppe began, in fact and symbolically, with the inauguration of the I-2000. More than 80 laboratories were built throughout an area of 10,000 square meters, with support from Petrobras. The facilities until then were limited to small areas and improvised rooms. The construction of the I-2000 network consolidated a new type of partnership, with the implementation of laboratories together with companies. One of the first examples from this new wave was the Catalysis Center (Nucat), one of the most well-equipped catalyst research centers in the world.
The large-scale laboratory facilities spread themselves throughout the campus. In 2003, our Ocean Technology Laboratory (LabOceano) started its operations, being the laboratory with the world’s deepest tank for simulating ocean waves and currents. In 2009, the Laboratory for Non-Destructive Testing, Corrosion, and Welding (LNDC) was inaugurated. The LNDC was the only one in the world that managed to integrate those three areas into a single facility, and as such it occupies an area of 9,000 square meters and focuses on research aimed at exploring the Brazilian pre-salt layer. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva participated in the opening ceremony of both laboratories.
With an available large-scale infrastructure, technical knowledge, and intense research activity in the marine and oil & gas sectors, Coppe helped promote a connection between government, companies, and civil society organizations in order to study the possibilities for recovering the weakened Brazilian marine and naval industry. The researchers believed that the timing was the right one to do so. They then held a seminar at Coppe, with attending representatives from the government, companies, and the academic environment, for assessing how feasible it was to build oil rigs in Brazil. They concluded that it was indeed possible, should the government start funding, on an order-to-order basis, the restoration of the industrial marine park, which had been left behind since the 1980s. Such a sector is one of the most flourishing ones in the economy of Rio de Janeiro as of today.
LabOceano was the first installed facility on Rio de Janeiro’s Science Park, which occupies an area of 350,000 square meters in the Cidade Universitária campus. This venture, led by UFRJ, hosts research centers for global companies, laboratories from Coppe and from other units at UFRJ, as well as the head offices of technology-intensive small and medium-sized Brazilian companies.
When the first decade of the new millennium was over, there were already 13 research centers belonging to big corporations, 9 small and medium-sized companies, and 6 UFRJ laboratories, 4 of which belonged to Coppe, which were already installed or in the process of being installed at UFRJ’s Science Park.
Throughout the 2000s, there was enough accumulated evidence that global warming was real and that our planet’s climate would change as a result. The global demand for energy, which was believed to be one of the leading causes of this environmental problem, had also intensified. Here at Coppe, as a result, we multiplied our research and initiatives in order to deal with the many aspects of climate change.
One of our first initiatives was the creation, in 1999, of the International Virtual Institute for Global Change (IVIG). Although it was created for handling the technological, economic, political, social, and environmental aspects of the globalization process, in fact, it mostly focused on the energy and environmental aspects.
Coppe supported the Brazilian government in preparing and implementing its national biofuel program. By integrating the Energy Planning, Chemical, and Transport Engineering Programs and other UFRJ units, our institution conducted chemical and mechanical tests that allowed the federal government to approve the addition of up to 5% of biodiesel to the diesel fuel consumed in Brazil. We installed a biofuel production plant at IVIG, where researchers develop and test fuel alternatives to petroleum products.
As of 2004, Coppe started to host and support the Brazilian Forum on Climate Change (FBMC), an advisory body from the Brazilian government that brings together representatives from different economic sectors and social groups and exists to develop recommendations for the federal government. The FBMC helped create the National Policies and Plan on Climate Change, submitted by the Brazilian government and approved by the National Congress in 2008. The following year, Coppe also contributed, by means of the FBMC, towards the formulation of goals for voluntarily reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which were later announced by the Brazilian government at the 15th UN Conference of the Parties, held in Copenhagen.
On an international level, since 1990 Coppe professors have participated in the IPCC, a UN panel that comprises mainly scientists, and whose purpose is to produce periodic reports for backing up international agreements on the subject. In 2007, several such professors were part of the group that published the fourth report, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2010, Coppe contributed with 7 out of the 25 Brazilian scientists chosen by the IPCC to work on the fifth report, whose publication was scheduled for 2014, making up the biggest number of Brazilian researchers representing their country up until then.
Na segunda década do séc. XXI, a Coppe manteve sua excelência em pesquisa e inovação, buscando soluções para os desafios enfrentados pelo Brasil e pelo mundo em áreas como energia, petróleo, meio ambiente, transportes e telecomunicações, entre outras. Além disso, contribuiu com projetos, parcerias e debates a cerca dos grandes eventos internacionais sediados no país e com as transformações urbanas pelas quais o Rio de Janeiro passou.
As pesquisas e iniciativas para lidar com os aspectos das Mudanças Climáticas, multiplicados na década passada, permaneceram em ebulição pelos laboratórios da Coppe. Tecnologias para a transição energética e a sustentabilidade do planeta foram projetadas e disponibilizadas como, por exemplo, o lançamento, em 2010, do primeiro ônibus híbrido a hidrogênio com tecnologia 100% nacional e, em 2014 entrou em funcionamento, na Cidade Universitária do UFRJ, a linha experimental do Maglev-Cobra, o primeiro veículo no mundo a transportar passageiros utilizando a tecnologia de levitação magnética por supercondutividade. Além disso, a primeiro usina que gera energia a partir das ondas do mar, da América do Sul foi testada com sucesso durante dois anos no Porto do Pecém (CE), entre 2012 e 2013.
Tamanho engajamento de seus pesquisadores nas questões climáticas fez com que a Coppe desenvolvesse um papel relevante na concepção de estratégias e ações para a implementação dos Objetivos de Desenvolvimento Sustentável (ODS), formulados durante a Conferência das Nações Unidas sobre Desenvolvimento Sustentável (Rio+20). Realizado em 2012, no Rio de Janeiro, o evento proporcionou oportunidades para a Coppe estabelecer parcerias com outros institutos de pesquisas, organizações não governamentais, governos e empresas preocupadas com a promoção da sustentabilidade. A instituição apresentou suas principais contribuições para os grandes desafios ambientais e sociais. Entre elas, alternativas para a mobilidade nas grandes cidades; produção de energia a partir das ondas do mar; reaproveitamento de resíduos agrícolas, industriais e urbanos para produção de biocombustíveis e biomateriais; construções sustentáveis; e metodologias para a inclusão social de parcelas da população historicamente excluídas. A programação incluiu conferências na Cidade Universitária e uma grande exposição no Parque dos Atletas.
A participação ativa da Coppe na Rio+20 não apenas enriqueceu as discussões durante a conferência, mas também reforçou o papel das universidades e dos institutos de pesquisa no enfrentamento dos desafios globais. Tudo isso contribuiu para que se mantivesse como uma referência na busca por soluções para os problemas ambientais e socioeconômicos.
A Rio+20 foi um dos primeiros grandes eventos internacionais que o Brasil sediou neste período. Outros ainda estavam por vir e contariam com as contribuições da Coppe. Em 2009, o Rio de Janeiro havia sido escolhido para sediar os Jogos Olímpicos e Paralímpicos de 2016, o Rio 2016. Além da preparação da cidade do Rio, todo o restante do país também se preparava para sediar a Copa do Mundo de Futebol de 2014.
A partir de convênio entre a Coppe e o Comitê Olímpico do Brasil (COB), pesquisadores desenvolveram um sistema para fornecer aos atletas dados e previsões, em tempo real, sobre a dinâmica marinha e atmosférica dos locais nos quais foram realizadas as provas da Regata Internacional de Vela 2015 e a Maratona Aquática. A parceria se manteve para os Jogos Olímpicos Rio 2016, apoiando atletas de cinco modalidades do esporte náutico: vela, canoagem de velocidade, maratona aquática, triatlo (prova de natação) e remo.
Ainda sobre o Rio 2016, a Coppe desenvolveu um curso que fez parte do programa nacional Jovem Aprendiz do Desporto (Jade), fruto de uma parceria entre o Ministério do Trabalho e Previdência Social, o MEC, por meio do Pronatec, e o Ministério do Esporte. O curso capacitou jovens aprendizes para trabalhar nas Olimpíadas e a desempenhar atividades em clubes e competições esportivas.
O protagonismo da Coppe na exploração do Pré-sal, por sua vez, foi impulsionado cada vez mais. Em 2015, a instituição foi credenciada como unidade da Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa e Inovação Industrial (Embrapii), na área de engenharia submarina para exploração de óleo e gás. Desde então, 32 projetos foram aprovados e nove já foram concluídos, em temas tão variados quanto o desenvolvimento de algoritmo para previsão da estabilidade de emulsões; desenvolvimento de aço com 9% de níquel para dutos de sistemas de reinjeção de CO2 em campos do Pré-sal; testes de tenacidade à fratura (CTOD); ferramentas de visualização 2D e 3D através de realidade aumentada e testes submarinos para validação de braço robótico para manifolds.
Criada em 2011 pelo governo federal, por meio dos Ministério da Ciência, Tecnologia e Inovação (MCTI) e do Ministério da Educação (MEC), a Embrapii atua em conjunto com instituições de pesquisa científica, públicas ou privadas, objetivando estimular o setor industrial e o apoio em selecionadas áreas de competência para que seja possível a execução de projetos de desenvolvimento de pesquisa tecnológica para inovação e a potencialização da força competitiva das empresas, tanto no mercado interno como no mercado internacional.
Em 2013, a Coppe inaugurou o Núcleo Interdisciplinar de Dinâmica dos Fluidos (NIDIF), um conjunto de laboratórios com equipamentos de última geração, que desenvolvem pesquisas e ensaios relacionados a processos de perfuração, completação e intervenção em poços de petróleo, elevação artificial e separação primária, com objetivo de aumentar a produção de óleo e gás.
No ano seguinte, lançou o Programa de Engenharia de Nanotecnologia, seu 13º programa acadêmico, oferecendo mestrado e doutorado neste campo de conhecimento.
Em 2016, inaugurou o Supercomputador Lobo Carneiro, o mais potente instalado em uma universidade federal do país. Com capacidade de 226 teraflops, ele pode executar 226 trilhões de operações matemáticas por segundo.
Outro papel importante da Coppe é na colaboração com governos e empresas para mitigar os efeitos de acidentes e desastres ocorridos no Brasil. Entre as ações nos anos 2010, é possível destacar:
- projetos de avaliação dos danos ambientais causados pelo rompimento da barragem de rejeitos de mineração, ocorrido em 2015, na cidade de Mariana (MG), um dos maiores desastres ambientais da história do Brasil;
- criação do Comitê Técnico que elaborou o laudo de avaliação das causas da queda de parte da estrutura da ciclovia Tim Maia, no Rio de Janeiro, em 2016, que acarretou nas mortes de duas pessoas e deixou três feridos;
- estudos de monitoramento dos impactos do rompimento da barragem da mineradora da Vale, ocorrido em Brumadinho (MG), que causou 270 mortes em 2019. Isso inclui a análise dos impactos na infraestrutura, na população local, no meio ambiente e na qualidade da água do Rio Paraopeba.
- Desenvolvimento de um modelo matemático de correntes marinhas no Atlântico, de cruzamento de dados com o mapa de manchas de óleo para detectar a origem do derramamento de óleo, ocorrido em 2019 pela costa brasileira. Milhares de toneladas de óleo cru se espalharam pelo oceano, afetando cerca de 4 mil quilômetros do litoral do Nordeste e de parte do Sudeste brasileiro, atingindo praias, manguezais, recifes de coral e áreas de proteção ambiental.
Em 2018, a Coppe perdeu seu criador, Alberto Luiz Coimbra. Importante ressaltar que, mesmo após a morte do professor Coimbra, a Coppe continua a prosperar e a se destacar como uma instituição de referência em pesquisa e ensino de engenharia no Brasil. Seu legado perdura, e a instituição continua atraindo talentos e contribuindo para o avanço tecnológico e a inovação no país.
Em 2020, a Coppe, assim como toda a humanidade, enfrentou desafios significativos devido ao contexto socioeconômico marcado pela pandemia da Covid-19. A pandemia trouxe uma série de impactos em diversas áreas, e a Coppe não ficou imune a eles. Com as medidas de distanciamento social, repentinamente teve que adaptar suas atividades acadêmicas ao formato remoto. Aulas, seminários, reuniões e eventos foram realizados virtualmente ao longo de mais de dois anos consecutivos, para garantir a continuidade do ensino e da pesquisa. Seus pesquisadores não pouparam esforços para o desenvolvimento de estudos sobre a doença e de tecnologias para ajudar o Brasil a enfrentar a crise sanitária.
A crise político-econômica, a qual o Brasil já atravessava desde meados da década passada, agravou-se mais ainda devido às consequências do distanciamento social e dos mais diversos efeitos da pandemia na sociedade. Quedas na arrecadação de recursos e cortes de orçamento impactaram significativamente projetos de pesquisa e investimentos. Não obstante tantas adversidades, as contribuições da Coppe ao enfrentamento da pandemia foram significativas e abrangeram diversas áreas. Partes dessas ações foram possíveis graças a uma extensa rede de solidariedade mobilizada pela Fundação Coppetec, como a produção em massa do ventilador pulmonar emergencial, desenvolvido por pesquisadores da Coppe com cooperação técnica da Petrobras.
Recursos obtidos por meio de campanhas de doação promovidas pela Coppetec, viabilizaram o suprimento emergencial dos hospitais com esse equipamento para tratamento de pacientes vítimas do coronavírus. Também viabilizaram a compra de vários produtos e insumos necessários para o funcionamento das nove unidades que formam o complexo hospitalar da UFRJ, bem como possibilitaram a contratação de mão de obra técnica temporária e emergencial para atuar nesses lugares.
A mobilização dessa extensa rede de solidariedade, formada por mais de três mil pessoas físicas e jurídicas, gerou a doação de mais de cinco milhões de reais. As campanhas ganharam adesão da classe artística. Ana Botafogo, Evandro Mesquita, Jorge Vercillo, Nathalia Dill, Taís Araújo, Yamandu Costa e Wladimir Jung, entre outros, fizeram lives em seus perfis nas redes sociais, contribuindo para sensibilizar a sociedade em relação às necessidades emergenciais da UFRJ, cujas unidades, entre elas a Coppe/UFRJ, atuavam em várias frentes no combate ao coronavírus.
Outros principais destaques das contribuições da Coppe são:
- tecnologias de proteção: a instituição desenvolveu materiais e equipamentos de proteção individuais (EPIs) mais avançados, criou manual para higienização de transporte de cargas e produziu álcool 70% com tecnologia inovadora de filtragem, visando melhorar a segurança dos profissionais de saúde e da população em geral;
- tecnologias de diagnóstico: pesquisadores desenvolveram testes rápidos e métodos de detecção do vírus, fundamentais para rastrear a disseminação do vírus e orientar as medidas de contenção;
- tecnologias de previsão e de análise de disseminação: especialistas em modelagens matemática e epidemiológica trabalharam na previsão e análise da propagação do vírus em diferentes regiões do Brasil. Isso inclui a identificação de padrões de propagação, taxas de transmissão, fatores de risco e impacto socioeconômico. Esses estudos ajudaram os governos e autoridades de saúde a entender melhor a dinâmica da pandemia e tomar decisões embasadas em dados científicos;
- tecnologias de tratamento e terapias: estudos com nanopartículas para servirem de vetores para medicamentos utilizados; invenção e ensaios clínicos de soro anticovid produzido a partir de equinos vacinados com a proteína S;
Em 2022, já nos últimos meses da crise sanitária, quando a UFRJ se preparava para retomar as aulas e os eventos acadêmicos presenciais, a Coppe sofreu a perda inestimável do professor Luiz Pinguelli Rosa, diretor da instituição em cinco ocasiões. A morte de Pinguelli fez com que a UFRJ declarasse luto oficial por três dias. Em 2023, Pinguelli foi agraciado, in memoriam, pelo presidente Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva com a Ordem Nacional do Mérito Científico, na classe Grã-cruz.
A Coppe chega ao ano de seu aniversário de 60 anos, em 2023, mantendo seu destaque nas áreas de óleo e gás e, simultaneamente, sendo referência no protagonismo da condução da transição energética. Nesses dois últimos anos inaugurou a Ilha de Policogeração Sustentável (IPS), um protótipo pioneiro no país de geração de água e eletricidade para atender a demanda de regiões remotas, e assinou com a Agência Nacional do Petróleo, Gás Natural e Biocombustíveis (ANP) acordo de cooperação para o descomissionamento de estruturas offshore.
A Coppe também lançou em 2023 dois importantes projetos transversais: o Centro de Soluções Tecnológicas de Baixo Carbono e o Centro de Inteligência Artificial, este em parceria com a Prefeitura do Rio de Janeiro.