ITT no Brasil: SAMBa in Campinas

Posted in: Uncategorised

You’re Going Where…!?

Back in December, I was invited to join a group of ten Bath academics and PhD students to help deliver an Integrative Think Tank (ITT) in Campinas, Brazil. Well, in fact, I received the good news that my application was accepted in the middle of an incredibly wet October. I was super excited, and a couple of frantic phone calls to my parents and brother later made that abundantly clear. It was going to be my first time out of Europe, and I couldn’t wait to go.

Clockwise from top: Getting ready to fly to Brazil; the hotel pool; a game of Wizard; drinking my first coconut!

My trip to Brazil started the Saturday before the ITT. Having spent the two days prior attending both a Wurzels gig and postgraduate drinks in the Saracens Head, let’s just say I was a bit exhausted before the trip began! Nonetheless, after a mad dash round the house to pack the rest of my stuff, and a couple of hours on the train, I’d finally made it to Heathrow Terminal 3. After meeting up with most of the Bath contingent, I boarded the plane and not long after eight o’clock in the evening, we were all on our way.

Given that this was my first international flight, I had no idea what to expect. But between the food, views and watching Barbie through a semi-broken set of headphones, the twelve hour trip went by in a flash, and was surprisingly enjoyable! On Sunday morning, we landed in São Paulo, and made our way by minibus to our hotel in Campinas. Naturally, once we’d checked in, the first port of call was the pool. The rest of the day was fairly relaxed, and involved food, drinking out of coconuts, and a few games of Wizard and Bananagrams.

The ITT: Fun, Food and Fresnel Diffraction

Having had a better night’s sleep, it was time for us to actually do some work. On the Monday, we were introduced to both the ITT partners — Cemaden and LNLS — and the challenges they were bringing. Cemaden is the Brazilian national centre for modelling and predicting natural disasters, and LNLS is the Brazilian Synchrotron Light Laboratory. Knowing this, it made perfect sense that the entire ITT was held at Sirius, which is a gigantic particle accelerator. 

Once we’d heard a selection of challenges, we then broke out into smaller groups to suggest possible ideas/techniques that we could investigate for the rest of the week. In the three discussions, I was able to act as scribe, and even managed to chair one of them. As a result, by mid-Tuesday, there were a few promising proposals identified for the rest of the week.

Clockwise from top: Ready to start the ITT; the venue — a huge particle accelerator; spotting a capybara; a *small* amount of food at the Churrascaria.

At this stage, we decided which of the proposals we wanted to work on. Being a hardcore fluid dynamicist, I was quite pleased that one of the possible projects involved porous media. However, being halfway across the world made me think that I should finally do some maths that I don’t usually do, and I moved to join a group working on X-ray imaging. Those that were there can attest that I was very happy to be working on my first inverse problem, and I enjoyed helping out as much as I could.

Before I move on, I really need to mention the Churrascaria restaurant we attended on Monday. For those of you who don’t know what this is, it is an all-you-can-eat buffet, but the meat is brought to you on skewers. I don’t think I’ve ever seen or been brought so much food in my life! With the amount of meat, I seriously considered being vegetarian for the rest of the week! The whole thing was incredible, and was easily the best night of the week by far!

Anyway, back to the ITT. On Wednesday, we presented our proposed approaches to a problem to the rest of the groups, and then spent the rest of the day working on the problem. I did the presentation for my group here, and I think it went well… for two minutes. I’m not going to cover it too much here, but the image of Christian Rohrbeck ringing a bell to cut me off still gives me anxiety! Still, it meant that everyone else after me kept to time, so I’m chalking it up as a win.

For the rest of the Wednesday, and all of Thursday, we had time to work on our problems. Here, we were trying to implement different methods to improve image reconstructions based on light intensity measurements. This was an exciting trip through the theory of regularisers, Gaussian filters and joint optimisation, and was something I would never have studied if I wasn’t accepted onto the ITT. Thursday also gave rise to the best evening activity of any ITT I’ve ever done. Ordinarily, you’re bribed with pizza to work on your Friday presentations, but this time, we did none of that and spent a good amount of time back in the hotel pool! It’s a shame that the Bath venue doesn’t have one of those…

On Friday, we presented the work we’d done during the week. The LNLS problems gave rise to some interesting machine learning and optimisation approaches, whereas the Cemaden challenges were tackled with statistical regression, neural networks and PDE constrained optimisation. The hard work was done, the maths was calculated, and we were very much in need of a bit of rest. So, we said goodbye to our new Brazilian friends, jumped onto the minibus and headed to our next destination: São Paulo.

Five Run Away Together

With the ITT done and the PhD students separated from the academics, we arrived at our hostel, and started planning our holiday. The night we arrived, we were shown round a massive bookshop, and visited a street market for pastels and cane juice. On our return to the hostel, we attempted to order three pizzas. I can only assume that ‘three’ and ‘a third’ are close in Portuguese, because we ended up with this:

Ah well, at least it gave us a good laugh!

Saturday was very much action-packed. We had breakfast in the hostel, and walked to Ibirapueira Park to do some sightseeing before lunch. Whilst there, we visited the Museum of Modern Art (MAM), and ran into a choir singing Jingle Bells in Portuguese. For lunch, we met up with the academics for feijoada — a dish involving a black bean stew with pork and beef. It was delicious, although once my mum found out I was eating ears, knuckles and tail, I can’t say she was that completely on board with it. To round the day off, we headed to Beco de Batman to see a ton of amazing street art, and sat down with a (rather strong) caipirinha.

Clockwise from top: Ibirapueira Park (+ Christmas Tree); the MASP; the Edifício Itália; Ramen at Lamen Kazu, Liberdade.

On Sunday, we went to the Museum of Art of São Paulo (MASP) for a bit of high culture, and then went on a walking tour of Paulista Avenue, being introduced to brigadeiros at a bakery in the process. Once that finished, we hit Museum of Contemporary Art for an impressive vantage point of the city. From there, we went into Liberdade for some ramen and a ‘sake-rinha’. São Paulo has the largest community of Japanese people outside of Japan, so naturally the food and drink here were amazing!

Which brings us to Monday. Before making the arduous trek back to the airport, we went on another walking tour, this time going round the old city. For our final act, we returned to Paulista Avenue and went to what is obviously the most important part of São Paulo… McDonalds! To be fair, this McDonalds was built into a mansion, so it had to be included in our itinerary, right? From there, we picked our bags up from the hostel, navigated the chaos of the metro, and arrived at the airport. 

Navigating the airport this time round was frustrating due to all the queuing, but eventually, we made it on to the plane. Relieved, I admired the views during take-off, settled down into my seat, and watched some TV with some working headphones. Arriving in London 11 hours later, I was glad to be in familiar territory, but naturally sad that the trip was all over.

Overall, this was an absolutely amazing trip, so thanks to SAMBa and CeMEAI for both allowing me to attend, and funding the travel. However, I especially need to thank Jenny, Oliver, Seb and Sebastian— you really made this trip one to remember, and it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as fun without you!

Jenny, Seb, Oliver, Me and Sebastian on top of the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Posted in: Uncategorised


  • (we won't publish this)

Write a response