Cândido Lima da Silva Dias and the foundation of Impa – 05/23/2023 – Marcelo Viana

The doctoral thesis of the mathematician Cândido Lima da Silva Dias was the first in science defended (that is, completed) at the then newly created University of São Paulo (USP), according to the academic work I had access to. It was in 1942, at the Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters, and it deals with the theory of analytical functionals, introduced at USP by the Italian Luigi fantasy and improved by Silva Dias.

The theme was very active at the time, also featuring works by José Sebastião e Silva, another pupil of Fantappiè, who played an important role in the education and science scene in Portugal.

Silva Dias was born in Mococa (SP), close to the border with Minas Gerais, in 1913. His academic career is intertwined with the beginnings of mathematical research in Brazil, to which he made important contributions. He was a professor at USP until 1978, when he retired. The following year, he became a professor at the Federal University of São Carlos, where he stayed until 1990.

In 1951, he accepted the invitation to be the first director of research in mathematics at the newly created National Research Council (CNPq), today the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development. In this role, he played a key role in creating the Institute of Pure and Applied Mathematics (Impa), the first of several research units founded by CNPq.

The proposal to create a research institute outside the university structure was unusual in Brazil at the time and caused strangeness. It fell to Silva Dias to draw up a draft of the new institution, which he presented to the CNPq on October 16, 1951.

Inspired by models he knew abroad, such as the Steklov Institute, founded in Saint Petersburg (Russia) in 1919, and the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), created in Princeton (United States) in 1930, Silva Dias defended the creation of a nationwide institution dedicated to “teaching and scientific research in the field of pure and applied mathematics, as well as the dissemination and elevation of mathematical culture in the country”. This continues to be Impa’s mission today.

Practically a year later, on October 15, 1952, the foundation of Impa was approved by the Deliberative Council of CNPq, led by Admiral Álvaro Alberto, founder and first president of the institution. With the mathematician and astronomer Lélio Gama as director, and just two researchers, Leopoldo Nachbin and Mauricio Peixoto, the new institute was initially housed in two rooms at the headquarters of the Brazilian Center for Physical Research (CBPF), in the Rio de Janeiro neighborhood of Urca.

But Silva Dias’ contribution did not end there. In fact, it was partly due to his action that in 1957 Impa had to move to a larger headquarters. I will tell next week.

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