He was raised by his grandmother on his mother’s side, Berthe Sommier, and was named after his grandfather, Maurice Sommier. Mr. Sommier was one of the first automobile drivers and engineers and created the first hand brake. He worked as a chauffeur for an aristocratic family and participated of the first car race ever made.
At the end of the 1930’s, after the beginning of the Second World War, his parents and grandmother decided to live together, in a way to make ends meet and for the safety of the family. They bought the apartment where they lived for the rest of their lives. Maurice will be the first to break the tradition.
The family lived through the war and the Nazi occupation in this apartment and they suffered all of the hardships that the occupation imposed on them: rationing of food, water, coal for the fireplace in wintertime etc … He recalled of the family’s strategy to save water during the bath; he would be the first followed by his grandmother, his mother and finally his father, who was the last one to bathe in the same water as the others.
As all the French children at the time, Maurice wasn’t spared the horrors of war. He would remember with deep sorrow that he used to accompany a Jewish man on the street, he was their neighbour and a friend of the family. It was a way to protect him, but there was a police raid on the building one night and the friend and his wife disappeared.
He remembered with emotion of his first banana, received at age 11, from the hands of an American soldier out of a war tank. These experiences as well as all the efforts from his family and friends for the liberation of France in the 1940’s, made him a pacifist. The significant of allies will accompany him for the rest of his life and will make him consider everyone his best friend.
Maurice says that in his first years of school he wasn’t a very good student. But when he entered High School things began to change, he started to have good grades and be noticed in school and catch the attention of his teachers.
It was through his teachers that he was also noticed by his mother, an extremely demanding woman, fascinated by the English language, Arts and fashion. She was a distinguished executive secretary, who worked all her life in the office of a great American lawyer, on Avenue Champs Elysées. His father, who came from a modest family, worked as an illustrator for an advertising company. He was also a designer and made some of furniture still used by the family in the apartment.
He finished High School at the Lycée Pasteur, close to his house. After trying for a second time in 1955, Maurice entered to the Ecole Polytechnique in first place (as a Majeur), a military school one of the best of France. There he graduated as a physicist. As a Majeur, he had the honor of carrying the French flag during the July 14th military parade in the Champs Élysées.
At Polytechnique and in different specialization courses he shared his studies with colleagues that would become distinguished professors such as Patrick Fleury, physicist and colleague polytechnicien, and Adrien Douady, an important French mathematician at École Normale, who became friends for life.
During his time at Polytechnique, Maurice shared his studies and his room with an Algerian friend, Mohammed Liassine, who taught him, from the inside of his French military formation, what it would be like to have to fight against his own country, against French colonization in Algeria and against the oppression of international financial capital, imposed on the peoples of the world, in countries from the so called “third world”. Liassine will later become the Office Director of the Algerian Prime Minister Belaid Abdessalam, during the 1990’s.
After graduation from Polytechnique, in 1958, Maurice went to the United States to continue his studies. He started his Ph.D in Stanford, in High Energy Nuclear Physics. There he married his first wife, Nancy Bazin, at the university’s chapel. Patrick Fleury, his Polytechnician friend was their best man at the wedding. Maurice and Nancy met in 1956-57 while she was a student in Paris, and they both continued their studies in Stanford.
After their studies, in 1962, they decided to go on a trip as journalists for the magazine Hispanic American Report. The world was going through the Cold War and it was also the time of the Cuban Revolution. Together their visited all of the Caribbean Islands, the two Guianas and the Suriname and Brazil. After, they went to the African continent visiting Senegal, Guinea, Ghana and Morocco.
The six months trip ended in France, where Nancy gave birth to their first child, Michael Bazin, in October 1962.
In France, Maurice realized that he wouldn’t be able to work as a university teacher before he reached 40. This was a disappointment with his country of origin and he decided to go back and live in the United States where many colleagues were already teaching. He wrote only one letter asking for a position as researcher and professor and it was accepted by Princeton University. Albert Einstein, one of Maurice’s passion through life, had been a professor there only a few years before. Maurice started working on the “Bubble Chamber”, a program of the American government which studied elementary particles. At that time he started to get involved with the non-violent movements and against the Vietnam War.
In 1965 Maurice wrote a book with Ronald Adler, a friend from Stanford – in a second edition they counted with the participation of Adler’s supervisor Schiffer Menahem – about the Theory of Relativity of Einstein. The book, acclaimed by the scientific community, is called “Introduction to General Relativity” and is still for sale at Amazon.com.
When the “Bubble” project was over physicists from Rutgers University came to Princeton to offer him an Associate Professorship. He accepted the offer and the family moved to Piscataway, New Jersey. Rutgers offered him a “tenure” position so the family bought a house near the university. There, Christine Bazin, his second child was born in December 1969.
This is when Maurice starts to be concerned about the position of many scientists and the use the American Government was giving to the to the result of researches made in his area of study. At this point he starts to give a new angle to his work. In the 1970’s he began to put into practice a philosophy of science that differs from the ideal of the “pure scientist” created in the university environment.
At that time, many intellectuals and scientists from countries considered of the “Third World” were migrating into “First World” countries. Maurice wanted to take back the knowledge to these countries of origin. This is when he starts to put in practice what was called “Science for the People”, which was also the name of an American magazine that still exists, in which he published a few articles and where other scientists engaged in the cause also put their ideas. At that time Maurice went to teach in Cuba and Venezuela.
In 1971, Marice took a sabbatical period from Rutgers and the whole family went to Algeria where he taught mathematics for workers of a factory. After that they went to Chile where they stayed for a year and Maurice taught physics at the Catholic University of Chile for professors of the physics department. The country was already governed by the Popular Government of Salvador Allende.
In 1973 Maurice took another sabbatical and went back to Chile, alone this time, to work with workers of a factory. With this work, he created the concept of technical and scientific education, which consisted in enabling factory workers to develop the skills and knowledge needed to deal with the practical issues of the factory and to understand how to handle production equipment. They had just taken the factories from the big businessmen and needed to know how to ensure the production and evolution of the industry.
It was during this second period in Chile that he met Tetê Moraes, a brazilian journalist and movie maker, who was exiled from the military dictatorship in Brazil. After his sabbatical Maurice went back to the United States to continue teaching at Rutgers University. But the period in Chile will mark the rest of his life with the desire to go further, always alongside with the people.
In 1974 Maurice separates from his first wife, Nancy, and goes to New York to live with Tetê who had gone do her masters in the US. At that time Maurice continues to teach at Rutgers but he gets involved with projects of democratization of science and participates of the magazine Science for the People. There he met Sam Anderson, a mathematician and civil rights activists, one of the founding members of the Black Panther. He became a friend for life and with whom Maurice publishes the book “Science and (In)Dependence”, in 1977.
In 1975 Maurice takes another sabbatical. He was tired of working in the United States and wanted to go back to France. He goes with Tetê to France to try yet again a position as a physics professor at a university in Paris. But after five months he didn’t get the job he wanted. Again disappointed with his country of origin Maurice and Tetê go on vacation to Portugal and decide to live there. In August 1975 they rend a huge house in Estoril and from the balcony Maurice says: “Looking at the sea of Estoril I’ve decided not to go back to Rutgers”. And then he leaves his “tenure” position at Rutgers.
They stayed at the house in Estoril for two years and received many exiled people from Brazil, such as Mário Pedrosa, Fernando Gabeira and Márcio Moreira Alves, an ex-member of the brazilian congress who became a very close friend. Márcio was married to Marie Moreira Alves, a French woman whom Maurice stays very close and will consider as a sister for the rest of his life.
In Portugal Maurice taught at the University of Evora teaching physics. He would travel every week from Estoril to Evora. This was the period just after the Carnation Revolution but the achievements of the Revolution didn’t go forward in the University.Maurice decided to leave Evora and started working at the School of Sciences of the University of Lisbon. He was invited by the students to give physics classes and they would pay for the courses out of their own pockets, enthusiastic about the theme. At that time, Maurice and Tetê move to Lisbon, at the Picheleira neighborhood.
During this period Maurice traveled a lot to Africa. He participated of a UNESCO educational mission. In 1977 he went to Angola and spent four months teaching sciences for teachers in Luanda. The next year, 1978, he went on the same mission, but this time to form teachers in Guinea Bissau.
It was probably at this moment that Maurice met Paulus Gerdes, a Dutch marxist mathematician, who went to Mozambique just after its independence in 1975 to participate in the reconstruction of the country. Paulus and Maurice became great friends and always shared and discussed ethnomathematics together. It is also probably at this point that Maurice got in touch with Paulo Freire philosophy and was profoundly affected by it.
With the political opening in Brazil, at the end of the 1970’s, Tetê was able to go back to her country of origin. Maurice accompanies her and they move to Rio de Janeiro in September 1979. There he starts to work at the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio) alongside with Pierre Lucie. Together they built the first physics lab of the University.
Participating actively of the political and scientific life of Brazil through the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science (SBPC) and other institutions such as the laboratories of universities and of the Fiocruz, Maurice learns deeply about the problems in the educational system faced by his colleagues, teachers and students.
In 1983, along with other fellow professor and students from PUC-Rio and from Fiocruz Maurice starts a new project of scientific dissemination in an Educational channel on TV: “Science at Half past Six“. He helps build itinerary laboratories that would go through many plazas of Rio de Janeiro. During the “Day of the Cell” his group took microscopes to the plaza to show in details the wonders of the world of science.
At the same time he also produced the “Night of the Sky”, where he would put telescopes in the plazas. For each event the theater group “Tá Na Rua” would make a special play to illustrate the theme. Like that he unitest Art and Science in the same space with the purpose of demystifying the science and the scientist. He would show to the population they are also capable of understanding the scientific concepts and that the scientist is a common citizen just like them.
In 1985 the group get the donation from the State Government of a hangar used by the Metro near Praça Saens Peña, in the neighborhood of Tijuca. This was the beginning of the institutionalization of the “Espaço Ciência Viva” (The Space for Living Science, SLS). The inauguration was in 1986 and it became the first participative museum for science in Brazil. The SLS is still open today.
In 1989, already separated from Tetê Moraes and having initiated a relationship with an America, Eileen O’Donnell, Maurice moves back to the United States to live and work in San Francisco.
There he starts to work at the Exploratorium Science Museum, a participative museum where Frank Oppenheimer created a new method for teaching science with a “Hands On” philosophy. There, the visitor engages in the experiences provided by the experimental modules, manipulating them and reflecting on the experiences they perform. It’s in a way what inspired the creation of the Space for Living Science. At the Exploratorium Maurice helped create the Teachers Institute, a Hands On academic education for American science teachers.
The Hands On method created by Oppenheimer has the same structure of the method already used by Maurice during his time teaching the factory workers in Chile, in 1973. He talks about that experience in his book “Science and (In)Dependence”, which he names as “Technical Education”.
Even though he had moved to San Francisco in the beginning of the 1990’s, Maurice is still the President of the Space for Living Science. During that time he puts forward an exchange program between the SLS and the Exploratorium. This promotes an exchange between the members of the institutions.
In 1987, in the SLS, Maurice meets Enedina Martins, a student who had initiated a voluntary work. She will become his future wife and in October 1990 his third child, Sarah Martins Bazin, was born in Rio de Janeiro.
In the beginning of the 1990’s, Maurice was invited by Maria Oly Pey to give a workshop related to experimental physics and mathematics at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), in Florianópolis. She had been inspired by his book “Science and (In)Dependence”. During that time, Maurice was co-advisor of the Masters theses of Fábio da Purificação de Bastos, with Maria Oly, and advisor for the Masters theses of Ademilde Sartori (Che), at UFSC. From this collaboration comes to light the Technical Education Group of UFSC, that joined the elements that Maurice worked in Chile and at the Teachers Institute.
In 1997, Maurice moves back to Brazil, already with the perspective of moving to Florianópolis. He goes at a first moment to Rio de Janeiro where his wife Enedina was finishing her undergraduation in Psychology. While still living at Usina, a neighborhood near Tijuca, he recieved José Mariano Gago, the Minister of Science and Technology of Portugal and a friend from the time he lived in Lisbon. Gago was inspired by the work of the Space for Living Science and invited Maurice to help him build a similar space in Portugal.
At that time, Maurice and Enedina had already begun to build their house in Florianópolis, a new child was on its way. Eric Martins Bazin was born in December 1998, in Florianópolis, a month after the family moved into the new house.
Between 1998 and 2006, Maurice participated actively of all the movements and activities of the city. He would go to the meetings of the Fishing Association of Campeche and to the meetings of surfers to accompany the negotiation between the fishers and the surfers during of the Tainha angling. He participated of the Campeche Neighborhood Association (AMOCAM), where he helped create the local newspaper “Fala Campeche” and he participated in the community efforts for the construction of the building of “Radio Campeche”. He fought side by side with the community to try to protect and keep alive the “Chico’s Bar” and in the elaboration of the new urban plan of the neighborhood.
At the end of 1999 Sílvia Oliveira and Gilvan Muller Oliveira, a couple who found the Political Linguistic Institute (IPOL), reached for Maurice to invite him to participate of a group that was working with Indigenous education. This is when Maurice initiates his work with the indigenous people of the Amazon and is invited to work with the Socioambiental Institute (ISA), in São Paulo.At the ISS he worked with Flora Cabalzar. From these collaborations with ISA and IPOL the work with the tribe Tuyuka, in the Alto Rio Negro region, was one of the most iconic. From this work he began a friendship with the chief of the tribe, Higino Tuyuka.
They saw the birth of the Tuyuka alphabet and writing, with the project lead by Gilvan Oliveira, and also a new mathematical knowledge created with the help of Maurice based in their artifacts, wickerwork, boat making and so many others. During this process Maurice insisted that all the work should be done in the Tuyuka language not only to keep it alive but also to flourish it in other areas, with the start of a mathematical thought.
In 2001, Maurice and Enedina began a project together, accompanied by a few colleagues from the Arts, psychologists, teachers, social assistants and a geography student, in the Rio Tavares neighborhood, in Florianópolis. Maurice coordinated the visual perception workshops, which became the Casa da Colina – Space for Health and Culture, and he became its President. From these workshops a research team was established with the construction of experimental modules with the purpose of getting the viewer to live a situation of visual perception and to reflect on it, to be aware that the world seen by us is not as evident as it seems, and with this, spread this knowledge. This collective work brought to light the exposition “What do you see?”, which was inaugurated during the first Saturday for Health, organized by the Movement Pro-Health of the Rio Tavares neighborhood.
In 2006 the family moves to Neuilly-sur-Seine, close to Paris. While in France, Maurice wrote about his experiences with the indigenous populations of the Amazon and maintained an intense relationship with his old and close friends: Patrick Fleury, Douady, Jim Ritter, Roberto Salmeirão and others. During this time Maurice whent to Portugal to help José Mariano Gago with the Portuguese version of a Space for Living Science.
The couple Martins-Bazin separated during the year of 2007, while still in France. When they returned to Brazil, Maurice moves to Rio de Janeiro and keeps collaborating with the Space for Living Science.
During his last years, Maurice tries to make the most of his retirement but never leaving aside the natural educator he always had been. He started to learn Sign Language to teach physics to deaf students of the National Institute for the Deaf, in Rio de Janeiro.
This is the latest project lead by Maurice Bazin, which was left unfinished with his sudden death due to heart problems. Maurice died on October 19th, 2009 at the São José Health House in Rio de Janeiro.
This unusual trajectory established by Maurice Bazin, marked by his curiosity and openness to the new – which defined the scientist – by generosity, restlessness and deep political and social awareness was an imperative.
Never, at any time, did Maurice show fatigue, or any complaint related to the accumulation of work, and in this sphere there was no hesitation or any inhibition. He fought tirelessly, imperatively, as if he had to win a war day by day.