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One of the greatest scientific discoveries in the our modern history may not have been possible without Brazil’s richest family, the Salles, Bloomberg reports.Physicists believe they’re very close to finding Higgs boson, the so-called “God particle”. It’s a subatomic particle that would help explain what gives matter all over the universe its size and shape.
The Salles family produce niobium, an element that makes steel more flexible and strong. Niobium is used in a 10th of all the world’s steel — in everything from cars to cameras.
The Salles control 85% of the material, and it was also used to make the magnets in the world’s largest particle accelerator, the $10 billion Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.
Without the high-energy proton collisions the machine creates, scientists would not have been able to come so close to Higgs boson.
The Salles first got into niobium in 1965, when a U.S. Navy Admiral convinced Brazilian banker and diplomat Walther Moreira Salles to back his venture to produce niobium. Moreira Salles bought a majority stake in the company.
That market dominance has helped make the mogul’s heirs Brazil’s richest family. His four sons, Fernando, Pedro, Joao and Walter, control a combined fortune of $27 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The brothers do not currently appear on any international wealth ranking.
“We created the whole market,” Tadeu Carneiro, chief executive officer of Cia. Brasileira de Metalurgia & Mineracao, the family’s niobium company, said in an interview at his office in Sao Paulo. On his desk lies a chunk of the heavy, lustrous alloy that CBMM sells. “Now you see how fantastic this company is — its value, these dividends — but we started from zero, when niobium was just a laboratory dream.”
The company is now worth $13 billion, more than the Salles’ $7.1 billion interest in Brazilian bank, Itau.
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