Gone are the days when our perception of scientists involve bespectacled men with unkempt hair, clad in septic white gowns and carrying tons of paperwork, beakers and test tubes, speaking in scientific jargon that nobody else understands.
Yes, scientists are still a special class of geniuses, but they can be as young as 10 or as old as 90, and the new generation of young scientists and researchers can look as ordinary as the next bystander and have the tastes and passions of their peers. Yes, like your typical young lads and ladies, they are tech-savvy and obsessed with the latest gadgets, active in Facebook and the Internet, and enjoy pop groups and go mushy over romantic movies.
This is the general feeling of more than 200 or so junior science researchers, their mentors, and even the prominent names in science and the business industries as they participated in the first Philippine International Science Fair (PISF). The event signifies that the study of science is truly alive and active in a country where some of its brightest young minds and their projects have also ignited a renewed interest in the subject that is usually perceived as boring or hard to study.
This year, the inaugural version of the PISF puts the Philippines as the host of what is to become a yearly event, and has brought in not only local young science scholars but also those from Bangladesh, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand. These students presented their researches in a science congress, participated in the science community affair and other socio-cultural activities, and listened to the lectures of noted experts.
The five-day event was organized by the Philippine Science High School System (PSHSS) and its administrator, internationally acclaimed science teacher and INTEL Science Awardee Dr. Josette T. Biyo, in partnership with the First Pacific Leadership Academy (FPLA) under executive director Roy Agustin K. Evalle.
BUILDING A CULTURE OF SCIENCE
“The first Philippine International Science Fair is the product of years of diligent follow-up, initiation, and dedication,” says Dr. Biyo, who also organized the first Philippine Science High School Science Fair, the precursor of the PISF.
PSHSS is the premiere science high school in the country with the main campus on Agham Road and 11 satellite campuses nationwide.
Her advocacy to promote junior science research through the PSHS Fair and the PISF was inspired by her experience as mentor-participant in the annual Intel International Science Fair in the US, where her students exhibited and won awards for their scientific projects. She herself won the Intel Science Teacher Award, with her name permanently appended on an asteroid being one of the prizes.
It is through the yearly PSHS Fair, hosted by FPLA, that the Department of Science and Technology finally decided to host it on an international scale.
Dr. Biyo invited some of the top secondary schools in the region such as Raffles Institution and Hwa Chong Institution in Singapore, Korea Science Academy of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Kaoshiung Municipal Senior High School in Taiwan, and Mahidol Wittayanusam School of Thailand to participate in the event. It gathered enough credibility and attention that some science schools from Bangladesh, Malaysia, Vietnam, and China also indicated interest in joining.
The event also gathered students from the Quezon City Science High School, Caloocan City Science High School, Makati Science High School, Pasig City Science High School, Pasay City Science High School, De La Salle University Integrated School in Canlubang, Laguna, and the Malayan High School of Science.
RAISING THE BAR OF SCIENTIFIC LEARNING
“We were able to successfully stage this with the help of the FPLA, who shared not only their place but also their learning solutions, manpower, and time in order to make it possible. Now, we are glad to be able to raise the bar of scientific learning in the country and put the Philippines on the map of progressive nations through this major event,” says Dr. Biyo.
The first day of the event at the FPLA’s Academic Hall in Antipolo City was teeming with curious and excited students who later presented their researches on animal science, biochemistry, chemistry, computer science, electrical engineering, material engineering, environmental science, robotics, mathematics, medicine, microbiology, and plant science at the Science Congress held at the Ynares Sports Center in Antipolo, Rizal.
Meanwhile, a forum was conducted by speakers that included National Scientist and L’Oreal-UNESCO Woman of Science awardee Dr. Lourdes J. Cruz, geologist Dr. Silverio T. Navarro Jr., Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World (TOYPW) recipient and HIV awareness advocate Dr. Edsel Maurice T. Salvaña, and Smart Communications’ head of corporate development and innovation and president of IdeaSpace Foundation Earl Martin S. Valencia.
Valencia started the forum by relating how his transfer of studies from the University of the Philippines to Boston University led him to work for a defense and aerospace systems company and was once named 2007 New Faces of Engineering in Los Angeles. Dr. Cruz related to the audiences how her interest in marine life provided her a lifelong affair with the study of marine toxins produced by certain types of seashell called conopeptides. Dr. Navarro provided a glimpse of what lies in store for future geologists, as they study minerals and fuel sources, both essential in society and the economy. On the other hand, Dr. Salvaña related how his initial interest in parasitology (the study of parasites) led him to study tropical medicine, and later on the phenomenon of AIDS and HIV. This made him become an advocate in curbing the rising incidence of the disease in the country.
“We at IdeaSpace believe that we should encourage people to formulate ideas, ideas that would change how the world thinks and perceives. People like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs did not have the support they needed when they were building Windows and Macintosh in the dimly lit spaces of their garages, but look at how their inventions changed our world in the wink of an eye. Now, we are giving people a good headstart as they pursue projects worthy of a grant, that’s why we are holding a contest aiming to help those who want to develop ground-breaking solutions and transform them into successful commercial products,” Valencia says.
According to FPLA executive director Roy Agustin K. Evalle, the International Science Fair has proven that Filipino high school students, who have been winning in various local and international competitions, are indeed at par or even some of the best in the world.
“At the same time, by making scientific research more popular and something to be appreciated by a larger audience of students, FPLA is helping promote a culture of science not only among the science community but to society in general,” he says.
“Our chairman in FPLA, Manuel V. Pangilinan, strongly advocates for a culture of innovation and development among the youth, whom he believes is the hope of this country’s future. This is shown through his tremendous support for the many projects that involve education, science and technology and the youth,” Evalle says. “As a corporate university that wants to develop future leaders in business and technology, FPLA has shown and will continue to support Dr. Biyo and the Philippine Science High School System as they embark on putting the Philippines as one of the countries with a strong culture of science.”