How can science and technology promote food security, create science laboratories in all schools nationwide, and launch our own space program in 2016? This was the main conversation between UP’s leading scientists and President Alfredo Pascual with the country’s leading science journalists as they recently exchanged notes on UP’s latest research and development (R&D) projects, and the broader importance of science and technology (S&T) innovations to the country’s progress.
Using the now-trademark ‘brunch’ setting in communicating with the university’s media partners, Pascual delivered a presentation entitled ‘S&T as a Catalyst for Progress’ to fifteen (15) science journalists from ten (10) different media organizations at UP Diliman’s Quezon Hall. It contained an overview of three (3) new and expanded research initiatives undertaken by UP, and their importance to national development.
The three dimensions tackled were: the use of biotechnology to promote food security, the emerging aerospace industry stimulated by the success of the Diwata Program, and how the Versatile Instrument System for Scientific Education and Research (VISSER) is helping train the next generation of scientists and innovators needed by tomorrow’s Philippine economy.
Food Security and Nutrition
The biotechnology dimension has received significant media attention in recent weeks due to the Supreme Court decision to suspend Bt Talong field trials, “(impacting) not only agriculture but also greatly affects the fisheries, poultry and livestock sectors, as well as the pharmaceutical and clothing industries”, Pascual said.
Pascual tipped his hat to the specific contributions of UP Los Baños to the cause of food security and nutrition, especially in light of the country’s population expected to reach 150 million by the year 2050. Central to this cause are UPLB’s National Institute for Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (BIOTECH) and Institute of Plant Breeding (IPB).
He cited the various successes of BIOTECH in developing cheaper and better products to promote plant productivity, and also mentioned other improved crops developed by the IPB with the aid of genomics. Aside from Bt Talong, they included the likes of the ‘long shelf-life Papaya’.
These, Pascual clarified, had the distinct advantages of being “safe, non-toxic and inexpensive”.
A Viable and Relevant Space Program
The much-awaited launch of the Diwata 1 microsatellite was also discussed. Built by a team of UP researchers in cooperation with the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Hokkaido University and Tohoku University, this microsatellite will help ease the country’s reliance on commercial satellites for observing the country’s farmlands, crops, and disaster-afflicted areas.
Microsatellites like Diwata 1, which typically weigh only around 50 kilos, are constructed from commercial off-the-shelf components to reduce production time and cost. With the increasing demand for smaller satellites to service a number of technological and socio-economic needs, opening new markets stemming from these innovations is now possible.
A UP Microsatellite and Research Instruction Facility will be built this year at the UP Electrical and Electronics Engineering Institute. Here, it can serve as a hub where academe, government, and industry can interact; while providing an environment conducive to research and innovation.
Educating the Next Generation of Scientists
The VISSER project, which is a collaboration between UP and the University of Maryland is designed to provide modern science laboratories to every school and college in the country.
With only 64% of (Philippine) high schools having a laboratory, VISSER will provide affordable alternatives to the traditional science laboratory setup. At its heart is a hand-held electronic device incorporating several sensors that make possible various experiments in physics, chemistry, biology, environmental science and engineering.
The Stand-Alone Mode for VISSER equipment, for instance, can serve as a timer/stopwatch, ruler, weighing scale, digital thermometer, force and pressure sensor, camera, audio recorder, dc volt meter, magnetometer, inclinometer, and 3-axis accelerometer. With a product that is both highly versatile and cost-effective, VISSER will modernize science education in secondary and tertiary education institutions across the country.
Scientists Take Centerstage
Following this presentation, the scientific leaders heading these initiatives took questions from members of the media. The conversation that followed inspired a number of initiatives that aim to promote both greater prominence of R&D in development; and efforts to strengthen the relationship between scientists and the media to promote clearer, more accurate dissemination of science-related news and information.
The brunch was a prelude to the release of a ‘UP Think Paper’ on the key role of education, particularly in S&T in national development. This paper will be sent to presidential candidates in the May 2016 elections, and will feature important policy proposals that can be incorporated in their platform of government.
A follow-up conversation will be held in April 2016 to promote further dialogue between the country’s researchers and media practitioners. This effort is supported by the establishment of CoST UP (Communicating Science and Technology, Research and Development at the University of the Philippines), a multi-disciplinary initiative under the UP Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs (OVPAA) aiming to mainstream S&T into the public consciousness and the nation’s development policy.