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Meet Geric Magbitang, chemist and environmental manager


1) What do you do?


I am currently pursuing my Master’s degree in Environmental Management at Ateneo de Manila University. My current research focuses on analyzing the effects of socio-economic parameters (wage, production levels, pollution control facilities, types of products) and the level of nearby water bodies’ plastic pollution with the use of a GIS (Geographic Information Systems) software, data management involving geodatabases, and choropleth maps with Metro Manila as the study area.


2) Where do you work?

I am currently based at the University of San Francisco (USF), a private Jesuit Catholic university in California, as part of the graduate student exchange program between USF and Ateneo de Manila University, with support from the Ma. Elena Yuchengco endowment fund.

3) Tell us about the photos!

[Left:] Taken at USF Harney G24 room last March 2019 while we are doing exercises using a GIS application. The guy on my right is Dr. David Saah, our professor for the class and the Director of the USF Geospatial Analysis Lab, an organization affiliated with NASA. We were having our last session for the subject entitled ‘GIS Drone Technologies.’

[Right:] A collage photo from my travels to world-known cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. USF is bringing its case as the “The University of The Best City Ever.” It may be true because some of the famous rising tech companies, such as AirBNB, Twitter, Pinterest, Uber, Dropbox, and Craigslist, are based here.

4) Tell us about your academic career path so far. 

I spent my primary and secondary education in my hometown of Gapan City, Nueva Ecija. I was able to represent my schools in various regional-level competitions, such as science quiz bees, journalism, and boy scout events. 

  • 
Elementary – Divina Pastora College (2005) 
  • Secondary – Juan R. Liwag Memorial High School (formerly Nueva Ecija South High School) (2009) 
  • College – B.S. Chemistry, Ateneo de Manila University (2013) 
  • Masters – Master of Environmental Management, Ateneo de Manila University (Current- with units from University of San Francisco)


5) Anything else you’d like to share?

I’m still on the process of establishing my mark in the academia world. As a normal individual, I experienced struggles and mistakes along the way. Perhaps the best message I could share for the present and younger generation is to never stop dreaming. If you dream hard enough and pray hard enough, you will realize the fact that ‘dreams really do come true.’

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Meet Edward Alain Pajarillo, neuroscientist and microbiologist

1) What do you do?

I am a neuroscientist and microbiologist seeking to understand the molecular mechanisms of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and manganese neurotoxicity. I am also currently developing pipelines for multi-omic analysis for the brain-gut-microbiota axis. 

I am also into genetic engineering of bacterial genomes and mammalian genomes, particularly mice and rats using the cre-lox technology and CRISPR-Cas9 to create animal and in vitro models for brain diseases and better understand the interaction of bacteria and host. My ultimate goal is to understand how bacteria and host communicate to create a symbiosis and establish a more personalized approach to health and medicine.

2) Where do you work?

I am currently a Research Assistant Professor at the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences of Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. As part of my work, I also manage the day-to-day activities and projects in the laboratory of Dr. Eunsook Lee.

I am also co-owner of a non-profit institution known as L’Nissi Welfare, Learning and Development Center based in Cavite, Philippines, which seeks to educate the youth with high-quality education and values that would prepare them to contribute to solving societal problems.

3) Tell us about the photos!

[Left:] Here I am preparing to perform stereotaxic brain surgery and injection of adeno-associated virus in specific regions in the brain to induce gene deletions to better understand the effects of important genes in brain diseases using animal mice models.

[Right:] Here I am presenting my work on “omic” analysis of probiotic-host interaction in an international conference in Thailand. This is a pioneering study and it received amazing comments from the audience and participants.

4) Tell us about your academic career path so far.

In 2010, I graduated from BS Biology in University of the Philippines - Manila. My previous work focused on the diversity and identification of macrofungi or “mushrooms” in Sagada, Mt. Province. This gave me an opportunity to learn ecological, microbiological, and mycological techniques in the field and in the lab.

After graduating, I got a scholarship to pursue graduate school, both Masters and Ph.D. in Animal Resources Science, at the Laboratory of Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology in Dankook University, Cheonan, South Korea. 

After graduating from my Ph.D. in 2016, I pursued additional experience and knowledge for scientific research. I got a Postdoctoral Research Associate Position in Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, U.S.A. In early 2019, I was quickly promoted to Research Assistant Professor at the same institution.

5) Anything else you’d like to share?

I would say to young people of today whether in the Philippines or abroad to DREAM BIG and WORK HARD. Never let your current circumstances dictate what you can or will become. Let no one hinder you from dreaming and achieving your goals. Forge a path that is unique to you and pursue your passions. 

If you are interested in my work search me at Google Scholar, ResearchGate or LinkedIn: “Edward Pajarillo” or need some advise in your desired career path just send me a tweet @eabpajarillo. I’d love to talk to you soon!

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Meet Paul Dominick Baniqued, biomedical engineer

1) What do you do?

I am currently a provisional Ph.D. Student and Postgraduate Researcher in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Leeds in Leeds, United Kingdom. My research involves Medical Robotics and Cognitive Neuroscience.

My goal is to improve the functionality of brain-computer interfaces (BCI) and robotics for stroke rehabilitation. The brain is the most complex organ in the human body. While you may see some scientific breakthroughs reporting the control of robotic devices by just using brain signals, we are still very far from having full control of such robots in accordance to what our minds intend. Especially with stroke patients, the goal is to use this technology to “rewire” their brains and regain their ability to perform daily tasks and become independent again.

My Ph.D. project aims to study the factors that lead to a good brain signal to be used for robotic control during therapy. This relies on understanding how our brain perceives, plans, and executes our movements in 3D space and measuring that using the current technology that we have in our labs.

2) Where do you work?

I work in two departments at the University of Leeds: (1) the Institute of Design, Robotics and Optimisation based in the School of Mechanical Engineering and (2) the Immersive Cognition Laboratory based in the School of Psychology.

3) Tell us about the photos!

[Left:] A typical experiment day is wearing an electroencephalography (EEG) cap to record brain signals. One of my most interesting experiments so far is to wear this cap and record EEG while imagining hand movement without actually doing it! This involves a lot of signal processing and software programming (which are very new fields for me). I also get to play with some virtual reality (VR) headsets and robotic exoskeletons for my research. 

[Right:] I really like hiking and nature walks (to relieve stress)! My friend and I went to a small Welsh town called Llanrwst (don’t worry, I don’t know how to pronounce it too) before taking on the summit of Snowdon, the highest peak in Wales. 

In the other photo, I was perfecting that NatGeo shot! The weather was harsh and there were horizontal rains during our climb, but I still managed to convince my friend to take a jumpshot of me with the view. This photo was moments before I slipped towards a puddle of mud (and possibly sheep poop!).

4) Tell us about your academic career path so far.

Elementary and High School: Philippine Christian University UES/USHS

Undergraduate: BS Biological Engineering and BS Chemistry, Mapua University

I’ve always wanted to be a biomedical engineer because my dad is an engineer and my mom is a nurse. I was part of the pioneer batch of this program and this is how I fell in love with biomedical research. Viva Mapua!

Postgraduate: MS Manufacturing Engineering, De La Salle University - Manila

While working full-time in industry as a Sales and Applications Engineer for lab equipment, I took the leap of faith by enrolling in DLSU’s masters program in Manufacturing Engineering. I chose this because DLSU MEM is known for their innovative robotics and biomedical engineering research projects. 

Eventually, my MS research was funded by DOST-PCHRD and was branded as the Agapay Project (robotic exoskeletons for stroke rehabilitation). I was tasked to become the lead researcher of this project with Dr. Nilo Bugtai as Project Leader. We also established the DLSU Biomedical Devices Innovation Research Group with the help of Dr. Jade Dungao (Physics), Engr. Alexander Abad (ECE), Engr. Renann Baldovino (MEM) and Dr. Bugtai as Principal Investigator.

Postgraduate: PhD Mechanical Engineering, University of Leeds - United Kingdom

The best thing in my academic career happened when I was awarded with the Newton Fund PhD Scholarship by the British Council and CHED.

5) Anything else you’d like to share?

I was not the most brilliant in class. I didn’t have stellar grades and I even struggled passing my math subjects! I just took all my mistakes (there were a lot!) and made it an opportunity to learn. After college graduation and having worked for a while in industry, I realised that academic research is my calling, but my transcript said otherwise! Enrolling in an MS program made me start again from zero, but I guess it was also a way to redeem myself. If there was one thing that I learned through this is that grit gets you there.

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Meet Ian Mitchelle S. de Vera, pharmacologist and biologist

1) What do you do?

I am a pharmacologist, biophysicist and structural biologist. I consider myself a “drug hunter” because my primary goal is to discover new drugs for different diseases, such as various cancers, metabolic diseases and neurological disorders. 

My drug discovery lab is interested in orphan nuclear receptors– proteins in humans whose small molecule partners, also known as ligands, have not yet been identified. Because orphan nuclear receptors could potentially be regulated by ligands, they are attractive targets for drug development. Using an arsenal of high-throughput drug screening biophysical tools, computer simulations and structural elucidation techniques, such as NMR spectroscopy, X-ray crystallography and cryo-electron microscopy, we aim to illuminate the regulation mechanism of orphan nuclear receptors and their role in disease, which could provide crucial hints on possible therapeutic strategies.

2) Where do you work?

I work as an Assistant Professor and Director of the Protein Core Facility at the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology, Saint Louis University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. SLU is a Catholic, Jesuit institution recognized for its world-class academics, outstanding research and health care, and strong commitment to community service.

3) Tell us about the photos!

[Left:] My drug discovery research group in December 2017. I had the great opportunity to work with two talented postdoctoral associates.  

[Right:] From a recent hike at the lower Antelope Canyon in Arizona. I firmly believe in the importance of work-life balance and appreciating God’s miracles through nature and science.  

4) Tell us about your academic path.

I graduated from Doña Manuela Elementary School in Las Piñas and University of Perpetual Help Laguna Business High School in Biñan, Laguna in 1995 and 1999, respectively. I received my Bachelor of Science degrees in Chemistry and Computer Engineering from Ateneo de Manila University in 2003 and 2005, and subsequently earned my Master of Science in Analytical Chemistry from the same institution in 2008.  

For my Master’s thesis under the mentorship of Dr. Fabian Dayrit, I developed a proton NMR spectroscopy-based medical diagnostic procedure for type II diabetes by analyzing human urine samples. In 2008, I pursued a PhD in Biophysical Chemistry at University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida, USA and focused on HIV/AIDS research in the lab of Dr. Gail Fanucci. I received several distinctions, including the Procter and Gamble Research Excellence Award and the Ruegamer Award for Outstanding Biochemistry Research while working on my dissertation, which illuminated molecular mechanisms of drug resistance in HIV-1 protease—a prominent target in HIV/AIDS therapy.

After earning my PhD in 2012, I embarked on a postdoctoral associate position in the lab of Dr. Douglas Kojetin at the Department of Molecular Therapeutics, The Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Florida. My involvement in nuclear receptor (NR) research at Doug’s lab sparked my interest in drug development for orphan NRs, which is the current research focus in my lab.

5) Anything else you like to share?

What I love about science is that it provides the lenses to observe and understand the complexities of the world. I strongly encourage science and technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-inclined students to pursue this path. Most people would agree that science is a noble pursuit and a very rewarding career. Realizing that I am contributing to the betterment of humanity with even the smallest scientific discoveries fuels my passion to solve scientific conundrums on a day to day basis.  

One caveat to all scientists out there: don’t lose your own essence while pursuing this career! The challenge to a scientific career is to able to conquer your scientific goals while simultaneously holding on to your identity as a person. Always remind yourself that a scientific career is only one facet of your life.

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Meet Ador Torneo, development & governance researcher

1) What do you do?

I do research on various policy, governance, and development issues to understand them better and find ways to improve public policies, programs, and projects. Topics include international marriage migration, performance management system of the Philippine government, political interference on infrastructure projects, automated elections, among others. Governance and development are very diverse fields.

I also provide technical support and advice to governments, NGOs, and development organizations who need assistance. I evaluate their policies, programs, and projects, look for ways to improve them, and help develop new policies and programs where necessary. These range from small community water projects to international forest programs.

I also teach and train people how to do research. I enjoy sharing what I know about research with undergraduate and graduate students, teachers, university administrators, police, fire, jail, coast guard, and other professionals, hoping that it will help them and their organizations examine, understand, and address their own issues and concerns.

2) Where do you work?

I work in De La Salle University – Manila (DLSU), which is an excellent university for research, teaching, and extension work. I currently wear three hats, as Associate Professor of the Political Science Department, Research Fellow, and Director of the Jesse M. Robredo Institute of Governance.

3) Tell us about the photos!

[Left:] In 2014, I was asked by the the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), including all the Commissioners in the en banc, to share with them our study on the Automated elections in 2013. This was the first time that I was consulted by a major government agency as an expert and on a very controversial topic at that.

[Right:] With the most memorable batch of students (AB Political Science) I taught in De La Salle University back in 2015. We spent a year doing quantitative research and this class knew how to work hard and have fun. They inspired me to teach.

4) Tell us about your academic career path so far. 

I studied in East Central School and the Palawan National School in Puerto Princesa City for elementary and high school. I went to the University of the Philippines – Diliman for college– initially for BS Electronics and Communications Engineering, then I changed programs to BS Community Development in my third year.

I got a job in the Office of Social Concern and Involvement of the Ateneo de Manila University after graduation and after a year, enrolled in Master of Public Administration in the National College of Public Administration (NCPAG) in UP Diliman while working.

After graduating, I moved to the Asian Institute of Management as a Programs Manager in the Center for Development Management. I moved later to the La Salle Institute of Governance and the Department of Political Science in DLSU while I studied for a Doctor of Public Administration degree in UP NCPAG.

In 2010, my mentor and director in DLSU, Dr. Francisco Magno recommended me for a Ph.D. Public Administration program in Konkuk University in South Korea that had a working scholarship option, so I grabbed the opportunity and spent the next three years studying, getting exposed to hallyu, and doing research. I returned to DLSU in 2014.

5) Anything else you’d like to share?

I would just like to advise students to not be constrained by the expectations of society and their parents but instead to find their own purpose in life. A college degree is simply a means to an end. In my case, I made a big decision to shift track. I initially took up BS ECE in UP, a very popular and difficult program to get into. On my third year, however, struggle with finances, academics, and dwindling motivation nudged me to reflect on what I really wanted to do with my life. I just did not have much sense of purpose then.

I took up classes in Political Science and Community Development and found my calling working with poor communities. I also discovered that engaging top policy makers and international development organizations can create substantial impact in improving the lives of people, especially marginalized groups, so I pursued a career that let me do this. I am grateful that I took the leap, even if others at the time thought I was crazy for leaving a potentially high paying career in engineering if I stayed.

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Meet Jaimee-Ian Rodriguez, astrophysicist-in-training

1) What do you do?

I am an undergraduate student pursuing a bachelors degree in Physics and pursuing a career in Astrophysics. I’ve participated in research on galactic dynamics and evolution. In particular, I focus on star formation in dwarf galaxies and how it is regulated by supernovae feedback and photoionization. I’ve worked with high-resolution simulations, which are really cool and teach you a lot about the technical, computational side of science.

2) Where do you work?

I split my work among a lot of places throughout New York City. My home institution is Hunter College, part of the City University of New York (CUNY). My research is based at the American Museum of Natural History and the Center for Computational Astrophysics. I also recently began collaborating with a postdoc up at Harvard University. 

The decentralization of my work started just as a consequence of the fact that Hunter itself does not participate in much astrophysical research. I’m glad that I’ve been able to expand my networks in this way. It’s been a great exercise in stepping out of my comfort zone and has encouraged me to step out even further, leading me to places and platforms like this!

3) Tell us about the photos!

[Top:] Presenting the research I conducted this summer as part of the Banneker & Aztlan Institute at Harvard University. It was a beautiful program that not only engaged underrepresented students like myself in research, it also engaged us in critical theory that exposed the sources of oppression in our society and prompted us to lead the way to solve these problems. 

The slide pictured is actually from the portion of my talk in which I address the non-science aspects of that experience, and I draw this analogy which compares political/scientific superpowers to large galaxies whereas island nations (like the Philippines) would be dwarf galaxies, and how, even though public perception has a bias towards the larger/more powerful countries which obscures the hard work done by those elsewhere, the work done in smaller countries and smaller institutions is no less significant.

[Bottom:] With some other students in the program kayaking in a nature reservation near Harvard. It reflects what I do to enjoy and nourish myself; I really love being in nature. The great thing about astronomy (and the sciences in general) is that you get to travel pretty frequently, and you get to see all these new sights. I love to hike around New York, but some of the best sights I’ve seen were in Maryland and Utah, when I visited for conferences.

4) Tell us about your academic career path so far. 

I was born and raised in New York, and being American-born has afforded me a lot of privilege. This is something I have to thank my parents for, who immigrated from the Philippines in the 90s. I went to a relatively small high school called Newfield High School before going to Hunter College. I’ll be applying for graduate programs this fall to pursue a PhD. Some of my top choices include University of Texas at Austin, Harvard, and University of Washington.

5) Anything else you’d like to share?

I advocate for equality and justice in academia, the dominant institutions in the United States, and the world at large. I do so mainly through the clubs I head in school– the Coalition for the Revitalization of Asian American Studies at Hunter (CRAASH) and the Society for Physics and Astronomy. We bring attention to issues of inequality and oppression through workshops, movie screenings, and other activities.

My ambitions extend beyond just getting a PhD and attaining existing research positions. I plan on creating my own research project soon (hopefully through the Fulbright Program) which would push the boundaries of what I can do solely in astronomy and in the US. My current, rough draft idea involves gathering and examining the wealth of astronomical knowledge in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, and empowering budding scientists in these areas by providing resources in whichever way I can. This idea is still a long way from becoming reality, however, I do want to make sure I work with the communities to establish goals that are not only relevant to me, but also to the people I interact with. If you are reading this and have any ideas, or just want to get into contact, feel free to . I’m happy to respond!

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Meet Colleen Marciel Rosales, atmospheric and indoor chemist

1) What do you do?

I work with lasers! I study the “Pac-man” of the atmosphere - the hydroxyl (OH) radical, the most important oxidant in the troposphere. I also study other radicals closely related to OH, called the hydroperoxy and peroxy radicals. 

I use laser-induced fluorescence spectroscopy to detect these short-lived and very elusive radicals. Not a lot of instruments in the world can detect these radicals– thus it is very challenging and exciting! With a baseline knowledge of what amounts of these radicals are present, plus some modeling, we wish to understand how OH affects the behavior of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the presence of other significant compounds such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and ozone. I am particularly interested in the concentration and behavior of OH in the indoor environment, since we spend ~90% of our time indoors!

While I’m currently doing atmospheric and indoor air chemistry research, I’ve also maximized the opportunity to enhance my interest in environmental policy, since my university is one of the top schools in the US for environmental policy and management.  

2) Where do you work?

I am currently a Ph.D. student and Research Assistant at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, USA.

3) Tell us about the photos!

[Left:] I work with lasers, and prior to doing my Ph.D. I have never encountered lasers, apart from laser pointers! There is a lot of physics, optics, electronics, and instrumentation involved in my work, which makes it daunting but very enriching!

[Right:] Coming from the sunny and tropical Philippines, moving to the American Midwest is no joke! This particular winter, we’ve experienced winter temperatures ranging from -18 to -15 deg C. But I love the pristine white snow and seeing it makes me feel like a kid and I just really want to play in it!

4) Tell us about your academic career path so far.

I graduated high school from Morning Dew Montessori in 2007, went to college at the University of the Philippines in Diliman for my Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and graduated in 2011. I continued on to do my Master’s degree in Chemistry in UP Diliman until 2016, until I decided to leave for the US to pursue a Ph.D. in Environmental Science (Minor in Environmental Management) at Indiana University.

5) Anything else you’d like to share?

Sometimes, the path to knowing your passion isn’t straightforward. Don’t be afraid to try new things, but still keep your core values and skills intact. Personally, I have learned through years of exposing myself to different work environments that my goal in life is to bridge the gap between science and policy, serving as the nexus between scientists and policymakers. As an undergraduate, I always thought that a science career would always stay a science career. As I exposed myself to different environments, I have learned that people with interdisciplinary skills are greatly valued everywhere, and that knowing the fundamentals of science will equip us with the valuable tools that will help us understand the world in a more logical way.

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Meet Francia Avila, climate scientist

1) What do you do?

I am a climate scientist specialising in land-atmosphere interactions and climate extremes. Most of my research involves running experiments using climate models and analysing observational and model data to understand the different processes that cause climate extremes and find ways to predict how these extremes will behave in the future.

In particular, I look at how extremes in precipitation (e.g. flooding or drought), temperature (e.g. heatwaves) and winds (e.g. tropical cyclones), are affected by changes in the large scale (e.g. El Nino-Southern Oscillation, monsoons, greenhouse gas concentrations) as well as in the small scale (e.g. changes in land use, such as the conversion of forests to agricultural land to urban centres).

I also try to help educate the public about the science of climate change to enable them to make climate-informed decisions. I do this by working with partners in government and non-government organisations who are involved in disaster risk reduction and climate resilience advocacies. 

2) Where do you work?

I am currently working as a researcher at the Manila Observatory’s Regional Climate Systems Laboratory (MO-RCS). I am also a lecturer in the Environmental Science Department of Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) and a part-time faculty at the Physics Department of the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU).

3) Tell us about the photos!

[Left:] This is a group photo from the 2014 Summer School on Attribution and Prediction of Extreme Events at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, Italy. At this summer school, experts and early career scientists from developing and non-developing countries came together in response to the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP)’s “Grand Challenge on Understanding and Predicting Weather and Climate Extremes”.

[Right:] This is a photo with my BS Environmental Science students in ADDU when we went to visit Cape San Agustin in Davao Oriental.  While a new lighthouse now stands guard to guide seafarers in navigating the southeastern tip of the Philippines, remnants of the old lighthouse still stands proud to show visitors the breathtaking view of waters from the Davao Gulf and Celebes Sea meeting the Pacific Ocean.

4) Tell us about your academic career path so far:

  • Elementary - Universidad de Sta. Isabel, Naga City
  • High School - Philippine Science High School - Diliman, Quezon City
  • BS Physics with Computer Engineering/MS Physics (coursework) - Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City
  • PhD Climate Science - University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

After graduating from college, I worked as a programmer and system administrator at an IT company which allowed me to work well with computers, an important skill which then allowed me to transition well to climate modelling and data analysis.

I have also worked as a Research Assistant at the Klima Climate Change Information Centre at the Manila Observatory, which provided me with front row seats in learning not just about the science but also the policy and social development aspects of climate change.

While working as a researcher, I am also involved in teaching — which is one of the best way to continue learning, while also providing me with the opportunity to share my knowledge to my students.   

5) Anything else you’d like to share?

I encourage young (and not so young) students to stay curious and continue asking the hard questions. You may not find the answers right away (if at all), but the journey of finding the answers is the reward in itself.

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Meet Genie Lorenzo, atmospheric scientist

1) What do you do?

I am part of a team that observes the weather and air quality in selected areas in the Philippines. We deploy and analyze data from weather stations and air samplers so that we can better understand local and regional atmospheric systems.  

2) Where do you work?

I work at the Air Quality Dynamics and Instrumentation and Technology Development Laboratories in the Manila Observatory– a 153 year-old scientific institution and the oldest one in the Philippines!

3) Tell us about the photos!

[Top:] My first assignment at the Manila Observatory was to collect air samples on filters using these samplers from different locations in Metro Manila.  From the samples (black-colored circles in the foreground), it was determined that traffic is the greatest contributor to fine particulate pollution in Metro Manila.  

[Bottom:] We visit Davao Oriental regularly to check on weather stations we deployed after Super Typhoon Pablo devastated parts of the province in 2012.  In this visit, we also shared with the Science teachers of Maryknoll Cateel (one of those affected by the storm) some basic optical set-ups (a coinbank spectroscope pointed at clouds for diffused sunlight and a basic refractor telescope in the foreground) which they can use for their classes.

4) Tell us about your academic career path so far. 

My love for science was nurtured in Philippine Science High School, and from there I became interested in Physics. I finished my BS Physics in Ateneo de Manila University where I first heard about the Manila Observatory, where I eventually worked, and thereafter also pursued a Masters in Electronics Engineering (Ateneo de Manila University).  

5) Anything else you’d like to share?

Thanks for featuring the diverse work of Pinoy Scientists from all over, it is encouraging. I hope more young ones will be inspired to engage in science. To learn more about the work of the Manila Observatory, visit www.observatory.ph

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Meet Jae Rodriguez, geneticist

1) What do you do?

I am an assistant professor currently on study leave to pursue Ph.D. studies. My research aims to trace the origins and understand the evolutionary adaptations of the Sama Dilaut (also known as the Badjao), traditional sea nomads of Island Southeast Asia. 

Most of my fieldwork is done in Tawi-Tawi, the southernmost province of the country. After community consultations, I will collect DNA samples from various populations in the Sulu archipelago, then do the laboratory analysis in Germany.

My interest in genetics aside, I love that I get to travel, meet different people, and get engaged with other disciplines. Right now, I am also learning the local languages and will soon live among the communities to document aspects of their history and culture. I work with a team that includes a linguist, a cultural anthropologist, an animal scientist, and local partners in Tawi-Tawi. I think approaching the problem through different disciplinal lenses will be very fruitful.

2) Where do you work?

Since 2007, I have been teaching at the Institute of Biological Sciences, University of the Philippines Los Baños. I belong to the Genetics and Molecular Biology Division, pioneer of genetics instruction in the country. Teaching human genetics and evolutionary biology is personally enjoyable as I get to share with my students my research interests.

3) Tell us about the photos.

[Left:] From my TEDx talk at UPLB on how DNA can contribute answers to big questions such as ‘where we come from’. To conclude, I remarked that the DNA story is a story of how our ancestors had always mixed, a success story of how we conquered and adapted to diverse environments, and most importantly, a story of our shared humanity—that despite our differences in appearance, beliefs, or political inclinations, deep in our DNA we are 99.9% identical.

[Right:] Way back in 2012, I was singing with the UPLB Choral Ensemble at the Cultural Center of the Philippines for the National Music Competitions for Young Artists (NAMCYA). We won the Grand Prize! The years I spent performing with the choir have been a rich artistic experience– we sang pieces of diverse languages and time periods. I am no longer that active in the choral arena, but I still get invited to sing in weddings and official functions.

4) Tell us about your academic career path so far.

I took my Bachelor’s degree in biology, Major in genetics at UPLB. Initially, I wanted to pursue medicine but taking BIO 30 (Genetics) during my second year inspired me to choose the academe. Under the guidance of Dr. Rita P. Laude, I worked on the genetic diversity of Philippine beef cattle populations in Ilocos and Mindanao. It was my first taste of travel and adventure while doing scientific research.

I earned my Master’s degree in genetics with a Minor in molecular biology and biotechnology also from UPLB. Hoping to work on the genetics of indigenous peoples (IPs) for my thesis, I contacted Dr. Maria Corazon A. De Ungria, head of the DNA Analysis Laboratory at UP Diliman. I later considered a forensics topic because of the complicated logistics of IP research. For my thesis, I did comparative studies for the various steps of DNA testing for sexual assault samples. It was very challenging as I had to go through ethical review, write for grant applications, and invite donors to provide biological (often intimate) samples. Yet it was very productive, and I got to present my findings in countries such as Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Australia, and Croatia. You can find published papers from this thesis here, and a few more manuscripts are in preparation. Since there are no national guidelines for routine forensic DNA testing in criminal investigations, it is hoped that the results from our study can also contribute to policy recommendations.

Some years later, I came across fiction books by Harry Nimmo, an American anthropologist who in the sixties spent many months of field work among the Sama Dilaut of Tawi-Tawi. Inspired by the stories and the rigor of his ethnographic work, it became clear to me what I wanted to do, and so I wrote a Ph.D. proposal. Since January 2018, I am on study leave as a Ph.D. candidate under the Molecular Anthropology program of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany. I am privileged to have Dr. Mark Stoneking as supervisor, one of the proponents of the Mitochondrial Eve concept, the idea that all mitochondrial DNA of humans today are descended from a single woman who lived in Africa several thousands of years ago.

5)    Anything else you’d like to share?

Sir Alec Jeffreys, father of DNA fingerprinting, is a personal hero. Sometime in the eighties when he was curious with what DNA cutting enzymes could do to his co-worker’s DNA, he discovered DNA fingerprints. Its applications in parentage testing and human identification immediately dawned on him. I think science becomes powerful when your curiosity is coupled with the desire to impact society.

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