Editorial & Opinion

Rich potential in S&T

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The noise of last week’s campaign sorties drowned out a high-water mark in the country’s science and technology hub: the launch of Diwata-1, the first Philippine-made microsatellite.

Diwata-1 made its momentous journey into outer space on March 23, and marked the start of the country’s venture into space technology. It was included in the 3,375-kilogram cargo of food and crew supplies on board the Cygnus spacecraft that took off at Cape Canaveral in Florida, for its fifth resupply mission to the International Space Station.

When it gets into orbit in mid-April, Diwata-1 is expected to stay in space for around 20 months, taking high-resolution images of the Philippines twice daily from a distance of 400 kilometers from earth.  The microsatellite will use its four specialized cameras to take an average of 3,600 high-resolution images that will be used for imaging the Philippines and its topography. The images can also provide data and information needed to formulate policies relating to changing weather patterns, disaster mitigation, agricultural productivity and management of land and water resources. These data will empower the Philippines as well in battling the effects of natural disasters and help it monitor territorial waters, forestry and marine resources.

Diwata-1’s launch into orbit is the culmination of a research program of the Department of Science and Technology that began in 2014 to develop the necessary local expertise in space technology and allied fields in science and engineering.

Nine Filipino engineers aged 22-26 from the DOST-Advanced Science and Technology Institute and the University of the Philippines Diliman are behind Diwata-1, which was developed in collaboration with scientists and engineers from Tohoku University and Hokkaido University of Japan.

Aside from Diwata-1 and its sibling, Diwata-2 (now being developed by the same team), a program on unmanned aerial vehicles that will be used for “military research” is also being started, according to Carlos Primo David, executive director of the Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development. A memorandum of agreement with the Department of National Defense is expected to be signed soon, David added of the three-year, P840.82-million program seen to lay the foundation for a possible Philippine Space Agency.

Diwata-1 shows the possibilities of happy endings when government funds are harnessed wisely, appropriately and prudently, especially in the often-overlooked field of science and technology. Fortunately, records show that the DOST has the biggest budget allocation for research and development in 2015: From P1.433 billion in 2011, its budget has ballooned to P3.802 billion.

And well it should, given the young Filipino scientists bringing honor to the country in international science and math fairs. From a record-setting haul of 484 gold, silver and bronze medals from such competitions in 2014, homegrown science and math whizzes collected 614 medals in 2015.

But young Filipino scientists are proving their mettle in applied sciences as well, with innovations and inventions meant to provide solutions to some of life’s most vexing problems.

There’s the SALt (sustainable alternative lighting) lamp by engineer Aisa Mijeno, which uses saltwater to generate electricity for eight hours. The lamp is environment-friendly, safe and affordable, and is ideal for remote barrios where stable power supply remains a luxury.

For areas that go underwater at the slightest rainfall, Atoy Llave’s salamander trike just might provide all-weather transport. The amphibious tricyle with six-person capacity can be powered by a 5-kW electric engine or a 250-cc gasoline motor.

And what about a flashlight that works through body heat? Invented by 15-year-old Fil-Canadian Ann Makosinski, the flashlight was inspired by the plight of her friend in Mindanao whose family could not afford to pay for electricity. Her friend failed an entire school year because she could not read her lessons, Ann said, prompting her to experiment with various prototypes until she came up with a flashlight that generates light from the heat of the hand gripping the device.

All these and more, with Diwata-1 blazing a new trail for the Philippines, ought to open the eyes of both the government and the private sector to the rich potential of Filipino scientists to do the country proud. Inquirer.net

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