PGTW: Global Filipinas in Science

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 2 May 2013, Thursday

Global Filipinas in Science

TIME Magazine’ April 29 issue lauded President Benigno Aquino III as one of the “100 Most Influential People” in the world, on his helming the growing Philippine economy and steadfast stands on the Reproductive Health bill and West Philippine Sea security issues.

However, few media people picked up on the fact that another Philippine-born person was also named to the prestigious list.

This was physician and researcher Katherine Luzuriaga, a Fil-American who was born in Manila, has a Filipino father whose family is from Bacolod City, and was educated at the International School-Manila. She is a pediatric allergist and immunologist at the University of Massachussetts, and teaches pediatrics and medicine.

Dr. Luzuriaga was part of the team that discovered “the first functional cure” for an HIV-infected newborn, according to online sources.  “Functional cure” means the baby does not need to take antiviral medication for a lifetime, unlike most HIV patients.

She is one of a number of Filipinas around the world who are making innovative discoveries and contributions to the hard sciences, social sciences, and knowledge in general.

There’s also Reinabelle Reyes, who, in 2010, with collaborators from Princeton University, confirmed physicist Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity beyond the solar system. She was 26.

Not only did she and her teammates devise a new kind of astronomical measurement that indicates how galaxies are tugged together by gravity, as Einstein suggested, but also found support for the existence of “dark energy,” which even NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) calls “the deepest mystery in physics.”

Reyes holds a BS Physics degree from the Ateneo de Manila University (summa cum laude) and a PhD Astrophysics from Princeton. She is a fellow of the University of Chicago’s Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, where her research interests focus on “weak gravitational lensing in galaxy surveys,” galaxy lensing being a “powerful and versatile tool that can illuminate many problems in cosmology and galaxy formation.”

In the social sciences, linguist Danica Salazar hopes to put Philippine English on the map by including Filipinisms in the venerable Oxford English Dictionary.

Words like ‘senatoriable’ and ‘presidentiable’ are coinages in the Philippines; ‘viand’ and ‘solon’ are used extensively here but not often in the United States and the United Kingdom; while words like ‘salvage’ have had “extensions of meaning” (a new meaning that is different from the existing one, wherein “salvage” means “to save” but here can mean “summary execution”).

Salazar obtained her BA European Languages from the University of the Philippines-Diliman (magna cum laude, best undergraduate thesis), and MA Teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language from the University of Salamanca (cum laude). She is currently Mellon postdoctoral fellow in English Language Lexicography at Oxford University.

Her work is all the more interesting given the Philippine diaspora – Filipinos working and living in nearly all corners of the world, being influenced by and influencing the languages of the places they are.

But this is not just about national pride, extending our identities into the achievements of these three academicians, gaining a virtual ego-boost by claiming them as belonging to the Philippines.

It’s more than that. This is about inspiration.

Their lives and work should inspire young people to consider careers in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields, to persevere, practice self-discipline, aim high, dream big, and think widely.

This should also inspire public and private organizations to provide opportunities to Filipinos to obtain good educations. Doctors Luzuriaga, Reyes, and Salazar had the privilege to study and work in the finest institutions abroad; not everyone can have their chances.

Government should find a way to facilitate this for more students, and private companies and individuals should think about sponsoring scholarships for our best and brightest, both in local and foreign schools.

We can “do it,” whatever it is, in whatever field. We’ve always known that. We just need the chances to make it.

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Birthday greetings to Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office’s general manager, lawyer Jose Ferdinand M. Rojas II!

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