science

The start of something big

The chemist collaborator messaged me this morning. WE GOT THE RESEARCH GRANT !!! πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ The sleepless nights and lunch breaks I fully spent on the proposal paid off! That ends my days of being a computer slave… loljk. It’s good to be compensated for it, but I never really saw it as a chore, more like a secret hobby. It gives me so much fulfillment to work on cutting edge research projects like this and being able to collaborate with awesome scientists. ^_^ (no plans on being a professor though. I plan to dedicate myself to the actuarial industry til the foreseeable future XD).

Zika Virus, Philippine context

Today I have been invited as a representative of Pinoy Scientist (together with Dr. JD) to attend a press forum on the Zika Virus, a hot topic within the scientific community and recently a cause for concern among Filipinos. Present to give reliable information and answer any questions were Dr. Lyndon See Suy (Spokesperson of the Department of Health) and a representative of the Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (I didn’t catch his name, unfortunately).

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Zika Virus forum

The Zika virus has been discovered many years ago but it is only now that it is causing widespread worry due to it being transmitted by the same type of mosquito that carries dengue (Aedis aegypti, abundant in the Philippines) and a recently discovered strong correlation between microcephaly (smaller cranium and brain size due to underdevelopment) and pregnant women infected with the virus. A case of Zika virus infection in the Philippines has been reported but how that person contracted it is still unidentified.

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Fast facts about the Zika virus

I learned that the symptoms manifested by persons who contracted the Zika virus are almost the same as those of dengue, but the main difference is that Zika virus causes conjunctivitis while dengue’s uniqueness lies in the high fever and rashes. The DOH and PSMID spokespersons maintain that dengue is still the scarier one to have but the Filipinos should not be complacent about the mildness of the symptoms of the Zika virus either. According to them, the Zika virus is hard to detect or contain because around 75% of those who have the virus show no manifestations at all, and that makes it hard to put definite travel advisories (except maybe for pregnant women) and to check returning tourists and overseas Filipino workers.

The main agenda for the near future is to encourage further research, disseminate reliable information, and prevent unnecessary panic. The government agencies concerned call for the action of the community as well in reducing the chances of spread of the virus in the Philippines by practicing sanitation and destroying potential mosquito habitats. They also hope that by the time the Filipino athletes would have to participate in the World Cup in Brazil, the newest discoveries and technologies would help give them some sort of protection.

So far, there is still a great need for conclusive results (a correlation does not imply causation, no matter how strong it is). Most of the information we have to know to protect the susceptible and cure the infected remains to be discovered.Β  That being said, everyone is advised to stay tuned to the developments in the worldwide Zika virus research. Viruses evolve and humanity must keep up to ensure survival, and here lies the importance of science and technology research.

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Dr. Lyndon See Suy and the Pinoy Scientist representatives

 

EDIT: Here is Dr. JD’s poem about the press forum:

Zika poem

Young Researcher Days, Part II

Every Sunday, my 10 year-old brother and I tune in toΒ Pinoy Scientist, a radio program hosted by active scientists Dr. Custer, Dr. Guido, and Dr. JD wherein health and environmental issues are discussed and scientific news are tailored for public consumption. I myself love breaking down science for curious little kids, so we usually have a short discussion after the program. Today’s episode especially contained a lot of scientific jargon but I was able to make my brother understand the main topic because… it was exactly the kind of research I worked on in my final year of high school!

Basically, my S&T research groupmates and I made filters out of the nanocomposite of Montmorillonite (MMT), a highly absorptive clay mineral which happens to be abundant in the Philippines, and a biodegradable plastic called Polycaprolactone (PCL). The idea was that adding MMT would make a better heavy metal filter in terms of absorptive power and durability, and of course we had to test that. Here’s our methodology in a nutshell:

  • Varying concentrations of MMT (0%, 5%, 10%) were mixed with PCL, dissolved in dichloromethane, and sonicated.
  • Fibers were made through electrospinning, a process in which both the polymer solution and a spinning metal collector are charged using high voltage electricity so that the solution evenly collects on the surface due to the electric field and dries up to form nanofibers.
  • Small strips were cut from the resulting nanofiber mat and subjected to tensile tests using the Universal Testing Machine
  • Surface morphology was observed using a scanning electron microscope at DLSU (no wonder the guest scientist of today’s episode works there) and their chemical composition were studied through Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. All data were compared across the different concentrations of MMT, of course.
  • Lastly, DotA break after a productive day XD

I started this project as an intern under the University of the Philippines – Diliman’s Department of Mining, Metallurgical and Material Engineering. Thanks to their time and support, I learned some things about mining issues and materials science, I got the chance to contribute to their research, and I was able to conduct mine for free. πŸ˜€

STRPoster

I used to be intimidated by such a daunting task, but the S&T research course made me realize that writing scientific papers is actually pretty enjoyable (except for the pressing deadlines, haha). The best part was successfully explaining the project to the judges during the PSHS Research Fair, and unexpectedly garnering the 4th grand award. πŸ˜€

Needless to say, that PS episode brought back lots of good memories. πŸ™‚

Young researcher days, part I

As part of the PSHS curriculum, we had to undergo courses in science and technology research in our third and fourth year, in which we were tasked to work on real S&T projects. It was something akin to the “investigative projects” I saw in grade school science fairs but a lot more demanding in terms of paper-writing and, well, actual research.

For my third year, I had to design a mock project with two other students. If I remember correctly, it was our prerogative as a group how far we would take it, but the design had to be elaborate. We were introduced to different methods of statistical analysis and project planning in class, as well as how to write and present papers. Being interested in blue roses (my favorite flower, for it symbolizes rarity and being out of someone’s league, haha) at that time for their color, I raised the possibility of focusing on it for our research topic.

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The pigmentation may be artificial, but seeing or being given this flower makes me happy (just like the ongoing relationships in my mind, haha)

Here it is, in a nutshell: Delphinidin, the anthocyanidin (plant pigment) that gives a blue rose its alluring and vibrant color, is a potent source of antioxidants. Previous researches have found that antioxidants may reduce the rate of angiogenesis (blood vessel formation) that feed malignant tumors. Since the skin of an eggplant (Solanum melongena) is an easily available source of delphinidin, we thought of extracting it from eggplants with the deepest violet color (standardized using hexadecimal color codes), testing it on lab mice introduced with skin cancer as a bioassay, and measuring its effectiveness as an angiogenesis-inhibitor. Our problem was that all we could do was design the project due to a lack of resources. We couldn’t contact some agency and ask them to allow three clueless kids to do experiments that deal with pigment extraction and cancer cells; the farthest we got was a consultation from a professor in UP Bio department, if my memory serves me right.

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Who would’ve thought that a flower I love and a vegetable I hate would have something in awesome in common?

So for my final year, I made sure to do a project with a much better design and acquire the necessary resources to bring it to fruition. After all, it would be the culmination of my high school life — the legacy I leave as a PSHS student.

Childhood days

Like most people, albeit at a normal pace, I’ve been forced to grow up and cram so much data in my brain that now that I have the opportunity, I’d like to test myself to recall how I was like before I entered the stage that stressed the life out of meΒ (an overdramatization that will be explained in a later post). And I think it would be fitting to give some background info on myself, so here they are:

I was raised in the province of Tarlac by my parents, a pair of nerds(?). My dad’s an electronics/electric engineer and my mom majored in math and english (and eventually became a HS and college teacher). I think they were to a certain degree obsessed in shaping their firstborn to be a genius. They played classical music, made sure I was breastfed, they kept lots of books all over the house maybe to pique my interest (and they eventually did). I had no playmates before the age of 6 so I spent most of my time watching educational shows and reading simple books. By the age of 7 I had started writing and illustrating my own comic book universe (with simple plots and cutesy drawings, of course) and after a few years constructed another with more complicated plots and dark humor for my classmates’ enjoyment. How I wish I stayed as creative and artistic as I had been. :-/

Anyway, it was my dad who ignited my interest in math. I remember being the fastest one in my district when it came to mental arithmetic, and maybe he took it as a sign. Even if he only had free time on weekends, he took charge of my math education and made me solve practice problems in exchange of coins (25 cents per correct solution, haha). He provided a lot of cool books with optical illusions, brainteasers, board games, trivia, and puzzles. As a result,Β I’ve almost always bagged the top prize in district and division-level math competitions until I graduated. He also let me undergo at least 6 years of advanced math training, through which I got to participate in a lot of international math contests and top conventions.

Actually, it wasn’t just in math. My dad also took it upon himself to take my science education to the next level. It helped that I got really good at memorizing facts and understanding theories so I competed in a lot of science competitions as well and won almost all of them without having to review much. (okay this is starting to sound like a father’s day dedication, but anyway, thanks Pa!)

Maybe that had gotten me used to the competitive environment, but back then it didn’t feel stressful. I just had a lot of fun. The best part was that my school sometimes let me cut class to study on my own and be in charge of handling review sessions for top students from lower batches, with whom I’ve made friends. When I was in third grade, I remember saying to a classmate with confidence that I was going to Philippine Science High School someday to become an engineer like my dad or a mathematician like my mom. Soon enough, I passed the entrance exams (which were actually kind of enjoyable) and took dreaded blood tests just to get in.

In retrospect, what an innocent life that had been.